Belfast Telegraph

Minister in bus lane U-turn

Restrictions lifted on city centre route as Kennedy has roads rethink

By Victoria O'Hara

It was last September when the ambitious ‘Belfast on the Move’ initiative was launched in a bid to try and transform mobility in the city.

But a road layout that included new bus lanes proved controversial. Instead of movement it led to gridlock misery for motorists |during the first few weeks of the Department for Regional Development (DRD) scheme.

Roads Minister Danny Kennedy appealed for commuters to give time for the move to “settle in”.

Now, a few months later, phase 2 of the major DRD transport masterplan—aimed to free up street space for public transport, walking and cycling— is set to be announced.

It is understood among a range of plans to be revealed next week will be the |reopening of one bus lane to all vehicles in a busy area of the city.

The move was discussed during a meeting attended by Mr Kennedy and city councillors, including Lord Mayor Gavin Robinson, on Wednesday. Around 30,000 vehicles use the streets on both sides of Belfast City Hall each day.

The lane is at the Upper Queen Street, Brunswick Street and Howard Street junction, and leads into Fisherwick Place.

Only buses and public hire taxis currently have access to the lane that runs alongside Church House, headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers (below) said while he welcomed the move he still had concerns of the impact the new phase will have on traffic flow.

“As one, along with a few other councillors, who have been carefully monitoring the new road layout after a flood of complaints from constituents and others in the business community, we at a very early stage realised that lane was not being used by any bus that was in service,” he said.

“Therefore we couldn’t understand why it was planned in the first instance.

“We are delighted that it is going to be removed and will be a lane for all vehicles who want to access or enter Fisherwick Place.”

After the introduction of the new bus lanes, a multi-agency group was set up to tackle traffic congestion. A DRD spokeswoman said: “The department is currently finalising the programme of works and intend making a wider media announcement with full details next week to ensure everyone is aware of what work is planned, when it will take place the potential impacts on traffic.”

The move has been welcomed by groups representing traders who have faced a tough festive period due to flag protests.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce President Joe Jordan hailed the U-turn, adding: “Whilst Translink provide a very good public transport service it is simply not enough to sustain the city. We need the private motorist to be |accommodated in every way.”

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