The number of private cars travelling through Belfast city centre has plummeted.
That is according to figures from the Department for Regional Development (DRD), which show that ever since its Belfast on the Move scheme brought a raft of bus and taxi lanes in the city centre, vehicles numbers have plunged.
The DRD said 11,000 fewer vehicles per day are coming into Belfast’s “core city centre streets”, down 16 per cent on 2010, and that the volume of traffic during morning rush-hour is down by a third.
However, the figures were released at the same time as a sat-nav company claimed Belfast is the UK’s “most congested city”, and a number of taxi drivers said the city’s congestion appears worse than before.
Roads expert Dr Wesley Johnston said although private car use has dropped, so has the amount of space available – thanks to the new bus lanes.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests journey times in cars in the city centre are the same, or worse in a few cases,” he said, but added: “If (Belfast on the Move) had made car journeys easier it probably would have been a failure, because they’re encouraging people to try and use public transport.”
Much of the traffic that would normally cut through the centre has been pushed onto the Westlink instead, which is now taking an extra 6,000 vehicles per day.
Sat-nav firm TomTom said yesterday its latest figures put Belfast ahead of London in terms of rush-hour congestion; though Dr Johnston said it must be borne in mind that it is smaller than other cities on the list, so although commuting may be sluggish the journeys are likely to be shorter.
Belfast on the Move, launched in 2010 and finished last year, had sparked fears it would seriously harm trade.
However, it also appears that demand for parking spaces in the city has increased, indicating that while fewer commuters are coming to the centre, more shoppers are.
In addition, passengers coming into Belfast at the morning peak increased by 36 per cent, while the number of cyclists was up 19 per cent.
Figures also show increased bus use.
SusTrans, a charity that encourages cycling, said: “If these efforts continue, there’s no reason why Belfast can’t become a leading European city with lively, people-focused streets.”
DRD minister Danny Kennedy said the changes “have made travel by public transport, walking and cycling an attractive alternative to travel by private car”.
All-in-all, Dr Johnston believes the scheme has paid off.
Roads had been full to bursting, he said, and unless a bid was made to boost public transport the only alternative would have been to smash down parts of the city and build more lanes and car parks.