A special mention and thank you to Olivia who inspired me to tell you this story:

Time has flown on the island of Sodor. In the days after Thomas’s original tales a very important man came and told the Fat Controller to shut all the branch lines.

Only Gordon was allowed to thunder up and down the main line for a little while longer. Not all the branch lines were closed: after a big argument a couple of suburban stretches were kept.

The narrow gauge lines in the mountains were abandoned. And the Thin Controller lost his job. He went to a second career as a tour guide at the Railway Museum, so he could still talk to his little engines when nobody was watching.

Gordon was soon retired, replaced by dodgy, unreliable Canadian diesel engines, who pull comfortable and elegant French coaches; they don’t get on at all. Now the local railway lines are operated by a fleet of busy Spanish diesels. And often you see a green Japanese diesel train in Tidmouth when the express engine has broken down again.

All rural services, once operated by Thomas and his friends are now taken care of by buses. The original Bertie Bus is in the museum together with Henry. No one is really sure why they kept that engine; all he did was toot, huff and puff.

Mrs Smith lives in a little house off one of Tidmouth’s main roads. The main road is clogged with cars and buses. Cars were the future they said. Motorways would snake across the city, whisking people here and there. The reality was somewhat different. The city’s roads are congested, noisy and smelly. It does Mrs Smith’s asthma no good.

Her mother’s cottage by the former railway line was surrounded by a fragrant garden, with flowers and blossoms of every kind imaginable. She remembers her mum telling this crazy story about her saving the life of a talking engine. Certainly, every year she was entitled to one free trip to the seaside, courtesy of the railway company. But when the line was abandoned she didn’t go to the seaside anymore. “I don’t care for coaches”, she used to say.

Mrs Smith prefers getting about on a bicycle. She has an antique black bicycle with a basket. Such as a community midwife would have had in the middle of the last century. People point and laugh as Mrs Smith cycles past.

Mrs Smith uses the bus lanes to get into town. It’s not great; and officials from the government are forever hatching plans to make it worse. She protested against allowing taxis in bus lanes at City Hall and got a photo taken by the Tidmouth Mail, probably because she was the only woman there.

But a little while ago an information leaflet came through the door telling her that the bus lanes were to be extended and would be for the use of buses, cyclists and permitted taxis between 7 in the morning and 7 at night.

The new buses, all called BeRTie, were full of themselves: puffed up for having Priority over other traffic; they had Magic and could Change the Traffic Lights to Green. And with their Camera Eyes they could Enforce. And BeRTie buses were so important they could never be late.
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Mrs Smith cycled down the bus lane one day when all of a sudden a BeRTie Bus hurtled past her beeping its horn loudly. Mrs Smith was so shaken she stopped cycling altogether.

The New Controller, however, was delighted, because BeRTie was on time.

Mr Clyde lives a couple of streets up from Mrs Smith. He has a family bike and uses it to take his twin boys to school. People recognise him because of the bicycle. People don’t laugh at him or his bike. They stand dumbfounded and slack-jawed. Children think it’s wonderful and all want to have a go.

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When the Government announced their plans to have BeRTie buses he campaigned to stop them using the abandoned railway branch line as an “Expressway” for the BeRTies.

Mr Clyde even wrote to the Fat Controller to come out of retirement and speak against the plans at a Rally. The Fat Controller replied though he supported the campaign, public speaking was no longer possible on account of his throat cancer caused by smoking too many cigars.

Mr Clyde had been delighted when the campaign succeeded in saving the abandoned line as a Greenway. And now he was delighted to see the BeRTies with a halt at the end of his street.

One day Mr Clyde was taking his twin boys to school, going along the BeRTie Bus lane when he overtook a BeRTie at a halt. When Mr Clyde was beside the bus it suddenly pulled out. Mr Clyde was sandwiched between the beeping BeRTie and a car that was overtaking Mr Clyde.

Happily, no one was injured but Mrs Clyde would only agree to him cycling if he stayed on the pavement. Mr Clyde thought a bus stop bypass would have prevented the “near miss“, but the New Controller said there wasn’t any room, or money to put in such an expensive thing. He blamed the Project Creep for the lack of money. The Project Creep doesn’t do anything but costs money nonetheless.

