On Thursday a little bird told me that DRD were having an information event at their HQ in Belfast’s Adelaide Street.
Here is the press release.
We weren’t given much notice. Yet I found myself with a spare 30 minutes, grabbed a Belfast Bike from Bradbury Place and went to inspect the plans.
On offer were two versions for an improved two-way cycleway between Chichester St and Ormeau Ave, one with the cycleway to the east, the other to the west (the current situation). The plans are designed to improve the network of paths between Belfast Bike Hire stations at Arthur Street, Alfred Street and the Gasworks.
The plans are not yet finalised and many details remain to be resolved.
Cycling Unit staff were open to suggestions and ideas. For instance, having parked cars act as protection for the cycle lane was suggested by a number of people and I got the impression DRD would look at this variant.
Some of the “details” are quite serious.
There is an obvious gap in provision on Ormeau Avenue. Currently a short stretch of shared use path connects the Gasworks site to Joy Street. Are DRD proposing to extend the shared use path to the next junction? Or is something better in the pipeline, perhaps a protected cycleway all the way from the Gasworks to Blackstaff Square?
The importance of this missing link will become very evident when the Gasworks Bridge opens. More cyclists will use the routes leading to the bridge. A similar gap exists at Shaftesbury Square where there is no eastbound cycle lane or crossing connecting Donegall Road and Donegall Pass.
It would be better for the Cycling Unit to start a discussions with the DRD Dinosaur Unit that is still looking to implement the Southern section of Belfast’s inner ring, so blocking any development along Ormeau Avenue (and blighting the area with fenced off surface car parks). Plans for a gyratory to take traffic between Cromac Street and Bruce Street should not stop the development of a cycle path along the Avenue. Ormeau Avenue is wide enough to reallocate space for cycling.
I suspect the gap is left in the plans as leverage for further budget and development. A holistic large-scale area-wide approach may well be unpalatable to the car lobby within DRD.
A second issue is the Advanced Stop Lines in the design. Why? Why in the UK are cyclists abandoned when they need protection most, i.e. at junctions? The lane needs to come right up to the junctions. The design plans for the May Street crossing are a case in point:
The minor junctions in the design are designed right: the lane carries across the side road; and priority is given to the cyclists over traffic emerging from side streets. I’d prefer a little more hard protection at the corners to stop drivers left- or right-hooking.
The good news is that the Cyclesaurus is going to die. At last (see design above). However, the issue of cyclists needing to cross the carriageway (and pass each other on the right side) has been moved to the path’s entry points at Chichester Street and Ormeau Avenue.
The designers have drawn a patch of shared space to fudge the ends. But as above, good design at the junction can sort this out.
One big disappointment is that Upper Arthur Street remains open to cars. What is the rationale behind this? There are two on-street parking spaces in one version, none at all in the other. Why do cars need access at all? There needs to be access for deliveries, emergency services and collecting refuse, but I struggle to see the need for any other motorised vehicles.
As you drive down May Street a sign directs you down Upper Arthur Street for access to the Montgomery Street and Victoria Square multi-storey car parks:
It appears DRD see Upper Arthur Street as a shortcut to access city centre multi-storeys.
One of the principles underlying Groningen‘s successful cycle strategy is making drivers go the long way around, but giving cyclists, pedestrians and public transport direct access. Here, motorists are given a sneaky shortcut, consequently access for pedestrians and cyclists is compromised.
When you pass this sign you have already passed Montgomery Street. But the street’s one way direction is “wrong”. And arguably the person who ignored the previous right turn on to Victoria Street to access Victoria Square should not be rewarded with a shortcut to make up for their foolishness.
To access the multi-storey the direction of the one way Montgomery Street could be reversed between May Street and the car park entrance. Cars exiting can leave the area by Gloucester Street and Seymour Street.
All things considered, would it not make sense for Upper Arthur Street to be closed off for motorists, allowing for the carriageway to be used as a cycle route and increasing outside space for the street’s cafés and restaurants? Here’s an example in central Utrecht, photographed by @cyclingchch:
I don’t often advocate the removal of a cycle path. Here, removing cars and the infamous bin lane are probably the best solution.