Belfast is the capital of Northern Ireland. The population of its metropolitan area is almost 600,000 people. The number of people working in the city centre is likely much more. Today was the day that one crash halted the entire city centre.
The collision occurred just before 3 pm and, unfortunately, resulted in one deceased. In such occasions, the police force is obligated to close the road to investigate the reasons that lead to such event.
This meant that the Westlink, a major artery in Belfast traffic landscape, was closed between Divis Rd and Broadway for a few hours and by 5.30 pm the Google traffic map in Belfast was redder than Liverpool.
This gridlock led major tailbacks which unveiled how closing one through road affected the normal movement of people through the entire Belfast and how the current transport system, skewed towards people driving their own private cars, is inadequate to actually moving people in all circumstances.
This had not just an impact in the people driving their own private cars, as emergency services were also prevented from reaching their destinations quicker because of the gridlock.
Also, the bus services were massively affected generating big queues at bus stops, especially at City Hall. Clearly, the existing outbound bus lanes were inadequate to keep service levels and reliability, which lead to overcrowded buses and one-hour delays.
Nonetheless, this gridlock didn’t stop people from acting improperly behind the wheel, making life more difficult or dangerous for other road users.
This traffic jam has led people to question their own means of transportation, either for quick errands or just to go from A-to-B.
Finally, the reliable options to move through Belfast tonight were easy to identify: cycling and naturally train – and that’s what was visible on Twitter during this entire incident.
This unfortunate incident has shown how vulnerable and inefficient the current transport design and management is. Improving sustainable transport conditions is key to prevent these events to have the same repercussion.
One of the solutions to improve the efficiency of moving people has been identified and already been proven in the streets of London. Cycling occupies less space than motor vehicles and can move much more people.
So, taking into account the events that happened tonight it is clear how urgent it is to create better quality infrastructure and prioritise sustainable means of transportation. The Belfast Rapid Transit should be available in about two years, but the current cycling drafts (Greenways and Belfast Cycle networks) are very unambitious with 10-year plans to partially achieve what is described in the documents.
Does it mean we will have to wait 10 years (or more) to have a safe and efficient transport system?