Knockmore Road, Lisburn

Cycling in Lisburn has been in the news again, and again for all the wrong reasons.

Bob Harper has mapped all Northern Ireland’s cycle collisions between 1998 and 2014.

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Red dots on this map of western Lisburn represent clusters of collisions involving cyclists.

On 23 March 2016 a cyclist died on Knockmore Road at its junction with Ballinderry Road. The victim was Mr Mahfouz Balid, a Syrian refugee and qualified dentist, who worked in a window blind factory earning money to become a practicing dentist in the UK.

His story was featured on BBC Newsline at Christmas.

In the past 4 years 3 cyclists, including Mr Balid, have died on Lisburn roads.

In November 2012, Donal Lucey, age 48, from Clonkeen, Co. Kerry died following a collision on the B49 Old Ballynahinch Road to the east of Lisburn. A ghost bike was placed near the spot where he was fatally wounded.

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Donal Lucey's ghost bike (Ulster Star)

At the time of the collision planned road works to improve safety were on hold following objections from people in Cargacreevy.

In response to this and many other collisions, the speed limit on the B-roads coming into Lisburn from Co. Down was reduced from the National Speed Limit to 50mph and 40mph in places. It has to be noted that in a collision with a vulnerable road user at these speeds they will still most likely die.

In November 2014 a bleak 24 hour period brought two traffic deaths. Adam Gilmour, age 8, was knocked down walking along a country road just outside Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, on his way to school. The second death was that of John Flynn, age 51, who was killed in a crash involving a HGV on the A1 between Dromore and Hillsborough.

In the aftermath there were calls for cycle lanes on the hard shoulder of the A1.

Mr Balid’s death also involved a HGV.

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Photo: Gary Philpott Facebook

Knockmore Road: the problem

Local politicians were vocal following Mr Balid’s death, pointing out a plan for traffic lights at the Ballinderry Road junction had been unnecessarily delayed.

Traffic lights are perhaps needed there, but more work needs done to make the junction safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

Traffic lights alone won’t remove the risk of a collision between a cyclist and a turning HGV. I am not sure traffic lights would have prevented Mr Balid’s death.

Speed kills

Firstly and obviously, a 50mph speed limit is inappropriate along Knockmore Road, or on Prince William Road. Since these roads were constructed many more residential developments have sprung up along both roads changing the roads’ character. A lower speed limit of 40 or -better still- 30, might be safer.

To accommodate these high speeds the junctions along Knockmore Road flare considerably, with a wide turning radius. This allows cars to leave the road without slowing significantly, not allowing drivers enough time to react should there be a cyclist or pedestrian crossing at the mouth of the junction.

No footpath or cycleway

Cyclists are expected to share this 50mph road with numerous HGV in an area of Lisburn dominated by industry. Yet, there are no dedicated cycleways.

Also, recent residential development along the Ballinderry Road have brought more pedestrians to the junction.

The footpath on the southern side of Ballinderry Road stops just short of the junction and asks pedestrians to cross to the other side. A well-worn track shows where pedestrians have continued on the road’s verge:

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There is no footpath on the western side between Ballinderry Road and the Moira Road:

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Desire line

That pedestrians would rather continue walking on a verge than cross a road demonstrates the need for a safe crossing and a footpath.

The shared use pavements along Knockmore Road stop on the northern side of the Ballinderry Road junction. Going south from the junction cyclists are compelled to use the 50mph road or use the narrow, poorly surfaced, footpath on the eastern side.

No safe pedestrian or cyclist crossing

There are few safe pedestrian or cyclist crossing points along Knockmore Road, the only pedestrian crossing is at the Ballymacoss Avenue junction, linking a residential area to a nearby supermarket.

The solution

At the eastern end of Knockmore Road, along Prince William Road, there is a very good bit of cycling infrastructure. And it has to be included as part of the solution. A fully segregated bidirectional cycleway, extended along the entire length of Knockmore Road.

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As good as it is, the above junction is also incredibly poorly thought through. There is a pedestrian underpass under Prince William Road from the cycleway, but it offers no direct link to the shared use path along Knockmore Road. Instead, cyclists are expected to use the lights and cross the roads at the junction. Why not have a link marked with the red arrow-like squiggle?

There is ample space along Knockmore Road for a bidirectional cycleway. The junctions with side roads should be designed so as to allow a car turning off the Knockmore Road to stop and yield to cyclists, without interfering with traffic going straight ahead.

Provided it is set well enough back from the main road cyclists will be protected from turning articulated HGV.

