The Department for Infrastructure’s programme of pop-up motorways has been met with anger by users of the popular Comber Greenway.
As part of COVID-19 lockdown measures to encourage more private car journeys, the Department has identified several key active travel corridors where temporary motorway infrastructure will be trialled. The first facility – a 100 metre four lane barrier-separated highway complete with hard shoulders – has been installed beside the Billy Neill playing fields on the outskirts of Dundonald.
The appearance of a motorway hoarding stamped with the designation “M7” with onward destinations – even though the road terminates immediately – has led many to speculate that the route will be extended and made permanent. It bears remarkable similarities to a plan from the 1960s to create an M7 motorway between Belfast and Newtownards . The Department did not comment on this aspect.
Three further pop-up motorways are understood to be planned for launch later this year at:
- the Lagan Towpath near Lisburn
- the Waterside Greenway in Derry
- the Newry Canal Way
“I hardly see any bloody cars on the thing”
The move has angered many of those who walk, wheel and cycle along the famed Comber Greenway. Grania from Newtownards said:
“We used to be able to park our bikes right here at the cycle repair station and benches – and now they’ve built a motorway over it.”
Stephen from Craigantlet said:
“The pop-up motorway means cars can travel two abreast on the greenway, making it really difficult for the rest of us trying to cycle. I haven’t seen any drivers wearing helmets either.”
Kevin from Belfast said:
“I cycle here every day and I hardly see any bloody cars on the thing – what a waste of money!”
Social media users have also questioned the decision to leave the pop-up motorway entirely divorced from the road network on either side, suggesting that usage will be suppressed as a result.
Today’s official launch of the pop-up motorway follows a soft opening one month ago to test operations. The Department has released usage levels in March which show that just one car travelled southbound, before performing a u-turn at the end of the 100 metre lane and recording the only northbound journey.
Responding to the criticism of the lack of vehicle usage of the pop-up motorway so far, a Departmental spokesperson said:
“We took the design template from the pop-up cycle lanes installed during coronavirus, abuptly starting and ending them with no safe or viable connection to any other routes. We trust users will just get on with it and understand our ambition.
“We’re committed to working towards reimagining and reshaping our greenways to accommodate usage beyond just active travel as part of an ambitious Executive recovery plan. This is a real opportunity to build a better future that delivers more for our drivers. We must seize it.”
The pop-up motorway programme is expected to cost more than the active travel budget for 2021/22.
While you’re here, the Department for Infrastructure is evaluating its pop-up cycle lanes installed in Belfast during summer 2020. Have your say on how to make them permanent, expanded and better connected on their Survey Monkey page.
Motorway image – Ann Cook / New section of the M6 motorway