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Belfast bus lanes are key for vibrant city

By Gordon Clarke

There have been a lot of negative headlines in the Belfast Telegraph over bus lanes in recent months.

Sustrans wants to see a thriving city centre, a place where people want to shop, live, work, visit and enjoy - a pleasant place with safe spaces and good air quality, a place easily accessible by public transport, walking and cycling.

One of the keys to achieving this is an efficient, high-quality public transport system. Bus lanes are an essential part of this.

The alternative vision is one where the car is king - a congested city centre full of vehicles, with poor air quality and unpleasant and noisy conditions.

There are 11,000 fewer vehicles in the city centre due to bus lanes. We know that park and ride facilities at Cairnshill have taken up to three miles of traffic off our roads.

During the last public transport strike cars were allowed in bus lanes. The chaos that followed gave us a glimpse of what a world without public transport might look like. This approach has failed in the past and will fail again.

The fact that more people now enter the city centre each day by using public transport, walking and cycling is being ignored. A city for the car is an outdated and inappropriate agenda.

The Belfast Bike Share Scheme is a success, particularly among young people where car ownership is much less of an issue in terms of daily journeys and where they combine cycling with public transport.

It must be remembered that not everyone has a car - indeed, household car ownership in the former Belfast City Council area is about 40%.

Evidence also shows that those who enter cities using public transport cumulatively spend more than those who enter by car.

This is not an anti-car agenda, but one for a vibrant Belfast with a thriving city centre. Yes, there is a challenge to think about travelling differently, but in the end the results will benefit everyone.

Sustrans supports the further development of high-quality public transport and looks forward to the introduction of the Belfast Rapid Transit, which will bring about the transformation we aspire to.

Bus lanes are here to stay and should be welcomed as they clearly benefit our health, the environment and the economy.

Gordon Clarke is Sustrans Northern Ireland director

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