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Hastingsweg, Dordrecht, NL

Summary

1. Complete the shared use path along the northwest side of Knockmore Road from Prince William Road to Moira Road.
2. Construct a bidirectional cycleway along the southeastern side and connect to existing cycleway at Prince William Road.
3. Reduce speed limit to 30mph.
4. Provide traffic lights and safe pedestrian and cyclist crossing at Ballinderry Road junction.

Alfred Street Junction Design

Work on the new Alfred Street cycleway continues apace.

Bollards have now appeared, but it is now clear only half of them have been installed. With rather predictable results:

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Poppo goblin keeping the spirit of "bin lane" alive

DRD are monitoring the situation. Even if the remaining wands are placed drivers can simply drive into the Cycleway at any of the conveniently placed access points for alleys, loading bays, car parks and side streets.

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As much as I hate the bollards for their potential hazard to cyclists, DRD need to install them, as they did at Ormeau Avenue:

Another consequence of using fewer wands than planned is the lack of protection at junctions.

The Cyclesaurus is dead. It is replaced with a broad green track across the junction. However, at present, only paint separates cars and cyclists.

I urged DRD to install more protection for cyclists at junctions, but there appears to have been a change in the plans meaning there is now less protection:

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The red dots mark where wands should have been placed. The separating white line extends up to the raised junction with two wands on the raised section of the road.

Here’s what’s been installed:

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The line now stops at the incline with the final wand some way before the junction. According to the plans the final wand should have been roughly where this pedestrian is crossing.

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What the picture also shows are the tyre tracks of cars turning into Franklin Street.

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Motorists marking their territory

The lack of wands gives the corner a wide radius, so drivers need not slow down as they turn across the cycleway. This is not safe.

At the Ormeau Road end the junction is simply terrible. Southbound cyclists are positioned to the right of Alfred Street. Car drivers coming off eastbound Ormeau Avenue turn in and pass to the left of the cyclist.

I called it a “fudge” at the consultation event in May 2015. It is worse than a fudge. It is dangerous.

Practically, it is impossible for cyclists to turn right on to Ormeau Avenue. The design of the cycleway should have included some means of crossing safely.

Again, the wide radius of the corner gives the driver no incentive to slow down. The driver will be disconcerted to see cyclists emerging onto the shared space section of the junction.

I understood that the Ormeau Avenue entry was meant to be a continuous footway.

The above is a continuous footway. What we have here:

This Alfred Street track is still being built. I hope enough time remains to fix the errors and increase the track’s safety.

This plan is meant to set a new standard for cycleways across Northern Ireland. It does already, despite serious shortcomings. It needs to be better.

Cycling Revolution in Belfast?

Strava Labs have released a tool to compare the heat maps of 2014 and 2015.

You will all respond saying how unrepresentative it is of utility cycling and the gender imbalance and all that. Also, Strava could have become more popular. All true, but it throws up interesting stuff anyhow.

I’ve looked at central Belfast.

Lagan Developments

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Laganside Development

The new bridge at the Lagan Weir is many more times popular than the old bridge, without it affecting cycling levels on the nearby Queen’s and Queen Elizabeth II bridges.

Also noticeable is the detour needed to avoid the works to add the oversized ugly shipping container to the side of the previously iconic Waterfront Hall.

The majority of NCN9 users have chosen not to cross the Lagan at the railway bridge, though there is considerably more cycling traffic between Queen’s Bridge and the railway bridge, than between the latter and the Albert Bridge.

City Centre

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Cycling levels have increased across the City Centre. Again, the right side of the picture is 2015.

Especially at Franklin St in the Linen Quarter the number of cyclists has increased. Any attempts to reduce cars travelling through the Linen Quarter should not impede this flow of cyclists. Filtered permeability and allowing two way cycling on one way streets must be considered.

The BBNP path from Grosvenor Road to Bridge End will pass through High Street. Cycling levels there remain well behind those on Chichester St and May St. My main criticism of the BBNP is that it is not where cyclists are. The hope remains that, as with the new Weir Bridge, the new infrastructure will increase cycling overall, without displacing traffic from Chichester St.

Bus Lanes

In the absence of cycleways in the City Centre, bus lanes act as a poor substitute. The implementation of bus lane restrictions was met with loud wailing and gnashing of teeth by car drivers. But not by cyclists.

Donegall Square East and West have become more important for cyclists:
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A similar increase is seen in Queen Street. Are bus lanes encouraging more cyclists into the city centre? It appears so: the before and after surveys for BotM show a decreasing number of cars, but more pedestrians and cyclists, with overall visitor numbers increasing.

