Big data surprises

It has been quite the week for data.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust have launched their annual Staff Travel Survey. Last year’s results are available in the Trust’s Travel Plan. It reveals that 9% of staff cycle to work:

The official figures for Belfast indicate cycling is somewhere between 3 and 5%, with cycling across Northern Ireland at 1% stubbornly refusing to move out of the statistical noise (i.e., the margin of error in the stats is greater than the reported number) in the past decade.

The 2018 staff travel survey shows the number of cycling commuters are at least double the city’s average.

This has big consequences for Belfast. The Trust is responsible for 1/3 of Belfast traffic. And how Trust staff travel has a real effect on congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.

The targets for 2020 are mind-boggling:

The Trust are aiming for a 16% overall drop in car use, from 71% to 55%. The Transport staff I spoke to were confident they will achieve this, but we await the details on how. It is clear the Trust are betting on car share and increasing the number of bus commuters.

Surprising counts

Dublin does an annual cordon count, but Belfast doesn’t. I wanted to find out what the numbers of cyclists are on our roads, just to see if the chatter about increasing numbers is justified.

My methodology was simple. In a 20 minute period, count all traffic, both ways, and categorise into cyclists, buses and other traffic. I chose 4 locations I could reach by 08:30. I used the Thing Counter App, and set a 20 minute timer.

Obviously, there are flaws. They are not on the same day of the week and weather forecasts could have influenced the numbers on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Heavy showers were forecast for those days, whereas Friday was forecast as a fine, sunny day. The 20 minute time interval is also relatively short and the chosen time is skewed heavily towards those cycling to work.

For Lisburn Road the go to figure has been 1 to 3% depending on location; 7% for inner south east Belfast.

How did it pan out?

  • Lisburn Road, north of the junction with Marlborough Park: 15 cyclists; 19 buses; 361 other motor vehicles. 15/380: 3.9%
  • Lisburn Road, south of the junction with Elmwood Avenue: 23, 19, 464, 23/506: 4.5%
  • University Road, south of the junction with Elmwood Avenue: 21, 9, 537, 21/567: 3.7%
  • Ormeau Road, junction with Stranmillis Embankment: 116, 20, 474, 116/610: 19.0%

The Ormeau Road was the only location with school children cycling. And perhaps that is not a surprise, given it is also the only location of the 4 with safe designated space for cycling: the junction is where the Towpath crosses Ormeau Road.


Money for cycling infrastructure is always treated as an extra; something to be considered separately from the big hitting road building projects.

Utrecht commissioned a report to see if the multimillion Euro investment in cycling was worth it. In the Bruto Utrechts Fietsproduct report published in 2017 the municipality reckons the benefit to Utrecht is €250,100,000 per year. No, I did not add a few zeros for a laugh.

And who in the community benefits most? Drivers. For each Euro benefit, 72 cents is benefiting drivers in reduced congestion and increased reliability on the road network. The next biggest benefit is reduced absence in the workplace through sickness: 11 cents.

Cycling, the report states, benefits society by €0.50 per km cycled.

So, far from a frivolous extra for weekend leisure cyclists, putting cycling front and centre in road planning makes financial sense. We all benefit.


The take home message for Department for Infrastructure is simple: build cycleways along Ormeau Road; take the Towpath underneath the bridge, along the water’s edge, just like is done a little upstream at Governor’s Bridge.

Enabling cycling like this will, ironically, benefit drivers, through reducing congestion.

Ormeau Road is one of the most congested roads in the UK outside London. Whatever Department for Infrastructure have tried until now is not working.

Gather numbers. Department for Infrastructure won’t budget for cycling, because the gathered statistics are too poor to show areas with high cycling uptake. The existing figures need to be updated, and budget allocated accordingly.

It will be worth it.

Clifton Gateway – A Traffic Sewer Repackaged

Earlier in the year the Department for Communities released their proposals for redeveloping Crumlin Road, Carlisle Circus and Clifton Street.

The plans are available here.

The project’s introduction recognises the poor quality of the public realm, the severance caused by the hostile environment for pedestrians around Clifton Street’s junctions with the Westlink and Carrick Hill. The Westlink cuts neighbourhoods off from the city centre, and separates communities from economic opportunity. To the north and west of the Westlink lie some of Europe’s poorest neighbourhoods. To the south and east are some of Northern Ireland’s wealthiest districts.

There is nothing bad about the context and background. It even mentions cycling without adding “foolhardy“.


The project’s objectives include: “d. to design and deliver the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the relevant phases of the Belfast Cycle Network Programme.”


What does the Programme for Government say? In the absence of a Minister the civil service should continue the directives of the most recent Programme for Government.

The Government have recognised that the share of 25% walking, cycling and use of public transport is stagnant and not sustainable. This percentage has to be much higher. It has remained roughly the same for much of the past decade.

