A salmon is a fish commonly pictured leaping up waterfalls, swimming against the current. A salmon also refers to a cyclist going (legally) up a one way street, against the flow of traffic.

In Belfast a small number of one way streets are open to cycling in both directions.

Most famously, the Arthur Street bin lane has a 2 way track separate from the one way street.

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It has its problems, such as bins and the bits of shared space at each end where the lane crosses Chichester Street and May Street, but with some improvements this could be a very good bit of cycling infrastructure.

I am more concerned about this:

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This is University Square in South Belfast, looking east. Some years ago DRD painted a bit of the road green, creating an advisory contraflow cycle lane.

It is cheap to implement: for the price of a few cans of green and white paint DRD can tick the “created cycling infrastructure” box in their annual management review.

It’s not very good though.

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Photo 1: the parked car is blocking the lane and forces the cyclist out into the car space, against the flow of traffic.

Or you can easily imagine how a door suddenly flung open may cause a cyclist to swerve and become a KSI statistic.

Here, the cyclist must wait until the road is clear and then move out of the lane and move back in after the obstacle.

Consider this: the car occupant can safely swing open the door wide because the cycle lane acts as a buffer zone between parked cars and moving cars.

Now remind me, a cyclist is not equipped with crumple zones, so why are they made the soft padding between two steel objects?

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Photo 2. The car space is not wide enough to allow a car to overtake a stationary vehicle without entering the cycle lane.

Would the driver of the dark vehicle have stopped if I had been closer? Experience tells me motorists think cyclists coming the other way are not traffic they have to give way to.

In this case the cyclist has right of way over the dark car, because the red stationary vehicle is on the other side of the road.

Get out of Jail

The Highway Code says vehicles may only drive or park in an advisory lane when it’s unavoidable. It’s a “Get Out of Jail Card”, one of many in the Highway Code.

To enter the parking spaces the cars must cross the lane, and that is against the rule, but it also unavoidable. So you’re allowed.

Across Belfast there are numerous  advisory cycle lanes and you’ll see cars parked in them quite legally, because it is unavoidable.

Consider this: the parking space is part of the same direction of flow as the one-way street and these two sandwich a cycle lane running the other way. It’s barmy.

Another example is found off Ormeau Avenue:

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Apsley Street

The solution in both cases is so simple it is a mystery why they didn’t get it right first time. Looking at the picture of Apsley Street above, the cycle lane goes to the left of the line of parked cars. The parked cars then act as a buffer between moving cars going one way and cyclists going the other way. Like this example in Dublin.

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Belkin practicing their team time trial on Belfast's University Road

Oh, the glamour and excitement of it all. The Grande Partenza was in Belfast and despite the wet weather thousands of people cheered the riders on. It was very definitely the biggest sporting event the City has ever hosted.
Of course, there was talk of spin-off benefits for local cycling, but as the year comes to an end the Giro is a faint rosy glow, like the midday sun on a winter’s day.

Cyclesaurus dies, yet lives

The year started with a brutal killing. The Cyclesaurus, only a month before crowned worst infrastructure at the 2013 Fred Awards, was attacked by DRD assassins. When the dust cleared a new monster arose, with mutant offspring diagonally across the junction. At the 2014 Award ceremony the entire city’s cycling infrastructure received the dubious distinction of worst cycling infrastructure. It remains to be seen if DRD will tackle the whole city with such alacrity.

Just down the road, but a few decades behind

Belfast streets have some provision for cyclists; not 9 miles away Lisburn has no provision at all. The DSD’s masterplan only mentions cycling in relation to tourism. But where there is no provision the possibilities are endless.

Taking back the Square

In Belfast DSD have dreamt up plans for redevelopment of the area around Donegall Street and Shaftesbury Square. Cycling is not paid much attention, and especially the Shaftesbury Square plans need to be amended, as the square is to be included in the first phase of Belfast’s bike hire scheme as a location for 2 docking stations and is a vital link for cyclists travelling from the south to the City Centre and in the future from the Gasworks bridge towards Queen’s, City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital and vice versa.