BeRTie Bus’ camera eyes showed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. BeRTie was pleased and so was the New Controller.

Darla and Chuck are from Omaha. They love Sodor because Darla’s great uncle by marriage has a Sodor heritage, and that made her a Sodor-American. She was the President of the Sodor Friendship Association in Omaha. Chuck also has a Sodor heritage, but mainly because he believed that Sodor was part of Sweden and his grandparents emigrated from Sweden.

Darla and Chuck hired some Pimm’s hire scheme bikes to see the sights and visit the address where the great uncle lived. (The original terraced house is no longer there, because it was cleared to make way for a motorway that was never built. Instead it is a run-down surface car park.)

Darla and Chuck were cycling on a BeRTie Bus lane when a large lorry turning left cut across their path and they were both killed instantly. The lorry driver drove on for about 100 metres before onlookers managed to attract his attention and stop him. He put his phone down, telling his lover he’d be a little later than usual.

The Coroner was scathing about many things, but mostly about the design of the BeRTie Bus Lanes which gave a false sense of security to cyclists, but in fact, as in this case, led them into the path of danger and their untimely death.

The lorry driver, the government, the Mayor and the New Controller said they were very, very sorry. However, they soon forgot all about it when a member of One Direction said something vaguely intelligent: “Let’s stop pretending bus lanes are cycling infrastructure that will encourage non-cyclists to start cycling.”

But no one understood that really.

Dear Cargobike Dad:

I am an American physician resident in China for the last decade, moving April 2015 to Belfast to take up a post at Queen’s. I have been a year-round bike commuter for 25 years in a number of places, the last 10 car free, and I am very much hoping to commute and shop in NI by bike. We will be living in Hillsborough […], R/T of 25-30 mi per day to work at Royal Victoria Hospital. I was hoping I might ask you some questions about resources for planning a cycle route, advisability of using a MUP like the Lagan Towpath for this ride, etc. I will certainly understand if you are too busy, given that you must receive a number of such queries. But then “Saving the Life of a Befuddled Ex-Pat” has the ring of an interesting blog post! In any event, thanks for providing such a great resource for cycle advocacy in NI. I would very much like to get involved in local advocacy of that nature, not much space for such in China…Please feel free to contact me by email if it is convenient for you to reply.

Best regards,
Nathan

Dear Nathan,

Thank you for your kind comments. As for your questions about a Hillsborough to RVH commute, I put it to Twitter and between their replies and local resources this is what I came up with.

Type your query into Google and it says to take the A1 from Hillsborough to Lisburn. Don’t ask Google! Their recommended routes are often in the chocolate teapot category: useless.

I would not advise cycling up and down the A1 from Sprucefield to Hillsborough. It is a busy fast dual carriageway trunk road with a poor safety record for cyclists.

Road users who want to avoid the A1 have two options. The first is to take the Comber Road out of Hillsborough, then take a left through Ravarnet into Lisburn; the other is to take Culcavy Road and after crossing the M1 motorway take the first turn right (Blaris Road) towards Lisburn. The Blaris Road is an on-road section of NCN9 and leads to the entry of the Lagan Towpath. The latter, Culcavy Road route, would be my preferred option.

The Towpath is heavily used by cycling commuters between Lisburn and Belfast. It is unlit, so a good set of lights is essential in the darker months. Some sections are prone to flooding. Twitter is a good source for up to the minute news of it being passable. Look up Lagan Valley Regional Park on Facebook; they update their pages regularly with notifications and events.

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Towpath traffic east of Lisburn (top left to middle right, source Strava heat map)

In Belfast continue on the Towpath all the way to the Botanic Gardens entrance on Stranmillis Embankment. Go through the park (anti-clockwise) and exit the park at Botanic Avenue behind the main Queen’s University Belfast buildings. At Shaftesbury Square take the Donegall Road. Then the first right past the petrol station (Roden Street) and cross the Westlink into the Royal Victoria Hospital campus.

In winter time Botanic Gardens is closed in hours of darkness, so leave the Towpath at Lockview Road, Stranmillis, then up Stranmillis Road towards the Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast, joining University Road. Turn left into Elmwood Avenue, then right and immediately left into Jubilee Road, the entrance to Belfast City Hospital. Turn right after the multi-storey car park then left, across the mini-roundabout and on to the Donegall Road. Then as before.