Indicator 25, section 3.17 says:

“Provision of adequate infrastructure is critically important. We will, therefore, aim to BUILD [sic] a comprehensive network for the bicycle – the emphasis is on providing good quality safe and accessible infrastructure so that people will have the freedom and confidence to travel by bicycle for everyday journeys.”

This is further fleshed out in the Department for Infrastructure’s Bicycle Strategy.

All good. With such a framework in place we should expect something really good. A segregated cycleway of perhaps an even better standard than the Middlepath Cycleway.


What is offered to pedestrians and cyclists in these plans?

The area has a number of collision black spots for cycling: the Agnes Street junction, outside the Mater Hospital, Carlisle Circus, the junction with the Westlink and the Carrick Hill junction:

Here is a Google Streetview of the current cycle lane on Crumlin Road:

The green paint has all but been worn away, because drivers abuse it as a free car park for the nearby Mater hospital. It is effectively useless as a cycle lane.

In the opposite direction there is a bus lane, which cyclists may use. Except, of course, for 22 hours of the day when it is a car park. It is effectively useless as cycle infrastructure. And ineffective as a bus lane also.

The plans are for exactly the same.

This cross-section is located here (in red dashes):

In summary, there are no plans for good quality accessible and safe cycle infrastructure on the Crumlin Road.

The civil servant responsible will argue they were never going to build anything new there, because that particular road is not included in the Network Plan. So they don’t have to do anything at all.

Belfast Cycle Network Plan routes (red), Clifton Gateway (green)

Except they do, under the terms of the Programme for Government Indicator 25, they have to build good quality, safe and accessible cycle infrastructure to give people the freedom and confidence to travel by bicycle to go to a hospital, say, or go into the city centre.

Summing up, the cycle lane plans for Crumlin Road fail to meet the project’s targets, do not meet the requirement set out in Indicator 25 of the Programme for Government and least of all will persuade more people in North Belfast to cycle.

Within the same footprint available on Crumlin Road DfI could build something like this:

Carlisle Circus

In my blog about roundabouts I mentioned Carlisle Circus as a possible site for a Dutch-style roundabout with protection for cyclists and improved crossings for pedestrians.

The current situation:

And the proposed situation:

We await DfI’s plans eagerly, because the plans for this junction and the Carrick Hill junction are yet to finalised. Whatever it is, it has to enable pedestrians and cyclists to make their everyday journeys with freedom and confidence.

A few questions, though. Why is there car parking on the circle itself? A roundabout with car parking. Mad. Almost as mad as a motorway roundabout with a footpath around it.

Would that space not be better used to make the roundabout safer?

Is there perhaps a lid on any radical change here? We can be pretty sure the final junction design will try and accommodate the big purple Glider buses.

Belfast Rapid Transit, phase 2

The BRT Gliders made an appearance in the Shaftesbury Square public realm plans, because phase 2 of the big purple bus will open up a north-south route across the city, with tentative plans for a route from Newtownabbey to Knockbracken, with a spur to Queen’s University Belfast. The exact route has not been settled yet, but space is reserved across the city nonetheless. What is the point, argue the civil servants at DfI, of making Carlisle Circus a place where people can walk and cycle with freedom and confidence now, when we will go and rip it up in a few years anyway?

The Belfast City Deal includes the funding from central government for the North South BRT, which is conditional on the Assembly being restored.

Readers, it may be a few years before the BRT comes anywhere near Carlisle Circus, if at all. In the meantime any developments that could benefit pedestrians and cyclists are stifled.

Grosvenor Road

Even when the BRT goes somewhere else, the resulting free road space is not automatically given to other sustainable travel modes. A little way along the Westlink the East West BRT was initially planned to go up Grosvenor Road. It was instead routed along the Falls Road a little north.

The Belfast Cycle Network Plan RVH to Comber cycleway fizzles out at the junction of Durham Street and Grosvenor Road. An empty expanse of tarmac lies between there and the gates of the hospital.

No room for cycling here

Cyclists are routed, diverted, along the polluted, noisy Westlink, where WHO air quality levels are breached on more than 25% of days of the year. And the gate from the Westlink to the RVH campus is closed at weekends.

Carlisle Circus reimagined

For an idea on how to improve Carlisle Circus for pedestrians and cyclists and include mass transit we -naturally- head off to the Netherlands.

Mark Wagenbuur wrote about this roundabout in Amsterdam, the Hugo de Grootplein, which includes a tram track. And what is the BRT, but a tram without tracks?

Dare the Department for Infrastructure build something mad like this? Maybe. They, after all, came up with a single lane motorway roundabout with a footpath.

Clifton Street

Clifton Street is a traffic sewer. It collects traffic from the Antrim and Crumlin Roads and dumps it in Belfast’s answer to Rome’s Cloaca Maxima, the Westlink. To continue with the scatological theme, the Westlink is part of the 1960s Belfast Urban Motorway (BUM, in case the penny drops more slowly for you).

