NI Bicycle Strategy (draft)

On 27 August 2014 the Department of Regional Development’s Cycling Unit released its draft Bicycle Strategy. The Cycling Unit are open to suggestions and amendments to the document. Contact them at cycling.unit@drdni.gov.uk

Having read it I am fairly positive. There is official recognition that there is a need for proper cycling infrastructure, especially in Belfast and that the current infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired.

They understand that cyclists include people who work, go to school, go shopping, visit their GP or are just going for a “wee ride”. These cyclists are of all ages and abilities.

The current infrastructure is designed for hardened vehicular cyclists who cycle as if they are a car. (They probable even make car noises as they rush about.) There are few concessions to cyclists, and non-cyclists are put off taking up cycling because of their perception cycling on our roads is dangerous. No amount of training, awareness campaigns and patronising safety advice has altered that state of affairs. The percentage share of cyclists remains stubbornly stuck in single figures.

The vision is for a joined up network of high standard cycle routes along arterials, quietways, 20mph zones and greenways. It is recognised that local amenities have to be accessible. There is to be joined-up thinking with buses and trains. These routes will give cyclists confidence they can get from A to B in safety.

All of this will be based on best practice from our neighbours within the UK and Europe.

This is a breath of fresh air.

But.

image

This table has raised cyclists’ hackles. On my usual commute I am a very “Fast Commuter”. I know the roads, the lights, most drivers are familiar with me and I with them. You see the same drivers, pedestrians and cyclists at the same time each day. If my journey goes elsewhere, covering unfamiliar routes, I am slower and if I am pulling a trailer or on the Cargobike I go slower still. According to this table I might be classed as an inexperienced leisure cyclist on such trips. What I do want is a confidence-inspiring safe network I can use whatever the circumstance or conditions.

The table has been adapted from the English Department for Transport, published in 2007.

Firstly, if we want to look at best practice we should not look to England 7 years ago. It would better to hold them up as an example of how not to implement a cycling strategy.

Every cyclist has different needs, based on their particular circumstances. And designing a network to meet everyone’s needs is impossible. You’d think.

This is exactly what is being achieved in municipalities across north west Europe. One joined-up network that encourages children to cycle to school, OAPs on e-bikes out for a trip to the shop, commuters and leisure cyclists in lycra or every day clothes. There are no obstacles to people with disabilities, using hand cycles or tricycles using high quality cycle lanes.

Where the document is going, though not explicitly stated in the text, but heavily hinted by the inclusion of the table is the design of a network based on cyclists’ competence. The cyclists’ differing needs will be considered on a scheme by scheme basis. The Cycling Unit will need to clarify this before the final version is released.

If you have a main arterial route, favoured by fast commuters, such as the Lisburn Road, does that mean any proposed schemes will only cater for fast commuters? What about school children on their way to St. Bride’s travelling the same route?
image

So.

The draft is a good start, with room for improvement.

The Cycling Unit want your response. Here’s my letter to the Cycling Unit:

