Slow Road to Lisburn

It was reported recently Belfast’s Lisburn Road is the most congested road in the UK outside London in the evening rush hour. Similarly, Ormeau Road is one of UK’s most congested roads in the morning.

Belfast also regularly features at or near the top of the table of most congested UK cities.

Inrix estimate congestion causes £30 billion worth of damage to the UK economy, or nearly £1000 per driver. This seems well over the top. The Telegraph put a more realistic £4.3 billion bill for congestion annually, which works out at around £30 million annually in Greater Belfast.

(Coincidentally, the cost of 12 monthly rail tickets for travel between Lisburn and Belfast Great Victoria Street is £1000.)

Inrix, who put together the congestion data make alarming suggestions that without investment in road upgrades Belfast will choke on traffic. But beyond headlines and a call for investment in more and bigger roads, Inrix offer nothing that helps urban planners. At best their figures are an indicator something is not working.

Local headlines are not any more trustworthy: Belfast Telegraph claim the city’s worsening congestion problem is

blamed on factors like segregated cycle lanes and poorly-planned roadworks.

The Lisburn Road between Methodist College in Belfast and Wallace Park in Lisburn which Inrix have crowned most congested outside London has no segregated cycle lanes along the entire stretch of road. None.

So, it must be those poorly planned road works.

Or could it be something else? Such as too many people using cars for short urban journeys all at the same time?

Numbers

In 2014 16910 cars a day passed the counter at Dunluce Avenue with a maximum of 1310 cars an hour at 5pm countrybound. The morning peak is 1280 citybound. At King’s Hall 19670 cars are counted citybound with a peak of 1670 in the morning. There is no data there for countrybound traffic. At Derriaghy 9710 cars pass the counter daily, with a morning peak citybound of 790, an evening peak of 800. At Lambeg it is busier than Derriaghy with 14750, with peaks of 1310 in the morning and evening.

Not desperately huge. A principal route between two towns should be able to cope with traffic volume. Many roads have far higher traffic numbers, but cope very well.

History

Lisburn Road used to be a toll road which rivalled the older and hillier Malone Road slightly to the east. The toll booth was at what is now Tollgate House in Bradbury Place. In 1858 tolls were abandoned. The Belfast to Lisburn railway runs parallel to the road, crossing over the road at Derriaghy halt.

Tollgate House on the site of the original toll house (Google)

Development along the route took off in the late 1800s at the height of the industrial boom and continues to this day with new housing developments encroaching on the last remaining green field between Belfast and Lisburn, used currently as a BMX track.

The road is home to numerous shops, but especially between King’s Hall and Lisburn residential developments dominate.

Strategic road?

The A1 is part of NI’s strategic road network, but only for the section between Sprucefield near Lisburn and the Irish border. Between Belfast and Lisburn the strategic role is reserved for the M1.

The European Union don’t talk of strategic roads, but of corridors, the total bundle of roads, railways and waterways between two places. Belfast sits at the northwestern end of a corridor stretching, by way of Dublin, across Europe to Marseille on the Mediterranean coast.

Whilst Brexit need not stand in the way of EU funding of connections between Dublin and the European mainland across England and Wales (similar to EU funding transalpine routes in Switzerland), the EU might not be so willing to provide funding for A1 and M1 upgrades in NI post Brexit, or indeed upgrades in Scotland and the north of England.

Taking on congestion in Belfast will require serious funding as Inrix suggest. But not solely on our roads as they would like, but across the whole bundle of road and rail connections between central Belfast, suburbs, the commuter belt and beyond. After Brexit it remains to be seen if there is any political will or money to improve Belfast’s transport infrastructure.

So, yes, the Lisburn Road is strategic but as part of the whole bundle of connections between Lisburn and Belfast. And resolving the congestion problem will need to take into account rail, motorway, local roads and Lagan Towpath.

Improving the Lisburn Road will mean investing in the entire corridor.


Local access or car park?

In 2013 the Department of Regional Development introduced a scheme to improve traffic flow. The Department deemed the tidal parking restrictions a success and traders were happy, because customers could park outside their shop at any time of the day.

The changes were made permanent in 2014.

And less than 3 years after the trial started congestion is said to be worst in the UK outside London. I called it a failure even earlier, because of persistent illegal parking.

