New Belfast bus lanes will 'suck lifeblood out of Falls Road', say residents
Residents in west Belfast have said that 12-hour bus lanes which came into effect yesterday will "crucify" the community.
The new bus lanes, stretching from McKinstry Road roundabout in Dunmurry to Belfast city centre, will be in operation six days a week, Monday-Saturday.
One business on the Falls Road, the Little Mexican Deli, has closed down after footfall dwindled.
The closure has caused further concern to those working and living on the road, with just over a month to go until Translink's Belfast Rapid Transit Glider is introduced.
The service will link the east of the city to the west in a multi-million pound investment by the Department for Infrastructure (Dfl) and Translink.
However, on the Falls Road yesterday, enthusiastic residents were hard to come by.
Joe Brennan (63) owns a tanning salon and travels to his business from Warrenpoint six days a week.
He said that he has to park in the Beechmount neighbourhood as the area around the salon is too congested.
"I think it's going to kill the whole of the Falls Road from where the whole route starts and finishes," he said.
"It's going to destroy businesses and inconvenience everybody. All the residents along here can no longer park their cars and if they do park down the side-streets, they get them vandalised because the people who live there resent not being able to park outside their own doors.
"It's going to suck the lifeblood out of the Falls Road."
The lanes will operate from 7am to 7pm, allowing a four-hour window between 10am and 2pm for loading and unloading and up to 10 minutes for dropping off or picking up disabled blue-badge holders.
Fintan Heatley (58) is awaiting two knee operations as well as suffering from other conditions. He said that daily chores will become harder.
"This has been forced on people here and it's destroying this road," he said.
"Come September when all the schools and the college (St Mary's) will be open, houses round here will be rented out to students. There'll be extra cars in the area.
"I'm a disabled resident and I can't park in front of my own house.
"If I come back home with shopping, according to the signs, I can stop for 10 minutes and put everything in the house then come back out and move the car.
"If I had to park as far away as Beechwood, how am I getting back here with just a walking stick, which causes me more pain?"
One woman, whose parents have lived at the same address for 30 years, said that she was outraged.
"Residents are just the bottom of the heap here," she said. "The only day you're having freedom is on a Sunday.
"My next door neighbour is in her 90s. It takes her son 10 minutes to take her from the house to the car. She has carers that come in two or three times a day too. You're sort of having your every day basic rights taken away from you and nobody understands this."
Local People Before Profit councillor Matthew Collins said that people are becoming increasingly concerned.
"Our office has been inundated with people that have concerns around both congestion and car parking in west Belfast," he said.
Retail NI has also asked the Dfl to keep the 12-hour period "under review", citing concerns over the number of fines issued for bus lane infringements.
However, Gordon Clarke, Northern Ireland director of sustainable transport charity Sustrans, welcomed the new lanes.
"This is key to the operation of the new Belfast Rapid Transit Glider system," he said.
"It will ensure a fast, efficient bus service for the people of west Belfast both to access the city centre and to link with east Belfast, which is a really positive step. Encouraging people out of their cars and on to public transport, walking or cycling is crucial to reduce congestion and air pollution and for the future growth of this city as set out in the Belfast Agenda (produced by Belfast City Council)."
The DfI said: "The bus lanes will provide increased priority and a faster, more efficient service for existing bus services in the short-term and, from September 3, for Glider services on this key public transport route.
"Motorists will have the opportunity to get used to the new arrangements during the summer when traffic levels are traditionally lower.
"The department would ask roads users in the area to take extra care until they are familiar with the new arrangements."
The DfI said meetings were held with residents during the planning process to hear their concerns about the planned new bus lane hours.