It is more than a road, an attempt to build barriers between rich and poor, Catholic and Protestant. Belfast is criss-crossed with euphemistically called Peace Lines. Instead these lines are the petrified remains of our conflict, uniting communities on both sides under the peace line’s dark shadow.

(c) PRONI/SpatialNI

The map of Belfast prior to the Westlink shows a dense network of streets and alleys. They were all cleared away and the residents moved to bright and breezy, optimistic sprawl and new towns at the edge of ever expanding outer urban Belfast.

The Westlink is a formidable moat. And Clifton Street is one of the few bridges across it into central Belfast.

The Clifton Gateway project recognises the severance, this barrier caused by too many vehicles in too little space, suffocating the life out of this area of town. Literally.

Image showing air pollution in Belfast.

Let’s see a before and after and see how pedestrians can walk with confidence and freedom from Carlisle Circus to Carrick Hill.

Clifton Street – current

Clifton Street – proposed

A new bridge railing. That is it. No doubt more pleasing to the eye than the existing utilitarian fence. They plan to overcome a barrier to walking and cycling, a traffic bottleneck, with a fancy bridge railing.

The plans acknowledge the existing footways are challenging, full of dips, bumps, kerbs and odd slopes. So walking might be made easier, but is it enough to encourage people to walk beside a noisy, smelly 5 lane traffic sewer, crossing flows of traffic to and from the Westlink; a journey currently undertaken by car?

There is nothing for cyclists. There is an advisory cycle lane on Crumlin Road, but where it is needed most, at Carlisle Circus and along Clifton Street there is nothing.

The plans maintain 5(!) lanes for motor traffic. There are no bus lanes, not even for the BRT.

Belfast is not going to achieve its aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution targets if the government like a gambling addict keeps backing the losing horse, or in this case the car. If we want road space for cyclists and buses space needs to be taken from one or more general traffic lanes.

Happily, Clifton Street has plenty of room for bus lanes, cycleways, leaving 2 lanes of general traffic.

Programme for Government Indicator 23

Indicator 23 looks at increasing capacity of the strategic road network. The ways it is hoped this will be achieved:

  • road infrastructure investment at localised congestion pinch points in the network
  • identify and investigate any pinch points which appear to be operating inefficiently (e.g. relatively low flows but high delays)
  • remove interaction between local and strategic traffic through:
  • bypasses of towns and villages
  • restricting access to the strategic network for traffic undertaking local journeys

This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities.

Removal of the Clifton Street/Westlink junction

The junction with the Westlink pulls traffic from across North Belfast towards it. It increases traffic on surrounding roads; much the same way the Stranmillis gyratory pulls traffic towards itself.

Down below, on the Westlink, the weaving of traffic to access the Clifton Street slip roads, or of traffic joining the Westlink, reduces speed and capacity, reduces traffic flow.

Be radical! Remove the slip roads, remove the central filter lane on Clifton Street, do away with the traffic lights. Do away with the junction.

Fewer drivers will come to Clifton Street, because they can no longer access the Westlink there. Which is good, because you have just given all that space to buses, cyclists and pedestrians.

The drivers will soon discover that they can still access the strategic road network at Fortwilliam, York Street and Divis Street.

Carrick Hill Junction

The Carrick Hill junction is a mess, 5 roads converge on the junction. It is a challenge for any cyclist or pedestrian to cross safely.

There are filter lanes inviting drivers to cut across cyclists going straight ahead. One is at Donegall Street entering Carrick Hill, the other on Carrick Hill, entering Clifton Street.

There is no need for filter lanes in inner urban areas. Filter lanes, advanced stop lines, pedestrian guard rails and staggered crossings (all found on this junction) have little to do with safety, but everything to do with improving car traffic flow. They are symptoms of car-centred road design, obsessed with moving cars.

This should be a place where people using public transport, people walking and people cycling dominate.

A proposed Belfast Cycle Network route crosses the junction, from Carrick Hill to North Queen Street.

Instead of a space for people, we have dreadful wasteland of tarmac. A road diet is long overdue for this morbidly obese junction.

If you arrive at this junction by car your destination should be nearby in the city centre. If your destination is elsewhere the light sequence and road layout should quickly send you back to the nearest Westlink access at York Street.

It will be interesting to see how the Department for Infrastructure resolve this. For inspiration they could look to the Heetmanplein in ‘s Hertogenbosch. Here an over-complicated junction was massively reduced in size and made safer for cyclists and pedestrians. The before and after are pictured below:

Donegall Street

Thank you, if you have made it this far. If you are a cyclist, the worst of the traffic is now behind you.