First of all I want to congratulate you on publishing your Bicycle Strategy document. It is a breath of fresh air to see a government department address cycling as a means of transport.There are many good words in it: a recognition that cyclists are people from all walks of life and all stages in life; a commitment to deliver a cycling culture in Northern Ireland.
It is not all good news. The inclusion of figure 4.3 is problematic. It suggests that different bicycle users have different requirements. And that these differing requirements will be considered on a case by case basis in the design of cycling infrastructure.
I welcome that cyclists’ needs of all ages and abilities will be considered in the design and development of cycling infrastructure. What I am concerned about is the suggestion that there will be different cycling networks for the various groups of cyclists. Fast arterial routes for fast commuters and experienced utility cyclists, quietways for the less confident, who are willing to put up with detours for the sake of safety. And segregated tracks or shared use greenways for the least able and least confident.
I believe this to be wrong. In Netherlands and Denmark the nerwork is designed so people of all ages and abilities have the confidence to cycle in a direct and easy manner from A to B. And there is an acceptance that motorists must go the long way round to accommodate this.
In Denmark and the Netherlands there is one network for all users, not a two or three-speed network with users segregated by their fitness and competence.
Consider that a tandem for the use of a visually impaired cyclist has similar design need to a fast cyclist, or one on a Cargobike: wide tracks, gentle curves, few humps, ramps or other obstacles in the road. A network should be wide enough to accommodate a parent cycling beside a child, and the racing cyclist overtaking the OAP on their e-bike. Should a fast commuter cycle route, such as the Lisburn Road in Belfast, have a different design from one that has a predominance of school children or shoppers? I believe not, and my experience of cycling in the Netherlands would confirm that belief.
Figure 4.3 has been adapted from a 2007 DfT document. I argue that looking to England in 2007 is a backward move. Instead looking to best practice across NW Europe, and American cities will allow Northern Ireland to take leap into the future, copying and developing on their best practice.
There is a notable lack of targets and budgets and I hope that future documents will go into the nuts and bolts of how the strategy will be turned into reality.
I welcome the inclusion of the Road User Hierarchy, fig 4.2. Until now design for cars has dominated Northern Ireland transport planning. I hope the realisation that cars are a costly and inefficient waste of space will filter across government departments. Much of the cycling space will need to be taken from urban car space.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment on your published draft. I hope that the final document will reflect some of the comments I have made.
Please feel free to contact me and further discuss the issues I raise.

Yours sincerely,

Advertisements

Inspired by a late afternoon commute home: Carryduff Riverside Path

It struck me, as I was cycling from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust’s Knockbracken Healthcare Park towards home that the minor roads I was travelling down were just asking to be explored on foot. The landscape is scenic, forested, fields bounded by hedgerows, clattering streams. Except there is nowhere to walk or get away from car traffic.

image

The river to the left is the Carryduff River which wells up in the countryside above the village of the same name and flows rapidly down towards the Lagan at Shaw’s Bridge.
Around Shaw’s Bridge there is an extensive and popular network of tracks maintained by the National Trust.
I asked myself why could we not develop a track to run along the river from Knockbracken down Shaw’s Bridge? Like so:

image

Obviously the red line is for illustration purposes only.

There are existing tracks that could be knitted together to form the path. (@KenDeBiker posted the link on Twitter.) The land is owned both privately and by a number of government departments.

Someone, possibly the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) or the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD), could take up this idea, do a feasibility study and make it happen in partnership with the local communities, the Rivers Agency, National Trust, Belfast City Council and Lisburn and Castlereagh Council.

In Belfast, the Connswater Community Greenway provides a useful template to follow. Many of its benefits apply here as well.

The potential for a Carryduff Riverside path is enormous.

Firstly, it provides a traffic-free link from the A24 Saintfield Road, within easy reach of Cairnshill Park and Ride to Shaw’s Bridge and the Lagan Valley Regional Park. Also, this path would give the community of Purdysburn Village a safe walking and cycling route to the main road and amenities. Local traders and retailers along the route will see opportunities to bring their goods and services to the passing tourists.

The Carryduff River is a wildlife corridor, frequented by badgers, kingfishers, otters, bats, etc. In developing a path the interests of wildlife and the natural environment must be paramount. Rather than running cables to lighting and signs, these should be solar powered, and hooded so artificial light does not disturb the river valley.

On Twitter Steven Patterson of Sustrans mentioned the existing path behind Lough Moss Leisure Centre in Carryduff going towards Purdysburn. My initial idea was not ambitious to include Carryduff, but why not? Link it all up and have a complete off-road path from Carryduff into Belfast. This would encourage commuters and school children from Carryduff to get on their bikes rather than join the very inaptly named rush hour on the A24.

The main obstacle along the route will be crossing the Hospital Road. To start off with a signalled crossing will be needed, similar to the Comber Greenway crossing of the A55 at Knock. A much more elegant solution would be a short tunnel beside the river.

