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:


Wexford, Ireland

And do this:


The consequence isn’t this:


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.


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:


Note bullet point 5:

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.


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.


No way ahead; cyclists must dismount


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.


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.


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.


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


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:

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)


Tramore Beach, Downings, Co. Donegal

Olivia and I discussed how the slope up to the House of Sport in Belfast was limiting our enjoyment of the Cargobike. It is great for the school run and bringing home large bags of cat litter. Not so much if there is a hill to go up.

We’re not talking the Col De Madeleine here, but vicious nonetheless. We needed a bit of extra power. So the plan was born to try and fit an electric motor to the bike.

After a bit of Googling I decided to contact E-fietsspecialist in the Netherlands, based near my home town of Venlo. The site is in Dutch only.

They offer a standard “ombouwset” at 3 levels. I emailed them that I wished to fit it to a Cargobike with 20″ front wheel with rollerbrakes. They then quoted me for a bespoke package, based around their €649 “luxe set”, taking into account the power needed to pull the heavy bike along.

As I intended to fit the battery in the box I decided not to take the special luggage rack. This saved quite a bit of postage and packing.

I paid directly by SWIFT bank transfer and the package was delivered efficiently within 3 working days.


An experienced bike mechanic with the correct tools could probably do the conversion in an afternoon, but I am a stranger to the world of bike thingummyjigs and doodlewhatsits. It took me a little longer.

I tackled the work in small bits. I divided it so I could complete each task and still use the bicycle every day.

First, I replaced the front wheel with the new motorised one retaining the brake, tyre and tube.

It required a bit of creative thinking as the fork rubbed the engine housing if fitted according to instructions. By moving both spacers to the non-brake side it slipped in easily. I refitted the brake cable and secured to motor power lead with a cable tie.


No room for error

The next job was fitting the brake sensors. I cut off the end caps from the cables and pulled them out from the handle bar end. I cut through the protective sheath just above the first cable mount on the stem below the handle bars. Then I removed a 4 cm section and pushed the brake cable back, this time through the brake sensor. I fed the cable all the way through and refitted the end caps and tuned the brakes.

At this point I also fitted the display (centrally on the handle bar) with the controller button beside it.

Then I removed the left crank arm (I got a crank puller from Chain Reaction Cycles) and glued in the pedal sensor using epoxy resin. I replaced the crank arm. I had to Google what a crank puller looks like, so I could find it in the shop.


I drilled a 20mm hole centrally about 5cm from the back of the box and fed through all the wires and connected these to the controller box. There is only one way to fit the wires to the controller.

The battery requires an initial overnight charge so I hooked it to the provided mains adapter and let it sit. I had to fit a UK-standard plug, because the kit came with a European one. The battery can be uncoupled and removed easily. I have it secured with heavy duty velcro stuck to the foam padding the battery was sent with.

The foam pad cushions the battery from blows and shaking and protects the wires coming out of the controller end. I also tidied away all leads and wires with cable ties and the provided cable tidy.

The following morning I switched it on and miraculously it all worked. As soon as you turn the pedals the engine kicks in and it pulls you along. You have to keep pedalling to get the assistance from the engine. Braking cuts the engine and it doesn’t restart unless you turn the pedals.

The bike sounds a bit like a milkfloat, but it is a joy to sail up a hill that previously nearly killed us.

Very few children cycle to school in Finaghy. Some walk, but most are brought by car. I wonder if it is the road itself that is the problem…

The new school year is well under way by now. Children are settling down into their routine. If you’re a British or Irish parent this routine will involve strapping the children into the car for the school run. In GB 82% of school run journeys between 2 and 5 miles were made by car (for primary school pupils). In Northern Ireland, according to the DRDNI Travel Survey, 60% of primary school children are brought by car, 13% go by bus, with the remainder walking or cycling. In NI 32% (GB 26%) of secondary school runs were by car. The bus dominates for this age group and for longer distances, and walking was the preferred mode of transport for journeys less than 1 mile.

Grouping walking and cycling hides very low cycling rates:


4-11 year olds


12-18 year olds

(GB figures from 2012 DfT Travel Survey.)

The school run is a major component of morning rush hour congestion. UK-wide the figure of morning rush hour traffic due to the school run is around 24%. Consider the difference between a mid-summer commute and one in the autumn.


As I cycle past lines of stationary or slow moving traffic I wonder why not more parents leave the car at home and walk or cycle to school. Most parents walked or cycled to school themselves.

