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:

 

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This picture is a bit outdated, because it does not show the part-time bus lane.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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Sowing the seeds of change…

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