How can we fix the Belfast traffic gridlock?

2116164_ff1c7fb7If you were one of the poor sods stuck in yesterday massive traffic jams  in Belfast you have my sympathies. It took the wife an hour to move 2 miles on the Westlink.

A quick recap. A suspicious object was discovered about 3pm close to the M1 at Lisburn’s Saintfield Road junction. The country-bound section of the motorway was then shut from Blacks Road in west Belfast to Lisburn until 5.30pm when it declared a hoax.

The interesting thing about these situations is even when only the M1 was closed it seems the through the whole traffic system in Belfast into chaos. All routes out of the city in every direction where gridlocked.

Even after the M1 was reopened there were still massive delays. I travelled on the M1 into the city about 7pm and there was still a 1 mile queue to get off the motorway at Stockmans. Other junctions also had massive queues.

Belfast officially has the worst traffic jams in the UK, and yesterday has shown how it is extremely easy for it to grind to a complete halt.

What can we do about it?

Public transport: too many people drive into Belfast for work, but what many people may not know is that the trains are now at capacity as well. Translink need to look at running more trains but with the cutbacks you can be sure they are going to plead the poor mouth. Buses are also well used at peak times. The park and ride schemes also seem to be popular.

Flexible working arrangements: the civil service already has flexi-time for a lot of its staff with many workers starting at 8am or earlier. It is clear that if there was not flex-time the traffic would be even more of a mess.

My own preferred solution would be to dramatically increase the amount of cycle lanes around Belfast. Real cycle lanes not just paint on the road. That would take off some of the pressure and even encourage kids to cycle to school. I know that is not much use if you live in Omagh but it would take some pressure of the normal bottlenecks like the Ormeau Rd etc. I know this will never happen but we can dream.

And what about the contentious bus lanes? Many people complain the buses do not even use them all the time, or cars are parked/stopped in them waiting to pick people up. Time to scrap the bus lanes or better enforce them?

What is your view? How can we improve the traffic flow into the city? Tell us your suggestions below.

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  • Dan

    The other morning at 8 15 I drove along the Antrim Road from Glengormley to Carlisle Circus.
    Crawling along most of the way on the outside lane with the city bound bus lanes empty, except for one bus. One single solitary bus.
    Forty minutes of frustration.

    Ridiculous situation that cowardly politicians haven’t had the balls to say no to this and so have gone along with the vandalising of the road network.
    (Same with those road humps everywhere).

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m rather keen on cycles myself. I still have pretty good muscle tone from years of cycling round the London media world when I worked there, but we’d perhaps need a roof to be built over Belfast, that or a lot of canopies such as the Penny Farthing in the Prisoner logo employs. People tend to use cars because of our very wet climate, preferring to arrive late rather than soaked through.

  • thePyrrhonist

    Methinks it would have been better to have been on that bus!

  • Practically_Family

    When they come to my house, take me to where I’m going, when I want to go and they let me decide who I share them with, I’ll take the bus.

    Until then…

  • Dan

    Unfortunately it wasn’t going out to the Lagan Valley hospital!

  • thePyrrhonist

    Unfortunately that’s the main problem public transport has to overcome. Useful to a relatively small proportion of the population who live close to decent transport links, and practically useless to the rest.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Or until fuel is in the £20.00 a litre range in a few years time.

  • Neil

    This is my bugbear. I’ve been expecting this thread for a while now.

    Some of the lights are a major part of the problem. I can provide examples but it’s probably too boring, but the position of the sensitive traffic lights and the bus lanes mean you can sit at red lights, jammed in by buses trying to cross three lanes of traffic.

    Public transport is expensive and not joined up. The bus service is patchy enough from the outskirts of Belfast, and when you work in the East (and you have little choice in the matter thanks the the incredible investment in jobs in the East of the city) if you do decide to chump up more than the cost of parking (where I park, I could park for free) and driving and instead take the bus I will get dropped off near Castle Lane and have a 15 – 20 minute walk to work, or I can catch another bus, and spend an additional fare, making the whole public transport experience an extravagence.

    Cycling is not an option for many, I live near the little red lights you can see from the city centre on top of the mountain. Some people may go in for 7 mile cycles up mountains but it’s not a serious suggestion for most people. That said the cycle lanes that currently exist aren’t up to scratch, either put the cycle lanes in or don’t, they’re half in now. They just disappear sometimes.

    Some bus lanes don’t offer value, in terms of shifting people. Some of the lanes I would gaurantee sit empty almost all the time. Bearing in mind the same people brought us a lane in the city centre that Translink told the department there was literally zero percent chance of any bus driving in it, ever. Rest assured these geniuses have made other mistakes.

    When traffic chaos does hit, bus lanes don’t solve the situation, even for buses. They certainly make greater progress than drivers, but using yesterday, or last week, or three weeks ago as an example, the buses sitting at the back of the traffic jams aren’t going anywhere either. Ask someone who used public transport yesterday, I have. It took them hours getting home too.

    I also find it astounding that Translink cannot turn a profit. Or remain cost neutral. Time to take control there. I recall reading that post the poor mouth routine a couple of years back Translink located several million in their bank accounts. Hive off NIR, and subsidise it, then make the bus company make money, like other bus companies have been known to do.

    The thing the people in charge need to realise regarding things like infrastructure is that when I spend an hour in the car every day, at least half an hour more than I did a short time back, I’m actually losing around 120 hours approx a year (over and above a normal journey at rush hour). It makes people like me consider leaving and taking my job, my family and my wages elsewhere. It makes me not even countenance going into Belfast to shop, which I haven’t done in over a year. The same kind of unthinking approach is used to fleece businesses via rates, until eventually the businesses decide to or are forced to shut up shop or move. The golden goose yet again is on the operating table, and an MLA is approaching with a rusty knife.

  • Practically_Family

    If that happens I’ll invoice accordingly, or retire.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Most of the population does live close to transport links. Belfast has quite good bus routes. Holywood, Bangor, Larne, Newry etc have good rail links. Sure there is lot of people who live in rural areas but public transport is an option for most of the population.

  • Gerrynearly

    I get the bus from Glengormley every morning and there is one roughly every ten minutes so don’t know what the problem must’ve been that particular morning! Granted the service to the part I live in isn’t great generally but in the morning its ok and saves me the hassle of driving across town to get to work, although generally I’m not Translink’s biggest fan. Their timetable is more or less completely arbitrary. I stood in the city centre for about twenty minutes last night waiting on a bus that the screen at the bus stop said was ‘due’ for the whole time. In the end I gave up and got the next Glengormley bus that came and then walked about two miles to my home

  • Disdain

    My Dad has done several reports on this in an ALB capacity. He says, essentially, Belfast is a small regional city which takes in a large portion of the East of the Bann workforce, as well as some of the West. The solution is (apparently) to make public transport hugely, hugely attractive, to such an extent that car ownership, and car usage in business commuting, plummets. [Northern Ireland has the highest rate of car ownership in the UK, apparently, which is astonishing when you consider we also have the lowest wealth per head, highest economic inactivity etc.]

    To my eye (and to his) we haven’t done this yet; we’ve only fecked about with a few bus lanes, which are a counter-productive half measure. What is needed is things like high-speed trains (or ANY trains) from Newcastle-Belfast (via Ballynahinch), or other such commuter lines; more reliable and regular Metro services from major Belfast public transport “hubs” (Central, Europa etc) to the main clusters of business/public sector employment; and a general hiking of the price of driving a car, alone, to work – tolls, car pool lanes et cetera.

