The premise of the famous US TV quiz show, Jeopardy, has contestants guessing the question, after being presented with a clue.
In Dungannon AG Wilson Engineering installed a tank trap on a local Greenway. When pressed on the anti-cycling aspects of the design the company replied they built what was asked for. Here’s the clue. So what did Mid Ulster Council ask for?
The only sensible answer could be they asked for Dungannon’s version of the Maginot Line to stop people on scrambler motorcycles wrecking the Greenway.

Darragh wins $50

Another day, another edition of NI Council Jeopardy. Belfast City Council took delivery of a very glossy document detailing what should be done to the Linen Quarter. This is the area immediately south of Belfast City Hall, with grand Victorian warehouses. It is the city’s business district where a number of Belfast’s leading employers have offices. It is also home to Sustrans NI.

We can only guess at the brief that was given to the Manchester-based consultants. What we can safely say is that the brief was reworded, edited and sent back to the Council with added pictures.

And now the council wants our views:

In my view it is dreadful; a waste of ratepayers’ money. Cut out the waffle and you’re left with a mood board of paving options.

image

Public Spaces

I do like the idea of the new traffic free public spaces. Developing Amelia Street as a gateway into the city from the Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Railway Station Transport Hub is genius. The street is clogged with idling black cabs, treating the contraflow bicycle lane as a permanent taxi rank.

Deliveries to local businesses further impede cyclists using the contraflow lane.

The second planned public space sits on the junction of Linenhall Street and Clarence Street. Most of it is already there: wide pavements, a bit of green. It has views of interest in three directions: due North to City Hall, East to St Malachy’s Church and South to the Ormeau Baths building.

There is no incentive, though, for anyone to spend any time in either public space. We have little to interest people at street level. Especially in the eastern half of the Quarter this lack of engagement with pedestrians transforms streets into narrow, dark, windswept and unwelcoming corridors.

The glorious Victorian architecture, where it survived the onslaught of pre-fab high-rise modernism, is often only visible on the higher floors of the surrounding buildings.

Space for cars

More off-putting than the insipid modern architecture are the lines of parked cars across the district. But roads are meant to move cars, not store them at ratepayers’ expense.

Further, to help the erosive flow of cars the area is a near fully permeable grid, where drivers opt to go from East Bridge Street to Dublin Rd and vice versa along Hamilton Street and Franklin Street, rather than go along Cromac Street and Ormeau Avenue.

The consultation sees this permeability as an asset. A major fault in the report.

To resolve this ratrunning the Linen Quarter should only be accessible for destination traffic, with through traffic routed along the outer edges. Only pedestrians, cyclists and public transport should be able to traverse the area.

A small amount of work has been done to stop through traffic using Adelaide Street. Only buses may enter Adelaide Street from Donegall Square East, but that doesn’t deter motorists ignoring the clear signage, matrix boards and road colour.

Surely, the only solution is to close off Donegall Square East for car traffic altogether, such as done at Donegall Square West, to benefit Metro bus services.

How can the Linen Quarter be made more people friendly? The consultation report does not want to alter or impede traffic flow through the area. By traffic the report authors mean vehicle traffic, rather than pedestrian traffic.

The report doesn’t recognise that pedestrians are traffic. It doesn’t acknowledge that having a near fully permeable road grid is to the area’s detriment. It doesn’t give cycling a place at all, other than a mention of the bike hire stations at Linenhall Street and Blackstaff Square.

Alfred Street is at the eastern edge of the Quarter. And here Belfast’s cycling revolution is taking shape. But more than that. At the Ormeau Avenue end a continuous footway is put across the mouth of Alfred Street, giving a very visible sign to drivers to slow down and discourage all but those who have business being there.

Continuous footways should be constructed across all side streets leading into the area, with the exception of Adelaide Street and Bedford Street (both important bus routes). This underlines the message that cars are less important than people.

To improve the area’s chances of being an attractive place to work and spend time we need to completely remove through traffic and reduce on-street parking in an area where there is plentiful multistorey parking available within a short walking distance.

Pedestrian Priority Streets

image

I’m not a fan of pedestrian-priority streets shared space. Exhibition Road in London shows that where through traffic is removed (at its southern end) it can be a success.

