In Belfast an interesting debate is occurring as to whether to integrate a Bus Rapid Transit System into the current range of modalities. Transport Minister Danny Kennedy states that Belfast needs to accommodate for the future needs and demands of Belfast, and reprioritising how we travel is a crucial element. But what are the overall effects of prioritising bus transport over other users?
Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) system is an integration of the Bus Rapid Transit System to address the current and long-term transport issues in the Greater Belfast Area. Designed by the Department for Regional Development (DRD), the project was first developed in 2008 to provide a more reliable and accessible transport service connecting the west and east of Belfast with the city centre.
Belfast’s Bus Rapid Transit
Encouraging the shift of transport behaviour away from private cars towards the use of public transport has been a target for many cities around the world. The Bus Rapid Transit System was established to encourage the use of public transport by improving the reliability and efficiency of the service. The first example of this system was in 1974 in Curitiba, Brazil. Due to the success in Curitiba, currently more than 166 cities have implemented the system, with around 4,336km of Bus Rapid Transit systems built around the world.
There are three basic characteristics of Bus Rapid Transit: exclusive lanes, station design and bus priority. Defined traffic lanes establish the bus routes, only allowing the buses to travel along them. This idea originated from the reliability of existing metro and tram systems that are undisturbed by traffic. Secondly, the stations are designed to allow for efficient entering and exiting of the buses. The raised platform increases accessibility for all users. Lastly, the buses have priority when it comes to traffic signals, reducing the travel time even further.
Overall, the system has received high praise and evidently successful in many cities, although in Belfast the project has received some criticism concerning two elements: Belfast’s arterial routes and the integration of the system. Like many other cities, Belfast has developed around a number of arterial routes that extend from the city centre to the surrounding suburbs. The proposed BRT only provides routes from the west & east of Belfast and the recently developed Titanic quarter. Aaron Coulter from PLACE NI says that the initial BRT proposal ignoring the north of Belfast, is “arguably one of the most disconnected areas in Belfast, in favour of the Titanic Quarter development.” Also, according the Forum for Alternative Belfast, if road lanes were taken away from private cars within the city centre and on arterial routes, this could increase the pressure on much narrower roads across the city.
Narrow street in Belfast that could receive increased traffic due to the BRT proposal
Another area of concern is the other road users, especially for cyclists. If lanes were to be prioritised for buses, this could reduce the space for the cycle users of the city. On the other hand, if cyclists were allowed to use the bus lanes this would in turn reduce the efficiency of the BRT services.
What do you think Belfast should do? Should we accept the BRT proposal but hinder other road users or find an alternative to balance the conflict?
Credits: Image by James Foskett & DRD. Data and other image linked to sources.