Currently, Donegall Street is a tired looking, inner city street. However, change is coming to this corner of Belfast where the University of Ulster are building their new city centre campus. The whole area is overseen by cranes, new high rise university buildings and student residential blocks.

The plans are to maintain what is there, but improve the pavement surface.

The plans for Donegall Street should reflect the population shift in the area. More walking, enabling cycling, public transport as the street’s main user.

A bit like so, perhaps?

Donegall Street (featuring a 6.5m wide footway!) is wider than Nobelstraat in Utrecht, so most of the car parking could be maintained, to protect cyclists on the cycleway from passing vehicles. The Transport for Greater Manchester design guide provides a helpful diagram for a hybrid (terrace) cycle track.

A stepped bicycle track

In summary

Like the Shaftesbury Square plan, the proposed changes do not amount to much change at all and will certainly fail to lift the number of people walking and cycling in North Belfast. The plans do not reduce car traffic or road space for cars, and do not give space for cycling and public transport.

The plans are a beauty makeover for a traffic sewer; it will remain a traffic sewer. It is a traffic sewer repackaged.

We have a very short time to radically change our city and the way we move around it in order to save the planet from the worst effects of climate change.

These plans are deeply disappointing for those looking to improve air quality and improve health outcomes of the communities beside these roads.

The best thing the responsible government departments can do is to rip up these plans and start again. Imagine a new Belfast, where people are put first, not just those privileged enough to own and drive a private car.

Judging others

I wrote about North Down’s poor road cycling safety record before. Summarising, 3 people out cycling were killed within one year, 2 on the same road. In my blog I presented a not very ambitious plan to improve safety for bicycle users along the A21.

Unsurprisingly, nothing has changed, other than the roll-out of the award-winning PSNI See The Cyclist campaign to North Down.

In the meantime 2 of the 3 drivers have appeared before court, both pleading guilty to the charge of causing death by careless driving. The sentencing of Lindsey Huddleston, who killed David Catherwood on the A2, was not reported.

David Catherwood (Irish News)

We now have more information on how father of five Stephen Lynch died.

Photo from Irish News

Mr Lynch was struck from behind at 50mph by Mr Lappin, driving a Renault Scenic, who failed to notice Mr Lynch ahead of him. Mr Lappin escapes jail, for which he would have got a maximum of 3 months and be out in 6 weeks. Instead he is to serve 100 hours community service.

For blowing his nose.

No, really, read the reports: he blew his nose and someone died.

So far a lot of the focus has been on the lack of a rear light on Mr Lynch’s bike. Or that he was not wearing high visibility gear. But then, if Mr Lappin was not otherwise engaged, he may have spotted the cyclist on the straight and well-lit road.

More likely, even if Mr Lynch had road legal lights and had a form of high visibility gear, Mr Lappin would still have gone into the back of him because Mr Lappin had his eyes closed. You try blowing your nose without closing your eyes.

Stephen Lynch (Belfast Live)

None of these discussions restore Mr Lynch to his family and friends. None of these thoughts will pacify Mr Lappin’s mind. He will carry the responsibility of taking someone else’s life. (And in this respect he too is a victim of not only his lapse, but also of poor design which allowed his lapse to have a catastrophic consequence.)

How can such a small lapse, such a small natural action, blowing one’s nose, lead to the death of another road user? It shouldn’t.

There are a few questions that need to be asked:

  • Why was Mr Lynch cycling on a 70 mph section of dual carriageway;
  • Why did the collision result in his death;
  • Has it happened before;
  • Can we learn anything, make changes, and prevent this happening again?

There are precious few alternatives to the route Mr Lynch took between Newtownards and Bangor.

All of these are dominated by cars and lack any kind of cycle infrastructure. In my previous post (linked at the start) I offer an idea what could be done quickly enough. And two fatalities should provide the incentive to put together a meaningful package of route improvements.

From the reports it becomes clear that Mr Lappin was travelling at 50mph, well within the 70mph limit. Also Mr Lynch was travelling at 10 to 20mph in the same direction, meaning the closing speed was between 30 and 40mph. The probability of surviving a collision at these speeds lies between 10 and 50%.

Pedal on Parliament

What this says is simply, a driver and cyclist should not be sharing any roads with a speed limit greater than 30mph.

Whilst blowing one’s nose appears to be a very uncommon cause of accidents, coughing and sneezing behind the wheel does appear to cause a significant number of collisions, once source calculates as many as 2500 collisions a week in the UK.

Google failed to find me any instances of an incident caused by nose blowing other than the present case. A number of drivers have been fined for blowing their nose whilst driving. And quite right too.

