Space in our cities is becoming increasingly under pressure.
Richard kirk sept 2012 2
Local authorities want their economies to flourish by attracting more people to live, work and visit, but what is the best way to move people around? A former infrastructure minister in Northern Ireland once said that moving people around our cities is good for society; moving cars isn’t.
A report from transport data firm INRIX in February 2018 said that congestion in Northern Ireland cost the economy here over £1bn last year, and motorists in Belfast spent on average 21 hours stuck in rush hour traffic.
UK’s most congested city
These findings come on the back of consecutive years of satellite navigation products firm Tom-Tom reporting Belfast to be the UK’s most congested city. Setting aside the rigour of methodologies, even a short time in Belfast would convince the greatest sceptic that there is a lot to be done to help our people move around better.
A recent report from motorbike website Bike Life shows that a 4m wide road lane can move 800 to 1,100 people in cars per hour, compared to 5,000 to 10,000 people on bikes. The most efficient use of road space is by bus, which can move 8,000 to 12,000 passengers per hour. Perhaps there is something to be said for weaning our people away from their private combustion engines in cities.
Calling time on diesel
Announcements by governments across the world show that they are prepared to call time on diesel and move towards petrol hybrids, plug-in and hydrogen vehicles. However, this is not really about cars; it about our personal and collective health, to help improve active travel and air quality. While the connection with reducing pollution is well known, ditching the car may reduce your risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by almost a third, according to a medicalexpress.com report in May 2018.
So what is the right transport mix for our cities, especially when we are so deeply wedded to our cars? In Northern Ireland we have a government commitment to increase the percentage of people using active travel and public transport.
More cycleways needed
Sustrans has identified that for those who do not yet cycle to work, the main barrier for them is lack of dedicated cycleways. Civil engineers have a fundamental role in helping the public to realise these benefits, by providing safe infrastructure which can effect social change.
On the morning of Sunday 3 June in Belfast, the ICE was involved in producing a film to highlight how cars waste space in our cities. #RoadShareNI succinctly illustrated and compared the typical space occupied in a city street by four common modes of transport – cars, buses, cycles and walking – transporting the equivalent number of people.
Hopefully it will act as an incentive for behavioural change.
With fixed boundaries we cannot build our way out of congested cities. Instead we must re-imagine our roads and give this vital public space back to the people who use it for the sake of their health and the prosperity of our environment, society and economy.
- Richard Kirk is ICE Northern Ireland director