Ask them why they won’t allow their children to do as they did and they’ll answer it is because of the danger traffic poses that they take their children to school by car. There is the obvious flaw in their reasoning: nobody regards themselves as traffic; only others are. No car driver would regard themselves as a danger to other road users, but other car drivers are perceived as a danger to themselves.

So here we are on Finaghy Road on the southwest outskirts of Belfast. A road that is mainly residential in character, with a limited range of shops at Finaghy Crossroads where it meets the Lisburn Road. Here is also a Health Centre, a library and a youth centre.

There is a railway station, and the road is served by Metro 8 and 10 buses to Erinvale and Ladybrook. The Belfast Rapid Transit will soon reach the northern end of Finaghy Road, instead of Metro 10. At Finaghy Crossroads there are Metro 9a and Ulsterbus services towards Lisburn and beyond. Other Ulsterbus services go up Andersonstown Road and Malone Road at either end of Finaghy Road.

The road is divided into Finaghy Road North, from Finaghy Crossroads to the Andersonstown Road, and Finaghy Road South which runs to the Upper Malone Road.

Pavement parking is a major issue along the road. Parents with buggies are often forced off the footpath because motorists have not left enough space:


There are traffic lights at the road’s junction with the Andersonstown Road, at Finaghy Crossroads and at Erinvale.

In the past few months DRD have put in a lane divider between Erinvale and Upper Malone Road. Traffic islands have been added centrally to enable pedestrians to get across.

There are three primary schools and a secondary school on the road. About a quarter of pupils make their way to school on foot. Virtually none by bicycle.
The vast majority of primary school children are brought to school by car.
At my daughter’s primary school in the mornings out of approximately 210 pupils 4 make their way to school on a bike. Here is a photograph taken on a  Bike To School day in 2014


In the morning rush hour car traffic is slow at the Andersonstown Road end and either side of Finaghy Crossroads. The traffic lights sequence favours those on the citybound arterial roads. Considerable congestion occurs at the entrance to St. John the Baptist PS, the only primary school that is directly on the Finaghy Road. Cranmore IPS and Finaghy PS, are on campuses off the main road.

A lollypop lady helps people across at the entrance to Finaghy Primary School.

I have not mentioned cycling provision on the road. Save for some useless Advanced Stop Lines, there are no lanes, paths, lights, or cycle hoops.

This is not a road where people, of all ages and abilities who use bicycles are welcome. It is a road that also discourages walking, because of pavement parking and speeding.

In response to the killing of Adele Whiteside in 2007 DRDNI introduced lane separation between Orpen Park and Erinvale Avenue in an effort to provide a refuge for pedestrians. The works were neatly captured by Google:

This was extended up towards Malone Road in 2014.

Elsewhere boxes are marked off for parking, but are so narrow that people choose to mount the pavement so as they fit within the limit of the box (shown in the background the picture above). Builders, similarly, put skips on the pavement.

It is a disappointment that lane separation has been chosen as a means to protect pedestrians. It can provide for a central island for pedestrians crossing and a filter lane for cars turning right.

However, lane separation makes the road more dangerous for cyclists. It squeezes cars and cycles closer together. Others have blogged about the issue and suggest improvements to help cycling.

The lane separation and reduction of space along the kerb shows how much of the tarmac is never used. Surely DRDNI are capable of implementing better solutions with all that available space?

And no, on Finaghy Road the space between the kerb and the broken line is not a cycle lane.


It is scarcely believable that people use the Iceland customer car park on the corner of Finaghy Road South and the Lisburn Road to avoid the traffic lights. But they do. They risk a collision with pedestrians or other traffic for the sake of a few seconds. It would be a good idea to close off one end of the car park to prevent further collisions.

Finaghy Road is a museum to mid 20th century urban planning. Wide tarmac, designed to sweep suburbanites from their semi-detached to the shop, school or city centre job in their own car. Little did the planners realise how with time this suburban dream would turn into a nightmare. The fixes to make the road acceptable for pedestrians are mere symptoms of how last century’s design is not up to how we use the road today. 60s planners assumed that children would walk to school, and wouldn’t be put off by increased numbers of cars and stranger danger.

In short: would you let your child cycle to school along this road? I don’t, even though it would be the most direct route to school. So where do cyclists go? Jeff Dudgeon, Balmoral UUP councillor says: “[o]ne of the most frequent complaints I received from constituents during my election campaign was about cycling on pavements.”

How can this road for cars be made a road for people? Something like this, perhaps?


