Sustainable Transport Enabling Measures (STEM), Belfast


Construction scheme (completed)
To add new bus lanes, cycle lanes and pedestrian crossings in Belfast City Centre by reducing road space for general traffic, and creating a new one-way gyratory west of the city centre.
Total Length
Includes 2.6km of bus lanes and 1.3km of cycle lanes

Proposed as part of "Belfast on the Move" scheme - 30 Sep 2010
Public consultation Oct and Nov 2010
First bus lane came into operation - 21 Nov 2011
Hope Street & Durham Street schemes began - 6 Jan 2012

Hope Street scheme completed but unopened - May 2012
Oxford St bus lanes - 5 July 2012
May St / Donegall Sq South / Howard St bus lanes - 17 Sep 2012
Hope Street became two-way - 28 Oct 2012
Phase 2 of works resumed - 28 Jan 2013
College Square East / Avenue bus lanes - 12 Apr 2013
Great Victoria Street bus lane - 26 April 2013
Wellington Place / Donegall Sq North / Chichester St bus lane - 31 May 2013

Most STEM works completed early June 2013

Final component (Ann Street cycle lane) completed October 2013
Final infrastructure to be completed during summer 2013

£4.2m (£2.5m in 2012 and £1.7m in 2013
See below
See Also
Original Sep 2010 press release - DRD
Map of proposals - DRD (PDF)
Official web site for Belfast On the Move - DRD
Belfast Rapid Transit System - on this site
1. Streets Ahead Enabling Measures Phase 1 - on this site
3. Rapid Transit Enabling Measures - on this site
4. City Centre Ring Road Southern Section - on this site
5. Streets Ahead Enabling Measures Phase 2 - on this site
6. Transforming the City Centre Ring Road - on this site

Belfast is currently undertaking a long-term scheme to redirect general traffic flows out of Belfast city centre, in order to permit a greater role for buses, rapid transit, pedestrians and cycling. Called Belfast on the Move, the work is being carried out in six phases, of which this scheme is the second (Phase 1 was completed in 2011 - see links above):
  1. Streets Ahead Enabling Measures Phase 1
  2. Sustainable Transport Enabling Measures (STEM)
  3. Rapid Transit Enabling Measures
  4. City Centre Ring Road Southern Section
  5. Streets Ahead Enabling Measures Phase 2
  6. Transforming the City Centre Ring Road

Phase 2 involves taking road space away from general traffic and using it to provide new bus and cycle lanes. In some cases, the capacity of the road for general traffic is being reduced from four to two lanes. To the west of the city centre a one-way system is being introduced to take traffic off Great Victoria Street to enable greater bus priority. The proposals are too detailed to describe in text, but a summary is as follows:

  • 2.6km of new bus lanes throughout the city centre.
  • 1.3 km of dedicated cycle lanes in the city centre.
  • 20 new signalised pedestrian crossings and 40 disabled parking spaces.
  • Creation of a clockwise gyratory on College Square East -> Grosvenor Road -> Durham Street -> College Street. Deleted from plan as of January 2013.
  • To make Hope Street two-way, to facilitate...
  • Great Victoria Street to become one-way southbound.

Much more precise proposals can be seen on page 2 of this PDF file (but this file is out of date as of Jan 2013). The entire process is due to be carried out from late 2011 to mid 2013.

The map below is an updated DRD map and shows the major elements of the project as they stood in January 2013. Eventually the plan is to take all general traffic off Donegall Squares North and South, ie from in front of and behind City Hall.
STEM map as of January 2013

Previous Scheme

The map below is an old DRD map from 2011 and shows the original plan which featured a one-way system west of the city centre. This was planned because it was throught that Rapid Transit would use Grosvenor Road and hence space would be needed on Grosvenor Road.

Map of proposed changes as part of the STEM project as of 2011 [DRD from here].


23 Sep 2013: As stated in the previous update, the final bus lane came into effect at the end of May. Work over the summer has been confined mostly to the installation of the last remaining cycle lane on Ann Street. Ann Street is due to be resurfaced shortly, after which it has to be left to set for about three weeks before the new green cycle lane surfacing can be added over it. After that, the STEM project will be fully completed. Hence I'm marking this scheme as being completed in "October 2013". It is very likely that – as planned – the next phase of the ongoing Belfast on the Move project will be the Rapid Transit Enabling Measures, which could start to roll out during 2014.

