True grit

Once again the weather forecasters are giving us weather warning overload as a band of icy, snowy and windy weather promises to paralyze our little corner of the world.

This winter has seen a couple of spells of icy weather. And the Department for Infrastructure is stepping up to the challenge.

I don’t give up cycling easily. The last time I stopped commuting was in 2010, when temperatures dipped so much below freezing gritting stopped being effective. Streets were transformed into ice rinks. Even main roads like A55 Balmoral Avenue more resembled an Olympic bobsleigh track than part of Belfast’s main orbital route.

The worst, sustained spell of poor weather since 2010 brought almost a week of snow, sleet and icy roads to the Belfast area in mid and late December 2017.

Cycling on the pavements and down quiet roads on the freshly fallen snow was fine. The ground underneath had not yet frozen, so our big bike easily sank through the slush and the big wheels gripped solidly onto tarmac.

The main carriageways however were soon rendered impassable: countless cars compacting the slushy snow into solid ice. It took a couple of days of sustained gritting to clear main routes.

By contrast, by the second day the pavements were now treacherous. Pavements are only gritted by accident when the road beside it gets treated.

On the school run I faced the horrible dilemma of sharing a main 50mph road with 1000s of vehicles or take my chance on the pavement. I took my chance; I lost and skidded on a particularly sneaky patch of black ice on the pavement. No harm was done and we continued on our way.

Happily, by the evening the same path was ice free and dry and I got home safely.

In other, more cycle-minded, districts gritting of cycle paths is taken very seriously by the authorities, such as in ‘s Hertogenbosch. A number of vehicles are adapted for clearing snow and ice specifically from cycle paths. Clearing snow and ice enables year-round cycling:

(Video by BicycleDutch)

In Belfast only a few paths are gritted, all shared use and as far as I can tell all managed by the Department for Communities.

As far as I know, neither Belfast City Council or the Department for Infrastructure grit paths in their care. So the Lagan Towpath at the Gasworks was gritted, but not in Clement Wilson Park or Lagan Meadows looked after by Belfast City Council and Lagan Valley Regional Park, respectively.

Please use the comments below if you know differently.

Though, saying that, someone spread salt around Old Shaw’s Bridge and the footpaths at the junction of the Ballylesson Road and the A55 Milltown Road with what looked like a manually operated gritter. Who did it? Whoever you were, a big thank you and well done!

I asked the Department for Infrastructure in km how many cycle paths in Belfast City Council area, designated or shared use, are scheduled to be gritted when a weather warning is issued.


I asked the Department for Infrastructure if they possessed vehicles designed or suited to clearing snow and ice from cycle paths.


So tonight, as I write this, the Department’s gritters are out salting the main traffic car routes, but leaving everyone else, pedestrians and cyclists with near impossible journeys.

Why does this matter?

In East Belfast cyclists are expected to use the Comber Greenway instead of the Newtownards Road. The road is gritted, but the path is neither lit, or cleared of snow and ice. In the heart of winter cycling stops for all but the bravest. The Department for Infrastructure evidently still treat cycling as a leisure pursuit that is abandoned in winter, not as a viable alternative to our driving on our traffic-choked roads.

In Copenhagen -like Den Bosch- they set their priorities differently.

One thought on “True grit

  1. Already off once – black ice on a side road. Switched to my wife’s pedalec next day – much better, although I did get the front wheel to spin. The cold and rain doesn’t put me off, but ice stops play.

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