    In the immediate sense, this looks unattractive, but in the long-term, would probably be effective. Overall all of this is hugely unlikely.

    Sadly, it is a measure of our system that the same can be said of many aspects of public policy under Stormont’s aegis – integrated education is a prime example.

  • Sharpie

    I go to the Netherlands for work a few times a year. They have a colder winter than us, and plenty of rain as well. Dublin’s climate is the same as ours. Copenhagen is colder and wetter. Despite this, all these places have unbelievable stats for bikes. In the Netherlands if you live in a rural area, you drive to the nearest train station or bus station and take the train or bus. You never drive to the city. Once you arrive at the train station you pick up your bike – there are thousands of bike park places at every train station. You cycle your bike to your destination – sometimes it could be a journey of several miles.

    If you don’t own a bike you hire one from the municipality and if you are a business your bike hire is free. All the bike parks have indoor facilities for changing, for bike repair, and of course for safe bike parking.

    In the Netherlands they have segregated cycle routes into the towns and cities so that there is no conflict with motorists – it makes it safe for women and children.

    In Ireland the main bike user is male, lycra clad and pedalling like mad.

    In Dublin they have invested a lot in cycle infrastructure and now the Council’s conversations are not about white lines on the road, but about removing traffic lanes, including along the length of the Liffey from Heuston Station to the Point to create segregated cycle lanes. They aspire to the Copenhagen model.

    Cycling is the future and eventually we will catch up with the reality. Its way cheaper, healthier, in cities faster, and will one day be cool even in Belfast.

    Attitudes from the general public here towards buses and bicycles are antiquated and patronising. There’s no point moaning about traffic jams if you are sat in a car in one. You are part of the problem.

  • barnshee

    I regularly use Park and ride-usually excellent and Rail Rail can also be excellent unfortunately, particularly,later trains ruined by loudmouth drunks.( Last Saturday to Ballymena was a classic —train absolutely bulging, everybody apparently pissed and 4 empty carriages that could not be opened–near riots at Central to get on)
    That said for the commuter a seat+ a newspaper to me make the train unbeatable.

    The answers
    More Park and ride -Improved bus and train services for peak periods to and from “satellites” to keep the traffic out of the centre. Free/ cheap park and ride and higher parking charges in Belfast.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Brian

    This was mentioned the other day so I’ll just regurgitate what I wrote.

    I wasn’t aware that the trains are near capacity though I must say I am surprised that this is the case on the Antrim line.

    I think they should re-open/open train stations in places like Templepatrick, Dunadry and the out skirts of towns like Antrim and Ballymena (it’s pointless driving to the town centre to catch a train that goes past your house).

    With regards to the traffic from the north I thought a park and ride station just off one of the Antrim motorway junctions (there’s a perfect field that connects a turnoff and the railway line) would help a bit.

    It won’t solve everything but it’ll help.

    Down here Melbourne has a serious amount of cycle paths, tram lines and train lines.

    Sydney has comparatively few.

    I don’t see it as a coincidence that Melbourne (though still bad at rush hour) doesn’t make you want to ‘do’ a Michael Douglas in Falling Down in the way Sydney does. (and it does).

  • carlovivigornian

    1. With a 3-D map of the city you can find the areas that would benefit most from investment in decent cycle lanes i.e. Flattish routes where you don’t sweat too much.
    2. Build those lanes.
    3. Emphasise to local shops, bars and restaurants that passing cyclists are much more likely to pull up and frequent their premises because parking is much easier for them than for motorists. This keeps local businesses afloat. They pay tax.
    4. The contraction of Tesco seems to be being caused by people shopping more regularly because people want fresher food. Therefore cycling is a realistic form of transport for many daily activities. The heavy stuff that you still have to buy is bought online these days so that further reduces the need to use a car every day.
    5. Modern cycling clothing reduces the possibility of arriving at work soaked through. It’s not cheap but then again neither is tax, fuel and insurance.
    6. Pushing the sub-four-mile journeys off the road on to the cycle route reduces the pressure on the road system but…….
    7. More cars will fill the vacuum……so electrify the railways to improve speed and efficiency and build park and ride stops into the system to reduce the number of out-of-towners’ vehicles filling the city’s network.
    8. To put it in language that Peter will understand, when a guy from China wants to locate a new factory he has the option of:

    a. Munich – efficient transport to get staff and goods in and out but expensive staff, therefore a place to implement a high added value facility or…
    b. Manilla – chronic congestion but cheap staff, therefore a place to implement a low added value facility
    c. Belfast – chronic congestion but (relatively) expensive staff. Ask if there are any government hand-outs available. If not, get straight back to the airport. Try not to miss plane because of traffic.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    There’s a cafe near me right on a cycle path. It backs on to a bike shop and it makes a sheer fortune.

  • stewrogers

    They are not going to expand the railways. They have shown the govt. policy is all on road (on road trams, park and ride etc). Which is a crying shame because they don’t appear to have any decent town planners to sort the roads issue.

    As that bunch of morons on the hill debate about a family bakery not making a gay Bert and Ernie cake, the real issues go on the back burner and this is a real issue, affecting the lives of thousands of taxpayers every day. Welcome to Northern Ireland where theres nothing more permant than a temporary fix.

  • Tacapall

    Depending on what area we live gridlocks are intentional, anyone who frequents the west of the city will notice the sheer number of unnecessary traffic islands, littered up and down the Falls road, bus stops are stragetically placed just in front of these islands ensuring every motorist behind must wait until the bus moves before they can move to the next stop for more of the same. Its just one big constant gridlock everyday in these parts. The PSNI surely love it though, no fast getaways and being able to generate funds by fining all those eager workers for driving in the empty bus lanes. Make public transport free that will sort it.

  • Ian James Parsley

    The notion that Belfast has the “worst traffic jams in the UK” was false reporting. The study actually showed that the distinction between peak time and non-peak was the greatest of any UK city – but that could just as easily mean it is the least congested city as the most.

    It’s the usual media “We’re the worst” nonsense. We’re clearly not.

    Additionally, average commute times have decreased post-bus lanes. Clearly cars have been negatively impacted, but that was kinda the point…

  • Brian O’Neill

    There actually was a proposal to make all public transport free. The logic was that it is going to cost a fortune to build more roads to cope with the extra traffic, it would be cheaper to make public transport free. Translink is massively subsidised anyway so free is not a huge leap.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Sadly, Sharpie, I look bizarre in lycra and my old Pashley “sit up and beg” does not even begin to help, but yes, I remember that I could nip around the dense, slow moving London traffic even on that. And it was much more fun.

    Another “Utopian” possibility would be “free” public transport factored into the rates. I’d love to see just how many people would drop their petrol head fixation then! The only looser would be the oil industry.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Great minds think alike Tacapall! I’d just posted on that too above! But that’s my PD/Situationalist roots in the 1960s, white bicycles in Holland, etc!

    We know it makes sense……

  • Tacapall

    Public transport is massively subsidised ! I just cant figure out why the adult fare for everyone to the RVH from the city center is £1.40 yet for people from West Belfast who live in St James, a far shorter distance, walking distance in fact, and its £1.90 to go down to the RVH.

  • Paddy Reilly

    Bicycles are very nice, but Holland is entirely flat.

    Public Transport yes, but you need to reduce the cost to something purely nominal, so that drivers are tempted to use it.

