Oh, the glamour and excitement of it all. The Grande Partenza was in Belfast and despite the wet weather thousands of people cheered the riders on. It was very definitely the biggest sporting event the City has ever hosted.
Of course, there was talk of spin-off benefits for local cycling, but as the year comes to an end the Giro is a faint rosy glow, like the midday sun on a winter’s day.
Cyclesaurus dies, yet lives
The year started with a brutal killing. The Cyclesaurus, only a month before crowned worst infrastructure at the 2013 Fred Awards, was attacked by DRD assassins. When the dust cleared a new monster arose, with mutant offspring diagonally across the junction. At the 2014 Award ceremony the entire city’s cycling infrastructure received the dubious distinction of worst cycling infrastructure. It remains to be seen if DRD will tackle the whole city with such alacrity.
Just down the road, but a few decades behind
Belfast streets have some provision for cyclists; not 9 miles away Lisburn has no provision at all. The DSD’s masterplan only mentions cycling in relation to tourism. But where there is no provision the possibilities are endless.
Taking back the Square
In Belfast DSD have dreamt up plans for redevelopment of the area around Donegall Street and Shaftesbury Square. Cycling is not paid much attention, and especially the Shaftesbury Square plans need to be amended, as the square is to be included in the first phase of Belfast’s bike hire scheme as a location for 2 docking stations and is a vital link for cyclists travelling from the south to the City Centre and in the future from the Gasworks bridge towards Queen’s, City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital and vice versa.
As a department DSD remain blind to cycling as a mode of transport and as a means to unlock our gridlocked roads. They could argue traffic isn’t their brief, but of course public realm is. Making our city’s spaces more liveable means making them pedestrian and bike friendly; making our city’s spaces a place to linger, rather than rush through by car.
Urban Clearway, don’t make laugh
Along the main thoroughfares of South Belfast the DRD dressed an attempt at traffic smoothing as a move to benefit local trade. The concept that parking is banned on one side of the road for 2 hours a day is too difficult to understand for motorists and too onerous to enforce by the
parking attendants traffic wardens.
And does it work as a traffic smoothing measure? In October the Malone Road was closed during rush hour after a fatal hit-and-run RTC. Traffic ground to a standstill when parked cars on the Lisburn Road reduced the road’s capacity to take traffic from Malone Road. You’d think that DRD are giving up on these plans. No. At the time of writing the temporarily amended parking restrictions are still in force beyond the trial’s closing date.
Local politicians bent over backwards to accommodate the Giro, to the extent of a temporary ban along the route on election posters that disfigure our lampposts. Did they go the extra mile when NCN9 was closed for 2 years with only the scantest of notices given? No. Cyclists have to go the extra mile and cross the Lagan 3 times to access the City Centre from the south and south east of the city. It doesn’t bode well for the city’s bike hire scheme.
Belfast, Cycling Capital
At the DRD Changing Gear event in November it was pointed out that in New York their bike hire scheme followed from implementating an extensive cycling network. Belfast risks putting the cart before the horse by having a hire scheme up and running before there is any meaningful mesh of cycle tracks and lanes across the city. The move to make the City Centre a 20mph zone is the barest minimum. At least it will reduce the likelihood of a fatal consequence to an RTC involving a pedestrian or a cyclist.
A bleak November
It has been a dark year on our roads. The number of fatalities is well above that in previous years. In one day, Adam Gilmour, 8, was killed as he and his family were hit by a car on a 60mph rural road, just outside Cloughmills. Then, outside Hillsborough on the A1 a cyclist, John Flynn, 51, was hit by a lorry.
In the wake of the accident in Cloughmills arrangements have been made so Adam’s siblings are picked up by a school bus. However, the real issue of the high rate of fatal RTCs on rural roads, speeding, the lack of footpaths and cycle tracks remains unaddressed.
John Flynn’s death could have been prevented if during the most recent A1 upgrade cycling as transport was considered and given its own space. Now we have a cut-price motorway where cars travelling at a nominal 70mph limit mix with cyclists.
The Changing Gear conference was the high point of the DRD Cycling Unit’s year. It’s been a busy year for them, as they are given the brief of making Belfast the cycling capital of these islands and not much of a budget to make it so. At the Changing Gear conference it was made clear by all the speakers how far Belfast is from being a cycling capital.
The Cycling Unit released their draft Bicycle Strategy and drew criticism for their plans for a 2-speed network across the city. Apparently “fast commuter” cyclists’ cycle provision is different to that for inexperienced occasional cyclists. Who knew?
The plans for a multi-speed cycling network may not make it to the final document. Which is good news.
More good news comes from the DoE committee meeting up on the Hill. That department’s plans for a one-tier taxi licensing system in Northern Ireland are dead in the water. The minister was told that should he present the plans to the Assembly as they are now the 2 main parties promised to vote against. This means that Belfast’s bus lanes continue to be a relatively safe haven for cyclists.
But bus lanes are not safe enough! For 2015 cyclists should continue to apply pressure on our elected representatives and argue for a better deal for cyclists.
In a climate where every penny spent by Government is scrutinised it has to be pointed out that cycling delivers far greater returns for our economy and society than spending on car-centred roads. When we have little to spend, expensive white elephant schemes with dubious benefit to our economy such as the A5 dualling scheme and the Narrow Water Bridge should be ditched permanently in favour of making our city and town centres people-friendly again.
A Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2015!