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As a department DSD remain blind to cycling as a mode of transport and as a means to unlock our gridlocked roads. They could argue traffic isn’t their brief, but of course public realm is. Making our city’s spaces more liveable means making them pedestrian and bike friendly; making our city’s spaces a place to linger, rather than rush through by car.

Urban Clearway, don’t make laugh

Along the main thoroughfares of South Belfast the DRD dressed an attempt at traffic smoothing as a move to benefit local trade. The concept that parking is banned on one side of the road for 2 hours a day is too difficult to understand for motorists and too onerous to enforce by the parking attendants traffic wardens.

And does it work as a traffic smoothing measure? In October the Malone Road was closed during rush hour after a fatal hit-and-run RTC. Traffic ground to a standstill when parked cars on the Lisburn Road reduced the road’s capacity to take traffic from Malone Road. You’d think that DRD are giving up on these plans. No. At the time of writing the temporarily amended parking restrictions are still in force beyond the trial’s closing date.

Waterfrontshambles

Local politicians bent over backwards to accommodate the Giro, to the extent of a temporary ban along the route on election posters that disfigure our lampposts. Did they go the extra mile when NCN9 was closed for 2 years with only the scantest of notices given? No. Cyclists have to go the extra mile and cross the Lagan 3 times to access the City Centre from the south and south east of the city. It doesn’t bode well for the city’s bike hire scheme.

Belfast, Cycling Capital

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Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Cycling

At the DRD Changing Gear event in November it was pointed out that in New York their bike hire scheme followed from implementating an extensive cycling network. Belfast risks putting the cart before the horse by having a hire scheme up and running before there is any meaningful mesh of cycle tracks and lanes across the city. The move to make the City Centre a 20mph zone is the barest minimum. At least it will reduce the likelihood of a fatal consequence to an RTC involving a pedestrian or a cyclist.

A bleak November

It has been a dark year on our roads. The number of fatalities is well above that in previous years. In one day, Adam Gilmour, 8, was killed as he and his family were hit by a car on a 60mph rural road, just outside Cloughmills. Then, outside Hillsborough on the A1 a cyclist, John Flynn, 51, was hit by a lorry.

In the wake of the accident in Cloughmills arrangements have been made so Adam’s siblings are picked up by a school bus. However, the real issue of the high rate of fatal RTCs on rural roads, speeding, the lack of footpaths and cycle tracks remains unaddressed.

John Flynn’s death could have been prevented if during the most recent A1 upgrade cycling as transport was considered and given its own space. Now we have a cut-price motorway where cars travelling at a nominal 70mph limit mix with cyclists.

Positives

The Changing Gear conference was the high point of the DRD Cycling Unit’s year. It’s been a busy year for them, as they are given the brief of making Belfast the cycling capital of these islands and not much of a budget to make it so. At the Changing Gear conference it was made clear by all the speakers how far Belfast is from being a cycling capital.
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The Cycling Unit released their draft Bicycle Strategy and drew criticism for their plans for a 2-speed network across the city. Apparently “fast commuter” cyclists’ cycle provision is different to that for inexperienced occasional cyclists. Who knew?

The plans for a multi-speed cycling network may not make it to the final document. Which is good news.

#McCauslanes

More good news comes from the DoE committee meeting up on the Hill. That department’s plans for a one-tier taxi licensing system in Northern Ireland are dead in the water. The minister was told that should he present the plans to the Assembly as they are now the 2 main parties promised to vote against. This means that Belfast’s bus lanes continue to be a relatively safe haven for cyclists.

2015

But bus lanes are not safe enough! For 2015 cyclists should continue to apply pressure on our elected representatives and argue for a better deal for cyclists.

In a climate where every penny spent by Government is scrutinised it has to be pointed out that cycling delivers far greater returns for our economy and society than spending on car-centred roads. When we have little to spend, expensive white elephant schemes with dubious benefit to our economy such as the A5 dualling scheme and the Narrow Water Bridge should be ditched permanently in favour of making our city and town centres people-friendly again.

And that means stopping the tin avalanche and returning our streets to a human scale. And the new bike hire scheme can help towards that goal.
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A Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2015!

Yesterday, 9 December 2014, traffic in Belfast ground to a halt when a security alert in Lisburn closed the M1.
That was the second day of evening rush hour chaos.

