Belfast bus lanes a resounding success

The bus lanes in Belfast city centre have been a resounding success say Sustrans
The bus lanes in Belfast city centre have been a resounding success say Sustrans

I was disappointed to read Ben Lowry’s verdict on Belfast’s bus lanes (April 1).

We were only heartened by the fact that his view seems to be anecdotal and not based on any facts or evidence.

NI Sustrans Director Gordon Clarke

NI Sustrans Director Gordon Clarke

He contends that there was no congestion in Belfast city centre prior to the creation of bus lanes in 2012 as a result of the Belfast on the Move initiative. To quote him: “The heart of our capital remains mired in congestion that it had never before experienced. Those key roads around City Hall are now needlessly clogged.”

It is certainly not the case that there was no congestion before the bus lanes were introduced as that is why they were implemented in the first place.

The Belfast on the Move scheme has in fact been a resounding success.

According to an impact survey on the scheme there are 11,000 less cars in the city centre each day.

This doesn’t mean the city centre is less busy, in fact there are an increased number of people entering the city centre.

For the first time more than half of people commute to the city centre by bus, train, bike or on foot.

This is a trend we should be encouraging for the sake of future generations and the vibrancy of the city.

Belfast City Centre is being transformed into a much more pleasant, safer public realm; with reduced car traffic and less noise. Cities, after all, are for people not cars.

It is worth noting that 44 per cent of households in the former Belfast City Council area don’t own a car and therefore buses are a vital means for them to access the city centre.

Research has demonstrated that bus passengers are more valuable to city trade than car drivers.

Two major studies of shopping habits in English town centres have revealed that while car users spend more per shopping visit, bus passengers and pedestrians actually visit town centres more frequently and spend more overall.

For those who live further out in rural areas but work in the city there are new Park & Ride facilities such as the one at Cairnshill which currently services around 500 cars a day.

This equates to approximately two miles of traffic. If you abandon bus lanes there might be a temporary reduction in congestion but think about all those passengers currently taking the bus?

They will simply start driving again and congestion will worsen.

It is worth noting that cycle commuting is set to overtake taxi commuting this year as taxi use has declined in the rush hour.

This is a development which should be encouraged for the health and well-being of our population.

While Sustrans wants to see more dedicated cycle lanes, bus lanes (official title: ‘bus and cycle lanes’) are currently important for the increasing numbers of people choosing to cycle into the city centre.

Ben Lowry noted that “buses now get caught up in the slower traffic as they move to or between bus lanes” and that I concede is a concern which affects punctuality and the attraction of public transport.

However, you may be aware of the £100m investment in Belfast Rapid Transit System which will create more direct bus corridors and improve the efficiency of commuting by bus.

This is what the News Letter should be supporting – a more effective, efficient bus network in a vibrant European city – rather than simply calling for bus lanes to be scrapped.

• Gordon Clarke is director of Sustrans Northern Ireland