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Integrated transport system can break gridlock and benefit Belfast

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Naomi Long

Naomi Long

Naomi Long

As someone whose constituency is due to benefit from the introduction of Belfast's new rapid transit system, I'm committed to making it a success.

As a city, our love affair with the car is not sustainable in the long-term. If we continue to use them for all journeys, their convenience will be wiped out in the congestion to which we are contributing.

We each need to look critically at our journeys, see where we could use public transport and try to do so more often if the growing problem of congestion - and its health and economic cost - are to be tackled.

For that to work, we need reliable, clean and efficient public transport.

It won't work for everyone, or for every journey, but rapid transit could play a hugely positive role. Coupled with improved cycling and walking provision, for example, with the Greenways in east Belfast and our success in lobbying for an extension of the Belfast Bikes and cycle network, we want to create a more liveable, connected, open and dynamic city.

Every new system will have teething problems, that is to be expected. However, the gridlock seen this week on Queens Road in Titanic Quarter goes far beyond that. A single section of bus lane created gridlock and changed the journey time from five minutes to almost an hour for the 18,000 residents, workers and tourists who visit the site daily.

Before the bus lane, the area suffered from similar congestion when major events were taking place at the SSE Arena. Traffic was unable to get onto the Sydenham Road from Queens Road and disperse. The new bus lane has effectively replicated that situation on a daily basis.

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Weeks before the lane was introduced, I wrote to the Department for Infrastructure with some potential adjustments to the junction ahead of it going live, as it was obvious it had the potential to bring traffic to a standstill.

Those suggestions were dismissed as unnecessary and I was told they would review the situation in a year. However, after three days of complete gridlock, those very suggestions are now being implemented to try to fix the problem road users predicted.

It was ironic, but also enormously frustrating, to see buses stuck in traffic jams caused by the bus lane and, to add insult to injury, bus services on Queens Road had to be suspended at one point as a result.

I have been approached by a huge number of employers this week, worried about the future of their businesses, and the impact on tourism will be significant if the many coaches and buses visiting the site are routinely caught up in heavy traffic. Belfast needs good infrastructure to be an economic success - a liveable, workable and attractive destination city.

It's clear to everyone we need to focus on finding an urgent solution in Titanic Quarter.

After a series of meetings and telephone calls with local businesses, the Department for Infrastructure, Translink and the Harbour Commission, a number of solutions are now being tested.

However, perhaps more importantly, a forum has been created to allow issues to be raised quickly as they emerge and addressed constructively.

It has also led to a renewed focus on the wider infrastructure improvements which are desperately needed for Titanic Quarter to continue to grow, integrate into the city, and be a continuing success story.

The Glider system has the potential to greatly improve public transport in Belfast.

Let us now find an integrated transport solution which works for Titanic Quarter and for the city as a whole. Belfast's future success depends on it.


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