Bolder moves to make Belfast Hub a better place

The Belfast Hub is the newest project on the block. In the past articles, we looked at the proposed integration with multiple means of transport, mostly cycling, and analysed possible changes to return Glengall St to people. This last article will approach the new address of the Hub, Durham St.

Current Status

Durham St is currently part of Belfast’s inner ring road. It provides access to south-west Belfast without pushing drivers to the Westlink or the Dublin road.

With the introduction of the front of the Hub to this street, the vehicular traffic can act as a first physical barrier that prevents people from reaching the city centre easily.

To have a better understanding of this potential issue I requested the data for the average number of vehicles travelled in that street for peak times and over the course of a day. Unfortunately, this data was not available at the time of the release of the publication. So, I took matters into my own hands and went to do it myself. A 10-minute session between 13:23 and 13:33 yielded the following results.

durham_street_observation

The results show a high volume of vehicular traffic on this road, which if extrapolated for an hour, would mean more than 750 cars pass through this road outside peak hours. Note that 10 minutes observation is a small amount of time to take meaningful conclusions and that more data would be required to paint a more accurate picture of the traffic flow on this street. It is undeniable, however, that this street is ruled by motor vehicles and completely inadequate for more vulnerable users. There are also very low numbers of both pedestrians and cyclists because the area has no dwelling attraction at the moment.

The reason for this high volume of vehicular traffic is, most likely because this road is part of the inner ring of Belfast. It provides a useful connection between Millfield and the Sandy Row area, without the need to divert through Dublin Road (another busy street) or the Westlink.

belfastinnerringmap
Belfast Inner Ring Road – picture from Wesley Johnston website

The part of Durham St that will house the new Hub is currently a bridge that allows an overpass across the existing train lines that exit the Great Victoria Station. At the crossroad with Grosvenor Road, it starts as a 3 (and a half) lanes and turns into a 4 lanes road.

durhamstCurrent1
From Grosvenor Road crossroad
durhamstCurrent
To a 4 lane road near Sandy Row

The proposal

The proposal seems to be to keep the number of lanes as it is. There was no mention of expected increase in vehicular traffic due to the new businesses and the Hub. Additional taxi ranks and general drop on/off would be provided for drivers convenience.

On the other hand, it is expected that the number of people walking and cycling will increase. To cope with that walking and cycling are mixed together. To cross Durham St there would be two crossings, one straight to Glengall St and the other the new mall.

There was no mention of Translink Metro stops just outside the Hub and, as shown in previous articles, BRT is not even near Durham St.

durhamstProposal.png
Durham St Proposal – More of the same, probably with much more traffic?

Traffic count analysis

With an expected increase of almost all of the users in the area, the risk for the most vulnerable users increases greatly. It will not be for the faint-hearted to cycle among such traffic and it’s an added difficulty for pedestrians to overcome. If we think of the most vulnerable users among this group (e.g. elderly, disabled, children, etc.) the danger level multiplies exponentially.

My understanding of the Durham St construction is, that besides providing a convenient link for motorists towards Sandy Row, that it would be able to alleviate the pressure on Great Victoria St and Dublin Road. However, such endeavour failed to materialise. Both streets still choke with car fumes every day.

With that in mind, it is probably time for a very different approach.

The different approach

A different approach would be to dissolve the idea of an inner ring road in Belfast. The city is very small and you can cycle it in less than 10 minutes and walk it in less than 30. As such, the inner ring road just patches the problem and doesn’t resolve the underlying issue – still too many motor vehicles within the city centre. If drivers need to pass through neighbourhoods, they should be diverted outside of those neighbourhoods. In this case, some traffic should be moved towards Westlink. Other traffic could change towards more sustainable ways of transportation. If we are to support sustainable transport we need to confront the status quo and avoid pushing the difficult, but better, decisions forward.

What would change?

The proposal changes very little to the current functionality and status of the street. Creating a better place is returning it to the people, not keeping it for car drivers convenience.

Allow only buses, taxis and deliveries

The vast majority of motor vehicles from my observation were private cars. Removing them from this street would greatly improve its livability, by, among other reasons, remove a large part of the danger for the more vulnerable users.

Bring Metro Translink stop to the Hub

Integration with other transports is key. With the reduction of the vehicular traffic on the street, it looks straightforward to bring one of the routes through the Hub at least.

Reduce the 4 lane road to 2 lane

With the extra traffic removed, there is no requirement for so much space to be provided for the remaining motor vehicles. This would return more space for people, reduce the crossing gap and make the area more friendly in general.

Reduce deliveries time

As with Glengall St, deliveries should only be allowed during specific times of the day. This still allows commerce to function, but with much less disruption for other users.

Junctions

The proposed junctions are still convenient just for cars. Those on-slip lanes allow cars to split quicker, but at the cost of safety for vulnerable users. Pedestrians have to cross the road twice (sometimes with low visibility) and the cyclists on the road are at the mercy of motorists driving properly.

Other Possibilities

There are other options that weren’t even mentioned by the design team that could potentially provide benefits for the area.

  • Protected cycle path might be a good introduction if the expected cycle and vehicular traffic require it.
  • With more road space for people, it can bring further opportunities for stores owners with the front towards Durham St.

Final Comments

Belfast is expanding its own views from inside its own core. It’s looking for regeneration and it is hoping to increase the number of people who live in the city centre. To provide better places for people to dwell it is required to confront the status quo of providing ways for cars to move within the city centre instead of people. Above were some ideas on how to shift the focus towards people while maintaining the required functionality for commerce to thrive.

In the end, roads exist to serve people.

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