In front of the nation’s great museums, however, the flow of traffic all but cuts the eastern side from the western side. Pedestrians don’t “dwell” on Exhibition Road. They run for their lives.

Closer to Belfast, Lisburn has installed a shared space. And not without problems:

Quite apart from the lack of support for disabled road users the space is unsuccessful in another way:

Lord Holmes takes the case for shared space apart and calls for a moratorium on new shared spaces being built.

The proposed shared spaces should be clearly defined to benefit disabled street users. And every effort should be made to reduce through traffic.

At present the grid is nearly fully permeable. When the streets are being refurbished it would not take much effort to reduce all but a handful to one way streets. The aim should be to give necessary access to destination traffic, but discourage rat running. There should be no advantage given to a motorist seeking to avoid congestion on Cromac Street.

image

Red: continuous footway; green: Alfred St cycleway; orange: public spaces; pink: bus only; yellow arrows: one way; lilac: delivery access only

The city centre 20mph speed limit should be extended to the Linen Quarter. It saves lives. This is the one thing that must be done, regardless of this consultation.

The haulage industry has been campaigning vociferously for an increase in the number of loading bays across central Belfast. With the caveat that HGV entering an area with high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists should have measures such as low cabs, sensors, audible indicators and glass panels in the lower part of cab doors, some car park space should be turned into loading bays. However, HGV access should be limited to certain time slots to encourage use of the Quarter’s streets by people to stop, chat, have lunch and relax.

In sharing out the available parking space we should firstly put in loading bays for HGV. Outside the allocated delivery times some can act as taxi ranks. The remaining spaces can then be made available to -in order of importance- residents, blue badge holders and, lastly, the general public.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the area has considerable potential. It can be all the things the consultation report strives for, but only by removing all but a tiny proportion of vehicle traffic. A range of devices (continuous footways, pedestrianisation, removal of on-street parking and 20mph limit) can be used to improve the area for pedestrians. Cyclists will, at the same time feel more safe if car traffic were restricted in volume and in speed.

The shared spaces need extra consideration and extensive consultation with disabled street users.

The plans are available to view at the Ulster Hall during February, with the exception of the 20th.

Mark Wagenbuur shows in his Bicycle Dutch blog how roads in residential neighbourhoods in Utrecht are blocked with retractable bollards to stop car drivers using them as rat runs.

Essentially, a rat run allows a motorist to avoid a main road bottleneck, rush hour congestion or a busy junction. However, ratrunning makes the nearby side streets noisy and unsafe.

In 2013 I looked at a notorious South Belfast rat run, Strangford Avenue, which is used to bypass the Malone Road B23/Balmoral Avenue A55 junction.

The road surface of Malone Hill Park is very poor, undoubtedly worsened by the many additional drivers choosing the tree-lined back streets over the main road.

This is how it could be fixed:
image

I have superimposed the Google Streetview from this junction in Utrecht, Netherlands, on this junction in Belfast. Utrecht and Belfast are very similar in size, but couldn’t be more different with regards to active travel and public transport.

Retractable bollards are placed diagonally across the junction. Allowing emergency and permitted maintenence vehicles across, but severing the rat run.

It would cut off the through route from Malone Hill Park to Strangford Ave. Or in the satellite image below separate the blue streets from the red streets.

image

Yellow: A55 Belfast Outer Ring; green: proposed Greenway

To stop motorists choosing Malone Court as an alternative exit it could be made a one way towards Mount Eden Park, marked with a black arrow.

Retractable bollards are expensive to install and maintain. But I can see little need for them to be retractable at this location.

It is an idea worth exploring. We all want peace and quiet? We want our streets to be safe? And bollards, should they prove not to work at this location, can be removed easily.

On 13 August 2015, two things happened. The Detail TV released their report on the Road Traffic Collision (RTC) numbers. It is well worthwhile, especially for the map showing where each collision occurred. Rural roads and towns fare badly.

image

From DetailData

As if to illustrate that point at 11am, in Ballynahinch, during the town’s market, a pedestrian was knocked down and killed by a six-wheel tipper truck. The driver, perhaps unaware of the collision, drove on but was later arrested.

