Taxis in bus lanes will make streets more risky for cyclists, claim pedalling protesters
A small army of cyclists gathered outside Belfast City Hall to protest over controversial plans to open up bus lanes to all taxis.
At the moment, the only taxis that are allowed to use bus lanes at peak times are public hire taxis and taxi buses or black taxis.
Cyclists insist that proposals to allow an estimated 2,000 more vehicles into the lanes will make it more dangerous for them.
Addressing the lunchtime crowd, campaigner Jonathan Hobbs challenged policymakers to get on their bikes and see for themselves what it is like trying to negotiate the busy city streets.
He pointed out that 86% of respondents to a recent consultation on the plan had opposed it – yet it became the preferred option.
Meanwhile, CTC cycle campaigner Tom McClelland said Belfast city centre is currently a relatively safe space for cyclists, but that will change if private hire taxis are allowed use bus lanes.
"If you have more taxis there will be a real danger in what is a safe space for cyclists," he said.
QUB lecturer in physical activity Mark Tully, who often commutes into work from Jordanstown by bike, said this was a public safety issue.
"It's more about encouraging people, especially children, to use the roads. It's got to be seen as a friendly environment but it's turning into an aggressive one," he warned.
Jennifer Hanratty, who cycles to work at Queen's from the Castlereagh Road every day, said the danger is what is putting women off cycling.
"You ask so many women why they wouldn't cycle and they say that it's scary. Adding more taxis into bus lanes which is the safe space for cyclists is just going to put more women off."
The Green Party in Northern Ireland has called on the roads minister to give only taxis with wheelchair access use of bus lanes.
Green MLA Steven Agnew said: "While numbers of cyclists are increasing, more people will not be encouraged to travel by bike if the Department of Regional Development does not support a safe space on the road for them.
"Letting all taxis use bus lanes makes it a more dangerous and less attractive option for cyclists.
A DRD spokeswoman said: "The department embarked on a consultation exercise which is now concluded. The minister is considering the way forward and will announce his decision in due course."
Belfast's bus lanes can currently be used by buses, bicycles, permitted taxis and taxi buses but not private hire taxis. Permitted taxis are Belfast Public Hire taxis displaying a yellow plate which operate from taxi ranks and can be hired on the street. Taxi buses or black taxis display a white and blue plate. The times of operation are shown on adjacent signs and outside of these times anyone can use the bus lane.