26 Jun 2013: The final bus lane of the STEM project came into operation on 31 May 2013: across the front of City Hall along Wellington Place, Donegall Square North and Chichester Street. This allows just one lane for general traffic along most of this distance, and had the potential to the the most disruptive of all measures. However, these fears proved generally unfounded and the new bus lane came into operation with much fewer problems than were the case nine months ago when the bus lane behind City Hall was introduced. Congestion does seem to be a bit worse than before on Great Victoria Street and Fisherwick Place, but in general there was little media attention. On social media the focus has instead been on the rather poor enforcement of the bus lanes in the city, including the city centre, which is a big issue that the DRD do need to address. All the "bus lane" elements of the STEM project are now complete, but further works still have to happen before final completion:

  • Ann Street – introduction of a 2 way cycle track from Victoria Street to Oxford Street;
  • Linenhall Street - introduction of a 13m loading bay and a contra flow cycle lane from Donegall Square South to James Street South

Meanwhile, the DRD themselves have assessed the impact of the bus lane on their web site in these terms: "During the initial ‘bedding in’ period for these amended road layouts, while the travelling public got used to the new arrangements, there were some additional delays to vehicles accessing the city centre. However, in the last few months the level of congestion has been reduced and traffic flows are improved.
Preliminary information indicates that traffic levels are lower across the city centre, there appears to have been no significant impact on journey times through the city centre and some of the ‘through’ traffic has diverted to more strategic routes. In addition there was no decline in the numbers of cars parking in the city centre which shows that people are still driving into the city to park. There is no evidence to suggest that the changes have deterred car borne shoppers.
Early indications from Translink are that buses are getting through the city centre more quickly, the services are staying on schedule and are more reliable and their customers are seeing real benefits. In addition the Park & Ride facilities serving Belfast have seen a marked increase in usage." At this point in time, there is no reason to think that the scheme has not been successful, so the scheme's designers and managers deserve credit for what has been achieved.

20 May 2013: The Fisherwick Place bus lane came into operation three weeks ago, and the resultant congestion has not been as bad as feared, which is good news. On Friday 17 May a new bus lane came into operation on Donegall Square East (to the left of City Hall if you're standing looking at the front door). The main impact of this on car drivers is that it is no longer possible to drive straight on (across May Street) from Donegall Square East into Adelaide Street (this movement) during its hours of operation. The reason is not just the creation of the bus lane - this is a very popular way of getting into the southern part of the city centre from the west, and by deliberately preventing the movement the hope on the part of the Belfast On The Move planners is surely that drivers will find alternative routes that avoid the streets around City Hall, helping achieve the goal of reducing the amount of traffic around City Hall. Roads Service have published a map of some suggested alternatives not all of which, it has to be said, would appear to support this goal. The next phase of work will be the introduction of the new bus lane across the front of City Hall along Wellington Place, Donegall Square North and Chichester Street, likely to be the most disruptive of all the lanes introduced to date. DRD are saying that this work will be completed by the end of May, so its introduction must be going to take place within the next 10 days or so. As always, see official STEM web site for the most up-to-date information.

28 Apr 2013: New bus or cycles lanes have come into operation over the past three weeks: College Avenue bus lane came into operation on 12th April; Grosvenor Road cycle lane (Durham St to Fisherwick Place) on 22nd April; and Great Victoria Street bus lane (Hope St to Grosvenor Road) on 26th April. None of these seemed to cause serious problems. The next change will be a new bus lane on Fisherwick Place which will come into effect on 1st May. It will mean that only one lane will be available for general traffic turning right into Wellington Place, a very popular movement, so this change may create congestion. The work to create a new bus lane across the front of City Hall along Wellington Place, Donegall Square North and Chichester Street must surely get underway over the next few weeks, this being the element of the work that is likely to create the most congestion during the 'bedding in' period. As always, see official STEM web site for the most up-to-date information.

