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Belfast streets to be pedestrianised in green transformation plan

Work to pedestrianise Belfast's Hill Street and Gordon Street in the Cathedral Quarter is to begin as part of a new green initiative.

Some pavements are also to be widened in the city with work also to begin in Londonderry on encouraging people to walk or cycle to ease pressure on public transport.

The moves are part of an announcement by Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon for the first in a series of green infrastructure initiatives to support changes in travel to adhere to the coronavirus restrictions.

She said the coronavirus outbreak could be an opportunity to transform, introduce and encourage greener more sustainable forms of transport with more emphasis on people to walk or cycle instead of using public transport or sharing cars to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Among her plans she is considering widening pavements, 'pop-up' cycle lanes and pedestrianising streets.

She said she was keen to explore ideas stressing she "would not get everything right".

"But I think I have a duty to try and do something," she said.

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Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

"I am not going to be afraid to try something new. We have to seize this opportunity to do things better and do things differently."

Work is to begin in Belfast and Derry on Monday.

"I made a commitment to deliver sustainable infrastructure that will transform our communities today and for the generations behind us," she said.

"The changes I am making are innovative and creative. We are now living in a new normal and part of that is ensuring we create more opportunities for active travel, with more safe routes for walking and cycling.

"Some of the changes we will make have not been tested before. They may not all work, but we have an opportunity now to try new things and to learn from them. I will not let pursuit of perfection be the enemy of the good."

Work will begin to trial the pedestrianisation of Hill Street and Gordon Street in Belfast. Temporary pavement widening in Belfast’s Linen Quarter will also begin in order to better allow people to social distance.

Work will also begin in Derry to create extra space for people using the riverfront. There will also be work to develop plans to reduce the traffic and improve conditions for pedestrians within the City Walls.

Officials are also working on "quick and innovative" ideas to explore options in the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area.

A walking and cycling advisory group is also to be established with representatives from a wide range of public and voluntary sector organisations and to meet in June.

"This group will be critical in ensuring that we find the right solutions in the right places, to support our communities in the months ahead by building on these pilots and finding creative solutions to new challenges and seizing new opportunities," Ms Mallon added.

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Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

Crowds of people in the Cathedral Quarter for Culture night in 2018. Elaine Hill Photography

The Cathedral Quarter is at the heart of Belfast's cultural and social economies and considered real gem in Belfast's tourist industry.

Business owners in the area have called for a limited restriction on cars in the area fearing lives would be lost with people jostling for space with taxis and cars in the area.

"Until all road users become familiar with the new arrangements, I would ask everyone using this area to take extra care and adhere to the signage and temporary barriers," the minister added.

"My officials are liaising closely with local councils to see how similar initiatives can be rolled out across the north.

“Finding solutions will only be possible if we work together. Work is already underway by my department to establish a walking and cycling advisory group with representatives from a wide range of public and voluntary sector organisations."

The Infrastructure Minister said that, due to social distancing measures on board, buses will only be operating at 15% of their normal capacity. And mandatory face masks was being considered. Currently passengers are only advised to cover their faces.

She added: "In the coming weeks I will announce plans for pop up cycle lanes and quiet streets across Northern Ireland.

" At a time where there are constraints on public transport, I want to make it easier for people to choose to cycle.

"I am particularly keen to improve links to our hospitals to help those frontline healthcare workers who are at the heart of our response to this pandemic.

"My department is also looking at ways we can support communities, particularly those in disadvantaged inner city communities who do not have easy access to space for recreation and leisure and I will be making a further announcement on this soon.

“We will be flexible and responsive but it will not be afraid to try new approaches. Some interventions may only be needed for a short time, others may become a permanent part of our streetscapes.

"These solutions and others will be essential as we learn to live in the new normal, with new ways of working and travelling. In what has been a dark time for us, I want to seize the opportunity to make changes now to underpin a green recovery and improve public health now and for the future.

"With pressures across the board, I am looking at opportunities to transform our spaces and places. We can do things differently, repurposing our resources and refocusing our efforts. This is our chance for change, I’m committed to grasping it.”

Belfast Telegraph