The main drawback of the Towpath is it’s definitely the long way round. And doesn’t go in the direction you want.

Some cyclists use the Sandy Lane short cut to avoid the scenic route:

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If you are a confident commuter, a straight run down the A1 between Lisburn and Belfast is shorter and quicker than the Towpath. This stretch of the A1 carries less motorised traffic because of a better alternative route for cars: the M1. It has stretches of cycle lane and the bus lanes are open to cyclists in the morning and evening rush hours.
The shared use path on the outbound Belfast Road, Lisburn is best avoided by cyclists. It is poorly conceived and badly executed.

Join the A1 in Lisburn town centre, continue on the road into Belfast. Take the Jubilee Road entrance to Belfast City Hospital, then as above.

Better by bus?

Public transport options are good with regular express bus services to Hillsborough from the bus station at Glengall St (behind the Europa Hotel), which is within easy walking distance of the Royal. Some services also stop at the halt at the foot of the Roden Street footbridge.

Best of both worlds (and what I would do if I were in your shoes)

Cycle to Lisburn railway station, fold up your QUB Cycle 2 Work scheme Brompton or similar and take it on the train to Belfast. From Great Victoria Street Station cycle to the Royal. There are no restrictions on folding bikes on Translink trains.

You are of the campaigning kind so you can ask your local political representatives (councillors and MLAs) to lobby the Department of Regional Development (soon to be the Department for Infrastructure) for a two-way, 4m wide cycle way between Hillsborough and Lisburn, running to the east of the main A1 road, serving Sprucefield, linking to the Towpath, Lagan Valley Hospital and Lisburn town centre.
It is election year (and next year also) so politicians are open to seduction by a good vote winning proposal.

Finally

Our Cargobike causes much rubber necking in Lisburn. It is not a cycling town. It will be good to see more bike users showing there is an alternative to the car!

Deep in the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) 2015 there is a section devoted to Community Greenways.

When I saw the title “Lagan Valley Regional Park (LVRP)/Bog Meadows/Whiterock Community Greenway” and skimmed over the proposed route my heart nearly leapt for joy, because here was a proposed route that would take us on a Greenway between home and our primary school.

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Greenway (green) and route to school (red)

But

All is not what it seems.

Here is the entire route. As with any urban planning document it is huge. Handily, someone also provided this route description:

Begin at Shaws Bridge within the LVRP and travel in a northerly direction, past the Queens University Playing Fields and the House of Sport.

This is the A55, so not exactly an off-road experience here. You will share the greenway with 30-35k cars a day. The pavements are shared use. While the road racing fraternity ignore the shared use path, commuters use it increasingly:

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At the Malone Roundabout, travel west along the Upper Malone Road, cross the road and travel along Harberton Park.

If you’re cycling you must join the road at the Roundabout just at the point where traffic speeds up to leave it. The alternatives are to get off and push or ignore the law and cycle on the pavement.

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End of 🚲 route

A signalised crossing will be needed here to cross the Upper Malone Road.

The area around Shaw’s Bridge has become a major destination for MTB cyclists. No safe access to the tracks around Barnett’s Demesne is provided. Groups of school age children use the pavements along all major roads in the area to get to the tracks.

Jeff Dudgeon, Balmoral UUP councillor says, “[o]ne of the most frequent complaints I received from constituents during my election campaign was about cycling on pavements.”

Instead of going along the very noisy and busy A55 I go underneath the ring road beside the river and then up the lung-bustingly steep “Clement Wilson Ramp”. This leaves me at the signalised pedestrian crossing north of the Malone Road Roundabout. From there I go down the Strangford Avenue rat run, to join Harberton Park and on to rejoin the A55.

As does the Greenway. Because the landowners are not yet on board with the idea of a Greenway from Harberton Park to Lisburn Road pedestrians and cyclists are diverted back onto Belfast’s Ring Road:

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians
Travel along the periphery of the RUAS Showgrounds and Balmoral Golf Club.

