Still No Space For Cycling Here

Following on from a Facebook post where cyclists were informed of road works on Albertbridge Road to facilitate the Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) bus system, I queried what improvement this represented for Belfast cyclists.

BRT team responded stating that no space could be spared for cyclists, but omitted to say that local residents can still use the existing parking bays along the road. In short, space cannot be spared because drivers need it to store their cars.

The plans are available here.

Cyclists in East Belfast can look forward to a painted cycle lane running not quite the length of Albertbridge Road from Templemore Avenue to Newtownards Road. A couple of Advanced Stop Lines and that is it.

City bound cyclists can use the rapid transit bus lane.

I put in a request to the Department of Infrastructure where I asked the following:

  • The terms and references of the initial BRT consultation pertaining the impact on cycling along BRT routes;
  • A summary of the assessed impact of BRT on cycling as part of the consultation;
  • Whether contact was sought with cycling stakeholders (for instance, Sustrans, British Cycling or Cycling UK) regarding cycling specific design and implementation of the BRT scheme;
  • Whether the impact on cycling has been reassessed since the consultation exercises given the increase in numbers of cyclists, the building of the BBNP, and the implementation of the Belfast Bikes hire scheme – the date(s) and outcome(s) of any review(s);
  • The length and location of all segregated cycleways, mandatory cycle lanes and shared use paths along BRT routes (planned and realised). Segregation may be achieved by, for instance, wands, planters, armadillos and/or kerbs. Advisory cycle lanes and shared use bus lanes should not be counted;
  • The number of bicycle parking spaces at BRT halts and terminals (planned and realised.

Here is their response:

I welcome the BRT. I think it will change the commuting habits of people in East Belfast and North Down. With the Comber Greenway running parallel to the BRT route it can provide a good alternative route for cyclists who do not wish to share bus lanes with rapid buses.

Sustrans, in their BikeLife Survey found that of all options to increase cycling uptake sharing bus lanes was the least favoured option. Physically separating cyclists from motor traffic was the most favoured option.

Sustrans BikeLife Belfast

Indeed, segregated cycling infrastructure is the Department of Infrastructure’s vision for cycling. It is a pity that the vision is not being implemented.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we won’t get a urban cycling network overnight. However, as each brick of the BRT is put in place, the less space remains for cycling along Albertbridge Road.

The Mythical Mystery Tour

The Comber Greenway stops abruptly at Hollywood Arches. The junction is named after the railway arch which took the Belfast and County Down Railway over the busy Newtownards Road.

Holywood Arches, Old Belfast (Facebook)

The route, theoretically, continues onwards over the Connswater, through Ballymacarret, across Dee Street, to Titanic Railway halt, across the M3 and there joins the Sydenham Road cycleway. And then you have still a mile to go to the city centre.


The above route is not the most direct way into the City Centre. It is not encouraging people from Ballyhackamore, Knock, King’s Road, Tullycarnet and Dundonald to get cycling, especially to destinations to the South and West of the City Centre.

The direct route goes along the Albertbridge Road, across the Albert Bridge, East Bridge Street and from there into Belfast City Centre.

It speaks volumes that Andrew Grieve from the Cycling Unit chose the Albertbridge Road route for his race against a motorist from the Holywood Road area into town, not the scenic route past Samson and Goliath, the Titanic Quarter and the Odyssee. 

From a cycling perspective nothing will change for Andrew as he cycles to work. 

And that is bad.

What is good is that work is about to start on the Eastern section of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan from the City Centre to Titanic halt. This will at least cut out the dog leg through Belfast’s mythical quarter, but will still leave cyclists who need to be south and west of the City Centre with a lengthy detour.

The BRT has blazed ahead, with the approval of Sustrans, without considering cycling as a serious transport option.

The Department of Infrastructure BRT project team always presumed that cyclists can be lumped together with rapid buses. The original BRT consultation report mentions that consultation responders asked how bus lanes would benefit cyclists. The department’s response is that cyclists can use bus lanes. Which is in my view is not sufficient in answering the questions raised during the consultation, or my FoI request.

It leaves the impression cycling was not considered at all. The 12 bicycle parking spaces at the Dundonald Terminus are really adding insult to injury. The lack of bus stop bypasses in the entire plan is totally ignoring best practice on combining cycling and public transport.

The latest figures put cycling commuting levels in Belfast at 3%, but we know from the 2011 Census levels in South and East are above 5%. This has been achieved without much investment in infrastructure. 

To lift cycling uptake higher we need to see segregated cycling routes along our arterial roads, where people need to go to work, to school or college and to shop. Cycling routes should not be put down glass-strewn, poorly lit alleys.

The plans for the BRT along Albertbridge Road are lazy, perfunctory. The parking bays are maintained on Albertbridge Road, even expanded. Cyclists get a painted lane countrybound, but no bus stop bypasses. 

