This week, Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon launched the public consultation for Phase 2 of the Belfast rapid transit system (glider).
I think this is a positive development and will improve the connectivity, access and acceptance of public transport in the city.
I remember when Glider was first launched on the east / west route a few years ago. Before taking off, it was fashionable to pull on it (a common pattern for public transportation projects on this island). People argued that he couldn’t even turn corners. Some store owners predicted that removing parking spaces would destroy their businesses. Parents argued that they could not drop their children off at school. The taxi drivers complained. All of these complaints more or less disappeared when the service launched.
But despite some nasty setbacks, especially in the Titanic Quarter, the rapid transit system has been a success, and now those of us in other parts of the city want to access it too.
Why does Glider work? Branding it to look like more than just a flex bus plays a bigger role than people would like to admit. However, the real key is offboard ticketing. A major cause of schedule delays and slow service is the need to issue tickets and change. By reducing stop times to a predictable level, along with well-reinforced bus lanes, it builds confidence in the reliability of the system in a way that attracts more users.
Like everything in life, Glider represents a commitment. A tram system would be more scalable, attract more passengers, and be more environmentally friendly. But it would also cost a lot more to build and operate. The government argues that it cannot justify the additional cost. I do not agree with this judgment, but at least for the moment, we need the eggs. The glider will never be as good as a tram, but it takes us part of the way for relatively little cost.
As for the query, the path options broadly reflect what many of us predicted, although there are some disappointing shortcomings that I will address later.
North Belfast was always going to be politically complicated due to community division, with the two main arterial routes through the constituency corresponding to two main sections of the community. In simple facts and figures, the Antrim Road route appears at the top, with higher residential density and a number of major elementary and secondary schools along the route, leading to a higher flow of passengers being reflected in existing bus sponsorship along the route.
However, the Department must try to find a way for everyone to win. One way to do this is very simple: build both routes. Alternatively, or better yet, it’s time to see what benefit could be achieved by adding additional train stations between Whiteabbey and Yorkgate, or adding additional express bus services using M2 and M5.
As with the first phase of the planner, we can expect protests from businesses and residents who will have to give up parking spaces on the main road. Businesses between Limestone Road and Duncairn Gardens, and residential properties between New Lodge Road and Carlisle Circus, will have to adapt somehow, and it’s a similar story on Ormeau Road from University Road to Rosetta. I hope the politicians and the minister stand firm here. While a solution is required, and I hope the Department will be innovative, we cannot speed up the city’s public transport system to protect the driving preferences of a small number of people, and I hope the Minister of Infrastructure will deal with any Parish interest argument. on the contrary.
Back to the route itself: In the far north, the decision to terminate the route at O’Neill Road, skipping the large and densely populated residential area of Glengormley and the surrounding area, will prove to be a serious mistake in the long run. if allowed to stand. The consultation argues that securing the priority of buses in the section between O’Neill Road and the Hightown Road junction will be too difficult, citing the high cost of land acquisition and the “high risk to stakeholders and acceptability of the public”. This is where our elected representatives must be courageous and insist that the Department re-examine this matter. It is up to politicians, not officials, to decide what the public may or may not consider acceptable, and I can guarantee that bus riders in Glengormley will rightly find it totally unacceptable that they have to change buses midway. along Antrim Road to reach the city. center.
Moving further, many people wondered how the complicated technical problem posed by the narrow section of Antrim Road between Bellevue Bridge and Serpentine Road would be solved. The solution is to have a bus lane in the direction of the city only, with the probable elimination of spaces to turn right. Time will tell if this compromise will work or not, but the cost of solving it by widening the road would likely be a multi-million pound project in its own right, involving the mandatory purchase of a high-value property that would be necessary in the future. area around Ben Madigan Park, along with the property occupied by the Belfast Zoo. I can understand why the Department has shelved that idea, but I hope the door is kept open to secure funding to do the work here if needed in the future.
From there, there are bus lanes in both directions to Donegall Street. Interestingly, the Department is proposing the elimination of Carlisle Circus, which will now become a signposted intersection. I assume this means that Antrim Road will connect with Clifton Street in a continuous curve. This crossing is very busy at peak times and this change will ensure reliable operation of bus traffic.
In the city center, it looks like Royal Avenue / Donegall Place will once again have two-way buses. This is expected to help attract investment and customs back to the rather dingy-looking Royal Avenue area, and will also benefit the new University of Ulster campus, which will be served on its edge at the bottom of Donegall Street.
In the city, the G2 circular route runs from City Hall to the Queen’s University area. However, this is where the next big disappointment arises; service will not go through the front of the new bus / train station currently under construction at Weaver’s Cross (Durham Street). The query argues that this is not technically possible. However, I think this needs to be looked at again: the public will have a hard time understanding how the Department would build a new station and a new transportation system, but will not be able to figure out how to get them connected. It is essential that regional and national train and bus passengers have the option of getting on or off a glider right in front of the station to continue their journey.
Leaving the city to the south of Belfast, a new bus-only connecting road is built from Bruce Street to Gasworks, passing in front of the old Movie House cinema and allowing buses to easily connect from Great Victoria Street to Ormeau Road . From there, the bus lanes run both ways to Cairnshill. Once again, there is controversy over the lack of extension of the glider to the carryduff. This can turn out to be a major deficiency, although unlike the northern end of the route, the two-mile section between Cairnshill and Manse Road appears to be mostly open country. The consultation maintains that there are few “attractors” here and it is difficult to argue this, but we must also bear in mind that public transport projects should not simply serve to facilitate existing demand but to attract investment to an area.
The last observation to make about the schematic is the time scale. The consultation anticipates that service will begin in September 2027. While I expect the consultation and design to take a year or so, again it is not believed that it will take four or five years to build a set of bus lanes with ticket vending machines and realign some sections of road. The Department has delivered projects much larger than this on much shorter timescales. Again, I think politicians need to look closely to see what can be done to accelerate this project.
Overall, I am looking forward to the project getting started and going into service. I hope that the Department and the Minister listen carefully to the comments of the consultations and can address some of the deficiencies highlighted in the proposal. Everyone interested in making the project a success should take the time to review the details of the proposal. here and, in particular, answer the query here.
Center-left Waffler who works in IT and lives in Belfast
Alliance, but writing in a strictly personal capacity.