John Simpson: Why the Glider needs even more investment to work
Each weekday, a typical urban area commuter spends an average of nearly an hour moving from home to workplace or school and back again. Northern Ireland is not the worst place to live when taking account of travel times and frustration but we are far from the best. The local travel scene in the larger urban centres is becoming slower and/or more congested.
In each of the main urban centres, people have become accustomed to stop-start, emissions-heavy travel.
Belfast is particularly bad, but also catching up are Lisburn, Londonderry, Ballymena and Newry, where the personal environmental hazards are rising.
The deceptive easy answer is that public transport should be improved and used by more people.
Unhappily, that can, at best, only be a partial answer.
Public transport will serve best where numbers justify regular services. Of course, the balance between public and private transport (bus, train and car) must change.
However, the private car, now more likely to be battery powered, will remain a major supplement for many people.
The urgency of a new travel environment has not yet been acknowledged adequately by the relevant agencies.
Translink is giving a lead but offering services based on an inadequate transport infrastructure.
The success of the limited range of Belfast Glider services is welcome but serves to illustrate how inadequate this investment is.
Even the first Glider routes are severely constrained because of the inherited unimproved road network which is being used.
If we are serious about the benefits of more environmentally-friendly travel, continuing excuses about no investment funds being available are simply a reflection of a lack of will for this priority.
More and quicker urban area bus services, with the assurance of free vehicle flow along the full length of each route, are a necessity.
Ideally, for arterial bus routes, the carriageway should be adapted or redesigned to offer two free flow carriageways in each direction.
To confront the reality of this need, on some routes and in some places, existing building frontages need to change, if necessary, supported by compulsory purchase powers.
Without free flow for public transport services, long-term Glider plans will be much less successful than they could be. The beneficiaries should be all travellers whether public service provided or when using private transport.
Belfast is the only urban area in Northern Ireland which has contemplated modestly improved transport services. These questions must be assessed against the concepts and work emerging from the Local Development Plans (LDPs) of each of the 11 local authorities. For example, the LDPs must set out a perspective of how the population numbers will change, how the housing plans envisage the accommodation of a larger population and how new housing proposals will cope with the regeneration and redevelopment of older housing to the standards expected in the next 20-plus years.
The LDPs must create a framework for managing the use of private vehicles as well as buses and trains. Bringing together the likely continuing convenience, or need, to allow the ownership and use of private vehicles, is critical.
Two strands of housing policy overlap with transport policy. First, new housing developments should, from an early date, include a requirement that a proportion should be designed to allow for battery charging arrangements for a private car. Second, as people adjust to new constraints on their personal mobility the scale of provision for 'park and ride' will need to be greatly enhanced. In the Belfast area, some of the 'park and ride' facilities are already bulging. Does either the city council or Translink have a vision to cope with much larger demand?
Transport services, public and private, must now urgently become efficient and environmentally acceptable.
Finally, to illustrate the current planning deficiencies: why is there no firm information on when the next two cross-Belfast Glider routes will be opening? Are we serious about better environmentally-friendly services?