Motorists in Belfast face a summer of chaos as a plan to drive cars out of the city centre gets under way.
Roads Service bosses are asking motorists to stay out of the city centre as work starts on its Belfast On The Move Masterplan — and they are hoping they don’t come back once the work is done.
The radical plans have already been strongly criticised by taxi drivers and car owners who fear that an increase in bus lanes and new one-way roads will lead to traffic gridlock.
The plan aims to give greater priority to buses, cyclists and pedestrians by cutting the number of car lanes, bringing in one-way systems, setting up new bus and cycle lanes and installing 20 new pedestrian crossings.
It was drawn up in the wake of the death of Ciara Parks, who was knocked down by a bus in Belfast city centre.
In the next few months a new bus and cycle lane will be set up on Oxford Street, east of the city centre. After this, traffic lanes running from May Street along the back of the City Hall to Howard Street will be cut from four to one wide bus lane and two general traffic lanes.
Later this year Great Victoria Street, Grosvenor Road and Durham Street will go one-way and the notorious rat run at Barrack Street will be closed to through traffic.
The Department for Regional Development director of Transport Projects Ciaran de Burca (below) insisted: “This is not an attack on the private car coming into the city centre — it’s about making it better for anyone wanting to live, do business and have leisure activities in the city centre.
“This is the first step in delivering a city centre where access by public transport is given a much higher priority and the street environment is tailored to the needs of pedestrians and cyclists rather than the private car.
“Belfast On The Move will help over 40% of households in Belfast who do not have access to a private car and therefore rely on public transport. More bus lanes mean public transport will be quicker and more efficient.
“Around 30,000 vehicles per day travel through the city centre on the streets either side of the City Hall. About 60% of this is through traffic, with no final destination in the city centre. A full consultation process has been undertaken with appropriate legislation now in place for the delivery of all the measures.”
Existing roadspace is to be revamped to introduce 2.6km of new bus and cycle lanes around the city centre.
Meanwhile, northbound through traffic will be re-routed from Great Victoria Street onto Hope Street and Durham Street, while southbound traffic will continue to use Great Victoria Street to create a ‘western gyratory system’. Eventually DRD hopes to build a new road carrying traffic eastward from Hope Street. While the work is going on, DRD is asking motorists to use alternative routes sweeping round the Dunbar Link or from the M3 to the Westlink in order to avoid the May Street system along the back of the City Hall.
This summer Roads Service will erect new directional signage encouraging motorists to avoid the city centre. Work will be carried out at off-peak times to minimise impact on flow, while any resurfacing is to be carried out at night.
Mr de Burca said Cromac Street had to be closed to traffic after it collapsed “and we still managed to survive”.
“The impact of this scheme will be much less than that,” he said.
He said he would like to see car drivers continue to avoid the city centre after the work is complete, or preferably switch to using public transport.
“Sustainability is what we are about and with the price of fuel at the moment, I think it’s a good idea,” he said.
Factfile: the timetable
- January 2012: Start of works on Grosvenor Road/Durham Street, followed by Great Victoria Street/Bruce Street and Sandy Row/Hope Street.
- May/June: Work on Oxford Street introducing bus lane
- June/July: May St and Howard St — four-lane system changed to wide bus lane and two lanes of general traffic.
- October/November: Grosvenor Road becomes one-way westbound between Great Victoria Street and Durham Street. Barrack St closed to through traffic. New bus lanes open on Great Victoria Street/Fisherwick Place/ College Square East/College Avenue. College Square North becomes one-way eastbound.
- 2013: Wellington Place changed to wide bus lane and single general traffic lane.
Green campaigners back the plan...
By John Mulgrew
THE plans to make Belfast more pedestrian-friendly by boosting the use of public transport and bikes have been welcomed by environmental and business groups.
Sustainable transport group Sustrans said it was in full support of the scheme.
“We are very supportive of measures that promote public transport,” said a spokesman.
“And we hope it will work... also providing safe space for cycling.”
A spokesman for Northern Ireland’s oldest driving school Abba said it welcomed an increase in the number of bicycle lanes in the city centre.
“The impact on us as far as traffic would be very little, but the cycle lanes are great and it keeps them out of our way,” he added.
Although supportive of the increased use of public transport, Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association believes business customers wishing to use their cars should still be allowed to do so.
“I think the first thing is that customers who want to use their cars can do so and that they have access to affordable car parking,” he added.
“At the same time we should ensure that there should be more public transport.”
...but taxi drivers predict gridlock
By John Mulgrew
Taxi drivers have warned that the new traffic regulations in Belfast will be “impossible to enforce”.
William Black of Belfast Public Hire Taxi Association said that drivers would continue using their cars and flout new restrictions.
The Belfast On The Move plans will see the introduction of more bus and cycle lanes in the city centre along with changes to traffic flows to allow a “higher priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists”, according to the Department for Regional Development.
“I believe traffic will come to a standstill in Belfast when this is introduced,” said Mr Black.
“They are trying to improve the flow but I think what they are intending to do will be detrimental.
“Where is all this traffic going to go? I envisage traffic jams galore.”
Mr Black said drivers required access to the city and in many cases buses would be an unsuitable alternative. “Can you imagine a woman with small kids, lumping them on to a bus? People are coming out with bags and messages — they’ll be using cars or taxis.
“Our council hasn’t got the manpower to enforce this — you will find people using these bus lanes and they just won’t care.”
The motorists’ verdict: it’s a recipe for road rage and complaints
By Anna Maguire
Motorists in Belfast have said they fear a radical shake-up of the city centre’s traffic system will bring gridlock.
The plan will see a number of the city’s traffic lanes make way for buses and cyclists — while other arteries leading to the city’s hub will only be open to one-way traffic under the plan, ‘Belfast On The Move, Transport Masterplan for Belfast City Centre’.
Motorists delivered their verdict during a grim June rush hour in the city centre yesterday.
“Road rage — that’s what the effect will be,” Lorna Murdoch (19) from Belfast said.
“Even when there are events on in Belfast the streets are always lined with cars, and people avoid coming into the town because the traffic is so bad.”
She added: “I think there will be a lot of complaints about this. I do not think it will work.”
Helen Warrington (34), an accountant from Belfast, agreed.
“I do drive but I do not drive to work. I think it would be an absolute disaster.
“My brother cycles and he is always saying it’s a shame there are not more cycle lanes. But I do not think this is feasible.
“I get the bus into work all the time because if you cycled in, with our weather, by the time you got there you would be a mess.”
For Tom, who works in Belfast city centre — the city he has lived in for 60 years — the plan is badly timed. As people hurried home yesterday with their heads bowed against the rain, Tom pointed to a number of shops which had been recently vacated.
“Belfast is dying on its feet because of the parking. People are not able to bring their cars in (to the city centre),” he said.
“I think this will be an absolute disaster, to be honest — people are going to go to out-of-town shopping complexes.
“Between that and the rates they are imposing on people, they should be trying to bring more traffic into Belfast.”
Chris McKenzie (24) — who travels by train from his home near Moira every day — was a rare welcoming voice.
“If more people started using buses or public transport it could work,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I think it’s a good thing if it ends up creating less traffic. But travel is so expensive. Translink needs to reduce their prices at the same time.”
Yet, for Mary and Michael Campbell, who have been visiting the city from Buckinghamshire, the idea does not bode well.
“Judging by today’s rush hour it would be chaos,” Mary said.
“It needs looking at again.”
Helen Warrington said: “They need to go back to the drawing board. Definitely.”