The Belfast Bikes dock at Donegall Square may well be driving the increase near City Hall, which means people are logging their hire bike journeys on Strava. Surely not?! Was it not an app for MAMILs to boast about their 100 mile rides around the countryside?

Elsewhere

Elsewhere in Belfast cycling is growing. Noticeable is Mountpottinger Road in East Belfast:

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This gives more encouragement to the idea to close off this road to HGV, but ideally close off the rat run altogether.

Across Belfast more journeys are being recorded by cyclists. Even in the west of the city. This could point to an increase in popularity of Strava, but also to a year on year increase in cycling levels.

Gasworks Bridge

I don’t listen to Nolan. I never do. It’s bad for your health.

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Apparently, there was no consultation with residents...

Whilst I was penning my suggestion for a ferry link prior to the bridge being built, Councillor Chris McGimpsey of the Ulster Unionist Party was on the show, complaining how no one from the Ravenhill area came to him supporting the Gasworks Bridge.

Quickly, a number of residents of the Ravenhill area responded they’d love to see the bridge.

There is now an open letter, and a petition all supporting the Gasworks Bridge.

The case for the bridge needs no restating. But let’s do it anyway: It’s good for Belfast, good for relieving congestion, good for the Ravenhill and the Lower Ormeau. It is good for office workers in the Gasworks. It is good to encourage cycling and walking and therefore good for all of our city’s residents’ health and wellbeing.

The bridge will cost £7m to £9m, but the return for our city will be many, many times more.

So, prop up the Bridge. Support it. Sign the petition.

***100 signatures in 23 hours***
***200 signatures in 61 hours***

I have emailed Councillor McGimpsey saying I’ll be arranging a petition handover next week. Keep your eyes out for an announcement about when and where. And I hope to see you there!

Thank you.

Gasworks Ferry

Ferry, you ask? Wasn’t it a bridge?

The Gasworks Bridge planning proposal was given approval at Belfast City Council’s Planning Committee meeting. It passed despite councillors turning a bridge between a business park and a public park into sectarian issue; a point of potential conflict between office desks and trees, perhaps? Only in Northern Ireland.

More worryingly, the bridge still lacks funding. If there was a demonstrable need it would be easier to argue for an allocation of £7m-9m for construction. But there are no swimmers across the Lagan.

I’ve been reading Rotterdam City Council’s Cycling Plan (pdf). It makes interesting reading. Here’s a Dutch city with a less than average modal share for cycling (23%). It identifies numerous issues that need to be addressed to make cycling more attractive.

Rotterdam is bisected by the Nieuwe Maas. It is spanned by iconic bridges, of which the Erasmus bridge is probably the best known internationally. The main railway link to southern Netherlands, Belgium and France burrows deep under the city and river, and a road tunnel with adjacent cycling tunnel is slightly to the west of the centre.

The Nieuwe Maas is wide and carries sea going shipping, with coastal trade towards Germany, but also newly built and repaired ships coming from shipyards upstream from Rotterdam. Bridges have to accommodate large vessels passing through.

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Van Brienenoordbrug open; cycleway in foreground

Severance between the north and south of Rotterdam is one of the reasons for the relatively poor uptake of cycling. People will sooner drive across into the city centre, than take the bike across exposed bridges. In contrast to other major Dutch cities a high percentage of car journeys are less than 7km.

One way Rotterdam is addressing the severance is a foot and cycle ferry from Feijenoord to Kralingen, just east of the city centre. It cuts short lengthy detours to the large bridges further west or east.

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The service is highly rated by its users; around 120 passengers use it daily.

Belfast

Belfast’s proposed Gasworks Bridge across the Lagan lies almost equidistant between the Albert Bridge and the Ormeau Bridge. From one proposed bridge head to the other via the existing bridges is 2.2 or 2.0km, respectively.

Belfast City Centre lacks green space, but its nearest green space, Ormeau Park, is not accessible directly from the centre, because of the Lagan.

The areas with the highest modal share for cycling in Belfast lie immediately beyond the park.

The Gasworks Bridge is the obvious solution to unlock the potential of Ormeau Park and provide access to the City Centre for cyclists and pedestrians from the areas beyond the Park.

Neither the Albert Bridge or Ormeau Bridge are particularly well suited to cycling. There is no space allocated to cycling on either bridge. Worse, one of Belfast’s ghost bikes is chained to the Ormeau Bridge railings.

