Drivers braced for chaos as one of Belfast's busiest roads gets bus lanes
Businesses and road users on one of Belfast's busiest routes are today braced for the first day of controversial new bus lanes coming into operation.
The additions to one of the city's busiest commuter routes - the Upper Newtownards Road - were first reported by this newspaper last Friday.
The bus lanes, between Sandown Road and Knock Road, are part of the Belfast Rapid Transit scheme (BRT).
They will operate city-bound and country-bound from 7.30am to 9.30am and 3.30pm to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday, prompting fears of chaos on one of the city's busiest routes.
Last week, the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association expressed concerns that traders in Ballyhackamore would experience difficulties. Denise Shields, chairwoman of Ballyhackamore Business Association, said there had been a mixed reaction from members and she is adopting a wait and see attitude.
She runs the Barista Coffee House at the edge of the new bus lane and doesn't believe she will be as badly impacted as businesses further up the road.
"As a trader myself, I think Ballyhackamore already has its own problems with parking and congestion at the best of times, and I do think this is only going to further highlight these problems," she said.
"I think they have very cleverly done it in the summer months when it is quieter but when the schools come back I think it will make people stay out of the village and take the outer ring.
"I don't think there was enough information about when it was starting. We only found out when we saw the signs outside our shops."
East Belfast Alliance MLA Judith Cochrane said: "I think there is some degree of fear from traders - more so when the schools go back.
"But I do think as well there is an understanding that at Ballyhackamore, a lot of traffic parks there in the inside (lane) anyhow and it is really going to affect people who park more than people driving through.
"A lot of people would be happier to use public transport if it is good enough, but we are getting the bus lanes now, but not necessarily the enhanced service, as the rapid transit will not come into affect until 2017.
"One of the things I have asked for is a pilot of free public transport for school children on the new routes in future when the rapid transport comes in.
"I know a lot of families living further up towards Dundonald who do not live far enough away to get a bus pass but it is too far to walk.
"I think there will be some teething issues but I think it will be a good thing in the long run. I would like to see the traffic dispersed from the Upper Newtownards Road because it would make the area much safer for people to walk and cycle in, which in the long run will reduce the traffic. We have a lot of build-up of traffic, especially around the school run."
The MLA, whose office is at the start of the new bus lane, says traders would like to see people allowed to 'break' a ticket from the city centre to Dundonald and stop off at Ballyhackamore and do a bit of shopping.
"Some of the traders say it is a bit of too much too soon and others see the long term goal," she said. "When the school traffic kicks in, there could be issues, but DRD has agreed to go and leaflet schools on the first day. I think everybody is trying to make the best of it."