Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) Phase 2 announced – Slugger O’Toole
This week, Minister of Infrastructure Nichola Mallon launched the public consultation for Phase 2 of the Belfast Rapid Transit (Glider) system.
I think this is a welcome development and will improve connectivity, access and use of public transport in the city.
I remember when Glider first launched on the east / west route a few years ago. Before it took off, it was all the rage to jump on it (a common model for public transport projects on this island). People argued that he couldn’t even get around the bends. A few store owners predicted that removing parking spaces would destroy their businesses. Parents argued that they could not drop their children off at school. Taxi drivers complained. All these complaints more or less disappeared when the service was launched.
But despite some nasty hiccups, especially in the Titanic Quarter, the rapid transit program has been successful, and now those of us in other parts of town want access to it as well.
Why does Glider work? Branding to make it seem like something more than just a flexible bus plays a bigger role than people would like to admit. The real key, however, is the speedboat ticketing. A major cause of jet lag and slow service is the need to issue tickets and change. By reducing downtime at stops to a predictable level, coupled with well-applied bus lanes, you build confidence in system reliability in a way that attracts more users.
Like everything in life, Glider represents a compromise. 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 maintains that it cannot justify the additional cost. I don’t agree with this judgment, but for now at least, we need the eggs. The glider will never be as good as a streetcar, but it does get us part of the way for relatively little expense.
When it comes to consultation, the route options largely mirror what many of us predicted, although there are a few disappointing shortcomings that I will come back to later.
North Belfast was always going to be politically sensitive due to the community divide, with the two main arteries running through the constituency corresponding to two main sections of the community. On the clear facts and figures, the Antrim Road route leads the way, with higher residential density and a number of large primary and secondary schools along the route, resulting in higher passenger flows which are reflected in the ridership of existing buses along the route.
However, the Ministry should try to find a way that everyone can win. One way to do this is very simple: build both roads. Alternatively – or better yet, in addition – it is high time to consider the benefits that could be achieved by adding additional train stations between Whiteabbey and Yorkgate, or by adding additional express bus services that use the M2 and M5.
As with the first phase of the Glider, we can expect protests from businesses and residents who will be forced to give up parking spaces on the main road. Business between Limestone Road and Duncairn Gardens, and residential properties between New Lodge Road and Carlisle Circus, will need to be accommodated in one way or another, and it’s a similar story on Ormeau Road from University Road to Rosetta. I hope the politicians and the minister keep their cool here. Although a solution is needed, and I hope the ministry is innovative, we cannot throttle the city’s public transport system to protect the driving preferences of a small number of people, and I hope to see the Minister of Infrastructure stand up to any parochial interest arguing on the contrary.
As for the route itself: at the north end, the decision to end the route at O’Neill Road, missing the large, densely populated residential area of ââGlengormley and the surrounding area, will prove to be a serious mistake long term if it is allowed to stand. The consultation argues that it will be too difficult to ensure priority for buses on the section between O’Neill Road and the junction at Hightown Road, citing the high cost of acquiring land and “a high risk for stakeholders and public acceptability â. This is where our elected officials must show courage and insist that the Department look again at this issue. It’s up to politicians, not officials, to decide what the public might find acceptable or not, and I can guarantee that Glengormley bus users will rightly find it totally unacceptable that they need to change buses at halfway along the Antrim road to reach the city center.
Going further, many people wondered how the delicate technical problem posed by the narrow section of the Antrim Road between the Bellevue Bridge and the Serpentine Road would be solved. The solution is to have a dedicated bus lane in the direction of town only, with the likely elimination of right-turn pockets. Time will tell whether this compromise will work or not, but the cost of resolving it by widening the road would likely be a full-fledged multi-million dollar project involving the forced purchase of a high-value property that would become necessary. in the area around Ben Madigan Park, next to the property occupied by Belfast Zoo. I can understand why the department shirked this idea, but I hope the door remains open to secure funds to do the work here if needed in the future.
From here there are bus routes in both directions to Donegall Street. Interestingly, the Department is proposing the removal of Carlisle Circus, which will now become a signposted junction. I’m assuming this means the Antrim Road will connect to Clifton Street on a continuous curve. This junction is very busy at peak times and this change will ensure reliable operation of bus traffic.
In the city center itself, it looks like Royal Avenue / Donegall Place is picking up buses in both directions. This will hopefully help attract investment and custom to the rather bleak area of ââRoyal Avenue, and will also benefit the new Ulster University campus which will be served on its edge at the bottom of Donegall Street.
In town, the G2 ring road is extended to go from Town Hall to the outskirts of Queen’s University. However, this is where the next big disappointment arises; service will not pass the new bus and rail station currently under construction at Weaver’s Cross (Durham Street). The consultation argues that this is not technically possible. However, I think this needs to be reconsidered – the public will have a hard time understanding how the ministry would build a new station and a new transportation system, but will not be able to understand how to connect them. It is essential that passengers on long-distance regional and national buses and trains have the option of getting on or off a glider right in front of the station to continue their journey.
On leaving the city heading south to Belfast, a new dedicated bus connection route is constructed from Bruce Street to Gasworks, passing the old Movie House cinema and allowing buses to easily connect from Great Victoria Street to Ormeau Road. From there, bus routes run in both directions to Cairnshill. Once again, there is controversy over the failure of the glider extension to Carryduff. This can turn out to be a major shortcoming, although unlike the north end of the road, the two mile section between Cairnshill and Manse Road appears to be mostly open terrain. The consultation argues that there are few ‘attractors’ here and it is difficult to dispute this, but we must also keep in mind that public transport projects should not simply serve to facilitate existing demand but to attract investment in a territory.
The last observation to make on the diagram is the timescale. The consultation foresees the start of service by September 2027. While I expect the consultation and design to take about a year or so, this suggests that it takes four or five years to build a set of tracks. of buses with ticket machines and realign some sections of road. The Department has completed much larger projects than that in a much shorter time frame. Again, I think politicians need to take a close look to see what can be done to accelerate this project.
Overall, I look forward to the project getting started and going live. I hope that the Department and the Minister will listen carefully to the comments of the consultations and be able to address some of the gaps highlighted in the proposal. Anyone interested in the success of the project should take the time to review the details of the proposal. here and, in particular, respond to the consultation here.
center-left waffle maker working in IT and living in Belfast
Alliance, but written in a strictly personal capacity.