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Bicycle Ferry in Belfast?

Could a ferry ply back and forth across the Lagan? It could help start developing a cross-river network of cycleways; it could be used to gauge and stimulate demand for the bridge.

Our ferry wouldn’t need to be as big as the one in Rotterdam; the Lagan is a placid pond compared to heavily used and very wide Nieuwe Maas.

A ferry would only need operate during times the gates under the railway bridge at the Gasworks site are open. However, the opening times should be extended into the evening to enable better cyclists and pedestrian access.

And, what will definitely appease the councillors representing communities either side of the river: a boat is crewed and therefore unlikely to become a focus for inter-community strife.

Here’s what the council’s official Twitter account says:

Cycle infrastructure for all

The new look Alfred/Arthur Street cycle lane nearing completion in Belfast. One of the most persistent criticisms has been that the money we can’t spare is spent on lycra-clad middle aged male cyclists.

Someone hasn’t told these people:

Or this crowd:

All examples from London this weekend. Brilliant!

Go West!

There is nothing better than to get on a bicycle and go slowly up a hill; watch the panorama unfold and contemplate life.

On a sunny afternoon I decided to leave work a bit earlier than usual and see if I could make it to Divis Mountain car park (alt. 295m) on my large Gazelle Heavy Duty 7-speed.

A local loudmouth politician once wrote to me saying the topography of Northern Ireland did not lend itself to cycling. I have proved him wrong so many times now. Next time, with a bit more time and longer daylight I’ll make it to the top (alt. 478m).

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The best approach from Belfast goes up the B38 or Grosvenor Road, across the Falls onto Springfield Road. This eventually morphs into the A55, but rather than looping down towards the M1, the route of the B38 takes a right along the brooding flank of Black Mountain towards Hannahstown.

Whilst I was cycling slowly up, two questions arose: the barrier on Donegall Road: why is it there? And why are roads in West Belfast so snarled up with heavy traffic when relatively few households there have access to a vehicle?

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My route to Divis took me through areas where fewer than 1 in 2 households have access to a car or van (coloured green on the map compiled by Bob Harper). The area also scores poorly in many other measures of wealth and health. It is one of the most deprived areas in the UK.

The Royal Hospitals site has a parking problem. Unlike the City Hospital campus there is not enough capacity to park staff and service users’ cars. The roads around the hospital are de facto car parks. And the Springfield Road advisory cycle lanes are still parked on. There appears to be little enforcement of the tidal parking restrictions.

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Springfield Road Car Park

However, the further away from the Falls I cycled, the fewer cars had been left in the cycle lane. The advisory lane was mostly respected by drivers and allowed me a slow and steady passage up the hill.

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But as is the case elsewhere: when the cyclist needs help most, at junctions or roundabouts the lane just ends:

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It occurred to me that both the congestion and the parking problems were caused by people from outside of West Belfast. Cars travelling through West Belfast, along the mountain road to Crumlin, Glenavy and other communities along the eastern edge of Lough Neagh. Cars owned by staff and service users of the Royal Hospitals parked on West Belfast streets during the day, but gone by night.

But Wait

Belfast’s bicycle revolution is coming to the Grosvenor Road, promising and end to a car dominated streetscape. Frustratingly, the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan (BBNP) stops at the Westlink and the plans for the B38 fizzle out into a disappointment: a shared use pavement.

However, there are ambitious plans to sweep the cycleway away from the road with a curved bridge leading directly to Wilson Street, giving access to the BBNP path at Durham Street via Albert Street.

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And there’s more. Belfast Bikes phase 2 are expanding the scheme in a westerly direction, with a docking station at the Royal.

Further, Sustrans are very busy promoting active travel on the Royal site. This is supported by the Belfast HSC Trust, clearly in an effort to encourage more staff to leave their cars at home and so relieve the chronic car parking woes.

In West Belfast the modal share for cycling is close to zero. Belfast’s bicycle boom is loud in the neighbourhoods on the southern and eastern fringes of the city centre, but has so far failed to resound in the north and west. The main reason is the severance caused by the Westlink and the lack of cycling infrastructure crossing it into the west and north. Cycling infrastructure that is already in place and used in the south and east of Belfast.

The Opportunity

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Take a look again at the picture above. Look past the line of parked cars on the left. See the pavement. As I cycled in the door zone, filtering past slow moving traffic I got a good look at it. It is massively wide. Absolutely oceanic. Why did TransportNI (or its predecessor) suffice with a useless lick of paint on the main carriageway? This space could have been a segregated bidirectional cycleway from the Royal all the way up to the roundabout where the B38 turns into the A55. And all the way around it, just like they do in the Netherlands.

