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.
image

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.

image

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.

image

Proposed scheme

image

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.

image

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.”

image

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.
image

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:

image

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.

image

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.

image

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:

image

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.

image

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?

image

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:

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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.
image

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.
image

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?

image

On a wet and murky morning, just outside a village in Northern Ireland a mum and her 6 children, walking to school, were struck by a car. Adam Gilmour, age 8, died of his injuries.

It is too early to speculate how the driver failed to see and avoid the group of people in front of them.

Another statistic. Another life, number 69. Recriminations flying. Why is there no school bus? A local MLA, prompted by the mother 3 weeks ago, sought a meeting with the Northern Education and Library Board. A bit late now.

What kind of society do we live in where we require anyone, let alone a young family, to walk along a country road with a 60 mph speed limit to get to the nearest school?

Our roads need to be redesigned urgently. The interests of pedestrians must come first. We are all pedestrians. And if we do not rethink our roads we could all be the next Adam Gilmour.

May he rest in peace and his life not be wasted.

Within 24 hours of Adam’s death another person lay dead on our tarmac. On the A1, near Hillsborough, cyclist John Flynn was killed in a collision with a lorry…

If you have this:

image

Wexford, Ireland

And do this:

image

The consequence isn’t this:

image

Good infrastructure is planned and built in such a way that a poor decision by any traffic participant does not have a fatal consequence.

The School Run. How inappropriate is that phrase?! Nobody is on foot and nobody is going anywhere fast.

Almost a quarter of rush hour traffic consists of parents dropping off children at school. Most parents claim it is dangerous traffic conditions that prevent their going to school on foot or by bike. Going on foot or by bicycle is something the parents did when they were young.

image

Sustrans run events at schools and claim a great increase in cycling and walking. They get a great response locally and highlight the alternative to the car for the school run. But. The Dutch would call this “een druppel op een gloeiende plaat”, a drop on a white hot griddle.

St John the Baptist PS on Finaghy Road North are currently taking part in a Sustrans scheme, as have other schools in South Belfast. Yet judging by the hopelessly gridlocked traffic on Finaghy Road North the scheme is not working well enough. Perhaps participation in a scheme is part of the answer, not the whole answer.

When parents are conditioned to think car equals safety and convenience no one is going to be persuaded otherwise. Many see driving a car as their right. (It isn’t; it is a privilege.) Some people won’t be persuaded however juicy the carrot.

Clearly carrots alone don’t work. We need a stick.

Over breakfast, after yet another near miss the previous day, Olivia remarked how they should just close the streets to cars and HGV for 15 minutes to enable parents and children to walk and cycle to school.

The ink was barely dry on my blog about the school run in Finaghy and Edinburgh go and do this. At first the council only agreed a pilot at 5 schools, but parent pressure encouraged a bolder implementation at 11 schools. Some say it’s not bold enough.

School runs are typically short (less than 2 miles) and are much more efficiently covered by bicycle or on foot. If it becomes clear you can’t drop junior off at the school gate and have to walk the last 400 metres and back to your parked car you might as well walk all the way.

This can be done in Belfast. And should be done everywhere. The prize is a huge reduction in congestion and more children and parents being physically active on a daily basis. What’s not to like?

It will upset some people. A parent at my daughter’s school said I should “get a car”. Like everyone else. My guess is that she is in a minority, and most parents would gladly not sit in a traffic jam.

Olivia adds: when due to a recent fatal collision the Malone Road in Belfast was closed, traffic ground to a standstill across South Belfast. When no buses appeared, because they were stuck in traffic, hundreds of people walked down to the City Centre. Many walked three miles and more. And the weather wasn’t great.
It shows that people can be persuaded to walk (and walk great distances) if they are not given another option.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.