    School buses are very important. If you have buses to take to school all children who live more than a very short distance away, you considerable reduce the amount of traffic on the road during peak hours.

    There are two plagues in our society which ruin everything: the first is the drive to sell houses to people who are not retired. In the Victorian and Edwardian eras, working people did not attempt to own their own houses. (Even present-day Germany has abstained from this obsession, meaning their economy is a lot healthier than ours.) As a result they could up sticks at a moment’s notice, to where they worked. Many jobs came with housing supplied: engine works had a row of houses for the engine workers, shop-keepers lived over their shops, a flat for the cook was built under the house of gentry.

    The second plague is the expansion of the activities of Personnel Officers to cover minor and temporary appointments.

    50 years ago, if there was a minor job in Ballymacarrett, it was advertised on a card in Ballymacarrett Labour Exchange, and filled by a man from Ballymacarrett. No transport necessary. Now it’s placed online, advertised all over, and you will get idiots from Antrim and Dungannon applying for it. Even if it’s only an 8 hours a week maternity cover thing. The final result is you end up with someone from Dungannon driving to East Belfast to take up a job, and passing on the motorway someone driving from East Belfast to Dungannon to do the identical job there. (Of course, all this becomes more likely due to another plague, the dearth of employment.)

    In addition to this, the disappearance of jobs for life means that people do not have the same motivation to gravitate to near their workplace.

    The final result is that if you look at the economy, you are spending 5% of the GDP on unnecessary commuting.

    So the answer to the problem is to think, Is your journey really necessary?

  • Ernekid

    We need to get cars out of the city centre. I think they should pedestrianise Royal Avenue and have a complete overhaul of bus routes in the city. Translink are a pretty terrible public transport operator. Maybe have a little competition in the market?

  • Tacapall

    “I think they should pedestrianise Royal Avenue”

    Indeed we should, you take your life in your hands every time you cross the road, some of those bus drivers seem to think its their own personal rally track, its a scary place to be at this time of year.

  • Gerrynearly

    I’ve thought for years that Translink needed a bit of competition. I don’t like having to use them but unfortunately they’re th only show in town and they know this, which is why their customer service is so crap. I missed a bus on e morning (I didn’t actually, it went over 5 minutes early so I stood like an eedjit thinking it was just really late) and when I rang them to see where it was because I was by now late for work I was told to ‘just get a taxi’. Unsurprisingly when I e-mailed to complain I was told they had no record of that call

  • Framer

    Post-Shadow Belfast Council Report
    Monday, 8th December, 2014
    Notice of Motion
    Use of Bus Lanes at times of Emergency or Chronic Congestion
    *(At the request of Councillor Boyle, the Council agreed to consider a slightly amended wording to the motion as to that which had been set out on the agenda).
    Moved by Councillor Declan Boyle,
    Seconded by Councillor Kate Mullan,
    “Belfast District Council urges the Department for Regional Development to implement measures permitting the use of bus lanes by all vehicles at times of chronic congestion as a result of an emergency situation; thereby saving thousands of lost working hours to the economy of our City.”
    On a vote by show of hands, 12 Members voted for the motion and 10 against. The motion was carried.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Just a pity we don’t have the population to justify a rail metro system. Seems to be the way other big populated cities around the world are going.

  • Brian O’Neill

    To be fair it is £1.15 with a smartpass or £1.30 in a black taxi.

    The fact that you can’t buy one ticket that will let you go from one part of Belfast to another is crazy. At the moment if you transfer onto another bus you need to buy another ticket.

  • barnshee

    If you want a model for transport- go to Geneva and copy the system
    Its brilliant -bus stop with signs shown present position and time of arrival of next bus and there it comes- bang on time.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    What you need to do is live for sixty years……

  • nigel mckinney

    Yeah – traffic was terrible yesterday. Living in South Down and working in Belfast – commuting is the most stressful part of my life and I’m sure its worse for those that live farther away.
    I can and need to work reasonably flexibly and try to be on the road at 645 a few days a week – even then its an hour to work and never enjoyable – the motorway from Lisburn to Belfast is now jammed from 730 am onwards and god forbid there’s an accident ( which is regularly on the westlink) then yoiure adding the minutes.
    My own solution? Well the workable one – which is hard – is to get up earlier – more strategically – well more people can and should work remotely – I do work from home and could do more – why travel to Belfast to sit alone in an office all day when I can do as much at home and still have access to files etc.
    Also notable in Belfast in both mornings and evenings is that the rules about urban clearways are ignored by drivers and traffic wardens. Go up the Dublin Road and Botanic any day after 430 and there are cars in the clearways – I’ve never seen a traffic warden there

  • kalista63

    We need a sky train, Shelbyville has one ?

    Actually, we could do with suburban to urban light railway system with good shelters at the stations/stops.

  • crockaleen

    This is a topic that has been grinding my proverbial gears for the last ten years.

    Having taken a long hard look at my own situation, I’ve generally come to the conclusion that car-dependence and laziness that flows from this have become so embodied in our mentality here that there is unlikely to be a massive shift onto alternative transport methods unless something radical such as congestion charging comes to fruition and in my experience, radical changes just don’t work in this part of the world. Belfast will just never be Copenhagen or Amsterdam.

    I live in a rural part of west County Down, about half an hour from Belfast, quite near a frequent express bus route. I commuted into Belfast for seven years, took the bus for the most part and drove in the latter years when I got free parking. Travel times were similar either way but the bus tended to be packed and cramped, not at all conducive to getting anything productive done.

    I now commute to Dublin daily on the Enterprise and I’ve found it to be much more enjoyable than I anticipated (apart from the early starts and the 72% punctuality rate) but I can use a laptop and the odd time, the wifi actually lets me connect.

    I agree with the argument that we could do with P&R train stations (or “parkway stations” as they seem to be called in GB) near major roads. The location of Newry station is absolutely ideal beside the A1 Camlough Road exit yet with a free link bus into the city centre. Many of the NIR stations are too inconveniently sited to be feasible for commuters – parking at Lisburn, Lurgan and Portadown stations is inadequate and all these towns are already congested at peak times. Perhaps more should be done to market and enhance Moira’s existing P&R facilities or has been mentioned, reopening Templepatrick?

    For me, I can get from home to Dublin’s southside in two hours, I’d struggle to negotiate the Quays and park up in the same timeframe. The €10 DPT pre-10am toll is outrageous, so that is a non-starter and no matter what anyone says, Dublin traffic is worse than Belfast. It’s just that in Dublin, you usually have more options to avoid it.

    So I think Belfast could learn a bit from Dublin – forget building expensive railways into the sticks, stick with simple things: increase the cost of on-street parking around the city centre (still comparatively cheap) and introduce zone resident permits, increase capacity on existing rail services, perhaps subsidise further certain key P&R routes, such as Cairnshill. An integrated smartcard system like Leap or Oyster would surely simplify things. Might not work but it won’t break the bank and it’s worth a shot.

  • Bryan Magee

    Trains: the northern line is standing room only from Ballymena to Belfast, at peak times, despite frequency gonig up to hourly (half hourly at peak times). The capacity for more frequency has now been reached because much of the line is single track.

    We desperately need:

    1. The Dargan Bridge over the lagan to be double-tracked to allow greater frequency (quite expensive, but currently a major bottleneck); will be done with the M2-M3-Westlink upgrade, hopefully.
    2. Mossley West to Ballymena to be restored to double track (Not too expensive as as this is how it was pre- 80s).
    3. All trains to be 6-carriage not 3-carriage (this is relatively cheap as the stations have all been elongated to handle this).
    4. More spaces at the park-and-ride car parks at the train stations. These are at capacity each morning in many cases.