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage
Travel to the end of Harberton Park and turn left down Balmoral Avenue. At the junction with the Upper Lisburn Road, turn left and travel in a south westerly direction until you reach the railway bridge leading into Musgrave Park where you can rejoin the Greenway

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The A55 Greenway

The following section of the greenway is fully accessible to pedestrians,

but not cyclists.

Turn left and travel along the Upper Lisburn Road to no. 24. Cross the road here and continue down the narrow footpath and across the railway footbridge into Musgrave Park.

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You would think a pedestrian link to a hospital site would be fully accessible for people of all ages and abilities. And the irony is that the hospital is the Northern Irish regional centre for orthopaedic medicine, rheumatology, sports medicine and has a rehabilitation unit. But isn’t easily accessible for people with any kind of problem walking.

But back to the Greenway A55:

Travel north west through Musgrave Park and out onto Stockmans Lane. Turn left along Stockmans Lane and travel towards the motorway (M1) roundabout, before passing under the M1 bridge to reach Kennedy Way.

Stockman’s Lane is the A55. As is Kennedy Way:

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians

Travel north along Kennedy Way before turning right into Blackstaff Road and a further right into Blackstaff Way. At the bottom of Blackstaff Way, turn left onto the vacant ground. Travel around the boundary of Milltown Cemetery and through St Galls GAC Playing Fields onto Milltown Row. Travel west to the top of Milltown Row, cross the Falls Road and enter the Falls Park.

This bit of the “Greenway” leads through a light industrial estate. You are treated to the back of an Asda, a council waste recycling site and various commercial units. Lorries thunder up and down. Happily, there is an alternative involving Belfast’s Ring Road:

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage

Travel along Kennedy Way. At the roundabout beside the Westwood Shopping Centre, turn right onto the Andersonstown Road. Continue along this road, which becomes the Falls Road, in a north westerly direction. At the Falls Road / Glen Road roundabout, continue straight on, passing Milltown Cemetery on the right. Enter Falls Park on the left and rejoin the Greenway at this point.

[added 28/3] It will be a relief for cyclists to leave the Andersonstown and Falls Road behind at Falls Park. This stretch of the “Greenway” includes two notorious roundabouts. The first at Kennedy Way is terrifying.

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Greenway Roundabout

The slope across the roundabout, the high central island make it difficult to see cars coming. Trying to cross as a pedestrian, pushing your bike is no better. On all approaches motorists queue across the zebra crossings, and driving across them when pedestrians are crossing. It’s captured by the Google car:

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The only reason cyclists are not killed here is because cycling’s modal share in West Belfast is 0%.

The roundabout where the Andersonstown Road morphs into the Falls Road is no better. It is a wide unmarked triangular space with a circular “feature” in the middle. It’s a free for all.

I have looked for it and I cannot find the roadside sign saying the Highway Code is suspended in West Belfast and it’s do as you please.

However, back to the Greenway:

From Falls Park it is not far to the glorious end:

The following section of the greenway is fully accessible to pedestrians
Follow the pathway in a northerly direction through Falls Park, past the playing fields and Belfast City Cemetery, out onto Whiterock Close and along the Whiterock Road into the Belfast Hills where the greenway ends.

There is however an alternative that isn’t accessible for pedestrians. What is the point of that? And it includes yet another of these terrifying roundabouts, where traffic pushes on regardless of what or who has right of way. It’s the Falls Road / Whiterock Road roundabout:
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The current roadworks to accommodate the Belfast Rapid Transit lanes do not help.

Alternatively, exit the Bog Meadows at St James’s Road and travel in a northerly direction along St James’s Crescent and onto the Donegall Road. Travel west to the top of the Donegall Road and turn left along the Falls Road. At the Falls Road / Whiterock Road roundabout, turn right and continue up the Whiterock Road.

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians

Travel through the Belfast Metropolitan College Campus past St. Johns GAC grounds to Corpus Christi Church. Cross Springhill Drive and continue along the Springhill open space, past the playground and onto the Springfield Road. Turn left and continue along the Springfield Road and connect back into the greenway route at the Whiterock Road beside New Barnsley Parade.

But wait! There is another route. An alternative to the alternative:

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage
From the Whiterock Road, travel past the Belfast Metropolitan College Campus and turn right along the Ballymurphy Road. Turn right along Springhill Drive and then continue north along the Springhill open space to rejoin the Greenway at this point.

