Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Athy Traffic Management Plan

I am very loathe to pass judgment in public on the new Traffic Management Plan prepared for Athy Town Council which was recently on public display prior to being presented to meetings of Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council. However, my reluctance in that regard vanishes in the face of yet a further potential waste of public funds should the plan be implemented. I am advised that the Traffic Plan cost in excess of €100,000 to produce and its implementation cost can be measured in millions of euro. Given the rather poor state of Local Government finances at this time I am afraid it is money we can ill afford to waste.

The Traffic Management Plan proposes a number of radical changes to the existing road layout in the town, the first of which is at the Dublin Road end of Leinster Street. The existing wall between the two road levels is to be removed and replaced with a new wall to allow two way traffic on the Lidl side of the widened road. On the People’s Park side of the wall it is proposed to have a pedestrian access route to the railway station and inside that again a road leading from St. Michael’s Terrace to a new road to be built through the People’s Park giving access to the Park Crescent estate from Church Road. Church Road will be straightened and re-graded to allow access directly onto the Dublin Road via a new junction at the top of the Railway Bridge.

Another major change centres on Emily Square where further pedestrianisation of the rear Square will effectively reduce the parking facilities there. However, it is the proposed re-routing of traffic coming from the Carlow Road direction which now turns at the traffic lights onto Leinster Street to go towards Dublin which may create more traffic problems than it can help solve. Dublin Road bound traffic coming down Offaly Street will have to divert across the rear Square and turn right at Barrow Quay onto Leinster Street. The traffic planner who came up with this idea has an obvious liking for turning traffic at the bottom of humpbacked bridges as he also proposes a somewhat similar manoeuvre at the Canal Bridge on the Kilkenny Road. Traffic coming from Stradbally intending to turn onto the Kilkenny Road must go via Nelson Street and hopefully make a safe exit from there onto William Street. Vehicles will stop on Nelson Street just yards from the Canal Bridge where the sight distance is very limited and will then have to exit smartly and speedily if there is to be any hope of avoiding a collision with traffic coming over the bridge into the town. Similarly traffic from Kilkenny going towards Stradbally must turn into Nelson Street.

There are a number of other changes, all of which I cannot now recall having attended the information evening in the Carlton Abbey Hotel a few weeks ago. The overall impression I have of the Traffic Management Plan however is not helped by the use of a plan which has the Courthouse building described as the Town Library. There are I’m afraid compelling reasons why this latest Traffic Management Plan is unsuitable for Athy, not least being the price tag which accompanies the changes proposed. I only wish the planners and our Town Fathers would concentrate on the Outer Relief Road which I see is now being described as ‘the Southern Distribution Route’. It alone can help solve the traffic problems which beset Athy’s town centre and the sooner Council officials and public representatives alike accept this the sooner we can press ahead with this much needed road project.

Incidentally despite the Minister’s clear advice to Athy Town Council and officials of Kildare County Council to make up their minds as to whether they wanted an Inner Relief Road or an Outer Relief Road, the local Council still persists in retaining the Inner Relief Road as an objective in the Town Development Plan. Apparently the decisions of the Planning Appeal Board and the High Court have had little influence on either party and the Minister’s advice has been ignored. It’s no wonder then that the Minister has not to date made any funds available for the construction of the Outer Relief Road. As a consequence we find ourselves today in the unhappy position of attempting to apply what can only be described as ineffective measures to a chronic traffic situation which is crying out for the only viable solution – an Outer Relief Road.

As I came out into the foyer of the Carlton Abbey on Wednesday evening Liam Dunne of the Irish Farmers Association and his team were manning their alternative traffic plan for Athy. It proposes a much simpler solution to the town’s traffic problems. Roundabouts at Leinster Street/Stanhope Street junction, at Barrow Quay/Leinster Street junction, at Leinster Street/Woodstock Street junction and at the junction of the Bleach and Kilkenny Road are the mainstay of the I.F.A. proposals. In addition pedestrian crossings utilising zebra crossings rather than the existing pelican crossings have been suggested by the Farmers Group as a necessary measure to allow traffic to flow as easily as possible. However, I am aware that pelican crossings are more favoured by wheelchair users.

I have to say that the I.F.A. plan seemed reasonable and practical and certainly less costly than the Council Plan. Given the limited costs involved the general feeling of those who examined the two traffic plans at the Carlton Abbey Hotel is that the I.F.A. plan is worthy of further detailed consideration.

I learned recently of the death of Michael May whom I remember well as a pupil in the Christian Brothers School here in Athy in the 1950s. Michael was usually two classes ahead of me and the ginger haired well built young man was an extremely popular member of the school population of that time. Michael, a retired Garda Sergeant, was the son of Hester and Joe May who lived in the Gate Lodge at St. Vincent’s Hospital where Joe May was the hospital administrator. Michael’s parents were part of that great band of Irish men and women who during the War of Independence and later gave so much of themselves so that future generations could enjoy the fruits of a self governing democracy.

Ar dhéis Dé go raibh a anam.

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