11 Apr 2013: As I said in the last update, work on Phase 2 of the STEM project as been ongoing for over two months now. According to a press release issued today, the bus lanes are going to start going live in batches, with the first one - the southbound bus lane on College Avenue and College Square East going live tomorrow, 12th April. This one has been created by widening the road, so will not reduce the capacity of the road for general traffic. The press release also suggests that from 22nd April, Grosvenor Road eastbound will be reduced from two general traffic lanes to one general traffic lane between Durham Street and Fisherwick Place, with the extra space being turned into a dedicated cycle lane. This will create some disruption, so Roads Service want road users to consider using Durham Street/College Square North or Sandy Row/Hope Street as alternatives. Finally, starting at the end of April work will begin on the most controversial element of them all - the introduction of the bus lane across the front of City Hall along Wellington Place, Donegall Square North and Chichester Street which will be introduced either in May or June. This change will lead to major traffic disruption for a number of weeks, so if you use this route it is worth thinking now about alternative routes or modes of transport. I have blogged about these changes in more detail, including maps. As always, the official STEM web site is being kept impressively up-to-date with information about planned road closures, and is well worth checking regularly. 

20 Mar 2013: Work has been progressing steadily during the six weeks since the last update. Works are currently concentrated on College Square East, Fisherwick Place, Great Victoria Street and from next week will take place (with lane closures overnight only) on College Square North & East, College Avenue, Durham Street and College Street. That will take us up to Easter, and it seems that the "major" element of the scheme, at least from the motorist's point of view, will then begin - the introduction of the bus lane across the front of City Hall along Wellington Place, Donegall Square North and Chichester Street, along with restrictions to the use of Donegall Square East. The whole STEM scheme is due to be completed by mid June, which is around 12 weeks from now. Given that this will see a fairly major reduction in capacity once it goes live I would anticipate widespread traffic congestion for a month or more, coupled with significant negative media attention, in line with what we saw in September 2012 when the bus lane behind City Hall was introduced. However past experience suggests that the scheme will 'bed in' over a 6-8 week period as road users find alternative routes or modes of transport, and I would recommend road users should allow this much time before making a judgement of the scheme. As I have said before, the official STEM web site is being kept impressively up-to-date with information about planned road closures, and is well worth checking regularly.

11 Feb 2013: The official STEM web site is being kept very up to date with information about planned road closures, and is well worth checking regularly. Some work has taken place on Fisherwick Place and Howard Street, but for the next four weeks work will be focused on Great Victoria Street, where a northbound bus lane will eventually be introduced. Although the work will take place during the daytime, the lane restrictions will be removed during the morning and evening rush hours. Meanwhile, in a Question for Written Answer in the Assembly, the DRD Minister has reiterated some of the statistics showing the initial impact of last autumn's new bus lanes. It suggests that in the aftermath of the bus lanes, traffic levels on Oxford Street and May Street fell by 5000 vehicles per day, while Chichester Street fell by 2000 vehicles per day. Meanwhile, Westlink rose by 4000 per day. On the buses, patronage rose by 1500 per day, and the use of park-and-rides rose by 15%. However, these statistics are preliminary and it will not be possible to fully assess their impact until the second half of 2013, when all works are complete. The total cost is given as £4.2m.

19 Jan 2013: The announcement of the next phase of the STEM project took place on Wednesday 16th January. The information confirmed that work is going to begin on Monday 28 January, and will initially involve work on Great Victoria Street and Grosvenor Road, before advancing in the coming months to cover College Avenue and finally the route along the front of City Hall with all works due to be completed by Summer 2013. The full list of works is as follows:

  • Great Victoria Street (Hope Street to Grosvenor Road) and Fisherwick Place - lane reallocation and introduction of a northbound bus lane;
  • Grosvenor Road (Durham Street to Great Victoria Street) - lane reallocation;
  • College Avenue and College Square East - lane reallocation and introduction of a southbound bus lane;
  • Victoria Street – introduction of a cycle track from Chichester Street to Gloucester Street;
  • Ann Street – introduction of a 2 way cycle track from Victoria Street to Oxford Street;
  • College Square North, Durham Street and Grosvenor Road – resurfacing;
  • Wellington Place, Donegall Square North, Donegall Square East and Chichester Street - lane reallocation and introduction of bus lanes.