Isn’t that cute? No?

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On a wet and murky morning, just outside a village in Northern Ireland a mum and her 6 children, walking to school, were struck by a car. Adam Gilmour, age 8, died of his injuries.

It is too early to speculate how the driver failed to see and avoid the group of people in front of them.

Another statistic. Another life, number 69. Recriminations flying. Why is there no school bus? A local MLA, prompted by the mother 3 weeks ago, sought a meeting with the Northern Education and Library Board. A bit late now.

What kind of society do we live in where we require anyone, let alone a young family, to walk along a country road with a 60 mph speed limit to get to the nearest school?

Our roads need to be redesigned urgently. The interests of pedestrians must come first. We are all pedestrians. And if we do not rethink our roads we could all be the next Adam Gilmour.

May he rest in peace and his life not be wasted.

Within 24 hours of Adam’s death another person lay dead on our tarmac. On the A1, near Hillsborough, cyclist John Flynn was killed in a collision with a lorry…

If you have this:

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Wexford, Ireland

And do this:

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The consequence isn’t this:

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Good infrastructure is planned and built in such a way that a poor decision by any traffic participant does not have a fatal consequence.

The School Run. How inappropriate is that phrase?! Nobody is on foot and nobody is going anywhere fast.

Almost a quarter of rush hour traffic consists of parents dropping off children at school. Most parents claim it is dangerous traffic conditions that prevent their going to school on foot or by bike. Going on foot or by bicycle is something the parents did when they were young.

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Sustrans run events at schools and claim a great increase in cycling and walking. They get a great response locally and highlight the alternative to the car for the school run. But. The Dutch would call this “een druppel op een gloeiende plaat”, a drop on a white hot griddle.

St John the Baptist PS on Finaghy Road North are currently taking part in a Sustrans scheme, as have other schools in South Belfast. Yet judging by the hopelessly gridlocked traffic on Finaghy Road North the scheme is not working well enough. Perhaps participation in a scheme is part of the answer, not the whole answer.

When parents are conditioned to think car equals safety and convenience no one is going to be persuaded otherwise. Many see driving a car as their right. (It isn’t; it is a privilege.) Some people won’t be persuaded however juicy the carrot.

Clearly carrots alone don’t work. We need a stick.

Over breakfast, after yet another near miss the previous day, Olivia remarked how they should just close the streets to cars and HGV for 15 minutes to enable parents and children to walk and cycle to school.

The ink was barely dry on my blog about the school run in Finaghy and Edinburgh go and do this. At first the council only agreed a pilot at 5 schools, but parent pressure encouraged a bolder implementation at 11 schools. Some say it’s not bold enough.

School runs are typically short (less than 2 miles) and are much more efficiently covered by bicycle or on foot. If it becomes clear you can’t drop junior off at the school gate and have to walk the last 400 metres and back to your parked car you might as well walk all the way.

This can be done in Belfast. And should be done everywhere. The prize is a huge reduction in congestion and more children and parents being physically active on a daily basis. What’s not to like?

It will upset some people. A parent at my daughter’s school said I should “get a car”. Like everyone else. My guess is that she is in a minority, and most parents would gladly not sit in a traffic jam.

Olivia adds: when due to a recent fatal collision the Malone Road in Belfast was closed, traffic ground to a standstill across South Belfast. When no buses appeared, because they were stuck in traffic, hundreds of people walked down to the City Centre. Many walked three miles and more. And the weather wasn’t great.
It shows that people can be persuaded to walk (and walk great distances) if they are not given another option.

DSD (keep up, it is yet another Government department who shape cycling provision in Northern Ireland) have announced a consultation on plans to redevelop Shaftesbury Square in Belfast.

That the Square needs a fair bit of work is something everyone agrees on. For instance, the bombed shell of the Social Security building on the Eastern side was nominated for the Channel 4 programme ‘Demolition‘. The intended target was the adjacent Donegall Pass RUC Station; a 500lb device was detonated by the IRA on 24 March 1992. There are plans for a new office block fronting the square.

More recently, in 2013, the best-known tenant on the square, Paul Rankin’s Cayenne Restaurant (formerly the Michelin-starred Roscoff) closed its doors.