TransportNI have yet to make use of their power to tow illegally parked cars. In the meantime enforcement of restrictions by issuing fines is haphazard. The threat of fines is not enough to deter habitual offenders. And obviously a car with a ticket is still causing an obstruction to traffic flow.

Confused traders

Traders need their shops to be accessible to customers. They also don’t want to see them sitting in traffic jams, you’d assume.

Belfast on the Move is a steategy aimed at increasing access to Belfast City Centre. That’s a good thing, no? Belfast Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have been opposed to Belfast on the Move from the very start. They see the strategy which has delivered a drop in numbers of cars, an increase in number of people accessing the city centre, increase in numbers of public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians, an increase in number of cars parking and people staying longer, an increase in footfall and takings as detrimental to small businesses.

It stands to reason that any plans to alleviate Lisburn Road congestion by removing cars or even car parking spaces will meet with opposition from trader organisations, despite their trade and the wider economy suffering from economic damage caused by congestion.

The FSB complain about congestion harming trade and at the same time that Belfast was becoming a “very hostile place to bring your car”. They fail to see that making it easier for drivers to access Belfast, the more congested it becomes.

Politicians and traders need to learn that plentiful parking does not equal high footfall. Instead, parking is an invitation to drive and increases congestion. Belfast City Council have recognised this in their Parking Strategy.

Any solutions?

Before he went rogue, Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard, said:

“Investing in public transport, walking and cycling must be at the heart of our transport policy.  It is the only way we can address congestion in our key urban centres, enable people and goods to move easily and ensure the north remains an attractive place to live, work, shop, visit and invest.”

Minister Hazzard announced the Department for Infrastructure’s 3-five-10 strategy. The quote above is from the press release. The strategy’s aim is to increase active travel and public transport and reduce car dependence for short local journeys.

Part of the Lisburn Road’s problems stem from confusion about its function. The road serves as a through route for Belfast to Lisburn traffic, a road to give access to residential areas and businesses and also acts as a car park.

It would be better to unravel these roles, decide on the primary function of the A1 route and remove all other traffic to a better suited road or space.

Congestion beating measures should offer people a choice of means to get to their destination. Ideally, walking, cycling and public transport should be cheaper, faster and more convenient than use of a private vehicle.

For the Lisburn Road from Black’s Road Park and Ride to Bradbury Place the 3-five-10 strategy to reduce congestion should be employed. 

Some ideas for improvement:

  • Between Bradbury Place and King’s Hall the road should be transformed to move people, giving clear priority for active travel and public transport.
  • Bus lanes must run continuously from Black’s Road to Shaftesbury Square. Allowing the single traffic lane to splay into two, before merging them again into one soon after, causes congestion.
  • A continuous cycleway must be built along the entire length of road from Belfast to Lisburn.
  • To allow for bus lane and cycleway installation on-road parking must be removed.
  • Reduce the number of interactions at junctions by putting bollards across minor side roads, having more side roads made one way, and banning right turns for all but a handful of junctions.

  • Belfast Bikes should expand further up Lisburn Road with docking stations at 300 to 400m intervals.
  • Capacity at Black’s Road Park and Ride must be increased, with perhaps slip roads from and to the M1 built to serve the Park and Ride only to enable more drivers to leave their cars at the edge of town.
  • An additional railway halt to be built at Black’s Road to allow people to park and continue by rail, but also provide better access to public transport to residents of Black’s Road.
  • Adelaide halt must be made fully accessible for wheelchair bound passengers, mums with prams and train passengers wheeling luggage or bicycles. Currently, footbridges to Lisburn Road and Apollo Road are stepped, not ramped.

    People fear the bath tub effect that closing off or reducing a road’s capacity will inevitably lead to traffic overflowing and causing congestion chaos elsewhere. In practice a significant portion of traffic ceases to exist.

    Cycling

    The Lisburn Road passes through areas with very divergent cycling uptake. From Finaghy down to the city centre cycling commuters make up between 3 and 5% of total traffic. Above Finaghy this rapidly drops to nearly 0%. (2011 census via NIGreenways).

    In order to reduce the number of cars on the road cycling needs to be enabled better in outlying districts. A designated cycleway with priority over side roads running along the Lisburn Road from central Belfast to Lisburn town centre will offer people a choice to leave the car at home.

    Combining a cycleway with meaningful numbers of secure bicycle storage areas at railway halts and principal bus stops will enable people to use various modes for their journeys to suit the journey’s purpose or destination.