Pedestrians or cyclists? Pedestrians and cyclists?

The first obvious observation is the complete lack of thought given to cycling. Accessibility is used only in reference to walking. What is the overarching vision for Community Greenways?

Community Greenways serve a variety of functions including:

• Offering pedestrians and cyclists [my emphasis] the opportunity to travel from one green area to another via pleasant green surroundings; and
• Providing an ecological haven and green linkage along river corridors, pathways and disused railway lines.

To put it bluntly, the whole route needs to be re-evaluated from a cyclist’s point of view.

Also, can we really say that the A55 is a “pleasant green surrounding”?

Does this Community Greenway offer a reasonable alternative to using the pavements along the A55 for pedestrians and cyclists?

No and no.

To make this route work we need to gain public access to parcels of privately owned land. Consideration needs to be given to places where the route crosses main roads and the M1 motorway. There is a need for signalised crossings and perhaps a tunnel or bridge to cross the M1.

If we want cyclists to have full access Harberton Park needs to be upgraded to include cycle tracks. We need fully segregated tracks along the Upper Malone, Lisburn, Andersonstown and Falls Roads. The pedestrian footbridge at Musgrave Park Hospital needs to be upgraded so people of all ages and abilities can use it.

The wider picture

West Belfast has a very low uptake of cycling, due in no small part to the complete lack of cycling infrastructure. Plans like this can improve the environment for cycling. Combined with initiatives to encourage multi-modal transport (cycling to a secure bike parking at a Belfast Rapid Transport halt along the Falls and Andersonstown Roads, perhaps) the cycling share may increase. Large employers such as the Royal site of the Belfast Trust are to be commended for encouraging staff not to use their cars. And the Belfast bike hire scheme should be extended to the Royal site as a matter of priority.

Is there potential for better? Maybe. The Southwest Gateway plan may give a very good alternative to parts of the greenway route set out in the BMAP. And in my opinion the two plans should be combined taking the best elements of both.

I don’t think I will personally benefit from the Greenway for the school commute. It remains to be seen if any of it can be realised by the time my youngest leaves primary school in 2023.

DRD have released their plans for the York Street Interchange. This is a junction to the north of Belfast City Centre where the M2, M3 and Westlink to the M1 meet; Northern Ireland’s busiest.
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It is also a traffic bottleneck and a blight on the local area, with the northern inner city suburbs cut off from the centre. A wide swathe of tarmac and undeveloped real estate makes the area feel very unwelcoming.

Pedestrian and cyclist numbers were surveyed in 2010. The surveys show pretty dismal figures for an area bounded by densely populated neighbourhoods, Belfast City Centre and the Cityside retail complex.

The sheer volume of traffic, noise and wide stretches of tarmac deter pedestrians and cyclists.

From the Preferred Options Report, vol. 1.

Dedicated cycling provision throughout the existing study area is limited. None of the existing road network currently has adjacent cycling lane provision, thus cycling journeys made through the existing junction arrangement are on-road and in direct interaction with local and strategic traffic.
With reference to Sustrans [online] and Figure 6.8.1, National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 93 is aligned along the eastern periphery of the study area. This route is aligned along Garmoyle Street, Dock Street, Princes Dock Street, Clarendon Road and Donegall Quay.
BMAP (Draft) 2015 also contains proposals to connect several on-road and traffic-free local routes to NCN Route 93. Local on-road routes west of the River Lagan would run along Royal Avenue, Castle Street, Castle Place and High Street to link in with Donegall Quay.
In addition to that noted above under pedestrian facilities, Community Greenways also act as a cycle network, allowing cyclists to have a safer journey with less surrounding noise and pollution.
The NMU survey undertaken on 21 and 22 April 2010 also observed and recorded cyclist movements throughout the wider study area. This survey identified that of all the existing routes (i.e. York Street, Nelson Street, and Corporation Street) connecting North Belfast and the Docklands to the City Centre, the highest movements were recorded along Corporation Street. This would not at all be unexpected considering the proximity to NCN Route 93, availability of the road to two-way movements, and the comparatively low traffic volume. At the Corporation Street/Dock Street junction, approximately 112 cyclists were recorded moving in both directions. Cyclist movements were also recorded on York Street (particularly northbound) and none were recorded on Nelson Street.

