Jury out on city's traffic 'solution'
The controversy over the traffic flow in Belfast continues and there are still many question marks over the research behind the Belfast On The Move project which put bus lanes and one-way systems into the city centre. The questions will be particularly relevant because this was the Government's own study.
Critics of the project claim that congestion has become worse since the initiative was launched, and a new independent study has named Belfast as the most congested city in the United Kingdom, ahead of Edinburgh and even London.
Despite this, the Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has claimed that the changes have led to fewer vehicles, with reduced traffic flows through inner city residential areas.
The DRD itself claims that an impact study on the project showed that there are 11,000 fewer cars in the city centre each day and that 2,000 more people are entering Belfast each morning. The study also claims a 40% increase in Park and Ride, 36% more train users, 19% more cyclists and 12% more pedestrians.
Certainly, it does not feel as if there are 11,000 fewer vehicles in the city centre, and it is difficult to produce totally reliable figures for the number of people using public transport, and the number of pedestrians.
It is significant that councillor Jim Rodgers, a member of the town planning committee, has disputed the claim that there are 11,000 fewer vehicles in the city each day. Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association claims that while congestion is still a problem, it is improving, but equally, there are many who would side with Rodgers' views.
The major worry for the city is the deterrent factor for those who want to come, and it is important Belfast rids itself of a reputation for being difficult to access. What is required is a much deeper study that includes such factors as footfall and city centre retail takings.
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Without doubt, less congestion is to be welcomed, along with more pedestrians and more people using public transport. However, this newspaper remains unconvinced about the Government's implementation of its Belfast On The Move Project, with some frankly strange bus lanes and distinctly odd road systems. It remains a lesson both in how not to implement a traffic system and how to simultaneously rile the public.