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Belfast's busiest road faces new bus lane misery and 'crazy restrictions'

By Adrian Rutherford and Simon Watters

Published 31/07/2015

Tailbacks: the new bus lane on the busy Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast will come into force on August 10
Tailbacks: the new bus lane on the busy Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast will come into force on August 10

Motorists on one of Northern Ireland's busiest commuter routes are set to face further chaos with the opening of a new bus lane.

It will operate along a one-kilometre stretch of the Upper Newtownards Road in east Belfast.

The road is one of the city's main arterial routes and is already a congestion blackspot.

There are now fears the new bus lane - which is due to open in 10 days' time - will cause even more misery for commuters.

Ukip MLA David McNarry - an outspoken critic of Belfast's bus lanes - branded the plan "absolutely crazy", warning it risked turning the morning and evening rush-hours into an all-day problem.

"Belfast is becoming a cold city for motorists - we are destroying the road network rather than improving it," he said.

Currently there are more than 30 miles of bus lanes across Belfast and even more are planned.

The Upper Newtownards Road bus lane, which will run between Sandown and the Knock Road, is part of the Belfast Rapid Transport project.

It will run in both directions and is due to come into operation on August 10.

A mobile camera will be deployed, and motorists caught driving in the lane risk a fine of up to £90.

Businesses and residents said they feared it would add to the already chronic traffic problems.

Doreen McKenzie, who is treasurer of Ballyhackamore Business Association, warned it would cause "chaos".

"The problem we have is we're the main route out of Belfast," she said.

"It's going to cause chaos, I don't see how you're going to get buses pulling out into the other lane.

"A bit of consultation would have gone a long way."

Pensioner Bob May said: "There are tailbacks up to the Knock Road already and you often have to park two streets away.

"I can't see it being any improvement for the residents."

Others, however, took a more positive view.

John Kelly from Earlswood Pharmacy said: "I have no problem encouraging people to use public transport. If you can enter and leave the bus lane freely then it makes sense."

Earlier this year a survey by traffic information company TomTom found Belfast to be the most congested city in the UK, surpassing even London for traffic jams.

Mr McNarry, a member of the Assembly's regional development scrutiny committee, warned more bus lanes would not help.

"Belfast isn't a city that can take bus lanes," he said.

"It is time the Department for Regional Development cut its losses on the whole daft idea and gave the roads back to road users. This particular bus lane is going to cause chaos. It will turn the rush-hour congestion into an eight-hour affair."

According to the DRD's website, there are 63 different bus lanes or "priority measures" in Belfast. These span a total of 30 miles, although some only operate part-time.

The DRD confirmed it had plans for further bus lanes.

"As part of the Belfast Rapid Transit project the department proposes to introduce further bus lanes along the Belfast Rapid Transit corridors," it said.

These corridors are:

  • East Belfast: between Dundonald and the city centre, via Upper Newtownards Road and Albertbridge Road;
  • West Belfast: between the Colin area and the city centre, via Stewartstown Road, Andersonstown Road, Falls Road and Divis Street;
  • Titanic Quarter: between Northern Ireland Science Park and the city centre, via Queen's Road and Queen's Quay.

DRD said the additional lanes will be subject to the normal statutory process, including public consultation.

Responding to criticism of the new east Belfast bus lane, it said: "The bus lanes are being introduced as part of the Department's Belfast Rapid Transit enabling works and were subject to public consultation earlier this year.

"Prior to the commencement of Belfast Rapid Transit the new bus lanes will benefit the existing bus services on this heavily used public transport corridor."

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