Works to improve the area are long overdue.

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The Interchange, being situated at the edge of the City Centre, also has links to the local road network. The plans’ development for these links has been informed by the strategy and here for Belfast City Centre and the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015.

But money spent on strategic roads is money spent on cars, not bicycles!

Despite being mainly concerned with Northern Ireland’s strategic roads, cyclists have been considered in the plans. Often I see cyclists bemoaning the amounts spent on space for cars, when a fraction of that cost could pay for mile upon mile of high quality cycle network.

And they’re right. Yet these strategic roads have junctions and intersect with cyclists’ journeys. Flyovers and tunnels linking communities either side of the motorway or trunk road need to cater for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and other local motorised traffic.

On the DRD website the developers present an aerial view of the Interchange, and in the bottom right hand corner a cross section of the flyover.

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Proposed scheme

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Cross section of the flyover

The problem with the York Street flyover

DRD writes:

York Street would be raised above existing ground level as part of the works to accommodate the proposed underpasses. Two traffic signal controlled junctions would be provided at the intersection between York Street and Great George’s Street, and at the intersection of York Street and the diverge from Westlink to York Street. Existing provision for pedestrians and cyclists on York Street would be maintained as a minimum, with an expected improvement for non-motorised users at the junctions from the removal of a significant volume of traffic. Access arrangements from York Street to adjacent properties would be revised to suit its raised level.
It should be noted that the proposed changes to York Street would reintroduce two-way running of a form to provide a new bus/cycle lane in the southbound direction, from Galway House to the Inner Ring. This would be further complemented by the provision of cycle lanes in both northbound and southbound directions between the Inner Ring and Dock Street.

In bold the bits I have issues with.

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So, existing provision for pedestrians and cyclists on York Street would be maintained as a minimum. A real sense of underwhelming lack of ambition oozes from those words.

Currently, there is a pavement. And… That’s it. The improvement would be reducing the number of lanes pedestrians have to cross. As DRD continue: “an expected improvement for non-motorised users at the junctions from the removal of a significant volume of traffic.”

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Maintain, not improve

Green paint solution

It is important to realise that the project planners and engineers see a green strip of paint, or what they call an “adjacent cycle lane” as adequate.
It isn’t adequate at all. A painted line does not protect cyclists from cars, or prevent cars from straying into the cycle lane, parking there, causing cyclists to veer out onto the main carriageway.

Yet, northbound on the flyover we have no less than 4 general traffic lanes and a strip of green paint. And the two sets of northbound traffic lanes are more than the cycle lane’s width apart.
Southbound cyclists are expected to share with buses; there is no space for cycling at all.
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With so much space (over 27m from parapet to parapet) it is extraordinary the designers have not come up with a better design.

The area is the focus of much development, with the University of Ulster relocating here from Jordanstown. Planning requires parking for 200 bicycles at Frederick Street, beside the main university buildings.

Having the University of Ulster here will massively increase pedestrian and cyclist numbers in the area. The nearest station to the new campus is Yorkgate, across the Interchange.

The city centre strategy calls for part pedestrianisation of the Inner Ring, with Dunbar Link reimagined as a tree-lined pedestrian-friendly street. The square beside the Central Library will be pedestrianised and the Buoys Park will be used for outdoor events. All these locations are within sight of the York Street flyover. And of course, bikeshare docking stations will dot the area.

And despite creating these people spaces DRD are planning a flyover to deal with current car traffic levels, rather than designing for the near future where pedestrians and cyclists will dominate the local streetscape. Once the cars have been designed into the plans it will be difficult to get rid of them. It is important they reconsider now, before it’s too late.

Here’s my redesign of the flyover:

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The reduced traffic levels mean we can remove one of the northbound lanes and redistribute the space for segregated cycle paths either side, with wide buffer zones. The paths must run from Dock Street to the Inner Ring, with their own traffic lights across the Westlink off-slip and M2 slip road.

The report mentions the significant levels of cycling on Corporation Street, because of the proximity of NCN93 (even with its faults). Design this flyover right and significant numbers of cyclists will use it.