Incensed at this needless death I took to Twitter. Even with a cursory glance I could see Goods Vehicles are overrepresented in the stats on fatal and serious collisions. Time for the industry to get its house in order, I tweeted.

In other industries serious failings are addressed with tight investigation protocols. As incidents are investigated information is fed back in order the same does not occur again.

If a component of a Boeing 777 fails the entire fleet is grounded, inspected and where faults are found remedial action carried out.

Compare how swiftly the Civil Aviation Authority took action after the Shoreham Air Show disaster, amending rules immediately, long before the outcome of the investigation by the Air Accident Investigation Branch is known.

In response to train crashes safety protocols are put in place meaning that similar incidents do not reoccur and the railways’ good safety record is maintained.

There is nothing in place to learn from collisions with Goods Vehicles on our roads. Each collision is taken as a unique incident, but there are rather a lot of these unique incidents. As a whole they point to a systemic failure to safeguard vulnerable road users against Goods Vehicles. Mark Treasure writes about this much better than I can.

The Detail’s report does not focus on what vehicles were involved in each RTC, but the data set includes vehicle type and casualties. The data set is restricted to all serious and fatal collisions.

It appears NI data back up findings in London.

A quick cross-referencing of the tables revealed the following data for 2014:

There were 20 serious and fatal collisions on footways. One bus, one private hire vehicle and 18 cars were involved. 5 of the collisions had a fatal outcome.

image

The Cyclist Menace

Local radio is very fixated on the danger that cyclists pose to pedestrians on footways. It is, however, very unlikely a pedestrian will end up in hospital with a serious injury as a result of colliding with a cyclist.

Only 3 pedestrian – cyclist road traffic collisions were deemed serious by PSNI. Two of these collisions occurred at a pedestrian crossing. No one died. There were 651 serious and fatal RTC in 2014.

image

Serious & Fatal RTC 2014

Goods Vehicles

As for goods vehicles. There were 158 pedestrian KSI (Killed Seriously Injured) as a result of 155 serious and fatal RTC. Goods vehicles were involved in 3 RTC, but two of these resulted in a fatality.

image

Goods vehicles make up 2.5% of registered vehicles in NI. The percentage of RTC and the share of all vehicles match quite well. But when the two do meet, the outcome is more than likely fatal for the pedestrian.

Pedestrians are on footways, but cyclists must use the road, where Goods Vehicles are.

image

Cyclists share the road with goods vehicles and buses

The figures:

62 serious or fatal RTC resulting in 62 cyclist KSI. Goods vehicles were involved in 7 of these. Of these 7 collisions 2 were fatal.

Or to put it more bluntly: goods vehicles make up 2.5% of traffic, but are involved in 11% of serious and fatal RTC with a cyclist. And as with pedestrians the outcome is not good.

The total number of cyclist fatalities in Northern Ireland in 2014 was three. And two of these cyclists were killed by Goods Vehicles.

These are very small numbers, but they mirror findings across the Irish Sea. Goods Vehicles are disproportionately involved in serious collisions with cyclists.

There are many good and conscientious hauliers, but time and again roadside spot checks reveal that many HGV are operated with serious faults or driven by unfit drivers that could put lives at risk.

It is time for government to act reduce the terrible price communities are forced to pay.

I am sure everyone has seen this video of a cyclist colliding with a car door in London’s Mile End, losing control and falling in the path of a London Black Cab.

Happily, no serious harm was done. The parked car’s door was dented and the car driver has offered to pay for the cyclist’s expenses.

The cyclist was too close to the parked cars. He should have been further out into the road. But could he have been?

Moments before the road was narrowed by road works. I hear the words of my driving instructor still: the most dangerous place for collisions is just at the end of road works.

Then of course there is the road design. The cycle route is one of Boris Johnson’s magic blue cycle routes. The lane is shared with buses.

It’s main function, however, is a car park. Drivers can use the bus lane as car park for most of the day, but in doing so push bicycle users (and buses) out into general traffic.

