City centre chaos fears over Belfast traffic flow revamp
One of the biggest ever overhauls of the road network in central Belfast begins operation on Monday — but there are fears of rush hour chaos as motorists get to grips with the revamp.
It is the first phase of the ambitious Belfast On The Move project, which is aimed at slashing traffic congestion in the city centre.
The changes will affect five streets around the City Hall, some of which will become one way.
A greater emphasis will be put on public transport, pedestrians and cyclists.
The key changes include:
- New sets of traffic signals at three junctions.
- Parts of Queen Street and Castle Street becoming one way with a contraflow cycle lane in operation at one point.
- A section of Castle Street becoming bus-only.
- Upper Queen Street becoming two way.
But concern is mounting that there could be severe disruption to traffic flow as motorists grapple with the new road layouts.
Taxi driver John McKay uses the centre of Belfast several times a day, and warned that any confusion could lead to chaos.
He said: “Monday morning traffic is always a nightmare to drive through but if this turns into a situation where people get lost and confused, then it will become even worse.”
Belfast city councillor John Kyle said disruption was inevitable, but believes there are many long-term benefits to the scheme.
He stated: “If you make a change it’s inevitable there will be short-term disruption, and that is regrettable. But the long-term goal of having more sustainable transport in Belfast is essential and, if we are to compete with other major cities, we have got to have a good public transport infrastructure and avoid having a city centre clogged up with traffic.”
Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers insisted long-term benefits will compensate for initial disruption — notably the rerouting of buses from Donegall Place.
“I have no doubt at the start there will be teething problems, and there could be traffic difficulties — that is fully understandable,” he said.
The cost of the first phase of work is around £300,000.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy claimed it would make Belfast a more pedestrian-friendly place.
“This is the first step in delivering a city centre where access by public transport is given a much higher priority,” he said.
His Executive colleague, Social Development Minister Nelson Mc Causland, said it was aimed at making Belfast’s city centre a more pleasant, accessible and safe place.
Aim is to end logjams clogging main arteries
Some 30,000 vehicles pass through the centre of Belfast every day. Nearly two-thirds of this is|estimated to be through traffic with no final destination in the city centre.
The transport masterplan, which was unveiled in February 2010, is aimed at tackling this heavy flow.
Costing £5m, it will introduce a range of measures intended to slash congestion and has been developed by several agencies including the Department for Regional Development, Belfast City Council and Translink.
Over 40% of households in Belfast rely on public transport and the project is intended to|facilitate these people.
There are several elements to the first phase of the scheme, which takes effect from next week.
These include three new sets of traffic signals at the junctions of Howard Street/Upper Queen Street; Wellington Place/Queen Street, and Castle Street/Queen Street.
Alteration to traffic flows associated with this work also come into effect from Monday.
Looking ahead, the second stage of the plan is the implementation of the sustainable transport enabling measures, estimated to cost around £4m.
This includes the rerouting of northbound through traffic from Great Victoria Street onto Hope Street, with Grosvenor Road becoming one-way westbound and College Square North one-way eastbound.
Existing road space in city centre streets will also be redistributed to facilitate public transport, taxis and cyclists, while 20 new pedestrian crossing points, 2.6km of bus lanes and 1km of dedicated cycle lanes will also be provided.