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An opportunity for a floating bus stop

A salmon is a fish commonly pictured leaping up waterfalls, swimming against the current. A salmon also refers to a cyclist going (legally) up a one way street, against the flow of traffic.

In Belfast a small number of one way streets are open to cycling in both directions.

Most famously, the Arthur Street bin lane has a 2 way track separate from the one way street.

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It has its problems, such as bins and the bits of shared space at each end where the lane crosses Chichester Street and May Street, but with some improvements this could be a very good bit of cycling infrastructure.

I am more concerned about this:

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This is University Square in South Belfast, looking east. Some years ago DRD painted a bit of the road green, creating an advisory contraflow cycle lane.

It is cheap to implement: for the price of a few cans of green and white paint DRD can tick the “created cycling infrastructure” box in their annual management review.

It’s not very good though.

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Photo 1: the parked car is blocking the lane and forces the cyclist out into the car space, against the flow of traffic.

Or you can easily imagine how a door suddenly flung open may cause a cyclist to swerve and become a KSI statistic.

Here, the cyclist must wait until the road is clear and then move out of the lane and move back in after the obstacle.

Consider this: the car occupant can safely swing open the door wide because the cycle lane acts as a buffer zone between parked cars and moving cars.

Now remind me, a cyclist is not equipped with crumple zones, so why are they made the soft padding between two steel objects?

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Photo 2. The car space is not wide enough to allow a car to overtake a stationary vehicle without entering the cycle lane.

Would the driver of the dark vehicle have stopped if I had been closer? Experience tells me motorists think cyclists coming the other way are not traffic they have to give way to.

In this case the cyclist has right of way over the dark car, because the red stationary vehicle is on the other side of the road.

Get out of Jail

The Highway Code says vehicles may only drive or park in an advisory lane when it’s unavoidable. It’s a “Get Out of Jail Card”, one of many in the Highway Code.

To enter the parking spaces the cars must cross the lane, and that is against the rule, but it also unavoidable. So you’re allowed.

Across Belfast there are numerous  advisory cycle lanes and you’ll see cars parked in them quite legally, because it is unavoidable.

Consider this: the parking space is part of the same direction of flow as the one-way street and these two sandwich a cycle lane running the other way. It’s barmy.

Another example is found off Ormeau Avenue:

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Apsley Street

The solution in both cases is so simple it is a mystery why they didn’t get it right first time. Looking at the picture of Apsley Street above, the cycle lane goes to the left of the line of parked cars. The parked cars then act as a buffer between moving cars going one way and cyclists going the other way. Like this example in Dublin.

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Belkin practicing their team time trial on Belfast's University Road

Oh, the glamour and excitement of it all. The Grande Partenza was in Belfast and despite the wet weather thousands of people cheered the riders on. It was very definitely the biggest sporting event the City has ever hosted.
Of course, there was talk of spin-off benefits for local cycling, but as the year comes to an end the Giro is a faint rosy glow, like the midday sun on a winter’s day.

Cyclesaurus dies, yet lives

The year started with a brutal killing. The Cyclesaurus, only a month before crowned worst infrastructure at the 2013 Fred Awards, was attacked by DRD assassins. When the dust cleared a new monster arose, with mutant offspring diagonally across the junction. At the 2014 Award ceremony the entire city’s cycling infrastructure received the dubious distinction of worst cycling infrastructure. It remains to be seen if DRD will tackle the whole city with such alacrity.

Just down the road, but a few decades behind

Belfast streets have some provision for cyclists; not 9 miles away Lisburn has no provision at all. The DSD’s masterplan only mentions cycling in relation to tourism. But where there is no provision the possibilities are endless.

Taking back the Square

In Belfast DSD have dreamt up plans for redevelopment of the area around Donegall Street and Shaftesbury Square. Cycling is not paid much attention, and especially the Shaftesbury Square plans need to be amended, as the square is to be included in the first phase of Belfast’s bike hire scheme as a location for 2 docking stations and is a vital link for cyclists travelling from the south to the City Centre and in the future from the Gasworks bridge towards Queen’s, City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital and vice versa.