International best practice puts the cycle path between the footway and the parked car, leaving a buffer zone for opening car doors. Like so:

image

Amsterdam

However:

image

Google Streetview of Ormeau Embankment

in Belfast cycle lanes are painted directly beside car parking bays (above) or on-road parking boxes. Elsewhere cyclists are expected to share with buses, but are still threatened by drivers opening car doors:

image

Typical parking on Belfast's Lisburn Road

In years past NIGreenways ran a campaign to point out this fatal flaw in Belfast’s extensive cycle lane network; it is a car park for most of the day.

Currently, Dublin bicycle users are running a similar #freethecyclelanes campaign.

Both campaigns show that without meaningful enforcement motorists take a chance on breaking the law and mostly get away with parking illegally.

Avoiding the door zone puts the cyclist in the middle of general traffic. This gif shows very neatly where cyclists are squeezed into a very narrow channel between parked cars and moving traffic.

Belfast’s Lisburn Road has a tidal parking restriction, but this is too hard for motorists to understand.

TransportNI have concluded their tidal restrictions trial in South Belfast and deemed it a success, making the arrangement permanent despite cars obstructively and illegally parked in the bus lane or other sections of the Urban Clearway on a daily basis.

When the trial was announced I wrote in protest saying bicycle users would be in danger of getting doored. Like the bicycle user in the video above. My protest fell on deaf ears. Conall McDevitt, then a MLA, responded saying the trial and new parking arrangements were necessary to support local businesses and retailers. (Despite many examples worldwide of traders seeing a boost to profits when a cycleway was installed.)

The published Northern Ireland Bicycle Strategy spells out clearly cycling is a higher priority than parking cars.

image

Very commendable. There remains that suspicion, however, when vested interests, especially local traders with an on-street parking fetish, and safety of vulnerable road users meet, the traders’ interests prevail.

I was forewarned. I follow a fair few Hackney cyclists on Twitter. They are an unhappy bunch. And with some justification too.

image

Blurton Road

As I type this the Evening Standard presents their survey of cycling fatalities since 2008. It is a grim report, detailing how in over half of cycling fatalities in London HGV employed in the construction industry are involved.

Since the start of 2015 Hackney has seen two cycling fatalities, both involving turning HGV. One cyclist, Akis Kollaros, was killed on Homerton High Street at its junction with Wardle Street. It’s in background of this picture (where the silver car emerges).

image

This is a fairly typical two way main road around Hackney. There is nothing to help cyclists cope with heavy traffic, including numerous large goods vehicles and buses.

Just a short distance away is this ridiculous bit of cycling infrastructure:

image

Wow. If only it ran for more than a few yards…

The Council want to rip it up and turn the adjacent one-way road (a notorious rat run) into a two-way. I’d like to rip up the lane too. But only to replace it with something better. Local campaigners have blogged about it so I’ll not repeat their excellent and professional analyses.

The one good thing this short stretch does is lead cyclists safely between two side streets that form a staggered junction with Wick Road. They form a good quiet North-South route from Homerton High Street past Homerton Station to Victoria Park.

image

And the contraflow lane on Bradstock Road looks like this:

image

Yes, please can we have some of that in Belfast?

Elsewhere there are not so pretty contraflow door zone cycle motif monstrosities, such as this one in Hassett Street:

image

A pity that the photo of the van almost covering the painted cycle motif is more representative of Hackney than the nicely separated cycleway above.

If there is one thing Hackney consistently does well is the clever use of filtered permeability and one way streets, closing off roads for through traffic. In the Netherlands similar measures are used to make streets “autoluw”, where cars don’t impose.

What Hackney consistently does poorly is help cyclists at busy junctions and on major roads. The Council expect bicycle users to use the quiet back street routes, rather than form contiguous cycle tracks along main arterial routes like the A10 or A107. This subject has been covered before by Mark of ibikelondon. I have seen no evidence it has altered much since the post was written.

I watched with morbid fascination as an older cyclist slowly moved across two lanes of traffic on Mare Street at the Amhurst Road junction, indicating and gesticulating all the way, then go between two moving buses to turn right and continue up Mare Street.

