At the end of February I dropped off my eldest at school in South Belfast and cycled to Lisburn to join my wife and youngest for an appointment at a clinic. I asked Google for the shortest route and it suggested the following 7.2 mile route.
It would indeed have been the shortest and fastest if I hadn’t spent the last 10 minutes of the ride looking for my destination. (Mental note to self: old ladies at bus stops are not a reliable source of geographical information. It transpired I cycled right past the building and as I asked the lady I had my back turned to my destination.) Which rather conveniently brings me to my first point:
It isn’t obvious enough. There are some cycling related signs in Lisburn town centre, but as soon as you head out of town the signs simply disappear. I avoided Laganbank Road and chose the Lagan towpath towards the southwest. If Google hadn’t told me where the entrance was I would not have found it. The signage on and towards the towpath in the direction of Belfast in marked contrast is very good.
Access across a car park, with no real thought how to reach the destination
Access to the start of the Lisburn section of the Towpath is across a pub car park. And crossing from the Belfast to Lisburn section of the Towpath to the Lisburn section includes using the daunting Laganbank/Sloan Street/Linehall Street junction.
The Masterplan recognises that this entry point to town deserves better than a municipal car park and a pub. So, here is what the dreamers at DSD have come up with:
The view is looking East across the Lagan where there will be an additional bridge for pedestrians (and cyclists?) as an alternative to the existing route. There will be a riverside development of offices on the eastern bank.
The western bank of the river will be privatised, with the existing car park north of the bridge given over to mixed retail and residential development. Also included here will be city centre hotel, with a basement car park (yet more parking…) beside the river.
The Towpath from Belfast effectively stops at the access road to the Island Centre. It then resumes on the other side of the Sloan Street bridge, past the pub and its car park. If the plans are implemented as intended they will make this gap in the Towpath permanent. This is not a problem, as the saying goes, it is an opportunity.
Imagine a piece of engineering to link the two sections of the towpath. In Belfast underneath Governor’s Bridge an underpass was constructed to take pedestrians and cyclists from Stranmillis Embankment to the start of the Lagan Towpath. An underpass is a relatively simple engineering solution, but as the DSD wants to pawn off the riverbank to private ownership impossible to incorporate. However, Lisburn could put itself on the map if they did something like this:
Read all about this underpass bridge in Haarlem here.
As the underpass bridge sits clear off the bank, there will be no issues over access rights.
And let’s not just link the two severed sections of the Towpath this way, but at the southern end include a link to the opposite bank as per the Masterplan, giving cyclists and pedestrians a traffic-free alternative to the existing road bridge.
The Lisburn town section of the Towpath is a step back in time. The path surface is poor, and in places muddy. And a pillar supporting a sewer pipe across the river sits in the middle of the path. Further on, where the river goes under the A1 Hillsborough Road the cyclist needs to duck to avoid hitting the arch of the bridge. The paths linking the towpath to the housing estates are no more than unpaved forest tracks, covered in deep mud. On the Towpath there is no indication which track offers the best access to the various residential areas, such as the Old Warren Estate, and there is no access that I could see to the Lagan Valley Hospital grounds (please correct me if I am mistaken).
The positive is that the Lagan Towpath is a traffic-free route that goes past the town’s hospital and almost reaches the Sprucefield shopping development. So much more could be made of this path if a traffic-free link was created from the Towpath to Sprucefield across the A1 and underneath the M1. At the Sainsbury’s end of the Sprucefield site bicycle parking is provided, but no real thought is given how one might get there.
At present the Towpath dead-ends at Blaris Road. As does the Lagan Navigation. The M1 Motorway was built across the old Lagan Navigation and the canal is now lost.
Plans are drawn up to revitalise the link by water between Lough Neagh and Belfast. Sustrans route 9 takes a right on Blaris Road and sends you on quiet rural roads towards Mazetown and Moira beyond.
In Lisburn there are very good separated cycle tracks beside Knockmore Road and Prince William Road. These tracks, however, and the Lagan Towpath running from Edenderry in the far northeast of the council area to the Sprucefield Shopping Centre (almost) do not add up to a network for active travel. The Cardiff study points out that if cycle tracks were built cyclist numbers will increase. Thought needs to be given to linking the tracks and doing it so that schools, libraries, health centres, shops, leisure and community centres can be reached without having to share road space with cars.
Many safety concerns in local neighbourhoods will be addressed by Pat Ramsey’s private member’s bill. But slowing cars down to 20mph is not enough. Active travel and public transport need to have an added incentive for people to leave the car at home. Cycling and walking will be seen as a safe option if interaction with motorised traffic is kept to a minimum. I have previously blogged about closing rat runs. Across Lisburn there are a number of rat runs that could be closed off to through traffic, but kept permeable for pedestrians and cyclists. Judicious closing of rat runs disincentivises car use, but gives pedestrians and cyclists the bonus of being able to travel the most direct route.
The end of Knockmore Road and its cycle tracks is near the Lagan on the Moira Road. A link could be made from the junction to the existing Towpath, alongside the Lagan (black), skirting the housing areas of southwest Lisburn. Alternatively, a link could be made from the Knockmore Road junction to the Blaris road – part of NCN9 (red).
Similarly, across the north of Lisburn centre a traffic-free route can be created that starts at the end of the cycle track at Prince William Road and goes past Tesco, Wallace Grammar School (Clonevin Park), Friends School (Magheralave Road), Wallace Park and Fort Hill Integrated and onwards to the Lagan Towpath at Huguenot Drive, Hilden. This route can be extended past the Hillhall Estate across the M1 and onto Hillhall village (in orange in the map below). Along Prince William Road a segregated cycle track can easily be accommodated, with the double roundabout upgraded to provide a peripheral segregated cycle track with priority over the access roads.
Of course there have to be links into the town centre (for instance along the Pond Park Road in yellow, linking to the existing shared use paths along Derriaghy Road), taking in as many local amenities as possible. At present it is impossible to walk and cycle safely from the town centre and bus station to the Lagan Leisureplex. There are footpaths, and attempts have been made to help cyclists across the Laganbank Road/Hillsborough Road junction, but it is simply not good enough. What use is a leisure centre if the only way to get there in one piece is by going by car?
Links to Belfast
There are two routes to Belfast. The Lagan Towpath (NCN9) meanders its way along stretches of river and canal. The second more direct route is along the A1 (red in the map above). The DRD Cycling Unit proposes a SW-NE axis through Belfast, which could neatly be extended into Lisburn via the red route. There is existing provision for cyclists, but it would need serious upgrading. The existing roundabout at McKinstry Road/Queensway can be replaced with a Dutch-style roundabout (more specifically the design that doesn’t have priority for cyclists used outside built-up areas). There are painted white lines and some green paint and for some reason the Belfast-bound cyclist is expected to share the narrow pavement on Belfast Road. Ideally, there should be a cycle superhighway between Belfast and Lisburn, allowing for greater cycling speed, and reducing congestion on both the A1 and M1 by people choosing the bicycle over their car.
And so you got to your destination by bicycle and the only place to lock up your bike is at a fence or to a lamp post? A major health facility such as the Warren Children’s Centre should have bicycle racks. At present access to the front door is across a congested car park with no clear demarcated path for pedestrians. It is a microcosm of Lisburn: access to the centre is across a car park, with no real thought how people without cars reach their destination.