  • Bryan Magee

    ” I’ve generally come to the conclusion that car-dependence and laziness
    that flows from this have become so embodied in our mentality here that
    there is unlikely to be a massive shift onto alternative transport
    methods”

    You are probably right but there has been a very big move (if not massive) to trains in many countries over the last 10 years and NI is no exception. Part if this is as you say its so much better on trains now with wifi.

    There are now more people travelling by train than the 1950s despite the much smaller network.

    However the capacity is problematic and longer trains, more double-tracking, and more park and ride is needed urgently on NIR.

  • Bryan Magee

    Didn’t you consider the public tranpsort options when choosing your where to live?

  • Anthony McNamee

    Apologies for the M1/A1 only slant here, but it’s the road I’ve travelled for over a decade, Newry to Belfast and back. Only in the past 6 months have I moved over to the train, and it’s been the best decision I’ve made in 10 years of travelling. Of course, Translink are now talking about pulling more trains off the Newry line, instead of making it work harder, but that’s their way. I’d propose these measures:

    – From 6.00am to 10.00am, then from 3.30pm to 8.00pm, a train every 15 mins from Newry to Belfast. This would be combined with the introduction of an ID system that gives every person along that route 1 month of free travel to entice them onto the train. This initiative solves two things: it removes the “train times don’t suit me” argument we all have used, and gives people a no-catch, no commitment chance to change their commuting habits.

    – Tax breaks for companies to have proper pool cars, or at least tax breaks with hire car companies, which then any member of staff can utilise for visiting clients/premises during the day. The key point here is that we need to remove the excuse for “sometimes I need my car during the day”.

    – Free travel on trains and buses for everyone up to the age of 21. Remember, getting public transport is a habit, and the easiest way to force that habit is to get people involved, then make them dependent on it. The M1 is currently awash with students travelling (alone) to Belfast or Jordanstown for 1-2 lectures. They’d argue that as they’re travelling alone, it costs them the same to get the bus/train as it does to take a car. And they’re right (because mum and dad pay for the tyres, insurance, tax, etc). So let’s take away that argument.

    I’ve also got a mad idea that it should be possible to run a high-speed bubble lift (like you would see in a ski resort) from Lisburn to Belfast, with stops in major population areas. If they can make these things financially viable in little-visited ski resorts that only open 4 months a year, then surely they can be made viable between two cities, just 8 miles apart.

  • Anthony McNamee

    Also the suggestion that more cycle lanes will fix things is a bit bizarre if you ask me.

    Leaving aside the obvious issues with hilly terrain, awful weather and need to shower/change clothes for an office role, which rules out anyone without a masochiatic steak (which is most of us), cycling is surely only a viable option (in the overwhelming majority of cases) for people who live within 5 miles of their place of work. In the case of Belfast, that’s the same group of people who are immeasurably better served by public transport, through Metro and local rail. So they would benefit twice, while those of us on the Newry, Armagh, Dungannon, Antrim, Carrick and Bangor routes just get our noses rubbed in it further.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I love your ski lift idea. In ski resorts how far can a ski lift go? Do they actually stop or you need to jump off them? Give us some more details.

  • Anthony McNamee

    A gondola system, with turning points at Lisburn and Great Victoria, and mid-stations at Derriaghy, Finaghy, etc. Use the existing NIR routes and stations, and build the Gondola access platforms atop of the NIR stations. This means it would be built on flat, government-owned, maintained and fence off ground. All it needs is a series of big pillars that don’t can be built around the train lines.

    There’s a Gondola of 3 miles in the States but I’m guessing (I’m no engineer) that as Belfast to Lisburn wouldn’t involve any mountains, it would be an easy enough feat to extend on flat ground.

    The key point here is that this would be built to replace the existing ‘hole in the hedge’ train service from Lisburn to Belfast, therefore freeing up the track (and train stock) for express commuter journeys. The people losing the train service would be big winners as there would be a constant rotation of gondolas ready to take them home, at all times of day.

  • David Mckeever

    Why the hell could Belfast not have proper cycle lanes like Copenhagen? Its tiny and all the main conurbations form something like concentric circles out from the centre. It would be easier here than in any other UK city I’ve ever been in. And imagine the difference if you lot all got out of your cars! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM_HTdpgcRE#t=43

  • Comrade Stalin

    The first thing to say is that the problem – where the road network shuts down when there is an accident on one of the two major city motorways around rush hour – cannot actually be fixed in any practical sense. You would have to build another motorway near the existing one. This is clearly a non-starter. Even in major US cities where the car is king they can’t fix the problems that happen when a sudden closure occurs on one of the main routes.

    Tweaking city centre bus lanes won’t help either. The idea of the bus lanes was to reduce the amount of traffic in the centre. This has basically worked; the number of car journeys passing through town at peak time has dropped, to the point that the congestion level is roughly the same as it was before. If you do away with the bus lanes, all those cars will come back and you’ll be no further on.

    The problem is that driving is too damn easy for lazy people, like me, to use the car. I know there are a lot of people like me, since I pass a lot of cars every day on my way to work that have only one person inside.

    Since I get free car parking at work, and the cost of running the car is not far away from that of a monthly train ticket, I take the easy way out. The car journey for me door to door is typically 20-25 minutes. The train journey door to door is about 45 minutes, and the walk to/from the train station is very annoying when it’s wet. The bus journey would be about the same.

    So you need to basically get all authoritarian and punish people for driving, and reward people for using public transport. Therefore :

    – increase the subsidy to public transport, lay on more buses and trains.
    – upgrade the bridge between Yorkgate and Belfast Central to double track, and add the Donegall Quay station. At peak times, the Whitehead-Belfast, Bangor-Belfast and Antrim-Belfast routes should have a train every 10-15 minutes.
    – open new train stations at Fortwilliam and Whitehouse, and add Park & Ride at Fortwilliam.

    – pay for this by adding tolls, similar to the automatic toll on the M50 in Dublin. £0.50 to exit the M2 at Duncrue or Nelson Street, or to join at York Street, and £0.50 to exit or enter the M1 at Stockman’s Lane or Boucher.

    – charge rates, based on an assessed annual rental value, on parking spaces other than disabled spots or an appropriate number of customer spaces for any non-retail business premises within a ten mile radius of Belfast. This needs to be coupled with laws requiring landlords to rigorously enforce abuse of disabled parking spaces.

    – come up with a way to encourage carpooling. Some US cities do this.

    The above changes would mean the marginal cost for me to drive to work would change from about roughly £40/month in diesel to roughly £81/month, for diesel, tolls and the cost of the parking space. Since the train ticket today costs about £45, it’s going to make a hell of a lot more sense for me to bite the bullet and go that way.

  • Comrade Stalin

    (1) needs done as a matter of urgency, but will be expensive. (the stupid short-sightedness of the current crippled bridge is worth mentioning)

    (2) is very tricky. When they relaid the track in ~2000 or so they changed the alignment, so that the current single track is running up the centre of the old alignment. You’ll see this if you look at some of the bridges in the area between Corr’s Corner and Monkstown. Also, Mossley West station was built right on the old alignment so there is no room in the cutting to add another track. That station would have to set back further from the railway alignment – expensive.