Nijmegen, NL (André Engels)

Firstly, with four schools it should be made a 20mph road. A simple question: is speed more important to you than giving a child a reasonable chance to survive a collision?
Pavement parking should be tackled by providing car park spaces wide enough to park entirely on the road.
Where necessary, at junctions especially, cycling should be given its own space and ideally protected by car parking space.
Finaghy Crossroads should be looked at holistically. The area needs general improvement, with a more attractive and wider range of shops and services. Ratruns either side of the junction need to be closed off, but the junction itself needs some thought to allow traffic to move better. My hunch is that too much time is given to traffic on Lisburn Road, and not enough to traffic on Finaghy Road, leading to a build-up of traffic, especially around school opening hours.

And finally. Another councillor, Claire Hanna of the SDLP, mentioned how trees could not be planted along the road:


John Hunter adds:
” I live on finaghy road south and have for 28 years, when adele was killed the youth centre pushed for traffic islands and the doe kindly provided sensible footpath parking for the residents, all the inconsiderate footpath parkers belong to outsiders who are either working on finaghy road south, the crossroads, [or] work in the youth centre and while they have a large off road carpark they insist on parking unsafely for pedestrians and mothers, the traffic islands when they were in planning it was suggested to put ramps to slow the vehicles down, this was rejected as it would cause traffic hold ups and children still assume the cars should stop for them at these islands as I have witnessed some close calls. Then the doe change the traffic lights and put filter lights in place which have caused more and larger jams as I have witnessed in 28 years plus those drivers that realise this are taking short cuts through residential roads in the finaghy estate to bypass this junction.
Regarding cyclists some are very careless and think its their right to travel along the footpath, I have a high hedge at the front of the house and at least once a month I take my life in my hands stepping out on the footpath if I dont check to see whats coming.”

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 cycling.unit@drdni.gov.uk

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 travelling the same route?


The draft is a good start, with room for improvement.

The Cycling Unit want your response. Here’s my letter to the Cycling Unit:

First of all I want to congratulate you on publishing your Bicycle Strategy document. It is a breath of fresh air to see a government department address cycling as a means of transport.There are many good words in it: a recognition that cyclists are people from all walks of life and all stages in life; a commitment to deliver a cycling culture in Northern Ireland.
It is not all good news. The inclusion of figure 4.3 is problematic. It suggests that different bicycle users have different requirements. And that these differing requirements will be considered on a case by case basis in the design of cycling infrastructure.
I welcome that cyclists’ needs of all ages and abilities will be considered in the design and development of cycling infrastructure. What I am concerned about is the suggestion that there will be different cycling networks for the various groups of cyclists. Fast arterial routes for fast commuters and experienced utility cyclists, quietways for the less confident, who are willing to put up with detours for the sake of safety. And segregated tracks or shared use greenways for the least able and least confident.
I believe this to be wrong. In Netherlands and Denmark the nerwork is designed so people of all ages and abilities have the confidence to cycle in a direct and easy manner from A to B. And there is an acceptance that motorists must go the long way round to accommodate this.
In Denmark and the Netherlands there is one network for all users, not a two or three-speed network with users segregated by their fitness and competence.
Consider that a tandem for the use of a visually impaired cyclist has similar design need to a fast cyclist, or one on a Cargobike: wide tracks, gentle curves, few humps, ramps or other obstacles in the road. A network should be wide enough to accommodate a parent cycling beside a child, and the racing cyclist overtaking the OAP on their e-bike. Should a fast commuter cycle route, such as the Lisburn Road in Belfast, have a different design from one that has a predominance of school children or shoppers? I believe not, and my experience of cycling in the Netherlands would confirm that belief.
Figure 4.3 has been adapted from a 2007 DfT document. I argue that looking to England in 2007 is a backward move. Instead looking to best practice across NW Europe, and American cities will allow Northern Ireland to take leap into the future, copying and developing on their best practice.
There is a notable lack of targets and budgets and I hope that future documents will go into the nuts and bolts of how the strategy will be turned into reality.
I welcome the inclusion of the Road User Hierarchy, fig 4.2. Until now design for cars has dominated Northern Ireland transport planning. I hope the realisation that cars are a costly and inefficient waste of space will filter across government departments. Much of the cycling space will need to be taken from urban car space.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment on your published draft. I hope that the final document will reflect some of the comments I have made.
Please feel free to contact me and further discuss the issues I raise.

Yours sincerely,


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