The premise of the famous US TV quiz show, Jeopardy, has contestants guessing the question, after being presented with a clue.
In Dungannon AG Wilson Engineering installed a tank trap on a local Greenway. When pressed on the anti-cycling aspects of the design the company replied they built what was asked for. Here’s the clue. So what did Mid Ulster Council ask for?
The only sensible answer could be they asked for Dungannon’s version of the Maginot Line to stop people on scrambler motorcycles wrecking the Greenway.
Darragh wins $50
Another day, another edition of NI Council Jeopardy. Belfast City Council took delivery of a very glossy document detailing what should be done to the Linen Quarter. This is the area immediately south of Belfast City Hall, with grand Victorian warehouses. It is the city’s business district where a number of Belfast’s leading employers have offices. It is also home to Sustrans NI.
We can only guess at the brief that was given to the Manchester-based consultants. What we can safely say is that the brief was reworded, edited and sent back to the Council with added pictures.
And now the council wants our views:
In my view it is dreadful; a waste of ratepayers’ money. Cut out the waffle and you’re left with a mood board of paving options.
I do like the idea of the new traffic free public spaces. Developing Amelia Street as a gateway into the city from the
Europa Bus Centre and Great Victoria Railway Station Transport Hub is genius. The street is clogged with idling black cabs, treating the contraflow bicycle lane as a permanent taxi rank.
Deliveries to local businesses further impede cyclists using the contraflow lane.
The second planned public space sits on the junction of Linenhall Street and Clarence Street. Most of it is already there: wide pavements, a bit of green. It has views of interest in three directions: due North to City Hall, East to St Malachy’s Church and South to the Ormeau Baths building.
There is no incentive, though, for anyone to spend any time in either public space. We have little to interest people at street level. Especially in the eastern half of the Quarter this lack of engagement with pedestrians transforms streets into narrow, dark, windswept and unwelcoming corridors.
The glorious Victorian architecture, where it survived the onslaught of pre-fab high-rise modernism, is often only visible on the higher floors of the surrounding buildings.
Space for cars
More off-putting than the insipid modern architecture are the lines of parked cars across the district. But roads are meant to move cars, not store them at ratepayers’ expense.
Further, to help the erosive flow of cars the area is a near fully permeable grid, where drivers opt to go from East Bridge Street to Dublin Rd and vice versa along Hamilton Street and Franklin Street, rather than go along Cromac Street and Ormeau Avenue.
The consultation sees this permeability as an asset. A major fault in the report.
To resolve this ratrunning the Linen Quarter should only be accessible for destination traffic, with through traffic routed along the outer edges. Only pedestrians, cyclists and public transport should be able to traverse the area.
A small amount of work has been done to stop through traffic using Adelaide Street. Only buses may enter Adelaide Street from Donegall Square East, but that doesn’t deter motorists ignoring the clear signage, matrix boards and road colour.
Surely, the only solution is to close off Donegall Square East for car traffic altogether, such as done at Donegall Square West, to benefit Metro bus services.
How can the Linen Quarter be made more people friendly? The consultation report does not want to alter or impede traffic flow through the area. By traffic the report authors mean vehicle traffic, rather than pedestrian traffic.
The report doesn’t recognise that pedestrians are traffic. It doesn’t acknowledge that having a near fully permeable road grid is to the area’s detriment. It doesn’t give cycling a place at all, other than a mention of the bike hire stations at Linenhall Street and Blackstaff Square.
Alfred Street is at the eastern edge of the Quarter. And here Belfast’s cycling revolution is taking shape. But more than that. At the Ormeau Avenue end a continuous footway is put across the mouth of Alfred Street, giving a very visible sign to drivers to slow down and discourage all but those who have business being there.
Continuous footways should be constructed across all side streets leading into the area, with the exception of Adelaide Street and Bedford Street (both important bus routes). This underlines the message that cars are less important than people.
To improve the area’s chances of being an attractive place to work and spend time we need to completely remove through traffic and reduce on-street parking in an area where there is plentiful multistorey parking available within a short walking distance.
Pedestrian Priority Streets
I’m not a fan of
pedestrian-priority streets shared space. Exhibition Road in London shows that where through traffic is removed (at its southern end) it can be a success.
In front of the nation’s great museums, however, the flow of traffic all but cuts the eastern side from the western side. Pedestrians don’t “dwell” on Exhibition Road. They run for their lives.
Closer to Belfast, Lisburn has installed a shared space. And not without problems:
Quite apart from the lack of support for disabled road users the space is unsuccessful in another way:
The proposed shared spaces should be clearly defined to benefit disabled street users. And every effort should be made to reduce through traffic.
At present the grid is nearly fully permeable. When the streets are being refurbished it would not take much effort to reduce all but a handful to one way streets. The aim should be to give necessary access to destination traffic, but discourage rat running. There should be no advantage given to a motorist seeking to avoid congestion on Cromac Street.
The city centre 20mph speed limit should be extended to the Linen Quarter. It saves lives. This is the one thing that must be done, regardless of this consultation.
The haulage industry has been campaigning vociferously for an increase in the number of loading bays across central Belfast. With the caveat that HGV entering an area with high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists should have measures such as low cabs, sensors, audible indicators and glass panels in the lower part of cab doors, some car park space should be turned into loading bays. However, HGV access should be limited to certain time slots to encourage use of the Quarter’s streets by people to stop, chat, have lunch and relax.
In sharing out the available parking space we should firstly put in loading bays for HGV. Outside the allocated delivery times some can act as taxi ranks. The remaining spaces can then be made available to -in order of importance- residents, blue badge holders and, lastly, the general public.
In conclusion, the area has considerable potential. It can be all the things the consultation report strives for, but only by removing all but a tiny proportion of vehicle traffic. A range of devices (continuous footways, pedestrianisation, removal of on-street parking and 20mph limit) can be used to improve the area for pedestrians. Cyclists will, at the same time feel more safe if car traffic were restricted in volume and in speed.
The shared spaces need extra consideration and extensive consultation with disabled street users.
The plans are available to view at the Ulster Hall during February, with the exception of the 20th.