This collision could have been prevented. Mr Lynch could still be making his way to work and Mr Lappin would have cleared his nose and continued his day. For that we need to look at Sustainable Safety or “Duurzaam Veilig“. Two principles of Sustainable Safety are of particular relevance:

  • Homogeneity – the mass, speed and direction of traffic using road space should be broadly similar. A kerb segregating the general traffic lane and a designated cycle lane would have separated Mr Lynch from cars coming up behind him;
  • Forgiveness – that no one should die as a result of an error by themselves or another road user. You could think of installing rumble strips to alert inattentive drivers when they veer off course, or deflecting kerbs to ensure cars are pushed back into the road when the driver errs. Also, a soft verge could make the difference between a life and death.

In contrast to the Dutch, British and Irish authorities have a curative response to road safety. Something happens and they respond on that location, sometimes. Incidents or accident black spots are seen and dealt with in isolation.

A spate of collisions at the petrol station nearest to our home led to the speed limit being dropped from 50 to 40mph. A drop in the speed limit is to mitigate the consequence of a collision. It does not necessarily prevent future collisions happening.

Ideally, after any severe collision there should be an audit of all other similar locations across the country. Has there been an audit in Northern Ireland of all petrol station entrances and exits on 50mph roads in built up areas in Northern Ireland? Probably not.

In the rail or air transport sectors such industry-wide reviews are a matter of course. When a fault is reported entire fleets of aircraft are grounded and checked. This safety culture has meant that in 2017 no large passenger aircraft crashed at all, anywhere in the world.

If a dangerous roundabout is fixed with a new design or layout, that should be applied on all similar roundabouts. And new roundabouts must not be built including the same old faulty design.

More than that, Sustainable Safety should become part of UK and Irish road designers’ thinking so a route between, for instance, Newtownards and Bangor can be safely walked, cycled and driven.

I will not waste many words on the judge’s comments which boil down to if you kill a cyclist, it is just one of those things. Deplorable.

None of this will help Mr Lynch’s family and friends now. We should also extend our sympathy to Mr Lappin. Few of us know the anguish and guilt he must endure for inadvertently taking someone else’s life.

See the Cyclist

The Police Service NI rolled out its version of West Midland Police close passing initiative in the summer of 2017.

The initiative was also shared on Facebook.

The initiative was extended from Belfast to Bangor and Ards, perhaps in response to Gavin Moore’s death on the A21 near Bangor.

And elsewhere in NI in Newry and Mourne:

And Mid Ulster:

The #seethecyclist campaign is headed by the force’s neighbourhood policing teams. The main focus is on driver and cyclist education.

The force handed out lights to cyclists:

All good and well.

What has been missing from the news headlines is how many drivers have been spoken to about their driving about cyclists.

West Midlands Police have been very vocal in sharing their success, reducing serious cycling KSI (killed and seriously injured) by a fifth.

Belfast local media picked up the start of the PSNI campaign announcement, which was criticised by local cycling campaigners for focusing on cyclist visibility, rather than driver behaviour.

However, drivers have been educated.

The lack of news in main stream media about campaign successes was worrying. Has the campaign actually been followed through and are officers on the street catching careless and dangerous drivers?

An FoI request revealed that in Belfast and Bangor and Ards districts a total of 39 and 8 drivers respectively were offered advice about their driving. Additionally 250 information packs were handed out to cyclists.

No drivers were prosecuted.


PSNI is to be commended for adopting See the Cyclist as a strategy to reduce cycling KSI. Their work with cycling clubs is very good and should give the PSNI a shout at lifting a Fred Award later this year.

However, they can do more.

The lack of prosecutions is worrying. If the campaign is not backed up by punishing poor driving behaviour drivers will not change. You have to question the impact on drivers if all they have to sit through is a word of advice.

Also, the scheme’s successes need to be shared more widely. At present See the Cyclist is buried in the Facebook feed of neighbourhood policing teams. It needs to start hitting the headlines.

Taking back the Square, part 2

Three years ago I blogged on the consultation for the redevelopment of Shaftesbury Square, launched by the then Department of Social Development, now Department for Communities.

The plans mentioned the poor provision for cyclists travelling across the Square from North to South. It did not mention cyclists being unable to cross the Square from Donegall Road to Donegall Pass. No mention either of the Belfast Bikes hire stations in Botanic Avenue or Bradbury Place.

My blog post was picked up by the design company, GM Design Associates. My comments would be passed on to Billy Robinson, the project lead, who is a “keen cyclist”.

You then think in the intervening years, with Belfast Bikes establishing themselves into the streetscape, 2 Ciclovia events, increasing numbers of people on bikes crossing the Square daily for commuting, shopping or leisure, the plans under the aegis of a keen cyclist would move away from providing for cars to something more pleasing, more people friendly, more human scale.

So, what has changed?

The words remain good, though I have to take issue with the insertion of “most foolhardy” in the description of cyclists who currently use the Square.

How exceptionally hostile and hazardous is it?

Mapped are all collisions involving cyclists between 1998 and 2015. This reveals that lower Botanic Ave, site of the Belfast Bikes hire station, is a very hazardous place.