There is no protection at the Templemore junction where two eastbound traffic lanes merge and cyclists are expected to jostle for space with motorists.

There is no protection for cyclists at the Newtownards Road junction. Motorists still get their slip road to avoid the lights. Can this space not be better used for a segregated cycle path?

In the latest road safety report NI cyclists are more likely to get injured than car occupants. The blame for the crash lies with the other road user in 2/3 of cases. And in 3/4 of those careless driving is the root cause. This design should protect vulnerable road users and it fails.

Every design should be put through a review and be scored on safety. Without protection cyclists are still endangered at junctions. Paint won’t stop a careless driver straying into a cycle lane. 

The plans should also be scored on their efficiency. I doubt these plans increase or improve the flow of buses. At Templemore Avenue and Newtownards Road junctions the bus lane still stops short of the junction in favour of an extra car lane.

The BRT is meant to shift car commuters towards public transport. An important victory was won when the preferred route was announced as the Newtownards Road. This meant the Comber Greenway was saved for active travel.

However, at every turn in the implentation of the project the BRT team have bent over backwards to give cars the same amount of road space as they were given before. This is a doomed exercise. BRT will not succeed without removing car traffic. And the only way to reduce car traffic is to remove their road space. 

Cycling Revolution

Should we, cyclists, rejoice at getting a piece of tarmac painted green, with a cute bicycle motif? 

Those days are over. If Belfast is really serious about cycling these plans would have been radically different. 

How different?

What if countrybound traffic was directed up Short Strand and then up Newtownards Road and citybound traffic down the Albertbridge Road?

Countrybound (green); citybound (red)

The current configuration of pavement, parking, 4 motor traffic lanes, parking, pavement could become pavement, cycle path, parking, bus lane in, general traffic lane, bus lane out, parking, cycle path and pavement.

We must bear in mind that urban roads should be optimised to move people, not cars. Cars are incredibly inefficient in urban environments. They take up too much space and most of the time they sit still. Parked somewhere.
Where to look for best practice?

One cannot help but peek at Utrecht where they found space for rapid transit buses, whilst giving cyclists, cars and parked cars their own space. Buses have pride of place in the middle of the road. Cars (if allowed) are reduced to one lane with a parking strip protecting the bicycle paths.

They got their priorities straight for the 21st Century when Belfast, despite Belfast on the Move, is still worshipping at the altar of King Car.

Belfast Parking Strategy and Action Plan

Belfast City Council has produced the draft for the Belfast Parking Strategy and Action Plan. You can have your say here.

Last year I blogged about the various issues surrounding parking in central Belfast. I am pleased that Belfast City Council is thinking along the same lines and in many ways goes much further.

In the draft, put together by AECOM, there are various parking management tools, such as live parking information boards, online payments, phone apps, variable tariffs to discourage all day on-street parking, and encourage turnover by automated parking bay monitoring. 

These tools will be employed to make more efficient use of parking spaces, to reduce congestion due to people circulating for spaces and better monetise the available spaces.

The draft recognises the blight caused by off-streat surface car parks; the invitation to drive by over-provision of parking; the congestion and harm to the local environment caused by excessive road traffic; the burden placed on local residents by all day parking by city centre workers.

My blog post grossly underestimated (by 2/3) the amount of parking available. There are 40,000 spaces. Worrying is that my total was derived from official Belfast on the Move reports. If the Government was unaware what was happening on the street how could they ever address it properly?

The draft makes for positive reading from a cyclist’s point of view. 

  1. Belfast Bikes docking stations are to be situated at or very near new multi-storey car parks around the city’s inner ring.
  2. Cycle parking will be increased across the City Centre, with security and covered against the weather.
  3. Residents only cycle parking will be provided.
  4. A feasibility study will be carried out for a Cycle Hub in the City Centre.
  5. Active Travel and Park and Ride schemes are to be promoted to discourage people using cars to access Belfast City Centre. Cycle infrastructure and parking will be enhanced in “quality and volume”.
  6. Cycle parking at railway stations is to be increased to encourage bike-train commuting to Belfast City Centre.
  7. Belfast City Council fully signs up to the NI Bicycle Strategy and so this Parking Strategy will be used to deliver the aims of the Bicycle Strategy.
  8. Planning applications for city centre developments will need to show “sufficient” amounts of cycle parking.

It has to be noted that some of these points cannot be delivered by Belfast City Council alone, but need involvement from various NI Government departments. 

For instance, providing and increasing the number of covered and secure bicycle stands at (for argument’s sake) Lurgan railway station is outside Belfast City Council control. 

The building of cycle paths, Dutch-style roundabouts, etc, will be led by the Department of Infrastructure. Whilst their Cycling Unit’s heart is in the right place, the budget definitely isn’t.