As noted in the previous update, November's decision to shift the route of the western side of Belfast Rapid Transit from Grosvenor Road to Falls Road has impacted on this scheme. You can see the changes by comparing the two maps further up the page. Specifically it means that Grosvenor Road no longer needs to have a bus lane on it and therefore will have enough space to remain two-way. This means that the proposed one-way system around Durham Street/College Square North is no longer necessary and has therefore been removed from the plan. This will save a good bit of work in this vicinity. It also means that drivers will be able to turn right out of Howard Street onto Fisherwick Place and from there turn right onto Wellington Place (as they can at present) except that Wellington Place will be reduced to one lane for general traffic.

DRD seem to have learned from the experience of Phase 1, so there will be plenty of warning this time ahead of each change to the road network and will be publicising suggested alternative routes (which, for people whose destination is not in the city centre, is generally Westlink or Outer Ring). But commuters also need to be aware and accept that there will be disruption, possibly on the same scale as last October, but we do know from experience that this is very likely to bed in within 6-8 weeks as it did the first time round. On this final point, DRD have made a few observations that indicate that the scheme is actually working as planned:

  • In Oct/Nov 2012 Metro passengers were up 1500/day compared to the same period in 2011.
  • In Oct/Nov 2012 park-and-rise use was up 15% compared to the same period in 2011.
  • There appears to have been no reduction in city centre parking, meaning that shoppers do not seem to have been deterred from the city centre.

14 Jan 2013: The next phase of STEM, ie the works due to take place over the next six months, are due to be officially launched this week. There seems to be a determination to ensure maximum publicity for what is being proposed, which is good news. The announcement is likely to include an adjustment to some of the details of the plan due to the decision made in November to route the WWAY Rapid Transit route along the Falls Road rather than Grosvenor Road. In particular, it would seem to be necessary to facilitate buses turning right onto College Square East from Howard Street. However, I do not want to speculate before the announcement. The Belfast Telegraph ran an article last week where they discussed the proposed removal of about 80 metres of the bus lane that was introduced at the western end of Howard Street last year (incorrectly illustrated with a picture of the Donegall Square South bus lane that is staying). My gut feeling is that the removal discussed in this article is in fact one element of a series of changes being made to facilitate the changed route of rapid transit, and does not in any way indicate a backing-down by the DRD!

12 Dec 2012: In a talk at the PLACE Architecture and Built Environment Centre today, Ciarán de Búrca (the head of the project) confirmed that the entire STEM scheme should be completed by June 2013, and that work to implement the next round of bus lanes would begin at the start of January. I have also blogged once again about the new bus lanes and how they are faring three months on.

1 Dec 2012: On 12th December at 1pm Ciaran De Burca – the person at DRD who is responsible for leading the STEM project and the wider Belfast on the Move scheme - will be outlining the objectives of the project and taking questions. The event is being hosted by the PLACE Architecture Centre on Fountain Street, Belfast (near Waterstones). Admission is free and is open to anyone, but as space is limited you still need to get a ticket by visiting this web page. Queries should be directed to PLACE. I should also have said before now that I blogged about the new bus lanes again about two weeks ago, discussing how things had gone in the two months since the May St/Howard St lanes were introduced. Finally, the DRD web site has been updated and suggests that the next set of STEM works in Belfast will be on Great Victoria Street, Grosvenor Road and Fisherwick Place early in 2013.

25 Oct 2012: Over the past month the media interest in the new bus lanes has dwindled greatly, and I have heard much fewer reports recently about the congestion. Whether this means (a) it has "bedded in" (b) people are switching to bus or (c) people are travelling into the city less or (d) a combination of these, remains to be seen. In other news, the DRD have reported that Hope Street will become two-way this Sunday, 28 October 2012. The work was actually carried out in the spring of 2012, but the westbound lanes have sat unopened for the past five months. Hope Street will be closed from Saturday evening to carry out the switch over. Hope Street is a short street, but this important change will allow Roads Service to make Great Victoria Street one-way southbound from Grosvenor Road to Hope Street early next year (see map above). The works on College Avenue are now complete (earlier than anticipated in the last update), and Roads Service. Apparently no further major works will be carried out before January - this may have been in response to the concerns of traders who are worried about trade in the run up to Christmas. Finally, the DRD are also saying that over the next few weeks work will be carried out to resurface the footpaths behind City Hall. It is not known whether the STEM scheme is still on schedule for completion by "mid 2013" as was advertised last January.

