Belfast Telegraph

Scrap all bus lanes in Belfast city centre - daily traffic jams prompt calls for review of transport strategy

By Chris Kilpatrick

Pressure is growing for a review of bus lanes in Belfast city centre as anger over traffic gridlock intensifies.

Bus lanes were introduced in the heart of Belfast in 2012 as part of the Department for Regional Development's Belfast On The Move programme.

The controversial scheme saw the installation of 2.6km of new bus lanes on main thoroughfares. It gives priority to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. But regular traffic snarl-ups and frustration from traders has led to fresh calls for a rethink of the bus lanes.

Cuts to public transport has also sparked fears over the scheme's long-term viability.

Former Lord Mayor, Ulster Unionist councillor Jim Rodgers, said a review is urgently needed regarding the current system.

"Some good has come from the bus lanes but when you see the back-up of traffic, we need a proper review undertaken by an independent organisation, there's absolutely no question," he said last night.

"People say to me 'I don't want to go into Belfast because the bus lanes are a nightmare'. It still is a problem and it's not working the way it was supposed to work. I know what happened in Liverpool and their bus lanes were like ours - they were a nightmare."

Liverpool recently scrapped the use of all but four of its 26 bus lanes.

The lanes have divided opinion since their inception over what impact, if any, they have had on traffic in Belfast.

The DRD remains fully committed to the scheme, claiming it has taken more than 11,000 cars out of the city centre on a daily basis.

Stephen Pollock, Network Development Manager at the DRD, said the scheme has been a success.

"For the first time, more than half of people travelling into the city centre in the morning peak are travelling by sustainable transport methods such as bus, train, bike or walking," he said.

"Since its completion in 2013, more people are walking, cycling and using public transport for their journey into the city centre in the morning peak."

He added: "The Belfast On The Move traffic arrangements have created a more accessible city centre and the streets are designed to meet the needs of the population generally. We have no plans to change this."

But an independent study earlier this year named Belfast as the most congested city in the UK, ahead of even London.

Earlier this month, a bid to allow cars to use Belfast bus lanes in the run-up to Christmas was rejected. The proposal was made by DUP councillor Gavin Robinson. Yesterday he said the issue of transport in and out of Belfast warranted fresh attention. And he said more had to be done to improve car parking provision in and around Belfast.

"The genesis was there have been ongoing discussions with the Chamber of Commerce over this and there is a belief Belfast is curtailed in its retail growth because of the inability of cars to move freely," he said.

Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association said more had to be done to encourage people into the city centre.

"It is important we encourage more people to use public transport, to cycle and to walk, because a congested city is not good for business," he said.

"We have made progress but there is more work to do."

Questions to Stephen Pollock from DRD'S Transport NI Eastern Division

Q. Is Belfast On The Move working?

A. Yes, the Belfast On The Move project has been a success. For the first time, more than half of people travelling into the city centre in the morning peak are travelling by sustainable transport methods such as bus, train, bike or walking. Since it's completion in 2013 more people are walking, cycling and using public transport for their journey into the city centre in the morning peak.

Q. Some traders we have spoken to say they believe the increase in bus lanes has had a detrimental impact on their businesses. Some motorists also blame the scheme for traffic congestion at peak times. What is your response to that?

A. The traffic management changes have improved accessibility, providing more options for people travelling into the city centre to work and shop. Parking usage has increased, indicating that car borne shoppers have not been deterred. Bus lanes form the backbone of the Metro bus network in Belfast. They have improved bus service reliability and passengers are enjoying a reduction in journey times, helping to reduce congestion and make the city more accessible.

Q. Has there been a marked increase in the use of public transport over the past two years? Are there plans to increase the capacity of trains and buses?

A. Translink reported increases of 1.5% in Metro and 18% in rail passengers over the last two years - overall, rail and bus journeys are expected to exceed 80 million this year based on current trends.

Q. Liverpool recently scrapped the use of the majority of its bus lanes, is Belfast On The Move here to stay?

A. Liverpool's plans are the exception rather than the rule as bus lanes are generally accepted in other cities and are a proven effective traffic management technique used worldwide.

The Belfast On The Move traffic arrangements have created a more accessible city centre and the streets are designed to meet the needs of the population generally.

We have no plans change this.

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