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by Tom Kenny

When the city was being constructed in medieval times, the streets and even the lanes must have appeared wide and spacious. The only kind of traffic they would have experienced then would have been pedestrian, horse or donkey and cart and maybe the odd wheelbarrow. We have two images for you today of the east side of Eyre Square the first (courtesy the National Library) dates from c.1890 and shows that type of traffic; The second (courtesy Galway County Library) shows the same area with motorised traffic. Since the latter was taken, the population has grown by 6 or 7 times, and of course, the traffic volumes have increased accordingly. So the Corporation had to make occasional changes to the bye-laws in relation to traffic.

On April 1st, 1963, a new thirty mile per hour speed limit for the city and the built up areas around it was introduced ‘for the well-being of the people’. It would affect all the main roads except part of the Oranmore Road near Merlin Park.

In mid-December, 1966, the first traffic lights in the city went into operation. They were situated at Williamsgate Street, at Salthill Church and outside the Rockland Hotel in Salthill. An extraordinary number of drivers seemed to be unaware of the function and purpose of traffic lights and pedestrians were causing concern by their tendency to misuse the press button crossing system. Gardaí were stationed at all the lights to try and direct the public. Some pedestrians had been pressing the button and then crossing immediately, which could have had disastrous consequences. They were advised that the word ‘wait’ on the top light meant just that and when the words ‘cross now’ appeared, then, and only then could they cross. The lights at Williamsgate Street were automatic during the day, but press button at night.

On November 3rd, 1969, the breathalyser was introduced to encourage people never to drink and drive.

On October 4th, 1971, the first phase of Galway’s one-way traffic system was brought into force and Gardaí were busy all day enforcing the clockwise route around Eyre Square. Traffic coming up from Merchant’s Road now had to come up by the Skeff and down the other side by the Odeon Hotel to go through Forster Street. Traffic from Forster Street went straight past the Great Southern Hotel and up by the Skeff to get to Williamsgate and Shop Street. The introduction of further stages would depend on how the public responded to this initial phase. The corporation envisaged that Shop Street would be next for the one-way system.

They introduced yellow lines on streets and roads which prompted the terrible Galway joke – “Where there is one yellow line ya cannah payark at-awl, and if there are two yellow lines, you cannnah payark at-awl at-awl”.

In 1976, councillors were very concerned that the introduction of traffic wardens would ‘kill the town centre’ when they were “let loose” on a city which was not prepared for them. “When these people come and put tickets on cars, they will eventually denude the city. A clear warning should be given before the wardens are introduced”. In just over three weeks after the wardens had taken up duty, Assistant County manager Peter Kearns informed the councillors that over £1,000 in fines had already been collected.

In 1982, the Corporation advertised for tenders for operating three of their car parks in the city under a new system. This new operation was designed to cater for shoppers and improve the traffic flow and it meant that people working in the city would no longer be able to avail of prime parking space free of charge. They would, from now on, have to pay to park in Eyre Square (Roche’s Stores), Middle Street and Bowling Green/Newtownsmyth.

Disc parking was introduced on October 12th, 1987. Discs were printed paper sheets costing 20p each and were sold in books of ten, costing £2 each. On parking in a Disc Parking zone, a car must display the month, the day, he hour and the minute of arrival. Thus it would cost 20p to park for one hour. According to the authorities “The disc parking system has shown itself to be the most popular with motorists and most efficient to operate in cities throughout the world”.

On March 23rd, 1998, William Street, Shop Street, High Street, Quay Street and Mainguard Street were pedestrianised.

In the recent past a 30 kilometre per hour limit has been placed on the inner city streets.

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