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Department's policy is risibly hypocritical

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 17/05/2016

The Westlink in Belfast
The Westlink in Belfast

There is little dispute that Belfast's road infrastructure is not fit for purpose given the volume of traffic that enters and leaves the city on a daily basis.

Indeed, the configuration of the street layout with virtually all arterial routes leading to the city centre like the spokes of a wheel means that congestion, especially at peak times, is inevitable.

Even the £104m widening of the Westlink to enable through traffic to avoid the narrow urban streets is only a limited success since its northern end leading towards York Street is reduced for part of the way to two lanes, which can easily be blocked by a simple traffic shunt.

Given these traffic problems, there is a logic to the strategy of trying to reduce the number of cars coming into the city through a carrot and stick approach. The creation of multiple - even some 24-hour - bus lanes, which resulted in motorists being fined a total of £1m in the first three months of operation and high car parking charges, made coming into the city centre a fraught and potentially expensive trip.

On the carrot side of the equation, the bus lanes and more park-and-ride schemes along with the proposed rapid transit bus system was designed to make public transport more attractive.

But Northern Ireland is a place in love with the motor car and the fact that so many people travel to work and shop in the city makes it by far the preferred transport option no matter the financial hazards.

So it is with some bemusement that motorists will read our story today that the very Government department - the Department for Infrastructure - has set aside 233 free car parking spaces in the city for its own staff.

It defends this action by saying that the spaces are required for staff who need quick access to their vehicles at all times of the day.

Many workers and shoppers could well use the same argument and could well think that the department is setting a very poor example to the public at large. It seems to be saying don't do what we do, but do what we say.

Essentially, it is defying the logic of its own traffic management policy. Perhaps this is something that the new Minister for Infrastructure could look at when he or she takes up their post in the coming weeks. If not, then perhaps it is an issue that the scrutiny committee for the department could bring to the minister's attention and ask where it sits with department policy.

Belfast Telegraph

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