    The Lisburn Road also serves as a refuge for bicycle users when the Lagan Towpath is not rideable due to frost or flooding. The lack of lighting along the Towpath also is off-putting to some. The main drawback, however, of the Towpath is its meandering, scenic nature. It adds considerably to time and distance over the direct route to and from work using the Lisburn Road. 

      The bitter pill

      Through traffic should be pushed to the M1 as much as possible. Drivers should be deincentivised from going along the A1 from end to end.

      This could be done by nudging behaviour with information boards showing actual travel times. For instance a sign at Shaftesbury Square could inform drivers going to Finaghy using the Lisburn Road that it would take, for instance, 20 minutes, choosing Donegall Road and M1 could be 15 minutes.

      A way to reduce peak congestion is road pricing. Charge people for using the most congested roads at busiest times and soon they will adapt their behaviour. A city centre car park levy could be used to fund initiatives to strengthen public transport, walking and cycling along the route.

      Let the train take the strain

      It is not sensible to look in isolation at roads, when part of the answer is literally next door, its potential unfulfilled because of chronic underfunding in favour investment in roads.

      Major investment is needed to allow a Metro style railway service between Lisburn across Belfast to Bangor. Instead of at best an half-hourly service, trains should run at 10 minute intervals (or less) and get the commuter from Lisburn to Belfast in less time than it takes to go by car when roads are quiet.

      Electrification may be needed to achieve such levels of service. A useful template are German S-Bahn or Dutch RandstadRail networks of local rapid transit: turn Lisburn-Bangor rail into a LUAS-style light rail, taking it off the main line in places to allow passengers easier access and give priority on the main line for regional and Enterprise services.

      Electrification and phasing out diesel is urgently needed from an environmental perspective. Air pollution and global warming concerns mean continued reliance on diesel is irresponsible. Electrification of the Dublin to Belfast main line must be pushed higher up the political agenda.

      Summary

      The Lisburn Road suffers from chronic congestion, not  simply because of a large number of vehicles, but because many drivers with different purposes use the same stretch of road. The road has many junctions and on-street parking leading to many interactions across lanes of traffic. Bus lanes are inconsistent and poorly enforced. Cycling infrastructure is non existent despite the road going through areas with relatively large numbers of cycle commuters. The adjacent railway is underfunded, and poorly equipped to serve as an alternative.

      To alleviate congestion the Department for Infrastructure’s 3-five-10 strategy needs to be applied and funded to enable greater uptake of walking, cycling and use of bus and rail. The cost could be recouped by introducing road pricing, or a city centre parking levy, or even better, both.

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      Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

      The Belfast Bicycle Network Plan is currently out for consultation. Delighted I opened the pdf. And from there on in my mood wavered between anger, despair and hysterical laughing.

      I think these plans are a failure; a failure to capitalise on the momentum for cycling in Belfast; a failure to correct the mistakes in the Alfred Street and Durham Street paths.

      It is as if the people who wrote their vision for the network and those who set out the routes never shared a room, let alone a vision.

      The plans as presented are a waste of time. I am asking the Department for Infrastructure to withdraw it and think how better to design for those who currently daren’t or can’t cycle.

      The document asks 17 questions and I will attempt to answer them.

      Question 1: Do you agree that producing a Bicycle network for Belfast is an important element of developing a more bicycle-friendly city? What timeframe do you think it should cover?

      The network is crucial in making Belfast more bicycle-friendly. The current infrastructure, or more precisely lack of infrastructure, is a major block to growing the modal share for cycling beyond 5%. The recent growth in cycling has been achieved with next no involvement from government. Very little budget (£1.30 pppa) was allocated and only a few short new cycle tracks were built.

      Belfast cyclists remain overly reliant on bus lanes, shared pavement and advisory cycle lanes. Sustrans in their Bike Life survey found that bus lanes were not considered safe or conducive to cycle more.

      The perceived feeling of insecurity caused by the proximity of large vehicles is not improved by the decision by the outgoing Minister Chris Hazzard to allow private hire vehicles into the city’s Rapid Transit bus lanes.

      B U S spells bicycle. Typical Belfast cycle lane with a taxi in it.

      The network as set out in this document and amended after the consultation should be built within a 5 year timescale. Some quick wins can be achieved by bringing existing provisions included in the new plan up to highest standards. A 10 year timescale is perhaps required only where large capital schemes are involved, for instance to cross the Lagan at the Gasworks.