    So to double the Bleach Green-Antrim section will require a full lift and relay of the line. Doubling Antrim-Ballymena would not require realignment (in some cases parts of the old track can still be seen in situ) but would still be a major undertaking. I’d say in total, back of an envelope, you’re talking £60-£70m sort of numbers.

    3. This is also a bit of a problem, since in their infinite wisdom Translink ordered modular three-car sets; when these are coupled to six-car sets two conductors are required as you can’t walk through the part where the two sets are joined. Conductors are expensive.

    The signalling system, certainly on the Larne line, cannot cope with any more than about 12 trains per hour. That can’t be realized at the moment due to the pinch point at the bridge over the Lagan which reduces the maximum bidirectional capacity to a theoretical 6 trains per hour.

    4. Yup, more P&R needed, and it’s relatively easy to do.

  • Derek

    I commute by car day and daily, a lone driver adding to the commuter chaos and yet im an avid cyclist.

    Why do I not get a train in? I’m not on a train route.

    Why do I not get a bus in? The bus only goes to city hall, I’d then have to walk a mile to work.

    Why do I not cycle in? Because my employer has no secure bike parking, nor do they allow employees to bring their bikes inside the office even though they enjoy the tax relief of the cycle to work scheme. I would dearly love to commute by bike but not whilst I have to leave it outside for 8 hours per day in all weathers with thieves and vandals around. It takes me half an hour to travel 4 miles by car, I could beat that time on my bicycle.

    On top of this I have to pay £40 a month to park my car at work, build me a secure bike park at my office with cctv and I’ll happily pay £20 per month to park my bike in it

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wouldn’t prioritize high speed trains on lines that don’t exist yet. Additionally there is no point in building lines to places like Newcastle where the population density doesn’t exist (although once a line did go out there).

    Much better to enhance the lines we’ve already got. In Dublin they had what was called the “DART effect” – neighbourhoods along the DART expanded significantly as a result of easy access to a reliable train service. We need to have that effect in Belfast.

    Staggeringly, the entire inner city between Yorkgate and Whiteabbey – a stretch of about 7 miles – has a full speed railway line but no stations. There is a huge block of unused land adjacent to Asda and the train workshop. “low hanging fruit” as they say – build a park and ride there with capacity for 500 cars and you’re laughing.

  • Comrade Stalin

    You’ll find that trains between Belfast and Portadown are pretty close to this frequency during peak times.

    I see no particular justification for running trains every 15min from Portadown to Newry. Are there really that many people down that far commuting to Belfast every day ?

  • Comrade Stalin

    “Doctor, it hurts when I do this”
    “Then don’t do that”

  • Comrade Stalin

    How about moving out of the sticks ?

    Working remotely is overrated, especially if you’re in a creative industry.

  • Comrade Stalin

    You can’t move out into the faraway reaches and then expect the state to provide you with a quick and easy way to get to work. There are consequences to moving further away from the city.

    Translink lose money because they are required to operate loss-making routes, which are subsidized with the profits made from the profitable routes (such as the main Metro corridors, Bangor/Carrick/Lisburn-Belfast train routes, etc). I believe there is already a state subsidy of some kind; looking at Translink’s books would show this. It seems clear that the state subsidy is not high enough to provide the public transport that is required.

  • Anthony McNamee

    I’d ask you spend any morning at Hillsborough roundabout between 7.30am and 8.30am, to witness just how much traffic is coming from the south.

    Here’s the thing though – there’s no train culture in Newry, and that’s a bigger problem. This is partly because Translink spent decades doing what they could do close that part of the line, before the Enterprise came along, but mainly because until the new station opened a couple of years ago, it just wasn’t worth the hastle. Either you got there before 6.45am (first train was 7.15) or you didn’t get a parking space, and the nearest parking place after that was a mile away. Don’t forget this was/is an out of town station, handy for nobody to walk to.

    I would suggest Translink have a duty to test the water with Newry folk, now these issues are buried in the past. Which means more trains and perhaps a few incentives to get things going. They would lay claim (as you have) that the market isn’t there there historically for public transport from Newry to Belfast. But the succession of Rooney buses that are now on that route now would suggest otherwise.

  • Anthony McNamee

    In response to this David, I’d encourage anyone who works in office space in Belfast to do the following:

    – Quickly estimate what percentage of your colleagues live within 5 miles of the office.
    – Of those, take a stabby guess at how many of them wouldn’t ride a bike to work even if they were given a £1k bonus to do it for a month (you can rule out the obese, the unfit, the prima donnas).

    What you’re going to be left with is, I’d guess, less than 15% of staff who MIGHT cycle to work as long as it’s not raining, they’ve no bags to carry in either direction, no important clients to meet that day, and no commitments after work.

    You can’t build a road network around the whimsical needs of this minority. You can’t.

  • Paddy Reilly

    From the fact that no-one seems to agree or disagree with me on the desirability of reducing the traffic on the road by moving people to a sensible distance from their school or workplace, I can only conclude that I am addressing an audience of commuting addicts, who can think of no other cure for their ills than building bigger and better spaghetti junctions.

    Repent, for the end is nigh! It only takes a simple shortage of one substance, petroleum, for your civilisation to come to an end!

    Penalising motorists and subsidising public transport is one way, but some tradesmen have to travel about to pursue their trade.

  • I have to say I’m amazed no-one has mentioned the major and obvious cause of traffic congestion – and generally the most critical issue for Belfast going into the future. That is, the fact the city core population has almost halved in the past 50 years from over 450,000 to 280,000, and the central parts now remain largely uninhabited.

    What this means is that its working population is for the most part commuting in from suburbs or further afield towns surrounding the city. Combine this with a relatively underdeveloped public transport system, unwalkable / uncyclable over engineered roads and low density suburban sprawl (that is impossible to efficiently serve with Pubic transport), and the traffic chaos is doomed to continue. Until a much larger proportion of the city’s working population is resident in the central parts of the city (as in most normal functioning cities), this cannot be properly addressed.

    An often neglected result of this congestion and of continued over-investment in highway engineering rather than streetscape quality, is the hugely negative effect on remaining pockets of inner city neighbourhoods (mostly poorer classes with v. low car ownership rates). Walking to and from Belfast’s inner city is a dangerous, uncomfortable and unpleasant experience (aside from affluent south belfast of course!). This dramatically illustrates the prioritization of the car over the city citizen in our urban development over recent decades. The highway engineer is king, and urban designers and architects are limited to meaningless ‘tarter-uppers’ or usually not involved at all.

    In most progressive European cities urbanists and architects work with roads engineers as part of multidisciplinary design teams. The urban design process considers all street users, usually with priority to local inhabitants, pedestrians and cyclists. Alas in Belfast we still have a USA-in-the-1950’s style car orientated approach, which utterly neglects streetscape quality, walkability / cyclability and placemaking. This approach has caused untold damage to our city already, pushing more and more out of the city and putting more people off moving in. It needs urgently challenged and overhauled, so that we can begin to restore urban neighbourhoods that people (families, young, old) might want to live in again.

    Lets start looking at our city in terms of its ‘Liveability’. Traffic congestion is just one small symptom that won’t be addressed until we re-inhabit the central parts of the city. To paraphrase Daniel Jewesbury, ‘Belfast is no longer ‘Home’ – it has not existed as a proper city since the 50’s, it exists now only as a destination to visit to work, shop, or socialise in – and then go ‘home’ again to the suburbs.’

    We need to make Belfast a place to call ‘Home’ again, otherwise it will continue to fail as a proper inhabited, connected, modern European City.