2 Oct 2012: The past fortnight has seen a flurry of media attention devoted to this scheme due to the apparent increase in congestion that the new May Street-Howard Street bus lanes have been created. I have blogged about this. This has resulted in the DRD, Belfast City Council and PSNI setting up a joint working group to meet fortnightly and tackle the congestion issues. The DRD, for its part, is urging people to be patient by giving the scheme plenty of time to 'bed in' before judging it. Meanwhile, work continues on the scheme, with work underway on College Avenue (erroneously labelled as Millfield by Google) for the period October and November, which will result in a new southbound bus lane. Work is presumably also going to get underway before too long on the one-way system on College Square North/ College Square East / Grosvenor Road / Durham Street (see map above). This work ought to be completed by early 2013. I have explained the works on College Avenue in more detail over on my blog, since it seems to have caught motorists by surprise.

17 Sep 2012: The new bus lane on May Street, Donegall Square South and Howard Street came into force this morning (although the erroneous signage indicating the location of the bus lane makes it uncertain whether it is enforceable @andyboal). This bus lane affects the main westbound route behind City Hall, and has more impact than the Oxford Street bus lane which opened in July, because it reduces the number of traffic lanes for general traffic from 4 to 2. The space freed up by this has become an extra wide bus lane leaving enough space for cyclists to share it (the graphic above shows an illustration of this). The route also features a bus gate at the Linenhall Street junction to allow the buses to switch from the left lane (ie, where the bus stops are) to the right lane (to turn into Donegall Square West). Activity in the media and on Twitter suggested that traffic congestion was worse this morning than normal, with knock-on delays some distance away in places like Ravenhill Road. It will, of course, take time for the new setup to find its equilibrium and it's therefore unfair to judge it straight away. The engineers appear to be working clockwise round the city centre, so presumably the next phase will involve work around the area of the Great Victoria Street/Grosvenor Road junction.

8 Sep 2012: Progress continues apace on this scheme. The schools going back last week coincided with resurfacing work on May Street, and the first time the Oxford Street bus lane was in force. The impact was mixed, as this article in the NewsLetter outlined. Progress doesn't seem to be quite as good was forecast in June (see updates below). The resurfacing work on May Street appears to be only just completed, while there don't appear to be any new signs in the central area yet. The photos below were all taken two days ago from a bus, taken as I was exploring the new setup. Meanwhile, I've written about the prospects for the STEM scheme over on my blog.

View south along Oxford Stret from Queen Elizabeth Bridge, showing a bus going through the new "bus gate" while red lights stop the cars in the three general traffic lanes. The bus gate allows the bus to get across two lanes (see next pic). Taken 6 Sep 2012. [Wesley Johnston]

Taken from a bus which went round the bus gate (!?) after the bus light changed to red. Clearly showing the way the lanes ahead have changed, as well as an advanced stop line – the first of many cycling measures. The old lane marking sare still visible. Taken 6 Sep 2012. [Wesley Johnston]

View southbound on Oxford Street (about here) showing the new bus lane. The bus lane is in lane 3 as the two right lanes turn right onto May Street ahead. This is part of the reason for the bus gate behind. Taken 6 Sep 2012. [Wesley Johnston]

Resurfacing work underway on May Street, looking west, with some of the road markings down. This road was formerly 3 lanes with parking spaces on the right. The parking spaces have been removed. The area on the left will be a bus and cycle lane. Taken 6 Sep 2012. [Wesley Johnston]

20 Aug 2012: Over the summer much work has taken place. The new bus* lane on Oxford Street came into use on 5th July 2012. Unusually, the bus lane is the third of the four lanes (ie general traffic can be on either side of it, but not in it). A bus gate has been introduced (traffic signals that stop general traffic to let a bus through) for both speed and to let the bus change lanes easily. General traffic can still use the bus lane from 7pm to 7am, and all day on Sundays, when buses do not need to be given priority. From keeping an eye on Twitter and discussion forums, it's clear that the first week or two resulted in total confusion for drivers as they tried to work out what lane they had to be in, but according to the DRD "the new arrangements are now operating satisfactorily without undue delays". The scheme has reduced the space on Oxford Street for general traffic by 25%, but so far this doesn't seem to have caused problems. Another bus lane has been introduced on East Bridge Street. The DRD also said on their web site on 8 August that "further bus lanes and bus gates will be introduced in May Street to Howard Street over the summer months [August?], followed by further works on Fisherwick Place culminating in bus lanes being provided in Wellington Place to Chichester Street in Spring 2013".
*The "bus" lane can be used by buses, permitted taxis, motorbikes and cyclists.

