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.
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:
As you draw up the scale of the problem becomes clear:
The width between parapets is 90cm. This is a problem for those using wheelchairs, trailers and trikes. Some cargobikes also snag on the parapets.
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:
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.
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.