Editor's Viewpoint: Forcing cars out of city could backfire
Belfast's roads layout are the wrong configuration for a modern traffic-laden city. All roads lead to the city centre, exactly the opposite of what the planners want.
They would much prefer an American style grid pattern which would enable drivers to cut across town bypassing the most congested area. So instead the planners are trying to drive motorists out of the city centre by creating more bus lanes and prioritising public transport.
The result to date has been something approaching chaos with drivers unsure of the new road markings, torrential rain leading to heavier traffic and accidents and gridlock during rush hour. However, there is little sympathy from the man in charge of the new transportation strategy, who bullishly tells motorists to either put up with the disruption for the next six weeks until the system beds down or else get out of their cars and get on the bus.
He actually touches on an important point. Northern Ireland people have a love affair with the car. They will put up with traffic congestion, sky high fuel costs and hefty parking charges just so long as they can travel in comfort in their own vehicle. Unlike other major cities most people will not forsake their cars for public transport. Park and ride schemes, bus lanes promising faster journeys, even economical ticket prices all fail to lure drivers out of their cars.
Transport chiefs obviously feel that a tough approach is justified. If the carrots described above don't work then the stick of more bus lanes and less room for cars will be used instead to change commuter habits. It is a risky strategy. If drivers are forced from the city centre, except for essential journeys, then shopkeepers could suffer even more than at the moment.
It is estimated that one in four shops in the city have been forced to close. Belfast can ill-afford to lose any more customers. People need to feel welcomed to the city, so transport chiefs should work with motorists to reach mutually agreeable solutions to the congestion problems.