24 Jun 2012: The elements of this scheme continue to hot up. The Hope Street scheme is now finished and work to adjust the Durham Street / Grosvenor Road junction is well advanced. Two weeks ago the DRD released a press release noting what would be happening over the next three months:

  • June 2012 - A bus lane being introduced in Oxford Street, from Queens Bridge to May Street, May Street, Donegall Square South and Howard Street. (A traffic island has already been erected on Oxford Street at the time of writing, presumably to let buses switch from the left lane to the right safely).
  • June/July - Resurfacing of May Street, Donegall Square South and Howard Street, prior to the introduction of the bus lanes by early July.
  • July/August - Erecting a new strategic direction signage system throughout the city (presumably to direct traffic around the new one-way gyratory west of the city centre, and perhaps also to direct strategic traffic away from City Hall).

In the longer term, the press release notes that: "Over the next year, the Department for Regional Development’s Roads Service will be continuing to introduce more bus and cycle lanes in the city centre. Work will include resurfacing, erecting signage, traffic signal installation, kerbline alterations, pedestrian crossings and road markings. The changes to junctions, traffic flows and routes for Translink’s buses will affect streets around the City Hall area".

Additionally, signage on site suggests that the Barrack Street 'rat run', a long time bone of contention for residents, will be closed off as of today. This 'rat run' became more popular with the 2006-2009 Westlink upgrade which has closed off access at Grosvenor Road for traffic coming from the north.

A map document has also just been released showing in full detail the uses that will be permitted at the sides of each road. All of these changes should be in place by summer 2013, when the STEM scheme is due to be completed.

Finally, 30th May 2012 saw the publication of all six legal documents required to make the STEM scheme a reality:
• The Bus Lanes (Belfast City Centre) Order (NI) 2012,
• The Cycle Routes (Amendment No.)Order (NI) 2012; and
• The Waiting Restriction (Belfast City Centre) Order (NI) 2012.
• The Parking Places on Roads (Belfast City Centre) Order (NI) 2012,
• The Parking Places on Roads (Coaches) Order (NI) 2012; and
• The Control of Traffic (Belfast City Centre) Order (NI) 2012.

1 May 2012: The DRD posted an update on their web site about five weeks ago, including images, which I have only just found. It indicates that work began on the junction modifications of Hope Street/Great Victoria Street on 30 January 2012, and that work began on the modifications of the Grosvenor Road/Durham Street junction a week earlier, on 23 January. Work at the Durham Street junction is due to take four months, which would suggest there is still a month of work to go here. However, the update suggests that all the associated works will not be completed until the end of June. Meanwhile, the new traffic signals at the Sandy Row/Hope Street junction (the bottom left junction on the map above) went live on 16 April 2012. Great Victoria Street remains two way for now, but this will change next year – I assume that the next part of the project will be to modify College Square North and Durham Street (beside Belfast Institute on the map above) as this will also need to be completed before the one-way gyratory can be implemented. Although these changes may seem like tweaking, they are part of a bigger plan and will facilitate increased priority for buses, cyclists and pedestrians in the central part of the city.

7 Jan 2012: The first of the proposed bus lanes (on Victoria Street) came into operation on 21 November 2011, and operates from 7am to 7pm according to this press release. Meanwhile, work on the scheme to make Hope Street two way gets underway in two days (on 9 January) according to this press release. This will not only involve converting Hope Street into a two-way road, but also upgrading the junctions at either end of Hope Street, and Grosvenor Road/Durham Street junction. The work will take four months, but the press release implies that Great Victoria Street will remain two way at that point, only becoming one way once the one-way system at College Square is completed. The same press release implies that all of the STEM works are due to be completed over the next 18 months, ie by mid 2013.