Cycling to School

Very few children cycle to school in Finaghy. Some walk, but most are brought by car. I wonder if it is the road itself that is the problem…

The new school year is well under way by now. Children are settling down into their routine. If you’re a British or Irish parent this routine will involve strapping the children into the car for the school run. In GB 82% of school run journeys between 2 and 5 miles were made by car (for primary school pupils). In Northern Ireland, according to the DRDNI Travel Survey, 60% of primary school children are brought by car, 13% go by bus, with the remainder walking or cycling. In NI 32% (GB 26%) of secondary school runs were by car. The bus dominates for this age group and for longer distances, and walking was the preferred mode of transport for journeys less than 1 mile.

Grouping walking and cycling hides very low cycling rates:

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4-11 year olds

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12-18 year olds

(GB figures from 2012 DfT Travel Survey.)

The school run is a major component of morning rush hour congestion. UK-wide the figure of morning rush hour traffic due to the school run is around 24%. Consider the difference between a mid-summer commute and one in the autumn.

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As I cycle past lines of stationary or slow moving traffic I wonder why not more parents leave the car at home and walk or cycle to school. Most parents walked or cycled to school themselves.

Ask them why they won’t allow their children to do as they did and they’ll answer it is because of the danger traffic poses that they take their children to school by car. There is the obvious flaw in their reasoning: nobody regards themselves as traffic; only others are. No car driver would regard themselves as a danger to other road users, but other car drivers are perceived as a danger to themselves.

So here we are on Finaghy Road on the southwest outskirts of Belfast. A road that is mainly residential in character, with a limited range of shops at Finaghy Crossroads where it meets the Lisburn Road. Here is also a Health Centre, a library and a youth centre.

There is a railway station, and the road is served by Metro 8 and 10 buses to Erinvale and Ladybrook. The Belfast Rapid Transit will soon reach the northern end of Finaghy Road, instead of Metro 10. At Finaghy Crossroads there are Metro 9a and Ulsterbus services towards Lisburn and beyond. Other Ulsterbus services go up Andersonstown Road and Malone Road at either end of Finaghy Road.

The road is divided into Finaghy Road North, from Finaghy Crossroads to the Andersonstown Road, and Finaghy Road South which runs to the Upper Malone Road.

Pavement parking is a major issue along the road. Parents with buggies are often forced off the footpath because motorists have not left enough space:

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There are traffic lights at the road’s junction with the Andersonstown Road, at Finaghy Crossroads and at Erinvale.

In the past few months DRD have put in a lane divider between Erinvale and Upper Malone Road. Traffic islands have been added centrally to enable pedestrians to get across.

There are three primary schools and a secondary school on the road. About a quarter of pupils make their way to school on foot. Virtually none by bicycle.
The vast majority of primary school children are brought to school by car.
At my daughter’s primary school in the mornings out of approximately 210 pupils 4 make their way to school on a bike. Here is a photograph taken on a  Bike To School day in 2014

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In the morning rush hour car traffic is slow at the Andersonstown Road end and either side of Finaghy Crossroads. The traffic lights sequence favours those on the citybound arterial roads. Considerable congestion occurs at the entrance to St. John the Baptist PS, the only primary school that is directly on the Finaghy Road. Cranmore IPS and Finaghy PS, are on campuses off the main road.

A lollypop lady helps people across at the entrance to Finaghy Primary School.

I have not mentioned cycling provision on the road. Save for some useless Advanced Stop Lines, there are no lanes, paths, lights, or cycle hoops.

This is not a road where people, of all ages and abilities who use bicycles are welcome. It is a road that also discourages walking, because of pavement parking and speeding.

In response to the killing of Adele Whiteside in 2007 DRDNI introduced lane separation between Orpen Park and Erinvale Avenue in an effort to provide a refuge for pedestrians. The works were neatly captured by Google:
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This was extended up towards Malone Road in 2014.

Elsewhere boxes are marked off for parking, but are so narrow that people choose to mount the pavement so as they fit within the limit of the box (shown in the background the picture above). Builders, similarly, put skips on the pavement.

It is a disappointment that lane separation has been chosen as a means to protect pedestrians. It can provide for a central island for pedestrians crossing and a filter lane for cars turning right.

However, lane separation makes the road more dangerous for cyclists. It squeezes cars and cycles closer together. Others have blogged about the issue and suggest improvements to help cycling.

The lane separation and reduction of space along the kerb shows how much of the tarmac is never used. Surely DRDNI are capable of implementing better solutions with all that available space?

And no, on Finaghy Road the space between the kerb and the broken line is not a cycle lane.

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It is scarcely believable that people use the Iceland customer car park on the corner of Finaghy Road South and the Lisburn Road to avoid the traffic lights. But they do. They risk a collision with pedestrians or other traffic for the sake of a few seconds. It would be a good idea to close off one end of the car park to prevent further collisions.

Finaghy Road is a museum to mid 20th century urban planning. Wide tarmac, designed to sweep suburbanites from their semi-detached to the shop, school or city centre job in their own car. Little did the planners realise how with time this suburban dream would turn into a nightmare. The fixes to make the road acceptable for pedestrians are mere symptoms of how last century’s design is not up to how we use the road today. 60s planners assumed that children would walk to school, and wouldn’t be put off by increased numbers of cars and stranger danger.

In short: would you let your child cycle to school along this road? I don’t, even though it would be the most direct route to school. So where do cyclists go? Jeff Dudgeon, Balmoral UUP councillor says: “[o]ne of the most frequent complaints I received from constituents during my election campaign was about cycling on pavements.”

How can this road for cars be made a road for people? Something like this, perhaps?

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Nijmegen, NL (André Engels)

Firstly, with four schools it should be made a 20mph road. A simple question: is speed more important to you than giving a child a reasonable chance to survive a collision?
Pavement parking should be tackled by providing car park spaces wide enough to park entirely on the road.
Where necessary, at junctions especially, cycling should be given its own space and ideally protected by car parking space.
Finaghy Crossroads should be looked at holistically. The area needs general improvement, with a more attractive and wider range of shops and services. Ratruns either side of the junction need to be closed off, but the junction itself needs some thought to allow traffic to move better. My hunch is that too much time is given to traffic on Lisburn Road, and not enough to traffic on Finaghy Road, leading to a build-up of traffic, especially around school opening hours.

And finally. Another councillor, Claire Hanna of the SDLP, mentioned how trees could not be planted along the road:

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John Hunter adds:
” I live on finaghy road south and have for 28 years, when adele was killed the youth centre pushed for traffic islands and the doe kindly provided sensible footpath parking for the residents, all the inconsiderate footpath parkers belong to outsiders who are either working on finaghy road south, the crossroads, [or] work in the youth centre and while they have a large off road carpark they insist on parking unsafely for pedestrians and mothers, the traffic islands when they were in planning it was suggested to put ramps to slow the vehicles down, this was rejected as it would cause traffic hold ups and children still assume the cars should stop for them at these islands as I have witnessed some close calls. Then the doe change the traffic lights and put filter lights in place which have caused more and larger jams as I have witnessed in 28 years plus those drivers that realise this are taking short cuts through residential roads in the finaghy estate to bypass this junction.
Regarding cyclists some are very careless and think its their right to travel along the footpath, I have a high hedge at the front of the house and at least once a month I take my life in my hands stepping out on the footpath if I dont check to see whats coming.”

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