To get the Cargobike on to the Towpath widening of the chicane at the village is required. Yes… erm… well.


At the tail end of 2013 the Department of Regional Development started a trial to relax Urban Clearway restrictions on the main routes from the south of Belfast into the city centre. Car parking was to be allowed countrybound in the morning, and citybound in the evening. The reason for the change was to encourage local trade.

The Urban Clearway restrictions are in force citybound between 7:30 and 9:30, countrybound between 16:30 and 18:00.

So how is the trial going? Friday, 23 May 2014, 8:56. Lisburn Road citybound:




Oh look! They got a ticket! But that doesn’t deter others.



And why are they there?


The driver kept the engine running and had the car in reverse gear.

You can view that whole sequence here.

Further down the road:


Full marks to Lynas for keeping the bus lane clear. Zero marks for obstructing pedestrians. Not as if pedestrians can go on the road to bypass the HGV:


200 metres down the road:


We can’t forget taxi drivers:


And our daily bread:


Is this encouraging our local economy? Or is it inconveniencing public transport and endangering cyclists?

This trial was to run for 6 months and ends next week, at the end of May 2014. It has been a resounding failure. No doubt DRD will reinstate the previous restrictions…

Update 17 July 2014:

Chris Murphy reports that the original 6 month trial has been extended for another 6 months from the end of May 2014.

NIGreenways offers a study tour looking at the worst of Belfast’s cycling infrastructure. The Guardian included the “Spider’s Web” from Belfast’s Harbour Estate in their list of the world’s worst cycle lanes.

Reporting on the Giro, Dutch cycle racing pundit Gio Lippens said of Belfast:


He used “fietsen” – every day bicycle use, not “wielrennen” – road racing. Is he right?

NIGreenways lists the worst. I want to highlight what is good about cycling infrastructure in Belfast. Let’s celebrate:

1. Stranmillis Embankment;


2. Upper Arthur Street / Alfred Street;


3. Park Road;


4. Victoria Street;


5. Barrack Street (a notorious rat run closed off, kept permeable for cyclists);


6. Castle Street (not the ASL, but the contraflow lane);


7. Belvoir Drive (a pinch point, with bicycle bypasses either side);

Belvoir Drive

8. Saintfield Road (cyclists on shared use path are given own lane and priority over traffic on side road – apologies for the shaky picture);


9. Translink trains

20140225_131228 Train

“So what”, I hear you say, “a bike on a train…” It’s the strap holding the bike upright. These are the little things that make cycling in and around Belfast better.

All of the above can be improved. There are plenty of things wrong with what I have shown. But it’s a start, all of this wasn’t here when I arrived in the early ’90s. Let’s encourage our politicians and the Department of Regional Development to keep going and put in more good cycling infrastructure.

(The Lagan Towpath, Comber Greenway, Sam Thompson Bridge and so on are excluded because they are all shared use.)

I really do hope I am wrong about my next statement: the Giro won’t bring a lasting legacy for cycling. It won’t normalise cycling. It won’t make cycling any more accessible or raise cycling’s modal share. It won’t address the fact that in Belfast male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by 6 to 1.

The Giro will reinforce cycling’s image as male-dominated, fast and furious, hot and sweaty, clad in lycra. Local shops cater very well for this market.

The real game changer -I believe- will be the NSL-run public bike hire, which will have 300 bicycles available from 30 docking stations in the first phase.

The system will roll out in the autumn of 2014 and be operational in the spring of 2015. Once it is up and running people will see cyclists in normal clothes, shopping, sightseeing or using bikes to get to or from work. They won’t have helmets or hi-viz.


For the first time in Belfast people will see “fietsers”, bicycle users, in great numbers. And seeing people using bikes casually will, I hope, encourage more people to dust off their bikes, pump up the tyres and use their bicycle for day to day transport.


Via @byebyethecheese, a bicycle user

And then these new bicycle users discover that their road racing bike isn’t up to the job of commuting, shopping and taking children to school. It lacks any kind of commuting necessity: lights, hub dynamo, an integral lock, a stand, mudguards, a luggage rack with straps, an enclosed chain, a comfy saddle or swept back handle bars. All included when you buy the bike. They want something like this:


@nigreenways' bike

And if they have children they might want one of these:


But then they find buying one of these great machines is almost impossible in Northern Ireland. We went to Greenaer in Dublin, after trying one out in Amsterdam.

Belfast is crying out for a shop that sells normal bikes. Or an existing shop to take the plunge and cater for these new bicycle users. I’d like to see a shop that isn’t into carbon fibre, energy gels or lycra. I’d love to talk to a salesperson who isn’t fussed that including a lock will add a couple of gram to the overall weight; who isn’t surprised you cycle your new bike home; and knows not to take off the wheel to fix a puncture. A bike shop that sells practical rain gear.

