I was on BBC Nolan last week (on the rare occasions I could get a word in, such is the show!) to discuss a significant traffic hold-up caused by a lorry which overturned on the M2 between Yorkgate and Fortwilliam at around 3.30pm on a Friday.
As happens, the “discussion” turned into a debate about a certain DUP MP’s views on motorists’ rights, specifically on the motorists’ rights to drive 30mph rather than 20mph.
As happens also, that particular DUP MP was wrong. He generally is – after all, he does neither reason nor evidence.
In fact, Belfast’s bus lanes and bikes system have been a success – I stop short of “huge success” for a reason, but nevertheless a success. The objective was the reduce the number of cars entering (and thus polluting) the city centre, while increasing the number of people entering. Exactly that has happened – more people now enter the city centre than previously did, they just tend to do it by bus or bike.
We are well used to the counter-argument, and as ever we heard it all on and after the show. People are fed up with congestion yet somehow believe they are also punished by having to go 20mph rather than 30mph (surely if it is that congested they would never be able to get up to 30mph in the first place?); people are fed up being fined for driving in bus lanes (if they can’t see the bus lane, should they be driving at all?); people think cars are being forced out of the city centre (well yes – they pollute the place and endanger pedestrians). One person even complained that he could no longer drive to Boojum for lunch (er, the one I know is directly opposite a train halt and why on earth would you pay for parking while waiting in the queue that is constantly outside it?)…
The bus lanes have fallen short of the designation “huge success” or “complete success” because the authorities show much less willingness to fine people for infringing urban clearways, which is a much greater problem than driving in bus lanes because it both causes mass congestion and also limits passage for bicycles and buses all at once. It is arguable that they have also moved slightly too soon, with Belfast Mass Transit still a year or so away on any route. One particular rush-hour bus lane, from Stormont to Dundonald, is just crazy.
However, for all of this, the overall balance is clearly positive – for the public, not for the motorist. And that is what it is meant to be.