22 December 2005

Traffic chaos for taxis and buses


In the second of our series on the huge Westlink roadworks scheme, Roisin McManus looks at the implications for public transport

Serious concerns have been raised by the black taxis in relation to the work due to start on the Westlink and M1 motorway in the New Year.
Stephen Long, General Manager of the West Belfast Taxi Association, says that he fears that the roadworks due to start in January could lead to total gridlock in West Belfast.
Stephen says that he believes that the road network in the West of the city just won’t be able to cope with the displaced traffic from the extensive roadworks, which start in January and are expected to last three years.
“At the moment the roads in West Belfast are already over their full capacity," said Stephen.
“There are a number of factors why this is. Many people use the Stewartstown Road as an alternative to the M1 coming in from Lisburn and that has an impact on vehicular traffic. Following the demographic changes, in particular the building of Lagmore, the roads just can’t cope.
“There will be total gridlock unless there is some sort of revamping of the traffic layout. The biggest problem will be with displaced traffic," he added.
Stephen says that he believes that the expected level of traffic locally will have an impact on every aspect of our daily lives, including getting to work and going to and from school, and he fears that the essential services may be affected.
“We have serious concerns that people’s lives may be put in jeopardy unless the current traffic arrangements are looked at," said Stephen.
“It is the Association’s plan to submit to the Roads Service Strategic Route Improvement Team what problems currently exist and we are sure that, equally, members of the community, community groups and business people could and should have their own input and we would encourage them to make contact."
Stephen said that the local roads infrastructure needs to be looked at in great detail, including traffic islands, the sequence of lights, additional off-road parking and the extension of bus lane operational times.
“I don’t think that this work and the associated traffic chaos will encourage people to use public transport, quite the contrary," said Stephen.
“Public transport, like everything else, will have its own problems. It is pretty obvious that if people don’t have service availability they will elect to make journeys in cars and this will impact on the amount of traffic.
“What I can see is that clearly there was no consultation with the residents or businesses or the community groups within West Belfast, and who better is there to talk to than those who use the roads daily? Are we being discriminated against?" he asked.
Damien Bannon, Translink’s Falls Depot Manager, says that the huge roadworks schem will cause no significant changes to Translink timetables.
“Our service fundamentally won’t change, we have an excellent service on the Falls Road,” said Damien.
“We have 12 key corridors and the Falls is probably the most frequent corridor out of them, we have a bus every seven and half minutes.
“The service fundamentally won’t change and it will be the same level of frequency on both the Falls and the Glen roads," he added.
Damien said that Translink have reviewed the situation over the last year, bringing double-deckers into the fleet to increase the number of seats available to customers.
“That is in view of the forthcoming Westlink works and that provides an increased capacity, we probably have a 50 per cent more capacity on the Falls Road to cater for the expected increase in demand come the Westlink works," said Damien.
“We do have concerns about the Falls Road and while we have quite extensive bus lanes both in and out of town there is potential scope for improving the current bus lanes. There are two sides to the improvements: the enforcement issue, which is crucial because if the bus lanes are abused that will impact on our customers, and the speed with which they are going to get in and out of the town.
“Obviously, with the work traffic congestion is expected to be that bit worse and we would hope that people would be reasonable and not abuse the bus lanes. If the bus lanes are jam-packed with cars that impacts on our service and its reliability. Hopefully the local community will recognise the need not to abuse that. If the hours of operation for the bus lanes were extended that would benefit us greatly and I’m sure our customers would welcome that," he added.
Damien said that Translink believes that the roadworks may have a positive impact on public transport in the long-term.
“We see this as an opportunity in that whilst it will have a serious impact on our operation and the reliability of the service, with the right infrastructure in place in terms of bus lanes and park-and-ride sites we see this as a long-term opportunity in increasing our customer base and retaining that customer base," said Damien.
“I would suggest that people leave earlier and give themselves some time, people’s travel plans are going to be fundamentally altered and people have to be conscious of that fact. Even for things like the school run, where kids usually get a lift, I would be encouraging parents to use public transport," he added.
A spokeswoman for the Roads Service said that it is not possible to construct a civil engineering project of this scale without causing disruption.
“Furthermore, there is little opportunity to provide alternative routes during construction for the 65,000 vehicles that use Westlink each day, as many of these alternative routes are already congested," she said.
“As a result, it will be necessary to accommodate traffic through the works," she added.
The spokeswoman said that Roads Service is well aware of the potential of these roadworks to cause significant disruption to traffic throughout Belfast and has planned a range of temporary traffic measures to lessen the impact. These measures include: maintaining two traffic lanes through the works, providing signed alternative routes and undertaking improvement works along these roads, providing variable message signs in advance of these alternative routes and at exits to the Port of Belfast.
Additional CCTV cameras will be installed to monitor traffic through the roadworks and adjoining roads and, where possible, traffic signals will be altered to improve traffic conditions.
“Roads Service is committed to providing up-to-date traffic and travel information during construction," said the spokeswoman.
““This will be through a range of channels, including radio traffic bulletins, direct emailing and regular press releases. Roads Service would encourage all road users to use this information and plan their journeys accordingly," she added.

• An institution that will feel the effects more than most when the work starts in January is the Royal Victoria Hospital. On Monday we consider how the roadworks will impact on the hospital, its huge staff and its vital work.

Journalist:: Roisin McManus

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