The Belfast Metropolitan 2015 plan mentions a greenway in the area running beside main roads from Cairnshill towards Shaw’s Bridge (link by Geoff Caves). These are useful in encouraging more local active travel, but have little of the tourism potential that a Carryduff Riverside path offers.
Having recognised the need for paths in the area, the Metropolitan Plan can perhaps be modified?

In the meantime go and explore the countryside and lanes in this overlooked corner of Greater Belfast.

image

View across Belfast from Ballycoan Road

You won’t be disappointed.

Tight squeeze

At the Belfast Gasworks a new iconic foot and cycle bridge will span the Lagan providing a traffic-free link from the City Centre to the largest green space in Belfast’s inner city, the Ormeau Park. The potential for this bridge stretches beyond the park and will transform cycle commuting from south east Belfast to the City Centre. The project will cost £3.6-10mln.

Further upstream the refurbished John Luke bridge carries the Lagan Towpath (NCN9) across the river. The refurbishment cost £200k.

At the edge of the city, where Belfast borders Lisburn, a narrow bridge returns the Lagan Towpath to the left bank of the river.

image

Very picturesque, you will agree. It has been in place since 1974. It is also highly utilitarian and costs little to maintain. Maintenance is carried out by the Rivers Agency on behalf of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. It was redecked and repainted recently. The bridge has a total length of 12.18m and the span over the Lagan is 11.40m. There are no plans to replace the bridge.

But all is not well in paradise.
The first sign of trouble is a “Cyclists Dismount Before Crossing Bridge”. A portent of infrastructure that isn’t fit for purpose:

image

As you draw up the scale of the problem becomes clear:

image

The width between parapets is 90cm. This is a problem for those using wheelchairs, trailers and trikes. Some cargobikes also snag on the parapets.

image

Paul P tweets:

Our Adventure trailer is 95cm wide. Our Cargobike fits but cannot be pushed across on foot because there is not enough room beside the bike for a person.

There is an alternative route, which takes in either one of two very steep ramps. And these are very slippery in wet or icy weather:

image

The steep ramp to the Malone Road

The ramp on the other side of the road bridge, but on the same side as the access opposite Drumbeg church has no footpath going towards Drumbeg.

image

The footpath beside the busy Malone Road/Ballyskeagh Road is narrow and poorly maintained, and pedestrians and cyclists must cross the road to access the Towpath entrance opposite the church at Drumbeg. For many it is a hurdle as insurmountable as the footbridge itself.

In short, the footbridge chops the Towpath between Belfast and Lisburn into two unconnected sections for disabled users, parents with double buggies, those pulling trailers or on unconventional bicycles, such as Cargobikes or tricycles.

The recommended minimum width for any footpath path is 1.5m allowing its use by one wheelchair user with one pedestrian beside them. However, this path is a shared use route and the recommended minimum width for those is 3m. Less than 3m is not acceptable in this case because there are side restraints.

For £200k we can have a bridge with an acceptable width, identical to the John Luke Bridge. It’s time DCAL, Rivers Agency, Sustrans and or Belfast and Lisburn Councils find the money and replace it.

Information about the footbridge was kindly provided by Denise Stewart from DCAL Inland Waterways.

Dead end

image

In the past 12 months I have passed this spot just outside Enniskillen four times. And every single time I am amazed, incredulous at the sight. A nice wide cycle path ends abruptly. At a fence. Well, not quite. The cycle path turns into an unshared footpath and then dead ends at the fence. So, by law, the cyclist must dismount to cross the road and then continue in the company of cars, HGV and farm machinery towards Irvinestown or Kesh.

You never heard an engineer going, “and at this point the M62 stops, drivers must get out and push their cars down the farm track and continue driving on the bank of the Manchester Ship Canal.”

Why do cyclists have to put up with so much rubbish infrastructure?

PS

@Falcon7012 tweets this

image

Jon Farrelly adds historical detail:
image