      A brake on developing cycling in Belfast

      Adoption of this strategy in its current form would push the building of highly necessary paths along arterial roads beyond a 10 year timeframe. This will put a brake on development of cycling in Belfast. 

      It has to be noted Rotterdam (admittedly from a much better starting position) has set itself a 2 year target on delivering a much improved network of paths. Their plan includes improving accessibility across the city core, improving bicycle traffic flow and making safe numerous paths and junctions.

      This strategy must be delivered in a 2 to 5 year timeframe.

      Question 2: Do you agree that these five criteria from the BMTP are still valid for the development of a network for Belfast? If not, what do you consider the criteria should be? Please explain.

      Yes. But.

      Like many estates planned in the latter half of the 20th Century Rathcoole Estate in Newtownabbey is blessed with a considerable network of off-road paths. Most of these are designated footways. These footways are used by cyclists as a safe alternative to a hostile car-centred road environment.

      A major nearby destination is the Abbeycentre shopping complex. It can be reached on foot or by bike using the network of paths without having to use any major roads.

      A number of links exist to the NCN Shore path. With better signposting and fixing crossings on the A2 Shore Road a cyclist can travel from their home in Rathcoole to their employer’s in the Harbour, City Centre or beyond without needing to share with cars on main roads.

      The local network of paths and the way it connects to destinations should be inspiration for the bicycle network across Belfast. It should give door-to-door opportunities for active travel, an alternative to going by car.

      But what about the children?

      In the Netherlands most children cycle to school, preparing for a continuation of a healthy life choice into adult life. They can because infrastructure enables them to cycle, often unaccompanied, without safety concerns. 

      Similarly, libraries, hospitals and health centres should be easily accessible by a network path, enabling service users of all ages access to vital community services.

      NIGreenways has already pointed out the poor overlap between the planned network paths and location of schools. The proportion of children cycling to school is firmly stuck at 0%. This is a scandal, and should be top of politicians’ agendas.

      The planned network doesn’t just miss out schools, it also does not allow direct access to major destinations in the Greater Belfast area. For instance, there is no planned direct link between the new Transport Hub to the Royal Victoria Hospital along Grosvenor Road, instead preferring a detour along the noisy, polluted and people-hostile Westlink.

      Similarly, cyclists from southwest Belfast and Lisburn will face lengthy detours to reach the Belfast City Hospital or the Queen’s University campus using network paths. The plans from the outset sacrifice the core principle of directness.

      The city’s local shopping areas are poorly served by the network. Bicycle lanes have been shown to boost business where they have been installed. It is difficult to see how the network in its proposed form will generate economic benefit for Belfast traders.

      Arterial routes

      What are missing, glaringly, are paths that run along arterial routes, where many Belfast retailers and businesses are found. 

      Currently, Belfast is groaning under the weight of congestion. Belfast’s Lisburn Road is said to be the most congested road in the UK, outside London, in the evening rush hour. Similarly, Ormeau Road is most congested in the morning.

      Previously I set out a few ideas of what can be done on the Lisburn Road to reduce congestion. The Department for Infrastructure introduced the 3-five-10 strategy to enable more to walk, cycle and use public transport. Cycling will not be a credible alternative to car users on the Malone Road or Lisburn Road if the nearest network paths are the Lagan Towpath or along Boucher Road over half a mile away.

      It is my opinion that a designated cycleway with priority over side roads running along the Lisburn Road from central Belfast to Lisburn town centre will offer people a choice to leave the car at home.

      Combine it with meaningful numbers of secure bicycle storage areas at railway halts and principal bus stops will enable people to use various modes for their journeys.

      Other arterial routes will also benefit from having high quality designated cycle paths alongside. 

      It is laudable that a large proportion of Belfast households are designed to be within 400m of a network path. Except that many homes nearby the network do not have easy access.

      Accessibility

      The map is very simplistic and appears to count number of households within 400m of a path. Consider the Comber Greenway. It is built along the old Belfast and Co. Down railway line. It has few access points. The railway line was not meant to interact with local streets much. Properties in, for instance, King’s Park Lane back onto the line, but to access it residents must walk or cycle 640m to the entrance beside Knock police headquarters.

