Lagan Weir Bridge

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 saw the opening of the £5mln Lagan Weir Bridge. It is more of a reopening because it is a replacement for the first Lagan Weir Bridge.

The first bridge was a of relatively simple construction comprising of a series of decks between the weir’s buttresses. It was completed in 1994.

The Weir serves to stop mudflats being exposed between Stranmillis and the City Centre. Dredging and aeration also helped reintroduce life to the river.

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At either end of the bridge there were a flight of steps for and two semi circular ramps to allow prams and mobility scooters on to the bridge.

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East bank access

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West bank access

But look! The first bridge was not a shared space. It was a footbridge. Where cycling was banned.

With much fanfare Department of Social Development (the government department in charge) billed this as an investment in cycling, by allowing cycling on the new bridge.

The DSD, rather than DRD, are taking the lead as the weir and bridge has been part of the Lagan regeneration project, bringing the river back to life and developing the derelict river banks for housing and leisure. The bridge reconstruction is part of DSD’s Queen’s Quay Masterplan (pdf)

Graham Construction won the contract for the new crossing. They also were responsible for the ramps at either end and the replacement of the wasteful Halogen floodlighting with energy efficient LEDs.

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So we get a gracefully curved shared space, crossing the river. And three benches down the middle towards the west bank of the bridge. There is no separation between pedestrians and cyclists.

On the positive side, the wider deck (up to 8m) will give much more space to pass. Or stop, sit on a bench and eat your piece.

To me it has echoes of Rotterdam’s Rijnhavenbrug. The Rotterdam bridge is built on a much bigger scale, with a lifting section to allow ships to pass. Mark Wagenbuur comments that the deck arrangement will only work in situations with few cyclists. Rotterdam has a low cycling uptake in comparison to the rest of the Netherlands, but their low is still a 4- or 5-fold of Belfast’s figure.

Another shared space bridge in the Netherlands is Venlo’s Weerdsprong. It is remarkable for its lighting design. Venlo also has a cycling modal share roughly double that of Rotterdam. It will be interesting how all three designs cope with the disparate demands of cycling and walking.

Doomsayers are blasting the plan, with the arguments boiling down to shared space = no space for cycling or pedestrians. And where there’s conflict there is local radio phone in show host Nolan.

I am no fan of shared space, but I like this bridge as a public space.

If you want a bridge with separate space for cycling to cross the Lagan there is the QE2 within a stone’s throw upstream.
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