The Square is not a good place to be, with dereliction, vacant properties and the domination of the square by motorised traffic. There are diverse flows of traffic crisscrossing the square:

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Note bullet point 5:
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There are advisory cycle lanes on Donegall Road (usually blocked by parked cars in contravention of HC 140), but none of the other roads leading off the square have any provision for cyclists. Pavement cycling is rife and it shows demand for segregated lanes is there.

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It is good to see a government report acknowledge there is a problem for cyclists. And plans creating a better North-South cycle track is excellent news. It doesn’t, however, spot the glaring gaps for cyclists in this square.

While North-South is receiving attention, cycling from West to East will remain impossible, without getting off your bike and walking or going on a detour down Great Victoria Street and coming back up Dublin Road.

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No way ahead; cyclists must dismount

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Even Google gives up; walk your bicycle #fail

Such a detour is no problem for a car driver, but it is a problem for pedestrians or cyclists. The pedestrians were given a pedestrian crossing across the middle of the square; well almost: they were given a signalled crossing to the central traffic island from where they must run across 3 traffic lanes or use the crossing at the northern end of the island; nothing was done for cyclists.

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DSD rightly point out the gap in provision on Dublin Road where cyclists at rush hour battle with 4 lanes of motorised traffic. But perhaps DSD are too focused on traffic from City Centre to suburb and vice versa.

The West-East axis is an important link for cyclists who travel from the Gasworks and East Belfast beyond (crossing the Lagan at the Albert Bridge or soon at this new bridge to Ormeau Park) to the Belfast City Hospital, Boucher Road area and the Royal Victoria Hospital. The new Gasworks bridge will only increase the number of cyclists crossing the square East to West and vice versa.

Throughout the plans cyclists’ needs are ignored. Belfast’s brand new bike hire system will see two docking stations in or very near the Square, but they don’t feature in any of the plans.

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Docking stations marked H & W

The architects’ vision sees pavement cycling as the norm, with no road space dedicated to cycle tracks. The good words of bullet point 5 of the “proposed response (pdf 4.2MB)” are not visualised for us. Instead, on almost every Jetson-esque architectural daydream cyclists are positioned on the pavement.

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My educated guess is that cyclists are expected to use the red coloured bus lanes.

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But there is the BRT! What are these articulated buses doing in the Square, away from the Newtownards Road and Falls Road? Local roads and transport blogger, Wesley Johnston, @niroads, tweets:
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Quite how DSD envisage Belfast Rapid Transit to be Rapid if buses are expected to use bus lanes clogged with 4000+ extra vehicles and double up as cycling provision is anyone’s guess.

People who don’t use bicycles now will not be persuaded to use a bicycle if bus lanes are the only dedicated road space they can expect. Allowing cyclists to use bus lanes has delivered a single figure modal share. To grow cycling, to create a cycling culture space needs to be set aside for cycling.

One vacant site near the Square, currently the Posnett St surface car park, is earmarked for social housing. It is good to see social housing so prominent in the plans. One can only hope that the architects include adequate bicycle storage for each house. If a bike shed/store cannot be realised beside or inside each property, these hangars may provide an on-street solution.

If pushed to summarise the plans for the Square: the filter lane from Dublin Road to Botanic Avenue and Donegall Pass is removed in favour of a larger pedestrian space.

How can the plan be improved for cycling?

Firstly, provide segregated tracks along Dublin Road, Great Victoria Street and Bradbury Place. One traffic lane (currently used for parking 20 hours a day) can be sacrificed and redistributed to give a 1.5m wide track on both sides of each road.
The Donegall Road advisory lanes should be segregated.
Cyclists should be able to cross the square from West to East without having to get off and push.
The Lavery’s bus stop on Bradbury Place should be moved to the Square with the cycle track behind it, creating floating bus stops.
The cyclists should have their own lights and phases in the traffic lights’ sequence to diminish conflict.
Finally, cars should be banned from Botanic Avenue. The plans get their inspiration from the pedestrianisation of New York’s Times Square; planners here should turn back the tin avalanche of motor traffic in our city centre and put people first.

A bit like so, with cycle lanes in green. image

(forgive my dreadful graphic design skills)

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