      Similarly, residents in Edenderry at the very southern edge of Belfast, can see the Lagan Towpath from their front step, literally a stone’s throw. But to access it directly with anything other than a lightweight bike is practically impossible due to the stepped bridge across the Lagan and narrow chicane of fencing at the village entrance. It is a 1.2km ride to the next nearest accessible entrance at Shaw’s Bridge.

      It would better to count the households within 400m of an access point that enables bicycle users of all ages and abilities to use the network, and it is my guess that suddenly the map doesn’t look so good.

      Question 3: Do you agree that the development of a Belfast Bicycle network is a key element in giving those who would like to cycle (but currently don’t) the freedom and confidence to do so?

      Yes. The Belfast Bicycle network, if built and maintained to high standard and not compromised to accommodate pedestrians, mopeds and motorcycles, cars, taxis or buses, will provide an environment where those who currently don’t cycle to go out without worry about their personal safety.

      Question 4: Do you agree that the objectives in 3.9 should be applied to the network? If not, what objectives do you think should be set?

      Here are those objectives:

      Firstly, it is good that the objectives concentrate on commuters, amenity and leisure cyclists. We currently see on Belfast roads hard core year round commuters and lycra clad racers. Amenity cyclists are poorly catered for.

      There is no specific mention of age and ability in the objectives. It needs to be clear that the network will be designed to guarantee the safety of children cycling unaccompanied to school and those in the latter stages of life, vulnerable to falls, out for a leisurely ride on an e-bike.

      The network should be accessible and near to all people within Belfast; to people of all ages and abilities, those who currently cycle those who currently daren’t or can’t.

      For amenity cyclists it is necessary the network goes near amenities, such as shops, schools, libraries and health centres. If the path leaves you far from your intended destination is it of any use? It would be good to see the map of routes redrawn to include as many shops, schools, libraries, leisure centres, hospitals and health centres as possible.

      Consistent high quality provision

      What makes cycling in the Netherlands such a pleasure is that the network of paths is of high standard throughout large parts of the country. This standard follows guidelines and design principles set out in the Fietsberaad CROW manual. Vigorously applying the same high standard throughout the Belfast network should ensure cyclists are not left to fend for themselves on 60mph dual carriagewaysroundabouts and junctions.

      Quietways

      In London Quietways have been set out, apparently without much regard for existing traffic volume or taking measures to reduce traffic volume along the route. It leaves bicycle users navigating their way through streets busy with HGVs and along ratruns. 

      Modal filtering, keeping certain vehicle types out of streets where cyclists have priority, must be included to reduce traffic volume and speed in order to make Quietways work.

      Repeating mistakes

      In Hackney streets have been made calm and more liveable through permeable filtering. Walking and cycling in becalmed areas is a joy. Where Hackney fails, and fails badly, is ensuring cyclists’ safety along main traffic corridors. There have been fatalities especially along main roads. Hackney also has a worrying high level of hit and runs.

      Bicycle users, of any kind, are choosing main roads over back streets because they want to traverse an area rapidly to get to their destination, or need to visit amenities along the main road.

      This network plan leaves Belfast in danger of repeating London and Hackney’s mistakes. It potentially sends cyclists down ratruns, along roads where cars dominate and where they are offered little protection.

      Another mistake is the use of coloured paint to mark cycle provision. In London slippery paint has been implicated in the death of a motorcyclist and numerous less serious falls. In the Netherlands coloured tarmac is used:

      The use of the words encourage and promote grates. If the network is consistently of high standard, accessible and attractive to use, encouragement and promotion is superfluous. Make the network a better and cheaper alternative to car use and people will start using it.

      Question 5: Do you agree that the primary network should be based on the concept of arterial and orbital routes?

      Yes. But. 

      Not the arterial routes set out in the plan, but instead following the main traffic or Metro corridors in the city. With modification the network of routes as set out in this document can act as a secondary network reaching into the heart of neighbourhoods.

      Last resort

      Many of the proposed routes follow the Community Greenway footpaths set out in the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (2015). Considerable adaptation and financial commitment is needed to make these Community Greenway routes usable for cyclists. And shared use paths, such as Community Greenways should be a last resort, when no designated space for cycling can be safely fitted in along main arterial roads.

      Belfast bicycle users on the route of the proposed Community Greenway between Shaw’s Bridge and Whiterock

      Question 6: Do you agree that the network should be developed in Primary and Secondary stages as outlined in 3.13? If not, how should it be developed?