The junction sits between the pedestrianised section of Mare Street (where cycling is allowed) and the Martello Street cycle and foot path.

Where the Martello Street path crosses Richmond Road it does so using a very Dutch feeling design. There are elephant footprints marking the cycle way across the road, adjacent to a zebra crossing. This is revolutionary stuff in the UK! My wife was not much impressed by my raving on about a crossing.

image

Google reveals it as an update on a previous design that did not include the pedestrian crossing.

Obviously cars must yield to pedestrians who start crossing. This is clear in the Highway Code. But will bicycle users starting to cross trigger the same response? It appears they do, though I’d counsel against riding across without checking both ways.

(I must qualify this by saying I passed it twice and twice cars stopped for bicycle users. This is obviously not representative.)

What my wandering around Hackney has revealed is a disjointed approach to cycling. Bicycle users are very welcome to use the quiet back streets and are helped with useful filtered permeability, signage and in some cases impressive cycling infrastructure.

However, on main roads bicycle users compete for space with heavy traffic. And this competition has seen two deaths since the beginning of the year.

Hackney does not seem to recognise that cyclists want to take the shortest, most direct route, pushing them instead onto back streets which don’t quite connect up to form a useful cycling network.

It is said you make up your mind about the success of a job applicant in the first few seconds of the interview. The job on offer is “Cycling Capital of these Islands”. Is Hackney a contender?

No, despite some very well executed ideas. A neighbouring London area, Waltham Forest, is planning a mini Holland which, on paper, looks very good. If they make it happen they could very well run off with that trophy.

image

Bicycle parking on Chatsworth Road

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 saw the opening of the £5mln Lagan Weir Bridge. It is more of a reopening because it is a replacement for the first Lagan Weir Bridge.

The first bridge was a of relatively simple construction comprising of a series of decks between the weir’s buttresses. It was completed in 1994.

The Weir serves to stop mudflats being exposed between Stranmillis and the City Centre. Dredging and aeration also helped reintroduce life to the river.

image

At either end of the bridge there were a flight of steps for and two semi circular ramps to allow prams and mobility scooters on to the bridge.

image

East bank access

image

West bank access

But look! The first bridge was not a shared space. It was a footbridge. Where cycling was banned.

With much fanfare Department of Social Development (the government department in charge) billed this as an investment in cycling, by allowing cycling on the new bridge.

The DSD, rather than DRD, are taking the lead as the weir and bridge has been part of the Lagan regeneration project, bringing the river back to life and developing the derelict river banks for housing and leisure. The bridge reconstruction is part of DSD’s Queen’s Quay Masterplan (pdf)

Graham Construction won the contract for the new crossing. They also were responsible for the ramps at either end and the replacement of the wasteful Halogen floodlighting with energy efficient LEDs.

image

image

image

So we get a gracefully curved shared space, crossing the river. And three benches down the middle towards the west bank of the bridge. There is no separation between pedestrians and cyclists.

On the positive side, the wider deck (up to 8m) will give much more space to pass. Or stop, sit on a bench and eat your piece.

To me it has echoes of Rotterdam’s Rijnhavenbrug. The Rotterdam bridge is built on a much bigger scale, with a lifting section to allow ships to pass. Mark Wagenbuur comments that the deck arrangement will only work in situations with few cyclists. Rotterdam has a low cycling uptake in comparison to the rest of the Netherlands, but their low is still a 4- or 5-fold of Belfast’s figure.

Another shared space bridge in the Netherlands is Venlo’s Weerdsprong. It is remarkable for its lighting design. Venlo also has a cycling modal share roughly double that of Rotterdam. It will be interesting how all three designs cope with the disparate demands of cycling and walking.

Doomsayers are blasting the plan, with the arguments boiling down to shared space = no space for cycling or pedestrians. And where there’s conflict there is local radio phone in show host Nolan.

I am no fan of shared space, but I like this bridge as a public space.

If you want a bridge with separate space for cycling to cross the Lagan there is the QE2 within a stone’s throw upstream.
image

On Thursday a little bird told me that DRD were having an information event at their HQ in Belfast’s Adelaide Street.

Here is the press release.