The hot spots for cycling collisions, besides the bottom end of Botanic Avenue are on the corner of Donegall Road and Shaftesbury Square;

outside the former Northern Bank on the corner of Bradbury Place;

and at the point where the lane entering Botanic Avenue and Donegall Pass meet:

The plans would only address the latter, as the plans are summarised best as the removal of the Botanic Avenue slip lane to make a larger public space.

At the end of my blog I scribbled a plan of how the plans could be improved. I was still maintaining the Great Victoria Street and Dublin Road gyratory.

We now have had 2 Ciclovia events, showing the potential benefit of pedestrianising Botanic Avenue and Dublin Road, and the excellent route Dublin Road would make as the primary access into the heart of Belfast, continuing along Bedford Street.

Over the years Belfast’s Golden Mile along Great Victoria Street has withered and is now only found in people’s memories and sepia tinted photographs. However, a lot of nightlife, pubs, restaurants and cafés are now along the axis of Dublin Road, Botanic Avenue and Bradbury Place.

The Department for Communities plans should look beyond the Square and move through traffic away from Dublin Road and Botanic Avenue.

Removing through traffic from Dublin Road will result in Great Victoria Street becoming two way, with a much simplified junction with Donegall Pass and Donegall Road. If Botanic Avenue were pedestrianised the junction would be far simpler still.

Great Victoria Street has ample space to accommodate 2 bus lanes, 2 general traffic lanes and cycle paths. If the Department for Infrastructure can give up its obsession with on-street parking.

Walking into a nightmare

The biggest problem with the Department’s plans is turning Shaftesbury Square into a shared space. This would require a massive reduction in traffic volume. The plans only mention a reduction in vehicle speed.

The plans set out 10 transport goals:

So let’s see how this has been translated into the plan.

No dedicated cycle route through the Square. No bus stop bypasses. A shared space, where up to 3000 vehicles an hour cars jostle for room to move. More car parking is included in an area where there is already no shortage of spaces.

This is not going to improve the place for pedestrians or cyclists. People with impaired vision or mobility will struggle to move safely across a space without clearly demarcated spaces for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

Building crumbling infrastructure

It is not as if this idea has not been tried before. And failed.

Here is Frideswide Square in Oxford:

Read about damage here: or here:

And concerns from cyclists:

And visually impaired people:

It was nominated for a prize. Mortifying.

Exhibition Road in London is often cited as a successful design, but I felt the central car space acts as a barrier to crossing the road, with pedestrians pushed together against the facades of the museum buildings:

Shared Space for the Fittest and Strongest

Closer to home, in Lisburn, Joanna Toner won a court case over the use of low kerbs in the town centre shared space development. “[Joanna] stated that previously she could walk around Lisburn city centre without difficulty, accompanied by her guide dog or using a white cane.” But no longer. The shared space has destroyed her independence and confidence.

Lord Holmes called for a moratorium on shared space schemes.

With the large volume of traffic on Shaftesbury Square the definition of shared space is pushed beyond its limit.

LTN 1-11 (link above) talks of a threshold of 100 vehicle movements an hour at which point the space becomes a road to be crossed, rather than a truly shared space. None of the arms of Shaftesbury Square are anywhere near that figure. Donegall Pass with 400 vehicle movements is the least busy but still 4 times the threshold.

In the GM Design plan the roads will remain roads to be crossed, and pedestrians will remain pushed to the edges of the Square, near the buildings.

How does a blind person negotiate with 50 vehicles a minute in crossing the Square? How will an 8 year old cycle safely across this space with around 70 buses per hour?

Traffic volume needs to be reduced dramatically before we start dreaming of turning Shaftesbury Square into a space for events. Simply putting a 20mph speed limit sign up and putting down nice slabs of stone is not going to achieve very much.

Inspiration from elsewhere

Haarlemmerplein, Amsterdam. Mark Wagenbuur did a little portrait of Haarlemmerplein in Amsterdam. Its redevelopment was controversial, with the design changing from a historically inaccurate pond to a water feature similar to the one at Belfast Custom House Square.

The take home message there is the rerouting of the main flow of traffic away from Haarlemmerdijk, across the square to Haarlemmer Houttuinen, just to the north. Removing the main flow of traffic enabled a more human scale square. Somewhere to chat and to spend time and money.

Similarly, Times Square, New York. Snøhetta, the designers, boldly pedestrianised Broadway between 42nd and 47th Street, removing a flow of traffic across Times Square.

The Department for Communities was inspired by Times Square, but GM Design Associates were not bold enough to remove any traffic flows across Shaftesbury Square.


Noise pollution is a serious problem in Shaftesbury Square.

The dark blue splodge on the map above is where average daytime noise levels exceed 75dB. This is uncomfortably loud. People have to shout to make themselves heard.