      Here are those two stages:

      No. Developing the network in this way is fundamentally wrong. The level of separation should be decided by size, speed and volume of traffic a road is carrying. And in turn the size, speed and volume of traffic is decided by the primary function of a road or street. 

      Trunk roads

      So, Belfast’s A55 ring road, a busy trunk route, should ideally have fully separated bidirectional cycle paths on both sides with grade separated crossings, so ensuring a minimal number of areas of conflict. The current provision is a long way off from this ideal.

      Segregated shared use path, A55 Belfast

      Paint separation on A55, Belfast

      Above is a trunk road, the N273, just south of Venlo in the Netherlands. Having bidirectional paths either side allows cyclists to get to their destination without having to cross the main road. The number of crossing points can be kept to a minimum.

      Local access

      At the other end of the scale, streets that only serve as access to properties can, with traffic calming and a 20mph speed limit enforced by road design make do without any segregation for cycling.

      No cycle path needed here, but still enabling 8-80 cycling

      In the picture above through traffic is kept to the main road in the background. A bidirectional cycle path leads cyclists safely underneath the provincial road. The path connects to the city centre and a cycle superhighway. The street in the foreground only allows motorised vehicles access to adjacent properties and has a 30 km/h (20mph) limit.

      Distributor roads

      Cycle path along Dutch distributor road (Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)

      On these distributor roads designated cycle space is needed, due to traffic volume, traffic speed and presence of HGV.

      Distributor roads allow joining up of local access streets and main trunk roads. They are busier than access roads and are often lined with businesses. They are not meant to carry traffic originating outside the area going to a destination somewhere else outside the area.

      Confusion and delay

      In Belfast these road functions are blurred. Distributor roads act as thoroughfares for regional traffic and vice versa. Worse, across the city quiet residential streets, access streets, are used by commuters to avoid certain junctions. These access streets then take on the role of a distributor or even a trunk road.

      This blurring of functions, mixing traffic users with differing intentions is one of the root causes congestion. It is better to disentangle these functions and so allow for more homogenous traffic flow.

      The primary function of a road, the dimensions, speed and volume of traffic must dictate the level of segregation needed.

      Question 7: Do you agree that we should consider requirements of likely users on a scheme by scheme basis, for example routes which will primarily be used by children on the school journey may be best served as shared track?

      No, design it right

      The entire scheme should offer users an expected level of quality throughout. Dutch experience shows commuters, schoolchildren and leisure cyclists of all ages and abilities can and do use the same paths to reach their destination. And people on roller blades, powerchairs, mobility scooters, etc:

      We don’t offer bespoke roads for certain groups of car drivers. Whether they are business users, commuters, shoppers or going out for a trip to the seaside they all use the same network and expect the same standard of provision throughout.

      Singling out a certain user group and making the cycle provision meet their specific requirements puts other cycling groups at a disadvantage. 

      St. Bride’s Primary School sits in between two major roads in South Belfast. Children from the surrounding area could cycle to school were a safe designated space for cycling provided. The two roads are also very popular with commuters to the nearby Queen’s University campus and Belfast City Hospital. Whose needs prevail?

      The answer is, of course, to design it right and children, commuters, leisure cyclists can all use the same designated bicycle space.

      Again, shared tracks should only be used as a last resort as they are inherently compromised to suit the divergent demands of different groups of road users.

      Question 8: Are there any other kinds of bicycle infrastructure that should be considered? What are they? Do you have any views on which types of infrastructure, if any, should be favoured in developing a network for Belfast?

      The document sets out how the Department will provide for cycling between junctions. It does not set out how cyclists will get across junctions.

      Firstly, any network path should clear priority over traffic on minor streets crossing it. This can be reinforced by making path and the footway beside it continuous.

      Continuous footway and cycle path, London (Cycling Embassy of Great Britain)

      A bus stop bypass is visible in the background. These should be included on all routes where they pass a bus stop.

      At junctions the path should should be set back from the main thoroughfare so that a turning vehicle can wait for cyclists to pass without obstructing the flow of traffic.

      Set back path at junction along N273 in Baarlo, Netherlands

      Currently, where there is provision, it ends before the cyclist gets to a junction or roundabout. At the junction or roundabout cyclists left to fend for themselves. Even on new infrastructure such as the Durham St path, the issue of junctions has been fudged with areas of shared space and strange transition arrangements.