In Northern Ireland regional bus travel is important, because the railway network was  dramatically reduced in the 1960s on the recommendations of the Benson report. I’d like to see more cycle parking at bus stations and important halts outside Belfast, but also along the Belfast Rapid Transit routes, and so encourage bike-bus as an alternative to car travel.

Bus stop with bicycle parking, Lingewaard, Netherlands (Wikipaedia)

The draft has one central failing. Having recognised that a significant proportion of parking is always vacant, it then does not set about a strategy to reduce provision to more realistic levels. It moves surface spaces to new multi-storeys, but never at a significant reduction of overall numbers. 

The only way to stop cars entering the city centre and to relieve congestion is to stop providing for cars. Encouraging uptake of active travel and increasing patronage of public transport is doomed if car use is not discouraged.

Similarly, environmental benefits will fail to realise if Belfast city centre continues to roll out the red carpet for car drivers, be they commuters or leisure visitors.

The draft should therefore contain targets and a timetable for reducing number of spaces. A reduction of 30% (wiping out the excess provision) in 10 years overall is ambitious, but achievable.

If, for instance, a 500-space Park & Ride facility were to be opened  at Knockmore Halt  in Lisburn, then the number of Belfast city centre spaces should be reduced by at least 500, and ideally by many more to achieve real reduction.

Also, the draft doesn’t fully recognise that on-street parking hinders rolling out of cycleways across the city. Dublin Road, for instance, should have a separated cycleway considering the volume of traffic and numbers of cyclists. Such a path cannot be accommodated because of on-street parking on both sides of the one-way road.

Similarly, cycleways along Lisburn Road and Albertbridge Road are impossible as long as on-street parking is considered more valuable than moving people.


The draft strategy has highlighted the obscene over-provision of car parking space in Belfast city centre. It sets out a variety of good measures to make more efficient use of the available provision.

The strategy sees cycling as a viable transport alternative to 1) replace car commuter journeys; 2) to move people from outlying car parks to their place of work in the middle of town. 

The strategy fails to address the over-provision adequately, and more effort should be made to reduce the number of spaces available.

No Space for Cycling Here

The Department of Infrastructure Cycling Unit posted on Facebook:

Improvements are on the way for cycling and public transport on the Albertbridge Road. The benefits, which are being delivered as part of the Belfast Rapid Transit works, include improvements to drainage, resurfacing of the road and footpaths, enhanced street lighting, and additional lengths of bus lane which, of course, can be used by cyclists. The works are due to start on Monday 29 August.

In order to deliver these benefits the works will necessitate the suspension of the section of existing cycle lane over the length of the works. We would ask cyclists to extra care for the duration of the works, which are due to be completed by summer 2017.

They decorate their announcement of the bus lane improvement on the Albertbridge Road with pictures of Belfast’s best bits of cycling infrastructure: segregated cycleways and Belfast Bikes.

Stranmillis Embankment (Cycling Unit)

Alfred Street (Cycling Unit)

I questioned why cyclists are made to share with buses. Perceived lack of safety is a constant complaint from colleagues who don’t cycle into work using the Lisburn Road’s peak time bus lane.

Here’s the BRT team response:

‘Along the BRT routes we have endeavoured, where physically possible, to provide 12m carriageways (4 x 3m lanes) with 2.5m footways on either side. To provide dedicated cycle infrastructure on these corridors would require at least a further 3m of roadwidth, which is simply not available along much of the routes, including this section of the Albertbridge Road’.

The Cycling Unit adds:

From the Cycling Unit’s perspective: we have been working on a draft Bicycle Network Plan for Belfast which we hope to consult on very soon.

We are striving to create separate cycling provision where possible over the next ten years, however, we see bus and cycle lanes as an interim measure until such routes are available.

It is a scandal major pieces of traffic infrastructure are given the go ahead without considering cyclists. The plans for Belfast Rapid Transit barely mentioned cycling and now it’s being built across Belfast it is clear the routes are not made suitable for cycling. We have unforgiving high kerbs, especially at bus stops, and pinch points. 

In the years since the BRT was consulted on, cycling in Belfast has changed dramatically: numbers have increased; there is the highly successful Belfast Bikes hire scheme.

But still the BRT continues as if it’s ten years ago. It contains no plans for cycleways or infrastructure that will entice more people out on their bikes, even where space allows to construct these. People don’t want to cycle with a bus right up their backside. It is intimidating, however well the driver is trained.

And is there no space as the BRT team assert? Like here on the Albertbridge Road, where ample space is afforded to parking:


The only lack of space for cycling is in the imagination of the Belfast Rapid Transit team. They obviously value storage of private vehicles on public roads more than moving people from A to B.

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.


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.


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.


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:


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


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.


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.


Hastingsweg, Dordrecht, NL


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:


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.


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:


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:


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.


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


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


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


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:

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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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).


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?


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.


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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.