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As a department DSD remain blind to cycling as a mode of transport and as a means to unlock our gridlocked roads. They could argue traffic isn’t their brief, but of course public realm is. Making our city’s spaces more liveable means making them pedestrian and bike friendly; making our city’s spaces a place to linger, rather than rush through by car.

Urban Clearway, don’t make laugh

Along the main thoroughfares of South Belfast the DRD dressed an attempt at traffic smoothing as a move to benefit local trade. The concept that parking is banned on one side of the road for 2 hours a day is too difficult to understand for motorists and too onerous to enforce by the parking attendants traffic wardens.

And does it work as a traffic smoothing measure? In October the Malone Road was closed during rush hour after a fatal hit-and-run RTC. Traffic ground to a standstill when parked cars on the Lisburn Road reduced the road’s capacity to take traffic from Malone Road. You’d think that DRD are giving up on these plans. No. At the time of writing the temporarily amended parking restrictions are still in force beyond the trial’s closing date.

Waterfrontshambles

Local politicians bent over backwards to accommodate the Giro, to the extent of a temporary ban along the route on election posters that disfigure our lampposts. Did they go the extra mile when NCN9 was closed for 2 years with only the scantest of notices given? No. Cyclists have to go the extra mile and cross the Lagan 3 times to access the City Centre from the south and south east of the city. It doesn’t bode well for the city’s bike hire scheme.

Belfast, Cycling Capital

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Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Cycling

At the DRD Changing Gear event in November it was pointed out that in New York their bike hire scheme followed from implementating an extensive cycling network. Belfast risks putting the cart before the horse by having a hire scheme up and running before there is any meaningful mesh of cycle tracks and lanes across the city. The move to make the City Centre a 20mph zone is the barest minimum. At least it will reduce the likelihood of a fatal consequence to an RTC involving a pedestrian or a cyclist.

A bleak November

It has been a dark year on our roads. The number of fatalities is well above that in previous years. In one day, Adam Gilmour, 8, was killed as he and his family were hit by a car on a 60mph rural road, just outside Cloughmills. Then, outside Hillsborough on the A1 a cyclist, John Flynn, 51, was hit by a lorry.

In the wake of the accident in Cloughmills arrangements have been made so Adam’s siblings are picked up by a school bus. However, the real issue of the high rate of fatal RTCs on rural roads, speeding, the lack of footpaths and cycle tracks remains unaddressed.

John Flynn’s death could have been prevented if during the most recent A1 upgrade cycling as transport was considered and given its own space. Now we have a cut-price motorway where cars travelling at a nominal 70mph limit mix with cyclists.

Positives

The Changing Gear conference was the high point of the DRD Cycling Unit’s year. It’s been a busy year for them, as they are given the brief of making Belfast the cycling capital of these islands and not much of a budget to make it so. At the Changing Gear conference it was made clear by all the speakers how far Belfast is from being a cycling capital.
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The Cycling Unit released their draft Bicycle Strategy and drew criticism for their plans for a 2-speed network across the city. Apparently “fast commuter” cyclists’ cycle provision is different to that for inexperienced occasional cyclists. Who knew?

The plans for a multi-speed cycling network may not make it to the final document. Which is good news.

#McCauslanes

More good news comes from the DoE committee meeting up on the Hill. That department’s plans for a one-tier taxi licensing system in Northern Ireland are dead in the water. The minister was told that should he present the plans to the Assembly as they are now the 2 main parties promised to vote against. This means that Belfast’s bus lanes continue to be a relatively safe haven for cyclists.

2015

But bus lanes are not safe enough! For 2015 cyclists should continue to apply pressure on our elected representatives and argue for a better deal for cyclists.

In a climate where every penny spent by Government is scrutinised it has to be pointed out that cycling delivers far greater returns for our economy and society than spending on car-centred roads. When we have little to spend, expensive white elephant schemes with dubious benefit to our economy such as the A5 dualling scheme and the Narrow Water Bridge should be ditched permanently in favour of making our city and town centres people-friendly again.

And that means stopping the tin avalanche and returning our streets to a human scale. And the new bike hire scheme can help towards that goal.
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A Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2015!

Yesterday, 9 December 2014, traffic in Belfast ground to a halt when a security alert in Lisburn closed the M1.
That was the second day of evening rush hour chaos.

Isn’t that cute? No?

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