Abbeyleix: Life after the bypass
SINCE the opening of the M7/M8 motorways, Abbeyleix has been embracing its new tailback free status and is making every effort to overcome an initial nosedive in business.
Abbeyleix was previously a notorious bottleneck on the main Cork to Dublin road, with traffic taking up to half an hour to get through the town at peak times. Residents are enjoying the respite now that the traffic jams have been removed, with the opening of 41 km M7/M8 Portlaoise to Cullahill motorway scheme on May 28.
Despite concerns about the impact the reduction of traffic may have on local businesses, many believe the bypass will have a positive effect on the heritage town.
Business people and community activists point to a number of exciting developments, including new signage and interactive maps. The heritage town also received a large and positive inclusion in the Lonely Planet travel book and successful tie-ins with a number of nearby tourist attractions, including the Rock of Cashel.
Many also believe that the removal of traffic congestion means that those who were only trying to get to their next destination can now avoid the town, while those that want to visit Abbeyleix can do so in greater comfort and at greater leisure.
Local councillor John Joe Fennelly admitted that business took a nose-dive in the immediate weeks after the bypass opening in June. "It did have a big impact on business. In Abbeyleix, business was down by as much as 50 per cent, but since then it has been creeping back up," he said.
The location of Abbeyleix at the "half-way point of Ireland" gives it a distinct advantage over many other towns, he believes.
This is an opinion which Patricia Ward of Odhran Cafe certainly shares. She pointed out that the local community has also responded positively to the challenge by setting up a development association at the beginning of the year, with the aim of promoting the town's ideal location.
Concerns that the bypass might devastate local businesses appeared to be well-founded in the first few weeks after the M7/M8 motorways opened, with business down considerably, but soon it was business as usual again.
"Our regular passing traffic is back, and it is not just necessarily to avoid the toll," Ms Ward said. "People who had never heard of Abbeyleix before are now stopping," she said.
Rather than focus on the negative aspects of the bypass, Ms Ward stressed the advantages enjoyed by Abbeyleix, which is now a popular stop-off point on the motorway from Cork to Dublin, which has no service areas or designated rest areas. Traffic is no longer bumper-to-bumper, with people more inclined to stop off for a break, rather than being frustrated while sitting in tailbacks.
It is also hoped that the removal of such heavy traffic will encourage people from the locality and surrounding areas to shop in Abbeyleix again, now that they can do so in greater comfort.
Already a bounce has been noticed through the publicity which the bypass and new motorways have generated, with a group of Canadian tourists visiting the town after seeing coverage of the area at the time when the M7 and M8 motorways opened.
Also welcoming the impact which the by-pass of the town is having, Mary White, Chairperson of Abbeyleix Tidy Towns said: "I think it will help us a lot."
Abbeyleix must also meet the challenges which the bypassing of a town can pose. "Obviously we are going to require a bit more marketing," Ms White said. "People who used to visit us before the bypass opened are now coming back and people who never visited us, such as a group from Wexford who visited recently, said what a beautiful town we have, but they just hadn't taken the time to stop before this".
She added that the reduction of traffic has now afforded people an opportunity to see how clean their town is. An added bonus for residents is that they now can enjoy a leisurely stroll through the town in greater peace, and can also cross the road with far greater ease than before.
Embraced by local business
Alex Cleland of Clelands always felt that the bypass was something which should be embraced by local business people. "To be honest, it has not been detrimental for us at all. For the first couple of weeks there may have been a slight fall-off in business but we can't say that it had a detrimental effect on our business, quite the opposite," he said.
"We recently switched back as an independent retailer, which coincided with the bypass opening. Fortunately, we were able to introduce many price cuts by being able to buy better, which meant that people were more encouraged to shop here," he said.
Commenting on the bypass, he said: "We never saw it as a negative. We spent a lot of money on our premises and are providing better value," Mr Cleland said.
Along with new customers, he added that they have also noticed a trend of less people rushing to get their shopping done in the morning, before the build up of traffic in the afternoon. "People now know they can come in at their leisure, and have a lot more relaxed experience," he said.
He now hopes a pedestrian crossing will be put in place close to Quinn's Tea Rooms which would act as a traffic calming measure, as well as giving people an oppportunity to cross the road.
Mr Cleland added: "From out point of view, it is up to every person in business to make sure they can provide the best service and the best value for money, if we can all do that, then we will flourish."
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Weather for Portlaoise
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West