Every silver lining…

The main problems I foresee with the Scheme are:

Taxis being allowed into bus lanes. In the absence of decent cycling infrastructure Belfast cyclists must make do with bus lanes. The relative safety the bus lanes offer will be shattered as this video from Dublin shows.

The lack of cycling infrastructure. I already mentioned making do with bus lanes. I posted the following a while back. How do similar sized Belfast and Utrecht compare with regards to cycling infrastructure. It’s actually embarrassing. Belfast city councillors, DRD staff from the cycling unit, “cycling” minister Danny Kennedy need to go to Utrecht and see how it’s done properly.

And of course in the year of the Giro and the introduction of the hire scheme the NCN9 past the Waterfront Hall is closed without offering cyclists and pedestrians adequate alternatives.

Finally, will the hire scheme address the gender imbalance? Evidence from London says it won’t significantly alter. In London 4/5ths of Boris Bike users are male. Nigreenways tackles the issue of cycling equality, or lack of it.

Addressing road safety by building cycle tracks separated from motor transport, countering cycling’s MAMIL reputation and changing cycling from a leisure activity to a form of every day transport will be far bigger factors in persuading women to use bicycles. And increase numbers of bicycle users overall.

It is somewhat ironic that women do not use bicycles these days, because it was the bicycle that gave women in the late 1800s the freedom to travel and spread radical ideas like emancipation and universal suffrage.

Utrecht doesn’t have a Bike Hire Scheme but Seville does. And having also constructed 80 miles of cycle tracks the number of cycle journeys in the Spanish city went from 5000 to 72000 a day; an increase in modal share from 0.5 to ~7%. One worries that Spain’s new helmet laws will dent these figures, but many municipalities including Seville have chosen to ignore mandatory helmets and merely recommend their use.

As a major tourist destination Belfast is ideally placed to repeat Seville’s succesful scheme, provided DRD’s plans for a city-wide network of cycle lanes and paths are realised.

Imagine that headline on the front page of the Telegraph. Someone from a council decides to close the Motorway because building work adjacent to it would affect the Health and Safety of motorists. And to add insult to injury the council suggests you use local country lanes to get around the blockage.

Can you see it happen? No. Because there are rules for such things. But if you are a cyclist you are faced with this sort of rubbish.

Here is the announcement that the Waterfront Hall will be extended. Note this is dated 3 February 2014. Work is scheduled to start at the end of April.

At the time I wondered if the work would affect the NCN9′s users. So in February I explored the alternatives. I use the NCN to cycle from Edenderry to Belfast City Airport. Instead of passing the Waterfront I crossed the Lagan via the Albert Bridge and took the Laganside “Walkway” on the eastern side past the area where the Scirocco works stood. At its end, at Queen’s Bridge, I went straight across the 4-lane road -easily, because it was 5:30am- and then using the pavements and pedestrian crossings to join Queen’s Quay and Sydenham Road.
I had a flat tyre. The eastern “Walkway” is glassy and on the return journey (having fixed the puncture) I took the railway bridge crossing to avoid a large group of youths drinking and shouting abuse. With the diversion in place, cycling is now not allowed on the railway bridge path.

A couple of days before the scheduled start of the works the alternatives were announced by Belfast City Council:


Essentially 2 options: one across a pedestrian-only plaza, or using the eastern “Walkway”.

If you commute from the east or southeast and cross the Lagan by the Albert Bridge and enter the City Centre at Ann Street, you could potentially end up crossing the Lagan three times.

There is the circuitous route over the Short Strand/Albertbridge Road/Ravenhill Road junction using pedestrian crossings to access the Walkway to consider. This needs to be made safe for users of the Walkway. This junction should be made safe for pedestrians and cyclists regardless of the work at the Waterfront.

Also, the pavement on Queen’s Bridge is too narrow for shared use. And it’s illegal to cycle on the pavement. On the diverted NCN9 “Cyclists Dismount” signs abound.


Sustrans are pressing for a Toucan crossing to allow “Walkway” users to cross Bridge End, roughly where NIGreenways took the above photo, and rejoin NCN9 after a westward crossing of the east-bound Queen Elizabeth Bridge.
The Sustrans proposal doesn’t join the dots very well. Whilst pedestrians will appreciate the set of lights, cyclists are sent out of their way (unless they choose to dismount)

There is a brand new cycle lane in Ann Street. My suggestion to Sustrans was to press for the left most lane on Queen’s Bridge to be divided by temporary concrete partitions for the exclusive use of citybound cyclists. Something like this (courtesy of Mark Wagenbuur):


At the junction with Oxford Street the lights would need some adaptation to allow cyclists to turn right to continue on NCN9 northbound, and straight ahead to Ann Street. But, of course, that is taking away space from cars, and creating space for cycling. They’d never do that.

