Bus lane cameras: the first three weeks (UPDATED)

There is one authorised vehicular route into the restricted part of Belfast city centre – via High Street.  Donegall Place has been one way for several years, but it and Royal Avenue only ever permitted buses to enter.  The signs at the junction with Bridge Street ban all traffic from passing except buses, permit holders, delivery vehicles overnight, disabled badge holders and other authorised vehicles (read: emergency services and Belfast City Council).  Cycles are theoretically banned from this entry point, but I don’t believe that ban is ever enforced – not helped by other entries into the restricted area explicitly permitting cyclists.

In times long past, the security situation meant this was directly policed by guards and barriers, but with the entry point being open there has been a flood of private cars accessing the city centre and waiting while pedestrians use the zebra crossing in Donegall Place – not all of whom are necessarily the possessors of a disabled badge.

That I suspect is what lay behind the banning of all vehicles other than buses and cycles from Castle Street between Castle Junction and Fountain Street.  Large numbers of pedestrians conflicting with traffic, very few businesses in the affected section, and access available to the rest of Castle Street via Queen Street.  Almost certainly a considerable number of vehicles using the High Street-Donegall Place-Castle Street route as a short cut to avoid going round via North Street and Millfield.  Ultimately, safer for pedestrians.

Except the ban appears to have been far more honoured in the breach than the observance.  Of 3,089 warning letters issued to drivers for using bus lanes in the last three weeks, 1,530 letters referred to Castle Street – 49.5% 0f the total.

The figures do show a decrease in motorists getting caught illegally using the bus lanes in question – I’ve no breakdown of the 1,559 letters for the normal bus lanes between the other five fixed cameras and the mobile camera, but at an average of around 147 letters a day (biased towards Monday-Saturday as only the East Bridge Street bus lane operates in the evenings and on Sundays) that is a substantial fall from the 1,140 letters issued in the first four days (an average of 285 a day), but nevertheless the number of letters issued suggests that a lot of motorists have up to now been ignoring the bus lanes for their own convenience, and my line about perceived lack of enforcement by the PSNI holds credence.

I mentioned the worrying bit to Michael Fitzpatrick on Good Morning Ulster on Monday morning, which is that people using the bus lanes are just throwing money away.  With 60 people having been caught on Monday up to mid-afternoon, I can only hope that they will take the promise of fines seriously – the obvious statement is that law-abiding motorists will not be caught by these cameras, and it’s therefore easy to ensure that they don’t generate a single penny for DRD.

There is an issue with buses which depart from the stop outside May Street church and instead of using the crossing point at Linenhall Street, go straight into the general traffic lanes – for example, when I went to do my interview with Michael, my own bus and two others crossed over immediately.  On the other hand, as my interview wrapped up, I saw six buses all queued up in the bus lane at the crossing point.

Contrary to popular rumour, this is actually perfectly lawful, but one question I’m looking at is what can DRD and Translink do to persuade bus drivers to help other motorists by staying in the May Street/Donegall Square South bus lane until the crossing point when safe – does the timing on the traffic lights need to be changed to be more responsive to approaching buses?  Are motorists routinely blocking the yellow box junction which needs to be kept clear for the buses to cross?

I hope to have another look at the bus lane cameras over the summer, as more statistics become available and motorists get used to them.

UPDATE: in an interview with Michael Fitzpatrick this morning (HT Michael himself – 01:52:15-01:58:04), Peter Rice from DRD disclosed that around 200 motorists had been detected over the three days – which is a substantial reduction.

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  • chrisjones2

    “That I suspect is what lay behind the banning of all vehicles other than buses and cycles from Castle Street between Castle Junction and Fountain Street. ”

    I always thought it was just Translink seeking to take over these streets to maximise profits from their bus opertions

  • Steve Do

    The timing at the Donegall Sq South ‘bus bridge’ is the issue – it takes too long to respond – that is why buses do no use it.
    The same set-up on Oxford Street is much more responsive, usually changing immediately for Buses and cycles.

  • Dan

    I just avoid the city centre and it’s shops now.
    Who needs the hassle?

  • chrisjones2

    So Translink have the department set up ma scheme that is hugely controversial and causes immense difficulties by squeezing the vast majority of drivers into narrow lanes. Then the bus drivers ignore the empty bus lanes ans block the other lanes as well.

    These people are employed by Translink. They can stop them – but they wont. Its in their interest to make traffic as snarled up as possible to make more money

  • AndyB

    The bus-only section of Castle Street makes little difference to bus operations. In theory, no one other than buses, deliveries and disabled badge holders should have been going down there in the first place before the bus restriction was implemented, but that’s why I suspect that it’s almost entirely about abuse of the restricted section of the city centre by traffic which shouldn’t be there in the first place.

  • AndyB

    Private vehicles may be the vast majority of drivers, but car users are a minority of travellers in the morning rush. As ever, I defer to my friend Wesley Johnston who is authoritative on these things… see https://wesleyjohnston.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/belfast-on-the-move-are-traffic-levels-really-lower/

    As for Translink profits, when Translink makes money, it costs the ratepayer less. When Translink loses money, it costs the ratepayer more.

  • Slater

    Why can’t the buses going to east Belfast down Chichester Street get past the Law Courts again? There is no security threat surely?
    This needless diversion adds about seven minutes to the journey time for passengers.

  • chrisjones2

    I drove up May St yesterday. As I turned the corner from Cromac St I was almost taken out by a bus in the left hand lane swinging out and going up the first lane for ‘other traffic’. He just didn’t use the bus lane even though it was empty all the way up. On the other side i was flanked by a double decker doing the same and there was another single decker in front of me as well. Buses everywhere – and an empty bus lane