Below the Falls Road junction the Grosvenor Road is equally spacious and can easily accommodate moving cars, parked cars and a properly built cycleway.

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If the B38 cycleway then hooked up with the BBNP paths and the Comber Greenway (or cycle superhighway) beyond you could -in theory- cycle unimpeded from Comber town square all the way to the flanks of Black Mountain.

With not too much imagination the B38 cycleway could connect up with the Lagan Valley Regional Park (LVRP)/Bog Meadows/Whiterock Community Greenway.

And there you have a network of cycleways forming across (West) Belfast. A network that can be used to access schools, places of work, shops, leisure and community centres. A network that makes the bicycle a cheap, easy, healthy alternative to the car.

Having put the world to rights, I got to the Divis Mountain car park, took a photograph and headed back down.

Donegall Road, Belfast

On Belfast’s Donegall Road, at the Roden Street junction a temporary barrier has been installed. It appears to allow cyclists using the advisory cycle lanes to bypass the Roden Street lights.

The bypass is narrow and probably unsuitable for wide tricycles. Also, it doesn’t allow for right turns into Roden Street.

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Barrier at Roden Street junction

Roden Street is an important shortcut for cyclists and pedestrians, especially for staff and clients of the Belfast HSC Trust travelling between the City and Royal Hospitals sites.

Update 26/02/2016

DRD say:

“I can advise that this is a temporary vehicle restraint system, which was provided to ensure the safety of road users, workers and rail passengers during construction work on the bridge parapets. It is not intended to function as a bypass or to segregate cyclists from other traffic and all traffic should keep to the outside of the barrier, away from the works area.

As the parapet reconstruction work is nearing substantial completion, the barrier is due to be removed during the next week.”

Comber Greenway Upgrade

The purpose of Transport Minister McIlveen’s visit to Gelderland was to see how the Dutch province developed its network of Cycle Superhighways and how cycle infrastructure might lift the percentage of children cycling to school above 0%.

Bikefast report that the Comber Greenway might be up for a makeover. Actually, it would be more like open heart surgery.

To bring it up to Dutch standard it will need segregation between pedestrians and cyclists.

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The Minister on the footpath, the rubber necker on the cycleway

Or like so:

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Cycle Superhighway in Essen, Germany

The route will need clear priority over motorised traffic on junctions with minor roads.

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The Other Abbey Road

And at major crossings, such as the A55 at Knock we might need this:

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Rijn Waal Pad tunnel under A15

And lighting.

And a budget to maintain it, keep it gritted in winter, cleared of snow and swept.

But mostly we need a clear political will to spend significantly more than the paltry £1.30 per person per year.

Cycle superhighways cannot exist in a vacuum, but need to be connected with local high standard cycleways to school, shops, community and leisure centres and libraries.

I encourage Michelle McIlveen to continue down this road. All the others are dead ends.

Transport Minister McIlveen visits Gelderland

Translated from this report by Omroep Gelderland

Beuningen – Beuningen will get an eminent visitor on Thursday. The Transport Minister for Northern Ireland, Michelle McIlveen wants to know how the cycle superhighways were developed across the [Arnhem-Nijmegen] region.

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Transport Minister McIlveen in Beuningen, image from Omroep Gelderland

The Minister will have it explained to her how the cycleways can support safer routes to school. Minister McIlveen has chosen Beuningen consciously, because Beuningen with its 20,000 residents resembles the area where she hails from.

McIlveen is especially interested in the routes that childen use to cycle to and from school every day. She will therefore with deputy mayor Piet de Klein visit primary school De Hoeven which is close to the cycle superhighway Beuningen – Nijmegen.

I am happy for her visit to see how safe the link is. The cycle routes have priority in traffic situations, there are few junctions, and the paths are wide. The Northern Irish minister became interested through an earlier presentation by the province [of Gelderland] in Ireland, says Piet de Klein.

Learning from Beuningen

Northern Ireland is interested in the regional cycle policy in the Netherlands. The Minister wants to learn how the regional routes were built and how the safety of the cycleways is ensured.

In this way in Northern Ireland it will be decided what the best way is to build cycle routes. The Minister will also be a guest of the Province Gelderland in Arnhem and Nijmegen.

Audio report in Dutch:

(Thanks to Sjors van Duren for alerting me to the article.)