  • Bryan Magee

    Good point.

    The move back into town of the university of ulster is a welcome reversal of this problem.

  • Brian O’Neill

    I love this idea. You should flesh it out and we can put it up as a post. It is good to think outside the box. If you ever write up the idea email me to me to put up brian@sluggerotoole.com

  • It is however the most car dependent city in the UK and Ireland, and second most car dependent of Europe’s major cities. (meaning the most difficult to get around by means other than by car) http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/media/sept-29-euro-car-dependency-scorecard

    Car ownership among those few who still live in the inner and central areas of the city is often about 1 in 3 households – yet these inhabitants suffer most due to unwalkable / uncyclable car prioritized streetscapes (see divis street / clifton st / albertbridge rd / bridgend / york street). Combine this with a city that is very difficult to get from one part to the other without a car, and it paints a pretty unfair, unbalanced approach to the development of our city over the past few decades.

  • David Mckeever

    So cynical. You think Belfasters are so different to Copenhageners? You’re wrong, its just that opportunity, or lack thereof explains the variation. And as for whimsical, we’ll see how whimsical you think it is when its your wean that gets run down or when its you that gets diabetes from inactivity. Welcome to the real world pal.

  • Disappointed with this overly negative statement given your ideas around public transport above. In response to your last line here, i’d say you can’t prioritize over-scaled inner city highways to support the needs of suburban and rural commuter over the needs of city core inhabitants (usually working class with low car ownership rate), and over the need for a liveable, walkable, cyclable, pleasant inhabited urban streetscape – and somehow still wonder why our city fails to function properly, like all those other lovely European cities we visit on our hols and that multinational companies love to invest in.

    – Except we continue to do this – ie repeat the mistakes of 1950’s US roads engineers. All in a city already reeling from decades of disconnection of streetscapes and neighbourhoods through the conflict. We need to urgently widen and raise our aspirations for the city, including a progressive approach to cycling that follows huge successes in similar northern European cities.

  • Brian O’Neill

    fearghal send me an email please brian@sluggerotoole.com

  • nilehenri

    our motorways are a joke, having started and stopped several times and suffering during the suspension of stormont/direct rule/stormont again.

    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/motorway/m1-ni
    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/motorway/m2-ni
    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/motorway/m3-ni (lol’s here)
    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/motorway/m5-ni
    http://www.cbrd.co.uk/motorway/m22-ni (tragic)

    we need to look at the bigger infrastructure. several unused buildings within the city centre could be converted into off-street parking at minimal cost, taking the physical obstrucion of the car off the road.

    public transport needs to come way down in price. i was disgusted at what i spent during a recent trip hom, and a large part of my budget went on this. it’s not joined up, neither is it comfortable, efficient nor practical.

    our trains run on the same gauge as australia, we could buy a lot of reconditioned stock there and extend the services here.

    the yorkgate entrance is a disaster. we could tunnel the westlink, and put most if not all of it underground, opening up huge swathes of land in inner city belfast, taking the eyesore out of the equation and bringing our communities together. at the moment it is a gash that runs right through the city, dividing and causing unneccessary detours.

    as fearghal said, relocate the people to the city centre again, most were moved out as a security measure and for the cost savings during the troubles, it would be great for the local economy and the environment to reverse this trend.

    implement a serious cycling initiative, not the weak efforts we have seen so far. belfast is a tiny city, a few million quid well spent would go a long way to improve the infrastructure. parking, centres to dry off in and get a snack and a coffee, they could work with a smart card as they do in barcelona and other city centres.

    http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads/historymotorwayplans.html

    that’s a lot of years of balls-ups that we have to fix.

  • Practically_Family

    You first!

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’d ask you spend any morning at Hillsborough roundabout between 7.30am and 8.30am, to witness just how much traffic is coming from the south.

    Hillsborough is just outside Lisburn and is some distance from Newry. You’re asking for 4 trains per hour. We don’t even have that number of trains from Derry, which is many times bigger than Newry. They’d be glad of an hourly service (and there should certainly be an hourly service to Derry).

    Here’s the thing though – there’s no train culture in Newry, and that’s a bigger problem.

    There is no train culture anywhere in NI and Newry is no particular exception.

    This is partly because Translink spent decades doing what they could do close that part of the line, before the Enterprise came along, but mainly because until the new station opened a couple of years ago, it just wasn’t worth the hastle.

    Translink came into existence in 1998/99

    The Enterprise came into existence in 1947. It was upgraded by NIR in 1970, upgraded again in 1981, and once again in 1997 to its current form (and is due a further upgrade). When NIR came into existence in 1970 they reinstated the double track between Portadown and the border and steadily improved the Enterprise service.

    I have no idea how or where you would get the idea that there was a conspiracy to run down the train service at Newry. It’s certainly a historical problem that the railway line is so far to the west of Newry itself, but there is not much to be done about that – the direct train service that ran from Belfast to Edward Street via Goraghwood, and from there to Warrenpoint isn’t coming back.

  • Anthony McNamee

    Well that escalated quickly.

    Unnecessary and overly personal response.

    Just to be clear, I used whimsical to describe someone who might cycle to work if everything is in order to do so i.e. it’s a nice sunny day, they’re in no pressure to leave work or home, and have no bags to carry.

    If we’re going to build a transport system around people who might possibly cycle on sunny days, then that system will fail miserably.

    For “the real world” as you like to describe it, is one where it is hilly, cold, damp and smelly, one where it is very difficult to carry bags home, one that doesn’t have showers and changing facilities in a lot of offices. Which means that most days, those whimsical people are going to be in car, on a bus or on a train.

    If you can’t accept this point, then it can only be because you’re not prepared to cede anything for cyclists. Which really isn’t going to help.

  • Anthony McNamee

    Fearghal, only one group displays erratic behaviour, and that’s the “occasional” cyclists. Hence they’re whimsical. Car users aren’t whimsical, they always have the same needs from a traffic system, rain, hail, sleet, or snow – plus they’re the infinite majority or road users.

    While I agree we need to reduce the reliance on cars, the point I’ve made a few times now is that almost everyone who can viably cycle to work will also have a viable (i.e. regular and reliable) bus or rail option, by virtue of living so close to a city.

    Anyone in that cohort who is not already being tempted out of the car by public transport (which requires no effort, and doesn’t make them smell) then they’re not likely to be tempted out by a cycle lane.

    Those of us from further out just can’t cycle in. End of.

    Fundamentally I believe in democracy, and if the will of the vast majority is being ignored in favour of small minority, then there’s something wrong. In terms of believing that the absolute majority have no interest in cycle lanes, I’ve only got what I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears, across offices in Belfast. If you know of workplaces in which people feel differently, I’m all ears.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Yes, all of that is true.

    Of course, the security situation didn’t help, leading to the deliberate construction of routes in and out (but not across).

    I do also think we’re just innately conservative.

    I use the train a lot but I have the freedom to pick meeting spots on most occasions, so I go for Botanic, Europa or similar. There are plenty of areas I almost never go as a result!

  • Karl

    OK, I’ve been travelling on the M1 for 30 years, and been commuting to Belfast 6 days a week for the last 8, here are some observations, and some suggestions:

    Traffic is lighter the later in the week. Friday is very light, with barely a delay. I put this down to part time workers, and the tendency of people to take a long weekend when they have leave.

    We all know that when the schools are off, it’s much much better. Is this because teachers are not travelling, or because pupils are not being transported, or a bit of both?