We weren’t given much notice. Yet I found myself with a spare 30 minutes, grabbed a Belfast Bike from Bradbury Place and went to inspect the plans.

image

On offer were two versions for an improved two-way cycleway between Chichester St and Ormeau Ave, one with the cycleway to the east, the other to the west (the current situation). The plans are designed to improve the network of paths between Belfast Bike Hire stations at Arthur Street, Alfred Street and the Gasworks.

image

East

And:

image

West

The plans are not yet finalised and many details remain to be resolved.

Cycling Unit staff were open to suggestions and ideas. For instance, having parked cars act as protection for the cycle lane was suggested by a number of people and I got the impression DRD would look at this variant.

Some of the “details” are quite serious.

There is an obvious gap in provision on Ormeau Avenue. Currently a short stretch of shared use path connects the Gasworks site to Joy Street. Are DRD proposing to extend the shared use path to the next junction? Or is something better in the pipeline, perhaps a protected cycleway all the way from the Gasworks to Blackstaff Square?

The importance of this missing link will become very evident when the Gasworks Bridge opens. More cyclists will use the routes leading to the bridge. A similar gap exists at Shaftesbury Square where there is no eastbound cycle lane or crossing connecting Donegall Road and Donegall Pass.

It would be better for the Cycling Unit to start a discussions with the DRD Dinosaur Unit that is still looking to implement the Southern section of Belfast’s inner ring, so blocking any development along Ormeau Avenue (and blighting the area with fenced off surface car parks). Plans for a gyratory to take traffic between Cromac Street and Bruce Street should not stop the development of a cycle path along the Avenue. Ormeau Avenue is wide enough to reallocate space for cycling.

I suspect the gap is left in the plans as leverage for further budget and development. A holistic large-scale area-wide approach may well be unpalatable to the car lobby within DRD.

A second issue is the Advanced Stop Lines in the design. Why? Why in the UK are cyclists abandoned when they need protection most, i.e. at junctions? The lane needs to come right up to the junctions. The design plans for the May Street crossing are a case in point:

image

The minor junctions in the design are designed right: the lane carries across the side road; and priority is given to the cyclists over traffic emerging from side streets. I’d prefer a little more hard protection at the corners to stop drivers left- or right-hooking.

image

The Cyclesaurus Memorial Junction

The good news is that the Cyclesaurus is going to die. At last (see design above). However, the issue of cyclists needing to cross the carriageway (and pass each other on the right side) has been moved to the path’s entry points at Chichester Street and Ormeau Avenue.

image

West fudge

image

East fudge

The designers have drawn a patch of shared space to fudge the ends. But as above, good design at the junction can sort this out.

One big disappointment is that Upper Arthur Street remains open to cars. What is the rationale behind this? There are two on-street parking spaces in one version, none at all in the other. Why do cars need access at all? There needs to be access for deliveries, emergency services and collecting refuse, but I struggle to see the need for any other motorised vehicles.

As you drive down May Street a sign directs you down Upper Arthur Street for access to the Montgomery Street and Victoria Square multi-storey car parks:

image

Sign on May Street

It appears DRD see Upper Arthur Street as a shortcut to access city centre multi-storeys.

One of the principles underlying Groningen‘s successful cycle strategy is making drivers go the long way around, but giving cyclists, pedestrians and public transport direct access. Here, motorists are given a sneaky shortcut, consequently access for pedestrians and cyclists is compromised.

When you pass this sign you have already passed Montgomery Street. But the street’s one way direction is “wrong”. And arguably the person who ignored the previous right turn on to Victoria Street to access Victoria Square should not be rewarded with a shortcut to make up for their foolishness.

To access the multi-storey the direction of the one way Montgomery Street could be reversed between May Street and the car park entrance. Cars exiting can leave the area by Gloucester Street and Seymour Street.

All things considered, would it not make sense for Upper Arthur Street to be closed off for motorists, allowing for the carriageway to be used as a cycle route and increasing outside space for the street’s cafés and restaurants? Here’s an example in central Utrecht, photographed by @cyclingchch:

image

I don’t often advocate the removal of a cycle path. Here, removing cars and the infamous bin lane are probably the best solution.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.