Cycling: who exactly is responsible?

In my letter to Attwood I made an elementary mistake. I thought he was responsible for cycling. He isn’t and he is.

At present cycling in Northern Ireland is the responsibility of at least 6 Northern Ireland Executive ministers.

Yes. SIX. I know you don’t believe me…

I am watching TV, feel the effects of too many pies. There is an advert from the Public Health Agency. Go cycling!

The Public Health Agency is part of the Department of Health. Edwin Poots is the responsible minister (soon to be replaced by Jim Wells).

I get out the boneshaker, oil the chain and set off down the Lagan Towpath. The path is entirely within the Lagan Valley Regional Park. I leisurely ride along and enjoy the experience.

The Lagan Towpath is administered by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. They, for instance, are responsible for replacing the narrow footbridge at Drumbeg with a wider, wheelchair accessible one (for which they don’t have money).

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is run by Carál Ní Chuilín.

The experience of cycling down the Towpath got me contemplating my commute. I could cycle. It is very do-able 5 miles.

I set off on a Monday morning. It is scary out there! Drivers fail to notice me; they speed. I must buy a jacket with reflective panels, lights and an Airzound. Now they will notice me. I hope.

The minister in charge of Road Safety is Alex Attwood, Environment Minister, photographed cycling at the opening of the Newtownabbey Way.

On my way to work I try and use Advisory Cycle Lanes and Bus Lanes. I find they are blocked by parked cars and elsewhere used by impatient motorists. I read the paper and see that taxi drivers want access to bus lanes too. Who’s in charge?

The minister for Regional Development, Danny Kennedy.

He also is the minister with the biggest transport-related budget. He intends to spend practically all of it on two road projects. Pedestrians and cyclists have to make do with 0.003% of that budget. That is not a typo.

Because he is Mr Transport Moneybags the press refer to him, incorrectly, as the Transport Minister.

Oh well. Things will improve. There are urban plans that set out where we will live, work and how we get from A to B in decades to come. Nelson McCausland at the Department of Social Development does all that. You look up the Lisburn Masterplan and your heart sinks. The Masterplan only recognises the leisure cyclist who will go to Lisburn as a tourist.

Cycle tourism, as an aside, is promoted by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, funded by Arlene Foster‘s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

With so many departments and ministers is it any wonder cycling policy is fragmented?

Everyone is responsible, and no one is responsible. Cycling is at the bottom of everyone’s list.

Motorised road traffic is similarly fragmented, but at least has the lion’s share of attention and money in the DRD budget.

There are two ways around this fragmentation. Move all transport issues into one Department for Transport. Or, set up a separate Transport Agency who work with the existing rogues’ gallery of ministers to deliver transport objectives.


NI Greenways (@nigreenways) tweeted at 0:44 PM on Mon, Oct 29, 2012:
@StripyMoggie turns out DARD is responsible for developing MTB tracks and #cycling on forest trails!

Ross McGill (@RosspMcGill) tweeted at 0:57 PM on Mon, Oct 29, 2012:
@nigreenways @StripyMoggie then there’s translink who are resp. for parking, access on trains and links to stations!

(Translink are wholly owned by the government.)

Lisburn Masterplan (for car drivers only)

This is Lisburn:


Note the acres of tarmac. See the cars. Feel sorry for the cyclist trying to get to the “cycle box” and exiting this hell in one piece.

Many towns have ramparts, bulwarks and defensive earthworks to prevent enemies reaching the town centre.

Lisburn doesn’t need such medieval defences. It has a road system that defeats the weary and kills the unsuspecting.

I have tweeted about the barrier before:




But despair ye not! There is a plan: The Lisburn Masterplan or for the grown-up versions

Nelson McCausland, DSD Minister (stay with it, it is too confusing for me too) is responsible for reshaping this tangle of roads and turning Lisburn into a destination.

For people in cars, who get out and walk.

The Masterplan only mentions cycling once, in a reference to the leisure visitor who arrives by bicycle.

The cycling commuter, the children cycling to school, ignored and forgotten.

A big oversight. How sad. Another missed opportunity. Lisburn, despite its lofty futuristic ambitions, remains firmly wedded to that 20th century town-eating monster, the car.