    The concentration of business in Belfast as well as the concentration of mass sporting and entertainment venues, such as Windsor Park, Ravenhill, the Odyssey and Waterfront Hall, is not helping.

    In conclusion of the cons, I would say if you lived in Belfast, and worked in Craigavon or Banbridge, you’re home in Daddy’s yacht.

    MItigation or possible solutions:

    In Birmingham, they have an intelligent lane system. Gantries every 200 or so yards show which lanes are usable for traffic, if there is a large green arrow pointing up over the lane you are in, you can carry on. If a large red X is showing, that lane is not in use. This means that 6 lanes can be converted from 4 citybound, 2 countrybound in the morning, to the opposite in the afternoon/evening.

    Driver education:

    Every year I see more drivers unused to M1 driving. Undertaking and lane-changing to undertake are now commonplace, where in the past they were an outrageous liberty. This, combined with inadequate distance-keeping, is the main cause of tailbacks where no other factor is responsible, such as collision or breakdown

    I would propose to separate the traffic lanes before Blaris into a City lane, and a non City lane, by way of matrix signs, or even non-solid barriers. This would provide one lane exclusively for Citybound traffic, and allow the introduction of Blaris and Sprucefield traffic to carry on into a much lighter space.
    This is based on my experience of roadworks a few years ago where the same thing happened. It worked really well then.

    Social networks should be used where possible to help educate newer M1 drivers, and some of the reprobates that have been on the road a few years too. The M1 should have its own twitter feed, and Friends of the M1 should be a Facebook page. Signs should point this out. Those sites and feeds should have practical advice for M1 users on lane etiquette, on convergence protocol, (Use the full slip road and “zipper” into traffic) on keeping your distance, on the importance and benefits of courtesy.

    As far as trains go, why, oh why is there a half-hourly service throughout the day to Portadown, (with about 5 people on them) but only 3 carriages for trains that will get you from Portadown to Belfast at a reasonable commuting hour? One train would do, if it arrived in Belfast at 0840, and had 8 carriages. And you have to stand most of the way, how on earth is that safe or comfortable?

    TBH the best thing that could happen to the train set that is Northern Ireland Railways, is if they sold the trains, sold the rails, and converted the tracks to Bus only routes. Would save the country a fortune, and at least on a bus you can sit down.

    Northern Ireland has the highest car ownership percentage because it has some of the worst public transport outside Belfast. 2 buses a day service the route from where I live to Portadown. 2. If I need to go anywhere, I need to have a car..if the majority of jobs are in Belfast, I need to take the car to work. What is the alternative? Move to Belfast and cycle to work? Sure, why don’t we all do that and push house prices and rents up so no-one can afford them.

    Any remediation to the not-fit-for-use road network into and out of Belfast should take this into account. There are a LOT of people who do not live in Belfast who work there. It’s not a big fix..bigger trains, driver education, intelligent laning. job done.

  • Karl

    A dedicated bus route would be cheaper, easier, much more reliable and safer. Take the loss-making train set away from those yoyo’s and send a bus to Belfast every 15 mins from Newry and Portadown. Park and ride to the new bus stations from out of town car parks and halve the traffic to BFST every day

  • Karl

    Rural commuters are neither lazy nor car-addicted, I suppose if we started walking early enough we could get pretty much anywhere rural people need to get to on an average day.Or we could cycle, on unlit, unmarked roads in winter 7 miles to the nearest bus or railway station. Or, we could just move to the city and completely ignore the rural, lazy car addicted stereotypes while complaining about high rents and the impossible housing ladder. Sure, it was grand in the 50’s when the rural types all had a pig in the kitchen and worked the land.

  • Karl

    How about moving some of the Businesses out of Belfast? and while we’re at it, how about building a stadium or a concert hall we can ALL take a train to, with adequate transport links, instead of constantly loading up the city with all the event centres?

  • Shouldn’t have used the word whimsical (or lazy!) But just trying to mirror your comment. If we start by treating cycling as whimsical you are dismissing an opportunity to develop a realistic alternative to the car for many.

    I do not believe cycling will solve our car dependency issues but it is part of a healthy variety in urban transport. If you dismiss it as a viable alternative in Belfast, how do you then explain how through some public investment in routes and rental bikes, Dublin doubled its cycling commuter numbers in 8 years, rising by 22.5 percent in one year alone? Its got the same climate and largely similar topography so why would this not be possible in Belfast?

    I believe in democracy also of course but you can’t just pander to motorists because they’re a huge majority, despite the negative effect the prioritisation of cars and car infrastructure has had on the city and its (largely non-car-owning) inner city inhabitants.

    My wider point made above in a separate comment is that Belfast needs to develop more liveable inner city streetscapes and neighbourhoods to encourage a reinhabitation of a largely empty city core – at the moment most car commuters come from Belfast suburbs and outside the greater Belfast area – A increasingly resident working pop will help congestion issues. Good cycling conditions would just be part of and a result of this. As you have discussed above, much development of our public transport system is also badly needed.

  • Fair cop Karl and well put – I shouldn’t have described rural commuters as such (was one for a few years myself). Hasty and inaccurate – I’ve removed the reference.

  • Neil

    I read about 40 of the comments in this thread. I’m amazed that so far, no one has mentioned the BRT, car sharing and bike sharing.

    1 – The first two routes of the Bus Rapid Transit system are currently under construction in East and West Belfast, with a third to be built to Titanic Quarter and another eventually planned for South Belfast. Long-term, at least one other route is planned for South Belfast via Shaftsbury Square.

    http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/roads/belfastrapidtransit.html

    http://www.drdni.gov.uk/index/rapid-transit.htm

    Unfortunately, it won’t be open till late 2017. BRT seems to be a popular choice for many cities because of the flexibility of the system and the affordability compared to trams.

    2 – Drive along any arterial road during peak times in Belfast and you will notice that almost all cars are carrying only one person. I just searched for ‘car share ni’ and this page was the first result:

    https://carshareni.liftshare.com

    So there is already a car sharing website dedicated to NI users. I have used car sharing for several long-distance journeys throughout Europe, and it worked a treat. It’s cheaper and more flexible than public transport, and you often meet great people along the way. Everyone who signs up to a car sharing portal agrees to a code of conduct or makes an agreement with the driver before making the journey (pay on arrival, driver controls the music, don’t eat in the car etc) and everyone is happy.

    3 – A bicycle share scheme, similar to the successful one in Dublin, is to launch in Belfast in early 2015. The first phase will have 300 bikes and 30 docking stations. Going by the map on the links below It’s obviously designed to facilitate quick, short journeys around the city centre, which will be great for people going to meetings, lunch etc.

    http://www.futurebelfast.com/belfast-public-bike-hire.html

    http://belfastcity.gov.uk/leisure/outdoorleisurefacilities/bikesharescheme.aspx

    The scheme looks great in theory. However, I only recently started cycling again after not using a bike for about 20 years. I would be very reluctant to commute on a bike in Belfast because of the poorly planned and limited provision of cycle lanes. Someone posted a picture on Slugger recently of a cycle lane in the city centre where a lamp post and a tree were directly in the middle of the cycle lane, meaning that a cyclist would have to swerve either onto the road or footpath to avoid them. That’s exactly the sort of thing that would deter an inexperienced cycle-commuter like me from using the new bike share scheme, and I’m sure there are many others who feel the same way.