      The Department needs to start providing junctions and roundabouts with in-built protection for cyclists. Belfast City Council, in their response to the Bicycle Strategy, wish to see Dutch roundabouts

      Missing from the plans are grade separated crossings across trunk roads. The plans feature reopening the tunnel on the Abbey Road (an access street) on the Comber Greenway, but do nothing at all on the A55 crossing beside Knock Police HQ. 

      At Broadway roundabout, a major hub for the planned routes, cyclists are forced to make use of 4, sometimes 5 separate button-controlled crossings. 

      For such busy junctions grade separated crossings for pedestrians and cyclists would be best.

      The roundabout’s design team however did not consider people cycling at all. They did not foresee a Belfast Bikes docking station being installed. They did not think cycling could become more important in Belfast. Now it’s built it is hard to see how cycling can be given a safe designated space without major investment. 

      Cyclists are left with poor infrastructure.

      Powerful commentary on the use of shared space below

      At Tillysburn there is an opportunity to do something great to replace the current glass-strewn bear pit. 

      Hovenring, Eindhoven, Netherlands

      Snelbinder cycling bridge, Naaldwijk, Netherlands

      Question 9: Do you support the use of the network requirements as detailed at paragraph 5.1?

      Yes.

      At every stage from planning to implementation to review the guiding principles of the network must remain central and constant. As our city and traffic evolves, so the network must evolve to meet user demand or deal with the challenge of, for instance, autonomous vehicles. The core principles should not be compromised or degraded as the network is built.

      Sadly, the Alfred Street path shows how in the period between design and completion these guiding principles were compromised, allowing motor vehicles to slip between wands and block the lane and not offering enough protection at junctions.

      Question 10: Do you agree with the addition of ‘Adaptability’ as a network requirement? What other requirements would you like to see included?

      Question 11: Do you agree that the routes should be planned and facilities designed with the achievement of increasing numbers of people cycling in mind?

      I’ll answer these as one question.

      Obviously, the network will need to built to accommodate the target volume of cycle traffic. The Bicycle Strategy sets a target of 20% of journeys under 1 mile and 10% of journeys between 1 and 2 miles for cycling.

      How Rotterdammers get around (Bike Portland)

      The targets set for Belfast are puzzling. The share for cycling in Rotterdam peaks at around 3 miles. Belfast’s cycling supposedly peaks below 2 miles. How does this sit with the NI Travel Survey?

      Cycling doesn’t register against walking and driving in Northern Ireland. Digging deeper into data reveals the peak of cycling journeys lies between 2 and 5 miles.

      And the average journey length is 5.1 miles.

      Humans in Rotterdam are not vastly different from those in Northern Ireland. Humans tire and for most walking more than 2 miles, or cycling more than 5 miles requires too much effort.

      The network should not be built for the current 0-5% of people who use bicycles regularly and then adapted to accommodate a greater number in 5 or 10 years time. It should be built to accommodate the target of 20% share from the outset.

      Look at how the cycling provision at Broadway roundabout has become set in concrete, with little room to grow cycling numbers on the far from adequate shared use space.

      If  adaptability is adopted as a core principle it should be so that cycling can grow and not be constrained by keeping the current state where cars utterly dominate Belfast streets. This requires new thinking at Department for Infrastructure, who thus far, even in writing this consultation document, are reluctant to remove road space from cars and redesignate as cycling space.

      Question 12: What are your views on segregation between people who walk, people who cycle and people who drive? What are your views about physical segregation between motorised traffic and non-motorised traffic? Do you agree that there are levels of traffic (footway or carriageway) below which physical segregation is not always necessary – such as quiet routes and residential areas?

      Sustainable Safety

      The underpinning thought of designing roads should be sustainable safety, so that an error by a road user will not have fatal consequences for themselves or others. 

      The second principle is hierarchy of control: where there is a risk, eliminate it; if it cannot be eliminated manage it (in descending order of effectiveness) by substitution, design, laws and education and if after all that a risk remains use personal protective equipment.

      On roads the risk of fatal and serious road traffic collisions is reduced by removing areas where cyclists and cars use the same space. Along busy roads and roads where traffic speed is 30mph or above and environments where there are more than average numbers of HGV separation is needed. This is not optional, it is a must to increase cycling numbers.

      If Belfast eyes a target of 20% share for cycling it will need to consider how this has an impact on current shared use provision. How will the crossing of the Lagan Towpath with the Ormeau Road look with 4-6 times the number of cyclists?

