M25 closed for 2 years from next week

Imagine that headline on the front page of the Telegraph. Someone from a council decides to close the Motorway because building work adjacent to it would affect the Health and Safety of motorists. And to add insult to injury the council suggests you use local country lanes to get around the blockage.

Can you see it happen? No. Because there are rules for such things. But if you are a cyclist you are faced with this sort of rubbish.

Here is the announcement that the Waterfront Hall will be extended. Note this is dated 3 February 2014. Work is scheduled to start at the end of April.

At the time I wondered if the work would affect the NCN9’s users. So in February I explored the alternatives. I use the NCN to cycle from Edenderry to Belfast City Airport. Instead of passing the Waterfront I crossed the Lagan via the Albert Bridge and took the Laganside “Walkway” on the eastern side past the area where the Scirocco works stood. At its end, at Queen’s Bridge, I went straight across the 4-lane road -easily, because it was 5:30am- and then using the pavements and pedestrian crossings to join Queen’s Quay and Sydenham Road.
I had a flat tyre. The eastern “Walkway” is glassy and on the return journey (having fixed the puncture) I took the railway bridge crossing to avoid a large group of youths drinking and shouting abuse. With the diversion in place, cycling is now not allowed on the railway bridge path.

A couple of days before the scheduled start of the works the alternatives were announced by Belfast City Council:


Essentially 2 options: one across a pedestrian-only plaza, or using the eastern “Walkway”.

If you commute from the east or southeast and cross the Lagan by the Albert Bridge and enter the City Centre at Ann Street, you could potentially end up crossing the Lagan three times.

There is the circuitous route over the Short Strand/Albertbridge Road/Ravenhill Road junction using pedestrian crossings to access the Walkway to consider. This needs to be made safe for users of the Walkway. This junction should be made safe for pedestrians and cyclists regardless of the work at the Waterfront.

Also, the pavement on Queen’s Bridge is too narrow for shared use. And it’s illegal to cycle on the pavement. On the diverted NCN9 “Cyclists Dismount” signs abound.


Sustrans are pressing for a Toucan crossing to allow “Walkway” users to cross Bridge End, roughly where NIGreenways took the above photo, and rejoin NCN9 after a westward crossing of the east-bound Queen Elizabeth Bridge.
The Sustrans proposal doesn’t join the dots very well. Whilst pedestrians will appreciate the set of lights, cyclists are sent out of their way (unless they choose to dismount)

There is a brand new cycle lane in Ann Street. My suggestion to Sustrans was to press for the left most lane on Queen’s Bridge to be divided by temporary concrete partitions for the exclusive use of citybound cyclists. Something like this (courtesy of Mark Wagenbuur):


At the junction with Oxford Street the lights would need some adaptation to allow cyclists to turn right to continue on NCN9 northbound, and straight ahead to Ann Street. But, of course, that is taking away space from cars, and creating space for cycling. They’d never do that.

Pressing for separate facilities for pedestrians and cyclists goes against Sustrans ingrained practice. The poor alternatives offered by Belfast City Council are only slightly improved by the Sustrans suggestions.

The communication between City Council and Sustrans is lamentable:


The plans were out there since 30 January. Had the Council and Sustrans talked then the proposed diversions could have been a lot better.

Belfast is hosting the Giro d’Italia, but local cyclists are treated as an afterthought; even the diversion leaflet talks throughout of the “Walkway”. The council and devolved government are bending over backwards to accommodate the race, to the extent of banning election posters along the route. Miraculously the ban has been observed by local political parties, with a few exceptions such as here at Stranmillis:

If Belfast City Council can so easily forget about local cyclists whilst hosting a cycling race, then what will happen to the Giro legacy? Great for tourism, but same old rubbish for cyclists?

Further reading:


How Fracking made me a Green

In 1997 my personal politics took a decisive turn towards the Green Party. In October of that year I spent a few weeks on my uncle Peter and late aunt Cathy’s farm in rural Alberta, Canada.

Their farm was outside a small settlement, at a railway crossing. Endless goods trains with pipes for a new pipeline were headed out towards the oil sands in the north east.

Farming was no longer the big earner and on his land Peter was proud to show me his latest tenant: a small fenced off area with a gas pumping station. The soil underneath the farm was full of gas, he proudly announced. I’ll show you, he said. He took me to the water borehole in the basement. The gas collects at the head of the pump and you can light it. He lit it.

My aunt complained about having to get water from the nearest town as their water from their own well was no longer drinkable. It had gone too salty. It was great for your skin, though.

A trip took us to Drumheller and all around were the signs of shale oil exploitation. That dark band over there, my uncle said with a joyful spark in his eyes, pointing at a level in the bad lands landscape, is oil.

In my head the simple puzzle fell together. Exploitation of shallow deposits of shale oil and gas, no drinking water, bad lands and the end of farming.