Belfast is about to get a new Transport Hub on the footprint of the Great Victoria Street Station. A new “green urban gateway” integrating rail and bus with taxis, cycling and pedestrian movements will see passenger number double to 13 million per year by 2030. But the complete redevelopment of 20 acres of land offers a great opportunity to create a new community greenway corridor to the south west of the city centre.
The Belfast Transport Hub aims to provide a world-class gateway to the largest city in Northern Ireland, bringing the Dublin-Belfast Enterprise train service into the heart of the city and integrating urban and rural, long and short journeys into a single area. It also offers a rare chance to follow through on a promise in the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland:
“In addition to delivering bespoke cycling infrastructure, we will also build on opportunities that arise as other transport interventions are being taken forward across Northern Ireland.”
The area of the Transport Hub suffers from historic urban disconnections due to the rail and road corridors. The Westlink poses a brick wall barrier as it links the M1, M2 and M3 motorways around Belfast, and the Great Northern Junction dominates to the east, where the line splits towards Great Victoria Street and Central Railway stations.
The footprint of the Transport Hub is envisaged to offer not just transport connections, but also new office and retail development and urban realm schemes.
Working with a virtually a blank slate (save for expanding rail lines) on 20 acres offers a great chance to provide a traffic-free path from Donegall Road into the Transport Hub. This could be designed to run either side of the railway line (and bus access road to the Westlink) allowing direct access from the southern end of the new Transport Hub.
Options for the Transport Hub site were released in April 2015 showing various footprints for the rail terminal and adjacent retail and office buildings. However none of the options appear to show any pedestrian and cycling movements beyond the southern pinch point at the Westlink and Blythfield Park – a opportunity about to be missed?
There is an existing walkway between Donegall Road and Blythfield Park which could be upgraded to carry additional cycling and walking journeys into the city centre. Blythfield Park is no stranger to innovation, being the first park in Belfast to have outdoor gym equipment installed in 2011.
At the Donegall Road an upgraded junction could prioritise crossing movements. This would bring people over to the Belfast City Hospital (BCH) side and another new link which could multiply the benefits of the overall project – an entrance to a pathway beside the petrol station at the Donegall Road railway bridge into the BCH car park behind.
This new cut-through wouldn’t just benefit staff, patients and visitors to the hospital. Creating a link from here into Fane Street would open up the Transport Hub Way into a 1.5 mile high-quality “quietway” cycle route to the south of the city. Adding traffic-calming measures and route-cutting along Fane Street and Great Northern Street would encourage more active travel to local schools and amenities.
The existing footbridge across the Westlink could be linked more directly to the new Transport Hub Way, making trips between the two hospital sites, and their new Belfast Bikes stations, much easier.
The overall benefits of a Transport Hub Greenway include:
- a direct route into the heart of the city centre from the south, lacking at the moment
- traffic-free journey options direct to Northern Ireland’s major transport hub
- additional journey options to attract anchor tenants in new office/retail buildings
- linking the city’s two big hospitals with the city centre and transport hub
- low costs for the creation of new greenway, if planned into the overall project
- an ideal linkage to support the extension of Belfast Bikes to south of the city
- a 1.5 mile “quietway” cycling route along the busy Lisburn Road corridor
The vision set out by Translink, the Department and the designers speaks of improving the urban fabric around the local communities:
“For the community: Optimising the social value of the re-development, creating an urban landscape and environment which connects with and relates to the local neighbourhoods.”
What better way to demonstrate this commitment than to design in a new greenway?
What do you think of the idea of a Transport Hub Way for Belfast?
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