One of the startling features of Dutch rush hours and cities is the lack of road noise. Staying in a B&B just off Amsterdam’s Vijzelgracht, the only clue that rush hour was in full swing was the ringing of tram bells and the sound of people chatting as they rode by on their bikes.

A street café is unimaginable in Shaftesbury Square unless road noise is reduced. Electric cars will reduce engine noise, but the equally noisy rumble of tyre noise and wind resistance remains.

Air Quality

These are NOx-emissions apportioned per vehicle type. We can now add that cars (especially diesels) are now known to be far more polluting than thought when Belfast City Council drew up its Air Quality Action Plan. Without drastic action Belfast air quality will fail to improve and annually 300 people will still die prematurely because of air pollution caused by traffic.

With these plans pedestrians and cyclists on Shaftesbury Square will continue to breathe in noxious fumes because no effort has been made to reduce through traffic.

Belfast Rapid Transit stunts development of arterial cycling routes

I am all for Rapid Transit. What I question about its implementation in Belfast is it being introduced without taking space from cars and removing space for cycle paths. In the consultation the Department for Infrastructure glibly dismissed cyclists’ concerns. I queried this with the Department and was told cyclists could use the bus lanes. As pointed out in the BRT consultation responses. And that was it. The Department for Infrastructure Cycling Unit shrugged its shoulders and Sustrans was happy with that.

In East Belfast a dogged campaign saved the Comber Greenway from being turned into a fast bus track. The route was put on the main Newtownards Road. Cyclists can use the parallel Comber Greenway.

In West Belfast the BRT goes up the Falls Road, Andersonstown Road and terminates on the Stewartstown Road. No alternative cycle route is available, though the Department for Infrastructure insists cyclists can use the paths through Bog Meadows instead.

That is perhaps fine for fit people on conventional bicycles, but everyone else will struggle.

The plan’s transport goals have the BRT at the apex of Belfast’s transport hierarchy.

The plans do not remove general traffic lanes to accommodate the dedicated bus lanes. And in the plans, despite having dedicated cycle tracks as a transport goal, no dedicated cycle tracks are included.

Unless GM Design Associates Billy Robinson, the foolhardy keen cyclist, doesn’t mind sharing with buses. And thinks a bus lane is a cycle lane.

I get tired trotting out this graph from Sustrans Belfast Bike Life report. Bus lanes you can cycle in are the least encouraging for getting more people to cycle.

Improving the design

Times Square, New York, shows how we can improve the presented plans. Dublin Road and Botanic Avenue need to be pedestrianised, with a two way cycle track along the entire length.

Donegall Pass is dead-ended for vehicle traffic at its junction with Botanic Avenue. Great Victoria Street becomes two way from Bruce Street to Bradbury Place. Great Victoria Street will have inward and outbound bus lanes, a general traffic lane in each direction and cycle tracks. The bus lanes and cycle tracks are continued up Bradbury Place. The cycle tracks flow behind the bus stops. On-street parking is removed entirely, leaving a only couple of loading bays and a taxi rank.

And if we really must continue to provide car parking…

In Leiden at the Lammermarkt an underground car park was built, leaving space on the surface for events. If Belfast were really ambitious it could do something similar. It has to be balanced by removing more surface parking in the city centre, so encouraging drivers not to take cars into the city centre.

A Green Barrier to Cycling

Geraldine McAteer, the Sinn Fein councillor for Balmoral invited people to attend a Belfast City Council consultation on replacing the green steel barriers on Finaghy Road North railway bridge.

I went along to see what was planned. Would it address any of the problems around Finaghy Road North: the rush hour congestion; the lack of cycle infrastructure; the poor access to Finaghy railway halt; the dangerous junctions of Finaghy Road North with Diamond Gardens and Orchardville Avenue.

To cut a long blog short. No, these plans concerned themselves only with the look of the bridge:

There was a choice of cladding for the bridge sides, paving slabs or tarmac and lighting options.

Early in the day people expressed a clear preference for sides that allowed people to see the trains, and didn’t offer a blank canvas to graffiti “artists”.

Also, people wished to have the bridge reinforced with a containment kerb and rail. This is understandable. The local environment, with a high traffic volume is threatening.


One, unintended, consequence of a containment kerb and rail is the narrowing of footpath space. Some of the path width will be recouped from removing the green barrier. Narrowing will be bad for pedestrians and cyclists.

The road itself is very narrow and doesn’t allow cyclists easy filtering past the queue of traffic. Most cyclists will continue to use the footpath, but with less space, more conflict seems inevitable.

Great Heck

After the Great Heck Rail Crash in 2001 railway bridges across the UK were assessed for safety. The crash near Selby was caused by a sleep deprived driver plunging his Land Rover and trailer, loaded with a Renault 21, off the M62 onto the East Coast Main Line. The southbound early morning Intercity service from Newcastle to King’s Cross hit the Land Rover and was pushed into the path of a freight train travelling in the opposite direction. 10 people died and 82 were injured.

