On 27 August 2014 the Department of Regional Development’s Cycling Unit released its draft Bicycle Strategy. The Cycling Unit are open to suggestions and amendments to the document. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Having read it I am fairly positive. There is official recognition that there is a need for proper cycling infrastructure, especially in Belfast and that the current infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired.
They understand that cyclists include people who work, go to school, go shopping, visit their GP or are just going for a “wee ride”. These cyclists are of all ages and abilities.
The current infrastructure is designed for hardened vehicular cyclists who cycle as if they are a car. (They probable even make car noises as they rush about.) There are few concessions to cyclists, and non-cyclists are put off taking up cycling because of their perception cycling on our roads is dangerous. No amount of training, awareness campaigns and patronising safety advice has altered that state of affairs. The percentage share of cyclists remains stubbornly stuck in single figures.
The vision is for a joined up network of high standard cycle routes along arterials, quietways, 20mph zones and greenways. It is recognised that local amenities have to be accessible. There is to be joined-up thinking with buses and trains. These routes will give cyclists confidence they can get from A to B in safety.
All of this will be based on best practice from our neighbours within the UK and Europe.
This is a breath of fresh air.
This table has raised cyclists’ hackles. On my usual commute I am a very “Fast Commuter”. I know the roads, the lights, most drivers are familiar with me and I with them. You see the same drivers, pedestrians and cyclists at the same time each day. If my journey goes elsewhere, covering unfamiliar routes, I am slower and if I am pulling a trailer or on the Cargobike I go slower still. According to this table I might be classed as an inexperienced leisure cyclist on such trips. What I do want is a confidence-inspiring safe network I can use whatever the circumstance or conditions.
The table has been adapted from the English Department for Transport, published in 2007.
Firstly, if we want to look at best practice we should not look to England 7 years ago. It would better to hold them up as an example of how not to implement a cycling strategy.
Every cyclist has different needs, based on their particular circumstances. And designing a network to meet everyone’s needs is impossible. You’d think.
This is exactly what is being achieved in municipalities across north west Europe. One joined-up network that encourages children to cycle to school, OAPs on e-bikes out for a trip to the shop, commuters and leisure cyclists in lycra or every day clothes. There are no obstacles to people with disabilities, using hand cycles or tricycles using high quality cycle lanes.
Where the document is going, though not explicitly stated in the text, but heavily hinted by the inclusion of the table is the design of a network based on cyclists’ competence. The cyclists’ differing needs will be considered on a scheme by scheme basis. The Cycling Unit will need to clarify this before the final version is released.
If you have a main arterial route, favoured by fast commuters, such as the Lisburn Road, does that mean any proposed schemes will only cater for fast commuters? What about school children on their way to St. Bride’s Primary School travelling the same route?
The draft is a good start, with room for improvement.