Belfast Telegraph

Another bitter blow for Belfast's drivers

Editor's Viewpoint

The decision to postpone indefinitely a roads scheme that could have transformed traffic flow in Belfast will undoubtedly have a major impact on the city.

The York Street interchange could have cost £165m, with 40% of the funding coming from Europe, and no doubt Brexit has played a part in the decision to shelve the plan - the first indication of the potential problems in improving the province's infrastructure that leaving the EU may soon throw up.

The current York Street road layout is a bottleneck, which is a major reason why Belfast has recently been described as the third most congested city in the UK.

With no remedy in sight, it is a situation that is likely to worsen, leading to fears that the city's pivotal trading position could be damaged.

As was seen last week, a simple accident on the Westlink leading from or to York Street can have a major knock-on effect, crippling traffic movement over a wide area for a considerable period of time, particularly at rush hour.

Given the area's proximity to the docks, there are also concerns that freight carriers could be put off from travelling through the city, slowing or even halting economic expansion in the port. But it is the ordinary motorist who will most rue the postponement of the scheme. Northern Ireland has a love affair with the car and Belfast is also the main employment centre, drawing its workforce from throughout the province.

Already motorists feel that they are unwelcome in the city with the proliferation of bus lanes - including some that drivers are forbidden to enter 24 hours a day even though public transport only runs for at most 18 hours - and high parking charges.

The most obvious answer to congestion is providing a first-class public transport system, and while it has improved in recent years - and the high speed cross-city rapid transit system currently under construction may be another step forward - it is still not sufficiently attractive to entice motorists out of their vehicles.

Perhaps more park and ride facilities allied to improved public transport, greater car sharing among commuters and staggering school starting times could make a difference if the predictions of gridlock in the city become a reality.

As it stands, people are leaving for work earlier and earlier and leaving work later to beat the traffic jams. Like the traffic, this is a problem that is not going anywhere fast.

Belfast Telegraph

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