Belfast traders have told of their fears that traffic gridlock could drive them out of business by Christmas.
The Belfast Telegraph spoke to a number of retailers in the city centre yesterday — with the overwhelming reaction to the city centre’s new traffic measures being that they are bringing trade to a grinding halt.
Mary-Claire McGrattan runs a fashion shop on Fountain Street in the city centre.
She said the past two to three weeks have seen the lowest number of shoppers in the area in the 20 years she’s been in business.
Mrs McGrattan said that unless the problems are sorted quickly, many retailers won’t be in business by the end of the year.
“With the new measures I can’t get near my business to even open up, and have to be dropped off about 20 minutes away in the morning,” the proprieter of Extras Fashion Accessories said.
“If I can’t get in to open up, how are my customers supposed to get here?
“It’s affecting trade, absolutely.
“They want people to use public transport, but that just isn’t possible for many people.
“The current situation is jeopardising businesses in Belfast. People currently need to get every last pound they can.
“I haven’t seen it worse than this and many businesses won’t make it to Christmas at this rate. For many, this Christmas is vital.”
Another shopowner said: “Look around you. The place is empty. We’re usually busy at this time of the day but there’s not a single shopper about. It’s the same in all the shops here if you look, it’s not a coincidence.”
Another said: “Things have been a bit quieter these last few months... but it’s been far worse this past week or so. I think people don’t want to come into Belfast with all the talk of the queues.”
The manager of a Belfast city centre cafe said: “Footfall is definitely down in the past fortnight. We are in the city centre and usually this is one of the busiest streets in town, but look around you. With all these changes, they are killing the city centre.”
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Derek Rainey from Tyrone was delayed by 45 minutes yesterday. He said: “It normally takes me about an hour-and-a-half to get to Belfast. Today it was two hours and 15 minutes. Thankfully I didn’t have a meeting to attend today or something like that, or I would have been in real bother.”
Brian Hope’s journey time from Glengormley was doubled. He said: “Normally it takes 15 minutes but it was about 30 today. I heard about the problems on the radio so I had to go a roundabout way to get here. The new traffic measures aren’t working for me.”
Gerry Mills from Newry was 20 minutes later in getting into town. He said: “It’s just bedlam. It’s the first time I’ve been into Belfast since the new measures were introduced and I don’t think they are working.”
Damian McLaughlin from Ballycastle was almost an hour later than usual. He said: “Usually it takes me one hour and 10 minutes from Ballycastle in the morning. Today two hours. I’ve never seen traffic as bad as this in Belfast.”
Jonathon Fulton from Ballymena was angered by the traffic nightmare. He said: “Driving into Belfast is a horror story. Stephen King is on the case as we speak.”
Laura Wilson from Holywood was delayed for a job interview by the traffic. She said: “Usually 25 minutes would get me into Belfast in the morning. That was about three-quarters-of-an-hour today. It’s not good enough, I hope it’s sorted soon.”
Mark Crawford from Belfast said he would have been quicker on foot than driving. “I live in the city centre and could have walked to work in less than 10 minutes instead of the 20-odd it took today. I need my car for work, though, so I’ve no choice. Many people are in the same boat, I’d say.”
A commuter from Ballygowan said she was late for an important work presentation. “I’m 20 minutes late despite leaving the house early today. I’m fuming,” she said.
A taxi driver said he had just travelled to pick up a customer and was almost 30 minutes late.” Usually the journey would take me 12 minutes but I’ve just arrived and that’s 40 minutes. People are blaming the traffic lights but it’s the new road layouts. This is shocking. It needs to be sorted, and sooner rather than later.”
When asked which part of the city was causing particular problems for motorists today, a bus driver replied: “Take your pick! It’s gridlock all over. A farce.”
A car park attendant in the city centre said commuters were up in arms. “They are all complaining about the traffic,” he said. “Many of them say they are late for work. People are angry.”