Lisburn Road Urban Clearway

At the tail end of 2013 the Department of Regional Development started a trial to relax Urban Clearway restrictions on the main routes from the south of Belfast into the city centre. Car parking was to be allowed countrybound in the morning, and citybound in the evening. The reason for the change was to encourage local trade.

The Urban Clearway restrictions are in force citybound between 7:30 and 9:30, countrybound between 16:30 and 18:00.

So how is the trial going? Friday, 23 May 2014, 8:56. Lisburn Road citybound:

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Oh look! They got a ticket! But that doesn’t deter others.

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And why are they there?

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The driver kept the engine running and had the car in reverse gear.

You can view that whole sequence here.

Further down the road:

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Full marks to Lynas for keeping the bus lane clear. Zero marks for obstructing pedestrians. Not as if pedestrians can go on the road to bypass the HGV:

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200 metres down the road:

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We can’t forget taxi drivers:

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And our daily bread:

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Is this encouraging our local economy? Or is it inconveniencing public transport and endangering cyclists?

This trial was to run for 6 months and ends next week, at the end of May 2014. It has been a resounding failure. No doubt DRD will reinstate the previous restrictions…

Update 17 July 2014:

Chris Murphy reports that the original 6 month trial has been extended for another 6 months from the end of May 2014.

Final word

Having received no negative feedback from stakeholders the trial arrangements were made permanent at the end of the 6 month extension.

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Best of Belfast

NIGreenways offers a study tour looking at the worst of Belfast’s cycling infrastructure. The Guardian included the “Spider’s Web” from Belfast’s Harbour Estate in their list of the world’s worst cycle lanes.

Reporting on the Giro, Dutch cycle racing pundit Gio Lippens said of Belfast:

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He used “fietsen” – every day bicycle use, not “wielrennen” – road racing. Is he right?

NIGreenways lists the worst. I want to highlight what is good about cycling infrastructure in Belfast. Let’s celebrate:

1. Stranmillis Embankment;

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2. Upper Arthur Street / Alfred Street;

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3. Park Road;

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4. Victoria Street;

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5. Barrack Street (a notorious rat run closed off, kept permeable for cyclists);

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6. Castle Street (not the ASL, but the contraflow lane);

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7. Belvoir Drive (a pinch point, with bicycle bypasses either side);

Belvoir Drive

8. Saintfield Road (cyclists on shared use path are given own lane and priority over traffic on side road – apologies for the shaky picture);

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9. Translink trains

20140225_131228 Train

“So what”, I hear you say, “a bike on a train…” It’s the strap holding the bike upright. These are the little things that make cycling in and around Belfast better.

All of the above can be improved. There are plenty of things wrong with what I have shown. But it’s a start, all of this wasn’t here when I arrived in the early ’90s. Let’s encourage our politicians and the Department of Regional Development to keep going and put in more good cycling infrastructure.

(The Lagan Towpath, Comber Greenway, Sam Thompson Bridge and so on are excluded because they are all shared use.)

When the Giro moves on

I really do hope I am wrong about my next statement: the Giro won’t bring a lasting legacy for cycling. It won’t normalise cycling. It won’t make cycling any more accessible or raise cycling’s modal share. It won’t address the fact that in Belfast male cyclists outnumber female cyclists by 6 to 1.

The Giro will reinforce cycling’s image as male-dominated, fast and furious, hot and sweaty, clad in lycra. Local shops cater very well for this market.

The real game changer -I believe- will be the NSL-run public bike hire, which will have 300 bicycles available from 30 docking stations in the first phase.

The system will roll out in the autumn of 2014 and be operational in the spring of 2015. Once it is up and running people will see cyclists in normal clothes, shopping, sightseeing or using bikes to get to or from work. They won’t have helmets or hi-viz.

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For the first time in Belfast people will see “fietsers”, bicycle users, in great numbers. And seeing people using bikes casually will, I hope, encourage more people to dust off their bikes, pump up the tyres and use their bicycle for day to day transport.

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Via @byebyethecheese, a bicycle user

And then these new bicycle users discover that their road racing bike isn’t up to the job of commuting, shopping and taking children to school. It lacks any kind of commuting necessity: lights, hub dynamo, an integral lock, a stand, mudguards, a luggage rack with straps, an enclosed chain, a comfy saddle or swept back handle bars. All included when you buy the bike. They want something like this:

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@nigreenways' bike

And if they have children they might want one of these:

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But then they find buying one of these great machines is almost impossible in Northern Ireland. We went to Greenaer in Dublin, after trying one out in Amsterdam.

Belfast is crying out for a shop that sells normal bikes. Or an existing shop to take the plunge and cater for these new bicycle users. I’d like to see a shop that isn’t into carbon fibre, energy gels or lycra. I’d love to talk to a salesperson who isn’t fussed that including a lock will add a couple of gram to the overall weight; who isn’t surprised you cycle your new bike home; and knows not to take off the wheel to fix a puncture. A bike shop that sells practical rain gear.

Every silver lining…

The main problems I foresee with the Scheme are:

Taxis being allowed into bus lanes. In the absence of decent cycling infrastructure Belfast cyclists must make do with bus lanes. The relative safety the bus lanes offer will be shattered as this video from Dublin shows.

The lack of cycling infrastructure. I already mentioned making do with bus lanes. I posted the following a while back. How do similar sized Belfast and Utrecht compare with regards to cycling infrastructure. It’s actually embarrassing. Belfast city councillors, DRD staff from the cycling unit, “cycling” minister Danny Kennedy need to go to Utrecht and see how it’s done properly.

And of course in the year of the Giro and the introduction of the hire scheme the NCN9 past the Waterfront Hall is closed without offering cyclists and pedestrians adequate alternatives.

Finally, will the hire scheme address the gender imbalance? Evidence from London says it won’t significantly alter. In London 4/5ths of Boris Bike users are male. Nigreenways tackles the issue of cycling equality, or lack of it.

Addressing road safety by building cycle tracks separated from motor transport, countering cycling’s MAMIL reputation and changing cycling from a leisure activity to a form of every day transport will be far bigger factors in persuading women to use bicycles. And increase numbers of bicycle users overall.

It is somewhat ironic that women do not use bicycles these days, because it was the bicycle that gave women in the late 1800s the freedom to travel and spread radical ideas like emancipation and universal suffrage.

Utrecht doesn’t have a Bike Hire Scheme but Seville does. And having also constructed 80 miles of cycle tracks the number of cycle journeys in the Spanish city went from 5000 to 72000 a day; an increase in modal share from 0.5 to ~7%. One worries that Spain’s new helmet laws will dent these figures, but many municipalities including Seville have chosen to ignore mandatory helmets and merely recommend their use.

As a major tourist destination Belfast is ideally placed to repeat Seville’s succesful scheme, provided DRD’s plans for a city-wide network of cycle lanes and paths are realised.