People often forget my Northern Irish roots. There is some truth in saying you can fire a gun in Newtownards main shopping street and you are bound to hit someone who is related to me. My links to Lisburn are more straightforward.
As the Japanese swept across South East Asia in 1942 and sank British ships off the coast of Ceylon the British army called young men to arms. Many in British India signed up willingly, but some chose not to serve. If you were born in Ireland you could avoid being sent to the Burmese jungle. And many claimed an Irish heritage. By the time they called up my grandfather, so the story goes, the recruitment officer had heard so many jokers claim their crib stood in Ireland he didn’t believe my grandfather was born in Ballymacash, Lisburn in 1916. He served, survived and returned to civilian life as a missionary in newly independent Pakistan. For a decade he lived and served in a small town outside Islamabad that no one had heard of until US special forces raided a villa there and killed one Osama Bin Laden.
Also, I live in Lisburn. The Royal Mail disagrees and has put us in Belfast, County Antrim, which is doubly wrong. We can see County Antrim from our front door, but we most definitely live in County Down.
So, having established my credentials as someone living in Lisburn and a pedant we can get to the meat of this blog.
Improving Lisburn for active travel
Previously I have complained about the poor cycling infrastructure in Lisburn. There is no point in moaning if you cannot think of ways to improve the place.
A study of medium sized cities across Europe (by which the researchers from Cardiff mean a population between 100,000 and 500,000) has found that if you a) discourage car use, b) build bike lanes and c) subsidise public transport use of bicycles and public transport increase. Or more succinctly: “build it and they will come”. GDP correlates with car ownership and use, meaning higher earners drive more. Although GDP is, as NIGreenways points out, also related to cycling uptake. So not only do wealthy people drive more they also own bikes and use them.
Lisburn councillor Alexander Redpath of the UUP proposed cutting car park charges and increase car parking to revitalise the ailing town centre. He joins a loud-mouthed throng of politicians, a fashion retail guru and small traders who grossly overstate the importance of car access to the success of shops. “Research by Sustrans in a Bristol retail centre showed that 55% of shoppers walked to the shops, 6% cycled, 13% came by bus and 22% drove. However, shop owners significantly overestimated the numbers of those coming by car – they estimated that car users were 41% of the shoppers.” says the Campaign for Better Transport (link above).
Redpath fails to understand that allowing more cars into the town centre is detrimental to the town. And it isn’t as if Lisburn is poorly provided for with car parking spaces. Every inch of space that isn’t a building or a road is a car park. And some of these, notably at the Island Centre, are free.
Making shopping in Lisburn town centre a pleasant experience will help, though. The walk from Graham Gardens multistorey to Bow Street is depressing; the Bow Street businesses have their backs turned, fortified with high walls with spikes on top. Some welcome.
Increasing pedestrianised areas where people can spend their leisure time, and do more than just shopping has been recognised as being of key importance. The DSD Lisburn Masterplan builds on this vision, but to date precious little of it has been achieved.
Removal of this sign will send out an encouraging message to people who do not use cars to access Lisburn town centre. It should be replaced with a sign directing cyclists to the nearest bike racks.
Cycling in Northern Ireland makes up a tiny percentage of traffic . It is virtually non-existent west of the River Bann. So why should traders make it easier for cyclists? Or pedestrians?
Lisburn’s topography actively discourages any mode of transport other than car use. The design of the one-way system’s junctions and the poor provision for pedestrians around the town centre exacerbate the centre’s lack of attraction to visitors. The town centre is an island cut off from the residential areas by fastflowing streams of traffic. [Added 27/3/14 and amended 29/3/14: On Wednesday, 26/3/14 a 6 year old boy was knocked down on Railway Street (part of the town centre’s one-way system) and was admitted to Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital where he later died. His twin brother was also injured.]
Taken from the Lisburn Masterplan, page 107 (pdf)
A picture starts emerging of a town centre that has provided so well for cars it has ceased to be a destination, even for those in cars.
The Masterplan is full of good intentions, and some proposals are very good. The aforementioned area where Bow Street has turned its back (the McKeown Street/Graham Gardens area) is subject to a makeover. However, it is still written with the car driver in mind, and additionally to developing the Graham Gardens area for more pleasant retail/leisure, car parking provision is expected to increase by adding a deck to the multistorey providing an additional 72 spaces. So we get pleasant retail with a view of a very unpleasant car park.
Littered throughout the plan are proposals for multistoreys; two virtually surrounding the chocolate-box nostalgic station building with its distinctive GNR(I)-coloured bricks. The Masterplan suggests 640 spaces are up for grabs, the bulk of which make up the Lisburn Park and Ride facility, effectively attracting 450 or so cars into the town centre in order for their drivers to go off to Belfast by train and spend their money there.
Would a Park and Ride facility for commuters at the presently mothballed Knockmore halt in the midst of an industrial area not make more sense and keep these additional cars out of the town centre?
Lisburn, the gambling addict
Having gambled on cars and lost, Lisburn, like a gambling addict, continues to gamble on cars. Maybe it is time for a new direction, and start conveniencing those who arrive by means other than cars? I am always struck by the bravery of the people who wish to shop in Lisburn and who decide to walk from their house outside the town centre. Coming from the west pedestrians need to cross the Longstone Street gyratory, a fast-flowing circle of traffic. It has no provision for cyclists on the gyratory itself (I do not rate Advanced Stop Lines as cycling infrastructure and agree with NIGreenways they are useless).
The entire arc of A-roads around the south of the centre from Seymour Street in the east to Thiepval Road in the west needs to be looked at in great detail and make it less of a barrier. The Masterplan, though recognising the issue, does not wholly explain how traffic will be discouraged from using these roads, and providing for more parking space within the arc will not do much to lessen the deadening effect of these roads on the town centre.
There is a glimmer of hope in the proposals for the Laganbank site around the bridge at Sloan Street. Plans for a hotel, residential development and some commercial space will perhaps also include plans to turn the adjacent roads into an altogether more pleasant space. I do have an interesting idea (I didn’t, but saw it on the Internet) on how to improve that particular corner of Lisburn and put the town on the map in terms of cycling infrastructure.
More of that in part 2.