Belfast Telegraph

Belfast drivers spend week a year in gridlock - jams cost motorists £140m

Victoria Leonard

By Victoria Leonard

Belfast drivers spent over a week sitting in traffic last year in congestion that cost motorists more than £140m, a report has revealed.

Drivers in the city lost 190 hours to congestion in 2018, coming second only to London, according to transport analyst INRIX's annual global traffic scorecard.

Taking into account time lost and wages, the clogged roads network cost local motorists £141,787,091 in 2018. That's around £1m more than the previous year and equates to £1,406 for each driver (£27 a week).

The jams cost UK drivers £7.9bn in 2018.

Overall, Belfast was ranked as the 11th most congested city in the UK.

Despite this, the total time lost sitting in traffic here decreased by 10% compared with the previous year, according to researchers.

The study also revealed that Belfast's inner city last-mile travel speed was 8mph, while its last-mile travel time was seven minutes. Roads expert Wesley Johnston agreed that Belfast's congestion was "bad" and said it was one legacy of the Troubles.

"We know Belfast is a very car-dependent city, in part because of the Troubles, which encouraged people to fly out to the suburbs, more so than in other UK cities, and also discouraged people from using public transport," he said.

"We're not that big a city, really. We do have a unique past, which has accentuated this problem. Commuting is much more of a thing here. Plus we have had a car-focused transportation policy up until about the millennium."

But Mr Johnston said he believed that steps were being taken in the right direction to address the issue.

"Two of them are the introduction of more cycle ways and initiatives like the Glider," he said.

"Neither of those are perfect, but I think it's the only real solution. The only other way to solve this problem is to widen the roads going into the city centre, and you would be talking large scale demolition to do that. There's no car-based solution to this problem - the answer has to lie in other forms of transport."

Responding to the report, Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) regional director Richard Kirk said it "will come as no surprise to Northern Ireland commuters".

"We are an extremely car-dependent country, and our transport networks are already stretched to capacity," Mr Kirk said.

"We need to invest in our infrastructure to make it resilient, efficient and safe for users.

"We also need delivery of key projects like Belfast Rapid Transit Phase 2 and the York Street Interchange, which will greatly aid the flow of traffic within and around Belfast."

Mr Kirk said the only way to meaningfully reduce congestion is through better provision and investment in public and active transport, adding that services such as the Glider are key to changing behaviour.

"As long as the majority of people choose personal cars over public transport, park and ride, walking or cycling, congestion will remain an economic, environmental and social issue," he added.

South Belfast Green Party representative Aine Groogan said that, in addition to creating annoyance, congestion costs money and affects health. "Congestion causes air pollution which contributes to 550 deaths per year across Northern Ireland from respiratory illnesses," she said.

"There are too many car parking spaces in central Belfast and we haven't invested enough in modern public transport provision. We know that people will use public transport when it is provided, as demonstrated by the new Glider system.

"The Green Party is pushing the case for a green transport plan for Belfast which improves the health and well-being of all our citizens."

The Department for Infrastructure said congestion in Belfast "reflects the fact that too many of us are making the journey to and from work by car, usually alone with no one else in the vehicle".

"This is not sustainable, it has significant economic costs but also contributes to high emissions and poor air quality. Building more roads on its own will not address the problem but only add to it," it said.

"We need to increase the numbers travelling by public transport and walking and cycling for short journeys, and recognise there is no alternative if Belfast is to grow and be a great place to live and work."

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