Is Grafton Street los­ing out be­cause of the Luas ex­ten­sion? Mark Hil­liard

Foot­fall on Dublin’s main shop­ping street has de­clined – but other ar­eas have been given a boost

The Irish Times - - News Feature -

It has been con­sid­ered the heart­beat of re­tail ac­tiv­ity in the cap­i­tal but there are signs Grafton Street is wan­ing, thanks in some small part to the Luas ex­ten­sion that has carved open the city.

In the 14 years be­fore the emer­gence of the Luas Cross City, thou­sands of daily com­muters would leave the Green Line trams and fan out across the south­side, a large pro­por­tion of them fil­ter­ing through Grafton Street.

They passed cof­fee shops on their way to work, and re­tail out­lets on their way home. It was a sup­ply line of cus­tomers for the city’s premier shop­ping dis­trict. But things seem to have changed.

“We had an­tic­i­pated and recorded our ex­pec­ta­tion that Grafton Street foot­fall would re­duce, as peo­ple stay on the Luas un­til they reach their des­ti­na­tions be­yond St Stephen’s Green,” says Dublin Town, the city busi­ness group that mea­sures on-street foot­fall data and its chang­ing pat­terns.

“This ex­pec­ta­tion has been borne out. Grafton Street’s to­tal foot­fall has de­clined by 5.2 per cent this year.”

As well as fer­ry­ing peo­ple in and out of work, the Luas ser­vice is a key feeder for the city’s busi­nesses. The im­pact of the Cross City join­ing Red and Green lines is dif­fi­cult to mea­sure ac­cu­rately, as both Na­tional Trans­port Au­thor­ity and Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice data will not be avail­able un­til next year.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence, fol­low­ing an ini­tial pe­riod of dis­rup­tion caused by its con­struc­tion, is mixed.

Elizabeth Beattie, man­ager of the Health Mat­ters shop on Grafton Street, es­ti­mates that the Luas works led to a 10 per cent drop in busi­ness dur­ing 2016. Now the light rail is in ser­vice she does not be­lieve the wait was par­tic­u­larly worth it.

“We had great ex­pec­ta­tions that it would bring a lot of cus­tomers up here but it doesn’t seem to have done any­thing,” she says, as her shop and oth­ers pre­pare for the busy Christ­mas sea­son.

Rip­ple ef­fects

But the rip­ple ef­fects for city com­merce are as dif­fi­cult to weigh as the ini­tial pas­sen­ger move­ments. Of par­tic­u­lar note is the si­mul­ta­ne­ous city de­vel­op­ment along the Cross City line it­self, as much a re­flec­tion of a surg­ing econ­omy but also a fea­ture of the trans­port artery’s suc­cess.

“What has been hap­pen­ing on Daw­son Street has been phe­nom­e­nal, and that’s the Luas,” says David O’Con­nor, lec­turer in trans­port plan­ning and ur­ban de­sign at DIT. “It’s like a re­lease valve for the high rents on Grafton Street, which were ridicu­lous. Now it’s [a case of] spread the love; you have in­vest­ment mov­ing over to Daw­son Street.”

As O’Con­nor says, the emer­gence of the Luas should not sim­ply be seen as an ac­ces­si­bil­ity is­sue but one of re­design­ing streetscapes.

Daw­son Street is seen as an ex­em­plar of the new econ­omy’s im­pact on the city. How­ever, much of its facelift can be di­rectly linked to the Luas.

Ulysses Rare Books, on the ad­join­ing King Street, has seen the rough and tum­ble of the line’s de­vel­op­ment, from the stran­gle ef­fect of con­struc­tion works to the in­creased foot­fall that even­tu­ally fol­lowed.

“I think it has helped. This side around Grafton Street or Daw­son Street there seems to be more peo­ple com­ing up from the Luas stop; it’s re­ally busy at that stop,” says co-owner Ais­ling Cun­ning­ham.

This year has been one of the best since the re­ces­sion, fall­ing nicely on their 30th an­niver­sary. “Even the Luas couldn’t get rid of us,” she jokes, be­ly­ing the frus­tra­tions of its ear­lier con­struc­tion.

Op­por­tu­ni­ties

An­other ma­jor re­tail de­vel­op­ment is pend­ing on the cor­ner of Daw­son Street fac­ing Trin­ity Col­lege, but such ac­tiv­ity is not lim­ited to the most up­mar­ket parts of the city.

Graeme McQueen, head of pub­lic af­fairs at Dublin Cham­ber, notes that real es­tate hug­ging the Luas Cross City line is be­ing watched care­fully. Among those ar­eas he counts as ei­ther ear­marked for de­vel­op­ment or ready for it, are the Carl­ton Cinema site and the wider O’Connell Street area, Marl­bor­ough Street, Suf­folk Street and Molesworth Street, all stand­ing to ben­e­fit from the trams.

“As time has gone on, pas­sen­ger num­bers have got­ten busier and busier ev­ery day. And some of the feed­back is that we have got peo­ple who are re-ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the city again,” he says. “We are still see­ing the city kind of evolv­ing again.”

This evo­lu­tion is re­flected in pedes­trian ac­tiv­ity, too. One of the main hopes for the Cross City was that shop­pers, in par­tic­u­lar, would be lib­er­ated to cross the Lif­fey at ease, break­ing a some­what cul­tural north-south di­vide. It is too early yet to see if this has hap­pened, and the Christ­mas shop­ping pe­riod will prob­a­bly turn up telling data on pas­sen­ger move­ment.

Dublin Town says that, like most re­tail des­ti­na­tions, the city has ex­pe­ri­enced an over­all de­cline in foot­fall this year, in large part due to the rise of on­line shop­ping.

In the city it fell 2.2 per cent com­pared with about 3 per cent at Dun­drum Town Cen­tre, the benchmark of sub­ur­ban re­tail.

“Within this, pat­terns of foot­fall have changed,” it says. “Across the Lif­fey there has been a shift. Henry Street and Mary Street have seen an in­crease of 4.5 per cent in foot­fall, and Tal­bot Street has seen an in­crease of 15.4 per cent so far this year.”

O’ Connell Street fell 6.2 per cent, but this may be down to peo­ple walk­ing along the cen­tral me­dian, which is served by the Luas, rather than the side foot­paths, where foot­fall cam­eras are po­si­tioned.

Sven Spollen-Behrens, di­rec­tor of the Small Firms As­so­ci­a­tion, has also noted a shift since the in­tro­duc­tion of the Cross City. Some of the slight down­turn in busi­ness in the hospi­tal­ity sec­tor this year is put down to pas­sen­gers now by­pass­ing the Grafton Street area, he says, but this is off­set by an in­crease around Henry Street on the north side.

Aside from pas­sen­ger move­ment, busi­nesses are notic­ing other shifts too.

“What we are see­ing is much younger cus­tomers com­ing in. Dublin is a re­ally younger city now,” says De­clan Abra­hams of Abra­hams tai­lor­ing on South Anne Street, not­ing that older cus­tomers are prob­a­bly more wed­ded to their cars.

“It’s not all due to the Luas but still the Luas de­liv­ers the peo­ple,” he said. “Was it worth wait­ing for? It was. You have to break a few eggs . . . What­ever the say­ing is.”

What has been hap­pen­ing on Daw­son Street has been phe­nom­e­nal, and that’s the Luas. It’s like a re­lease valve for the high rents on Grafton Street, which were ridicu­lous

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