Belfast Telegraph

Belfast definitely not on the move these days

By Lindy McDowell

It will come as no great surprise to anyone who has endured the soul-destroying bumper-to-bumper purgatory that is so-called rush hour in Belfast to learn that the city now rates at number one in the chart of most congested cities in the UK.

Not only that but we come in at number 18 in the WORLD. We are on a par with San Francisco, a few notches down from São Paulo. We are worse than Johannesburg, London and New York.

And the thing is we are such a wee place. We are an urban speck compared to some of the great metropolises which feature on the same list. We do not face the pressures of Third World nations. We do not have their excuses.

We should surely to God be able to sort this.

Yet not only does the congestion chaos seem to be getting worse, you get the feeling that, to those in charge of transportation policy, our número uno rating is seen as a positive.

"Most congested city in the UK? If that doesn't get them out of their cars and on to the buses nothing will!"

Which just about sums up the war-on-the-car gameplan of what is laughingly called Belfast on the Move. All stick. No chariot. True, a Rapid Transit system is said to be on the cards. But by the time they get round to sorting that we'll have those travelator pavements they used to promise us on Tomorrow's World.

The Department for Regional Development, under minister Danny Kennedy, on its website boasts of the Belfast on the Move transport "masterplan" for the city centre (bus lanes to you and me) and points up its Sustainable Transport Enabling Measures (ditto.) But if you're going to discourage commuters from taking the car into town you need to offer a realistic, convenient and efficient alternative. Yes, the bicycle works for some. (Although the coming chill of winter may separate the boys from the Lance Armstrongs, there.) And yes, the bus is a boon for many too.

But there are tens of thousands of people who have no option but to travel by car – for a whole variety of reasons. It is these people who are daily condemned to the utter misery – and it is misery– of the marathon traffic crawl to and from work.

Tens of thousands of hours are being lost to commerce at a time when business can ill afford it. When gridlock is caused by flag protest or bomb scare we have politicians leaping up and down in condemnation. Where are the statistics on loss to industry as a direct result of Belfast on the Move-related congestion? Doesn't anyone care?

More to the point, doesn't anybody in authority give a damn about what those hours lost in rush hour are doing to the workers and to their health, given that the only thing that is actually on the move (upwards) is the collective blood pressure of commuters?

How can people be expected to work at optimum capacity when they've started the day with that gruelling grind through the traffic? Knowing they face the return leg in the evening ... It is grossly, callously unfair to the working masses.

And one accident, one small bump even, creates knock-on chaos. A lorry broken down on the M2 heading out of town can ricochet a logjam right back as far as the Ormeau Road.

The emergency services are heroic but the system is geared against them too, both in trying to clear accident scenes and more importantly, getting to them in the first place.

Something has to give. Something catastrophic will give unless a little realism is injected into current strategy.

What do they want us to do? Get back to the horse and cart? Granted that would count as sustainable transportation. And the by-product could at least be used to fertilise the roses.

Unlike what's emanating from Belfast on the Move.

'TENS OF THOUSANDS OF HOURS ARE BEING LOST TO COMMERCE WHEN BUSINESS CAN ILL-AFFORD IT'

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