Letter to Alex Attwood, Environment Minister

Dear Mr Attwood,

I am grateful you attended the official opening of National Cycle Network 93 in Newtownabbey by bike. It is great to see the Minister with responsibility for Road Safety use a bicycle in public.

(May I be so bold and suggest leaving your tie in the pannier next time, or clip it securely to your shirt?)

However, your presence also points to a glaring hole in the Executive’s Transport Policy. In Northern Ireland a disproportionate amount of money is spent on providing infrastructure for cars. This is from the WWF.

The WWF point out that “looking at the proposed capital spend in 2013/14 £387.4 million is allocated for roads and only £13.3 million on ‘transport’ – an approximate split of 96% of spending on roads with approximately 4% on remaining transport options.”

Cycling gets a very small amount of money. Sustrans point out “Active travel (walking and cycling) has received only 0.003% of the total transport budget of £1285m.”

The money allocated to cycling infrastructure pays quite literally for a couple of pots of paint and a few road signs, and it shows!

Delivering cycling infrastructure has been devolved to organisations like Sustrans, an NGO which has to compete with other charities for an ever-decreasing pot of funding.

Here is a picture of the Lisburn Road, outside the Tesco store:



This picture is a bit outdated, because it does not show the part-time bus lane. There is no space for cyclists.

Here is a very similar road in Eindhoven, the Netherlands:


There is NO bus lane. However, there are dedicated segregated cycle lanes either side of the road, on the pavement side of the lines of parked cars. In the Netherlands it is considered poor practice to mix buses and bicycles. You can in an idle moment go for a “drive” further towards the city centre of Eindhoven and notice that there are segregated bus lanes:


So, from left to right: footpath, two-way cycle lanes, one-way southbound gyratory road (the northbound road is on the other side of the shopping centre on the right), two way bus lane, one-way cycle lane (northbound) and footpath.

Compare this to a similar road in Belfast:


I could repeat this ad nauseam.

What becomes clear is that Northern Ireland roads are built for cars, and very little thought is given to other forms of transport. Cycling provision is an afterthought; a wee man with a pot of paint drawing bicycles on the roads.

The Advance Stop Lines (as shown in the final picture) are routinely ignored by car drivers and I find myself jostling for space with taxis, buses, white vans and school-run mums in their Malone Tractors. Police turn a blind eye. Worse: they encroach into the cycle box themselves!

Our newspapers are full of car drivers and traders complaining about the City Centre bus lanes but they fail to see that they, the car drivers, are causing the congestion; not the bus lanes or the “road works”.

Belfast needs a sustainable transport system that encourages people to leave the cars at home and make their way into the City on foot, by bike, by bus or other forms of mass transit. Sustrans and other NGOs are not able to deliver road infrastructure fit for the 21st Century on their own.

The vision and leadership has to come from the NI Executive and the politicians in Stormont. You and your colleague at DRD, Danny Kennedy!

However, when the Chair of the DRD Committee refers to cyclists as red light jumpers one suspects the Executive is not serious about anything other than promoting the failed transport policies of the last 5 decades. These policies have led to our congested streets, creaking public transport and non-existent cycle lanes.

I hope that you tasted a little bit of the future on the Newtownabbey Way, and will make sustainable active travel a central part of DOE and DRD policy.

Update 7/11/2012:

The “Transport” Minister responds:


Sowing the seeds of change…

Breastfeeding in Northern Ireland

Today UNICEF released a report about breastfeeding in the UK. The Belfast Telegraph reports: “Breastfeeding boom ‘could save NHS £40m a year'” I quickly recognised the figures used in the report are UK figures. Local percentages in uptake and continuing breastfeeding past the first week are much lower.
Firstly, the picture with the breastfeeding article isn’t very realistic. It is impossibly glamourous. You don’t have to take your clothes off to feed your baby. Special clothing allows a woman to breastfeed in most public settings without causing others to choke on their coffees and cakes.
What is astonishing is that breastfeeding in public causes offence at all. Despite Malone House, a Belfast City Council run venue, advertising itself as a place where breastfeeding is welcomed, my wife was made to feel unwelcome by other patrons. She was very aware of their stares and whispered comments.
As with cycling, Northern Ireland urgently requires legislation to help change entrenched attitudes. We need legislation to protect women who have to breastfeed in a public place. Unlike elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Northern Irish women can be asked to stop feeding baby in public. In England they can only be asked to stop if they endanger themselves and their baby being where they are.
Under employment equality legislation a woman cannot be refused a space to breastfeed, or express breastmilk. The legislation outside the work place is vague.
To illustrate the attitude towards breastfeeding:
My wife reports time after time that women in 50+ age group who are most disapproving of breastfeeding in a public space.
Speaking to staff at RJMH, one nurse recounted how she had spent a long time with a mum to try and establish breastfeeding, only to be undermined by the grandmother saying, “Ah sure, the child is hungry; give it a bottle”.
Another young mum was visibly uncomfortable with other mums in the ward expressing breastmilk and breastfeeding their babies.
Nursing staff at RJMH are broadly supportive of breastfeeding and can offer valuable advice. However due to cost considerations women and newborns are discharged quickly. This means women are not confident to try, or continue breastfeeding in the face of cultural and commercial pressure to switch to formula.
With such a strong culture of not breastfeeding it comes as no surprise Northern Ireland is bottom of the class for breastfeeding. Here is a recent survey. The UK is already at the bottom end, but it is the English who raise the average.



Because breastfeeding is seen as a women’s issue our male politicians have to date failed to deliver legislation to support breastfeeding. When I have contacted MLAs and MPs about breastfeeding only Naomi Long, Alliance MP for East Belfast responded positively, pointing me in the direction of the Breastfeeding Strategy.
Disappointingly, legislation is a “long-term” aim.
Far from being a women’s issue, breastfeeding is beneficial to all babies, so breastfeeding should be treated as a public health issue. Edwin Poots, Minister for Health in Northern Ireland needs to take a lead on introducing measures to increase breastfeeding awareness and uptake.
Given Mr Poots’ inability to govern without his personal views and prejudices clouding his decision-making I doubt he will take a lead on encouraging breastfeeding. I suspect he has deep-seated anxieties about boobs. Just as in the Marie Stopes controversy he might even call the police to deal with breastfeeding mums.

Sleeping policemen

I dislike speedbumps. When I am on the hybrid I can cycle over them like a 4×4.

Therein lies the problem. When 4x4s, SUVs or Malone Tractors can drive over a speed bump without slowing down then the Roads Service need to look at alternatives.

Here’s an alternative (Belvoir Drive, Belfast):


Motorised traffic is reduced to a single lane, with citybound traffic yielding to countrybound.
Cyclists can pass on either side, and pedestrians only need to cross one lane of traffic.

Now if Castlereagh Council actually swept the cycle lanes it could almost be perfect.

Marie Stopes Clinic opens in Belfast – my view

In last night’s US Vice-Presidential debate Joe Biden said this:

“My religion defines who I am. I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has informed my social doctrine, which is about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves. With regard to abortion, I accept my churches position on abortion. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor.”

I cannot put it better myself. It incidentally shows the lack of moral leadership from the local Northern Irish politicians on this issue.

Open letter to Lagan Valley MLAs

To whom it may concern,

Last week I read through the 2011 PSNI Annual Report on road traffic injuries. Rather worryingly the number of injuries and deaths to “pedal cyclists” has increased dramatically from 2010 to 2011. Last year 255 casualties were reported, against 214 the year before, an increase of 20%. The baseline average for the years previous is 181. Lisburn policing district is also the most dangerous place for any form of traffic, with most Road Traffic Collisions being reported there.

Further analysis by NIGreenways has revealed that the rise in casualties
cannot be solely attributed to an increased uptake in cycling. One would expect the absolute numbers of casualties to increase in line with increased uptake. Ideally, the number of casualties should decrease as increased numbers of cyclists forces drivers to be more careful (critical mass). However, local statistics suggest that the casualties per person, per mile have also increased. The conclusion is that cycling in the past few years has become more dangerous in Northern Ireland.

This worrying trend needs to be addressed urgently. There are people’s lives at stake.

