Letting taxis use bus lanes is not fare on brave cyclists
Roads Minister Danny Kennedy would be wrong to allow yet more taxis to use Belfast's bus lanes, says Steven Patterson
On the back of new legislation that proposes to change taxi regulations, the roads minister, Danny Kennedy, is considering allowing all taxis into Belfast bus lanes.
The result will be up to 1,500 extra minicabs sharing bus lanes with buses, of course, but also some of our most vulnerable road users – cyclists. It's a bad idea.
The minister asked the community for their opinion on this issue. He held a consultation, which received 70 responses. Sixty of these opposed the changes. It's fair to say the opposition is overwhelming. And there are good reasons why.
People will imagine that the change will ease congestion on our roads. It won't. In fact, in the long term, it will achieve the exact opposite.
We know that increasing the number of people who cycle is the best way to ease congestion and make the roads a safer and more enjoyable place for everyone.
We also know that the main reason people don't cycle is because they don't feel that our roads are safe enough. A recent survey showed that 60% of residents interviewed think Belfast's roads are dangerous for cycling.
Belfast urgently needs decision-makers to make cycling a safe, enjoyable and easy option for everyday journeys.
More people cycling not only makes for less-congested roads; it also means a healthier population and substantial savings for individuals and the economy.
These proposed changes that will allow all taxis to use our bus lanes will make cycling less safe and increasingly unappealing.
It will deter people from jumping on their bikes and will make them more likely to drive. More cars on our roads will mean heavier congestion. It's a step in the wrong direction.
By allowing more traffic into bus lanes, we also slow public transport down, making journeys by bus slower and, therefore, less attractive for commuters. It's not what we had envisaged for Metro services and future Bus Rapid Transport for the city. We need our public transport system to be as effective as possible if we have any hope of encouraging people to take the bus instead of driving because, again, the more people on buses and out of their cars, the less pressure there is on our road network.
There are also major safety concerns. Buses are the same width as a bus lane and, therefore, can't overtake cyclists – it's a good example of how different road-users can share a space with a degree of harmony.
Taxis are a different kettle of fish. Smaller and narrower than a bus, taxis can easily nip in and out of traffic, squeezing past cyclists as they go, endangering cyclists and making journeys by bike a scarier, less- attractive choice.
Police figures show traffic collision casualties have dropped by 33% over the past 10 years, but, worryingly, cyclist casualties have risen in that time. We're trending in the wrong direction.
The Government does want more people to cycle and is investing in schemes like Belfast Public Bike Hire, due to start in 2015. So why make cycling even more dangerous by allowing up to 1,500 minicabs into bus lanes?
No other region in the UK allows this. We need our Government to be a leader on road safety and this could be a good place to start.
I've written to the minister urging him to consider these concerns in the interests of the good health, environment and economy of Northern Ireland. We also joined other cycling organisations and concerned regular cyclists to rally against the decision outside Belfast City Hall yesterday.
If the minister is serious about making road safety and punctual public transport a priority, he must understand that allowing all taxis into bus lanes is a grave mistake, with long-term consequences.