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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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?
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.