I am a dad of two. I take my daughter to school on my bike and continue to my place of work also on my bicycle. I am committed to a healthy, low-impact lifestyle, but I fear that my cycling puts me in increased danger, and the impact on me will be fatal. On my ~5 mile school run and commute (from Edenderry at the edge of Lagan Valley constituency to Belfast City Hospital, by way of Cranmore IPS in Finaghy) I encounter no dedicated cycle lanes, having to share with pedestrians or buses, taxis and motorcycles.

Advanced stop lines, put there to protect cyclists, are routinely ignored by drivers. Also lane restrictions during the morning rush hour are brazenly flouted by, especially, private hire vehicles and delivery vans. I have forwarded these (and other) images to the Police Service and I have publicized them, including license plate numbers, on social networks in an effort to name and shame.



Northern Ireland seriously lags behind in providing for infrastructure for cyclists. The expenditure on cycling in the total Northern Ireland roads budget is 0.16%. Yet cycling makes up 1 to 3% of road traffic. While the NI Executive pays lip service to increasing cycling and other forms of sustainable transport, it is spending most to accommodate more private motor cars on our roads. The increase in casualties and the gap in funding cannot be a coincidence.

I want to urge you to ask the minister responsible for roads what he intends to do about the worrying upward trend in cyclists’ casualty rates; and what he intends to do to increase uptake of cycling.

I also want to ask you what you personally intend to do for cyclists in Lagan Valley.

I want to urge you to press the Executive that they should put their name to the Times Cyclesafe Manifesto (see below). The manifesto’s implementation should impact the casualty rate in a positive way.

The Times is committed to achieving its eight point manifesto calling for cities to be made fit for cyclists.

1. Lorries entering a city centre should be required by law to fit sensors, audible turning alarms, extra mirrors and safety bars to stop cyclists being thrown under the wheels.

2. The 500 most dangerous road junctions must be identified, redesigned or fitted with priority traffic lights for cyclists and Trixi mirrors that allow lorry drivers to see cyclists on their near-side.

3. A national audit of cycling to find out how many people cycle in Britain and how cyclists are killed or injured should be held to underpin effective cycle safety.

4. Two per cent of the Highways Agency budget should be earmarked for next generation cycle routes, providing £100 million a year towards world-class cycling infrastructure. Each year cities should be graded on the quality of cycling provision.

5. The training of cyclists and drivers must improve and cycle safety should become a core part of the driving test.

6. 20mph should become the default speed limit in residential areas where there are no cycle lanes.

7. Businesses should be invited to sponsor cycleways and cycling super-highways, mirroring the Barclays-backed bicycle hire scheme in London.

8. Every city, even those without an elected mayor, should appoint a cycling commissioner to push home reforms.

I very much look forward to your response.

Kind regards,


Borghert Jan Borghmans

8 October,Trevor Lunn (All) responds:

“Speaking as someone who returned to cycling after a gap of around 40 years I have every sympathy with your views and I will do what I can to encourage the improvements you suggest. I was extremely surprised at how dangerous it has become, even allowing for the fact that in the 60’s we didn’t regard anything as dangerous!”

Update: 12/10/2012 Paul Givan MLA (DUP) responds saying he’s taking up my concerns with DRD. (They’ll explain to him what a bicycle is and bury him under a load of waffle.)

Postcode Care, part 2

So we kept our heads low. When finally the RJMH seemed determined to send us up the Newtownards Road to the Ulster, we rang ahead to find out about their Special Care Baby Unit.

The Ulster Hospital nurse laughed at us. They were full to capacity. Had been for weeks, would continue to be for the next few weeks. We weren’t going anywhere.

We did go somewhere: we went home.

We always understood that the aftercare would be with the Ulster, so RJMH sent them a letter to inform them we were out. In due course we would get an appointment with the baby clinic at the Ulster.

Three weeks later we still receive our aftercare from RJMH.

It is not as if the Belfast Trust is out of pocket for our daughter’s care. All costs are borne by the South Eastern Trust. Regardless of whether that care was at the Ulster, the Royal or in, say, Amsterdam.

It all adds to the initial feeling that moving a patient because of their postcode is a bit of a nonsense.