      An underpass will only partly reduce congestion at this point as many, if not most, cyclists use the footpath to cross the bridge. 

      One Path to conflict 

      Already, there are numerous incidents along the Towpath and Comber Greenway. To reduce these Sustrans have introduced the One Path initiative to share the paths. Or to put it in other words: on shared use paths we are already in trouble when cycling has an overall modal share of 3-5%. What will this be like if cycling achieves a 4-fold increase?

      Hierarchy of control dictates that an education exercise won’t be very effective and separating cyclists and pedestrians will work better to avoid conflict.

      Below is a picture of the Ruhr Cycle Superhighway being built near Mülheim in Germany. It shows clear separation between the pedestrian path on the right and the smooth wide tarmac for cyclists on the left.

      Ruhr Radschnellweg 1 under construction at Mülheim (VelocityRuhr)

      As shown before, on quiet residential streets there is no need for separation, provided traffic speed is 20mph or below and traffic volume is low. The best way to achieve good conditions for 8-80 cycling is to consistently stop ratrunning and designing roads to self-enforce a 20mph speed limit.

      Again, calming traffic by road design and clarifying an access street’s purpose by removing ratrunning vehicles is not optional, it’s a necessity to enable 8-80 cycling.

      Question 13: How important is the requirement that ‘routes need to flow’? What kind of signage should be provided? What facilities should be provided?


      The paths should be easily recognisable as cycle paths to stop drivers erring into them. And cyclists will more easily follow a clearly set out trail. This is best done by using coloured tarmac. 

      Wayfinding has to be simple and straightforward with dedicated clearly legible signage. Different routes could have their own colour or theme to improve recognition. 

      Tourists will use these paths so signage should be simple to understand to non-English speakers, perhaps showing amenities as pictograms rather than words.

      Pictograms used at Dutch railway stations

      Additional facilities: increase number of cycle racks along routes, especially near shops, libraries and health centres. The plans recognise the paucity of secure bike racks in Belfast. Bicycle hangars could be placed in inner city neighbourhoods to enable people to securely store their bicycles when their homes have no available cycle storage space. Already mentioned are secure bike lock-ups at bus route termini principal bus stops and railway halts.

      Public bicycle pumps and bicycle repair tools could be placed at various locations for those who need to carry out a quick roadside repair.

      Bicycle counters must be placed at a number of locations to show that the paths are being used and numbers of cyclists are growing.

      Question 14: What is the relative importance between construction of a route and its maintenance? What other guiding principles would you suggest? Please explain.

      This is not a question. The built network needs to be maintained. Lights need to work, rain must not cause flooding. Clearing snow and gritting when it’s frosty should be done to prevent falls and enable year round cycling. 

      Question 15: With reference to the appendices please set out your views on the proposed routes. We are interested in the positives or negatives associated with the various sections of the proposed routes.

      Question 16: What are the specific issues that may arise if bicycle infrastructure was constructed along the proposed route?

      Question 17: What other alternative routes are available?

      With so many fundamental errors in these plans it would seem nitpicking to lift out pros and cons within each scheme. However, they asked the question:

      The main positive points:

      • Provided the segregation is up to highest standard and junctions and roundabout offer protection to cyclists a path along Boucher Road connecting the Lisburn Road at Balmoral and the Royal Victoria Hospitals will be of great benefit to staff and service users of the Royal, but also allow better access to the Boucher retail area, home to two bicycle shops.
      • The proposed Route 1 between Holywood and Holywood Exchange to central Belfast will give commuters from Holywood an alternative to the car, but also allow leisure cycling from Belfast to Bangor along the North Down Coastal Path.
      • The A55 route will knit together the current paths of varying standard.

      Even as you start summing up the positives the negatives come crowding to the fore:

      • The near total disregard of main arterial routes, lack of directness and poor connections between residential areas and amenities. Designing for failure.
      • The reliance on sharing space with pedestrians on almost every proposed route. Designing for conflict.
      • The lack of grade separated crossings across Belfast’s Outer Ring. Designing for death.

      What do these routes look like in winter, after 7pm, or before dawn? Many routes pass through gates which are shut as early as 4:30pm. Are path users to be abandoned, with literally nowhere to go? 

      And you do wonder at what stage of the night and however many cups of coffee it seemed like a good idea to send cyclists up a road with an 19% incline:

      Profile of Beechill Road (Route 4 East)