    So we have options for better transport, and other options coming soon. My concern is that all of these will under-perform because of the great Northern Irish failure to execute ‘joined-up’ thinking. Will we be able to take bikes onto the BRT? Will the soon-to-be-built Gamble Street train station have secure bicycle storage and integrated cycle paths? I’ll not hold my breath…

  • Anthony McNamee

    It’s good to chat to someone knowledgeable about trains in NI; brings a new slang to proceedings. My personal memories of an utterly abysmal rail service to Newry in the 80s and early 90s must have somehow fermented over time.

    Anyway to revert back to the original point. We need to find ways to move people onto public transport, which in a nutshell means making it a more viable option for car users. While my earlier calls for 15 min intervals is perhaps OTT for such a small country, I think you do have to bear in mind that if a Newry boun traveller misses the 6.09pm home, then they’re stumped until 9.35pm. That’s the kind of barrier to using public transport that Translink needs to tear down.

    I spent 10 years co-existing in the flow of traffic from Newry to the north, and I know the commuter base is there in Newry, South Down, South Armagh and North Louth to justify increased trains. They just need a bit of leadership: from Translink.

  • Anthony McNamee

    Fearghal I think you’ve inadvertently highlighted the biggest problem with cycle lanes, in your other (excellent) post about inner city dwelling. Basically there isn’t enough people living in the inner city area for cycle lanes to significantly reduce the morning and afternoon rush hour crushes. They’d mostly still need to get to belfast centre by other means.

    Regarding Dublin’s bike scheme. I say watch closely for another couple of years, for there is always going to be an initial statistical onslaught of goodness when anything starts from basically zero. I genuinely hope that cycling continues to grow as a commuting option in that city, but I’d have fears that it has already largely bottomed out in attacting people. If I’m right, a fully independent review in 5 years time might ask if it actually helped solve transport problems at all. Again, I hope I’m wrong. But the statistics are still smoke and mirrors, while ask any non-cyclist in Dublin if their traffic, traffic flows or journey times have improved, and they’ll tell you no.

  • nigel mckinney

    With you on this one Karl – Im not a lazy rural dwelling car driver. I want to live out in the country – moved out of Belfast 2006 and would never move back – I’d rather get a job more locally and take a pay cut.
    Where I work – I guess that on any particular day there is no need for half of the office to actually be in Belfast at all – many of my colleagues now work from home one or two days a week – it has a big impact on quality of life if nothing else.
    My point is that I can’t see how any public transport system – unless the development of a rail network can meet the need for flexibility of people now. Many of us combine our commute with dropping children off to school and picking them up from after school childcare and other family and often flexible working arrangements. My wife is working a shift in Belfast until 11pm tonight. From our part of the country the current public transport system just cant meet those needs and I know from work that I have many colleagues in the same situation – we’re stuck with the car.

  • Practically_Family

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-30440223

    Seems timely.

    I will not be raising my own rates in response and would still be prepared to board a Metro bus for a nominal £1 payment from Translink. This rate has not risen… ever.

  • Practically_Family
  • Reader

    I would have thought that the key selling point for cycling in Dublin is that cyclists can get across the bridges at rush hour when no-one else can.
    Belfast doesn’t quite have that sort of gridlock problem except in the grimmest, nastiest weather, which will hardly tempt out the occasional cyclist.

  • Dan

    So, oil prices crash, and Translink still whack up the fares……

  • Comrade Stalin

    I wrote a long reply and Disqus swallowed it. Sigh.

  • Gopher

    The logistics of our traffic problem are easily identified

    1/ 15% of our drivers are retired so they have nothing to do but drive, Over 70 license renewal has increased 35% since 2010 and accounted for 19% of all Ordinary licence transactions. Medical renewal has increased 7% Yet conversion from provisional to full license has fallen 22% but interestingly exchange licensing is up 23%.

    2/ Add to that Motability and you have another section of the population who have nothing to do but drive

    3/ During the school holidays traffic falls of a cliff, its actually pleasant to drive. When the schools are on after the school run with no kids to mind the parent drives. A large proportion of drivers are therefore under employed.

    4/ Whatever percentage of the Civil service that is on the sick tends to drive despite being sick

    5/ Fearghal points out that our city centre population has nearly halved yet we have nothing but Schools in Belfast City Centre and if the parents arnt running themselves to school the pupils actually now drive.

    Northern Ireland has to decide whether it is going to provide a commercial or recreation based road system. There is no money in the kitty so probably the only short term solution is sell Victoria, RBAI, Methody, Inchmarlo, St Malachys, Aquinas, BRA and Orangefield to developers and put them on greenfield sites outside the comercial centre of Belfast. You can try and locate them beside railway lines but I would not hold my breath.

  • Dan

    I’m waiting for the A2 widening scheme at Greenisland to come a cropper when parents at Belfast High school decide to use the new lanes as their drop off zone.
    That can’t be allowed to happen.

  • Bedhead1157

    Holland may be flat, but Belfast isn’t exactly the Alps, a fat 40 year old like myself can cycle to the “high” plains of Belfast like Glengormley quite easily.

    I agree about the “local” jobs aspect, but it’s abundantly clear that people living in the city centre are not welcome unless they are in an overpriced shoebox of an apartment. The plan seems to be either reasonably paid office jobs for those who can afford to commute by car, and minimum wage service jobs for those who have to travel in from outlying estates by public transport.

  • Bedhead1157

    Anthony + Fearghal, the biggest factor in getting people out of their cars will be pound notes, for a long time, cars were ridiculously cheap to buy and run, now it’s getting more and more expensive to keep them on the road and the planned lifespan of a car is a mere 6 or 7 years, the manufacturers have built in obsolescence in their vehicles to make sure they become uneconomical to repair, car tax for older cars is going up, insurance is going up, and despite the recent downward blip fuel prices are going up year on year, the days of the cheap runaround are numbered and when the cheap car disappears the people who can’t afford HP on a new one will need alternative transport. NI will have no choice to to invest heavily in some form of infrastructure not aimed at the private motorist.

  • Gopher

    Yup, you can build all the cycle lanes you want but its the non commercial drivers gumming up the roads. One measure I would definitely bring in, is civil servants within the greater Belfast area have to pay for parking at the commercial rate. After all they have flexi time so they can arrange their working (sic) day around public transport.

  • Karl

    Of course we have. For about 5 seconds. If everyone only lived where public transport links were good, such as in Belfast, then we’d all be there, and no-one would be in the country. As I have said above, if a realistic amount of carriages were attached to the morning trains to Belfast, there is no way I would go through the M1 torture day after day. If a dedicated bus route existed, I would be on that. I am lucky enough to car share, so halving my fuel expenses, but I would not mind paying extra to avoid the rainy Monday nightmare of this road. Decent park and ride facilities and decent train seating space would make a big dent in the congestion, but at the risk of sounding like a parrot, we *really* need to consider other locations for the marquee event centres going forward. And siting a financial centre on queen’s island is madness pure and simple

  • Michael Davis

    Geneva also has fantastic cycle infrastructure, with a well-signed network of off-route paths covering the whole city. And where you have to cycle on the road, people give you plenty of space. Geneva is about the same size as Belfast, but the cycling experience is totally different.

  • Andrew Fleming

    I haven’t done much homework on this issue, however, I’d hang the idiot who decidied it would be a good idea to dismantle the extensive railway system that NI once had. I can’t imagine how good transport would be here if the system was still in place.. Unbelievebale. #OnlyInNorthernIreland