Pressing for separate facilities for pedestrians and cyclists goes against Sustrans ingrained practice. The poor alternatives offered by Belfast City Council are only slightly improved by the Sustrans suggestions.

The communication between City Council and Sustrans is lamentable:


The plans were out there since 30 January. Had the Council and Sustrans talked then the proposed diversions could have been a lot better.

Belfast is hosting the Giro d’Italia, but local cyclists are treated as an afterthought; even the diversion leaflet talks throughout of the “Walkway”. The council and devolved government are bending over backwards to accommodate the race, to the extent of banning election posters along the route. Miraculously the ban has been observed by local political parties, with a few exceptions such as here at Stranmillis:

If Belfast City Council can so easily forget about local cyclists whilst hosting a cycling race, then what will happen to the Giro legacy? Great for tourism, but same old rubbish for cyclists?

Further reading:


In 1997 my personal politics took a decisive turn towards the Green Party. In October of that year I spent a few weeks on my uncle Peter and late aunt Cathy’s farm in rural Alberta, Canada.

Their farm was outside a small settlement, at a railway crossing. Endless goods trains with pipes for a new pipeline were headed out towards the oil sands in the north east.

Farming was no longer the big earner and on his land Peter was proud to show me his latest tenant: a small fenced off area with a gas pumping station. The soil underneath the farm was full of gas, he proudly announced. I’ll show you, he said. He took me to the water borehole in the basement. The gas collects at the head of the pump and you can light it. He lit it.

My aunt complained about having to get water from the nearest town as their water from their own well was no longer drinkable. It had gone too salty. It was great for your skin, though.

A trip took us to Drumheller and all around were the signs of shale oil exploitation. That dark band over there, my uncle said with a joyful spark in his eyes, pointing at a level in the bad lands landscape, is oil.

In my head the simple puzzle fell together. Exploitation of shallow deposits of shale oil and gas, no drinking water, bad lands and the end of farming.

Earlier this month a cyclist in Brighton was left fighting for his life after he crashed into a bus shelter.

This prompted me to think about Belfast’s own shared use paths. The Ormeau Road, infamously, has a bus shelter that leaves very little space for anyone to pass. It is beautifully captured on video and by nigreenways and is part of his study tour.

Further up on the Saintfield Road, just before the Newton Park junction, another bus shelter almost blocks the entire footpath.


Being the campaigning sort I took to Twitter:


Followed by:


And as people can see Translink Metro, whose customer service is beyond reproach, responded.

I asked them if the shelters could be (re)moved to help the disabled, mums with prams and cyclists, especially those pulling trailers. Our child trailer is 95cm wide. None of these people would want to go onto the road.

Translink forwarded the email to the DRD. And here is what they said:

The shelter near the entrance to Ormeau Park was moved forward from the back of footway to allow pedestrians and cyclists to go behind the shelter and avoid coming into conflict with passengers getting on and off the bus.

The DRD were trying to create a floating bus stop, like this arrangement on the Lewes Road in Brighton. Crucially, though, the DRD want to create a floating bus stop on a shared use path.

The DRD representative continues:

The Ormeau Road cycle path is segregated up to either side of the shelter, and shared but un-segregated past it. This is clearly marked on the footway/ cycle path. Whilst using a shared use footway the onus is on the cyclist to exercise great caution as some pedestrians may be elderly, disabled or have reduced sensory function.
The footway on the Saintfield Road past Newton Park is designated for shared use and whilst we accept its width is limited in places, there is little scope for increasing the width other than to remove part or all of the bus shelters.


Unfortunately a number of bus passengers, particularly the elderly and mobility impaired, rely heavily upon the facility provided by the bus shelters and we would not therefore be in favour of removing these.”

Let’s recap. I ask them to consider repositioning the shelters to help the disabled and the DRD spokesperson argues for their existing location for the benefit of the disabled.

The recommended width for a wheelchair user with someone beside them is 1.5m. This will not allow someone coming the other way to pass unhindered. The Government’s guidance on unsegregated shared use paths states a preferred width of 3m.

To put it more simply, there is not enough space for a shared use path and a bus shelter in either location. There is barely enough room for a shared use path, full stop.

But at least the DRD admit the width is “limited in places“.

The DRD finish off with a reminder of their mission statement:
I am sorry that I cannot be more helpful in this instance.


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