The bridge at Finaghy was identified as in need of most upgrading in Northern Ireland.

Very soon after the “upgrade” local politicians called for the “ugliest bridge in Ireland” to be improved. We can only hope the current consultation is the beginning of the end for the green walls of Finaghy.


There is no budget for major, meaningful improvements. The current consultation is simply looking at replacing the green containment wall with a prettier arrangement.

No plans exist to making the bridge safe for cycling. Many cyclists choose the footpath rather than go on the road. The bridge approaches and nearby junctions are outside the project’s remit.

The footpath is not much better; the area is blighted with pavement parking and dog dirt.

Unaddressed problems

  • Finaghy and Andersonstown are car-centred neighbourhoods
  • Finaghy halt is accessed through a pub car park;
  • Access to the station for people using mobility aids, prams and bicycles is circuitous;
  • There are steep steps leading up to the road;
  • There is no footpath on both sides of the road;
  • There is no protection for cyclists;
  • Drivers make walking from the station hazardous at the junctions of Finaghy Road North and Diamond Gardens and Orchardville Avenue (below)
  • Finaghy Road North is used by through traffic; it is a favoured route for taxi drivers to and from Belfast International Airport to south and east Belfast.



This part of Belfast does not see much cycling. The 2011 Census shows the share for cycling at around 1% – about Northern Ireland average, but below areas to the northeast, closer to the city centre.

Few children cycle to school; the majority of primary school age children are brought by car. And all because the car is given priority.

Any solutions for this bridge should put the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport above that of car drivers.

Changing the environment

Despite there being 3 primary schools, 3 secondary schools, a health centre and library within walking distance to Finaghy cross roads, the light sequence massively favours cars. In a 3 minute light sequence only one phase of 20 seconds are allocated to pedestrians. This is not quite enough to cross diagonally. Though some try:

The nearby side streets are rat runs and they should be bunged:

With BRT coming to the northern end of Finaghy Road North, more should be done to dissuade residents in the area reaching for their car keys when they need to go out. Stopping rat running and inappropriate through traffic will increase road safety in the area, which will enable people to walk to the train or bus, to work and school.

Incentives need to be offered to residents to discover for themselves how good and convenient public transport or cycling can be for them. Most people reach for their car keys, because the other options are simply not familiar to them.

Solutions – Cycling

The Belfast Bicycle Network Plan reaches Finaghy Road North by way of the private school grounds belonging to Malone College and Cranmore Integrated Primary School (red on the map below). Which is strange, because the school gates close when the last member of staff leaves in the afternoon. During the day visitors to the grounds using the back gate at Musgrave Park are buzzed in.

A better solution here is to take the network cycle path along the railway straight to the station (green on the map below). The railway embankment and grounds are wide enough to accommodate a path. I suspect at some stage there were sidings here.

Finaghy Road should have cycle tracks running its entire length. It would enable more pupils cycling to school. The principal of Cranmore IPS welcomes more pupils coming to school on foot or by bike, but the road environment simply makes it impossible.

A solution for the look of the bridge should be sufficiently flexible to allow for the construction of cycle tracks at a later date.

Solutions – station access

What is amazing is that the bridge over the railway never had a footpath on both sides, as this view of Finaghy Lane in the 1930s shows.

However there was an access to the railway down a set of stairs on the south side. It appears the land immediately below and beside the bridge is still owned by Translink and gives access to the station forecourt via an arch. Why can this lane off Ardmore Avenue not be used for vehicle access to the station, rather than crossing the pub car park?

Giving the station its own access might stop this kind of thing happening:

Solutions – Pedestrian access

The station is currently reached by steps from the road level down to the platforms. For people using mobility aids, prams and bicycles there is a detour to a ground level path leading to the southbound platform and the halt’s forecourt.

Not having a footpath on both sides of this urban distributor road is not acceptable; it discriminates against those who have difficulty crossing roads. The lack of a footpath adds to the bridge being perceived as a barrier.

Simply because a footpath was not there in the 1930s is not a good enough reason to not have it there 80 years later. The area has changed beyond recognition.

Pedestrian walkways can be added to each side of the bridge with ramps leading straight down to platform level on both sides of the road and railway line.


The replacement of the ugly green barriers is long overdue. It detracts from the area and makes the walking and cycling environment even more hostile.

Narrowing the footpath to install containment kerbs will increase conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.

None of the areas traffic problems are addressed and no budget is available to put pedestrians, cyclists and public transport first.

Greenway Lessons

We spent our summer holiday in Mayo, just north of Newport. The Great Western Greenway runs a short distance from the holiday home. We were separated from it by the busy N59. The Great Western Greenway deserves to be copied by county councils across Ireland, but it should not be a simple case of copy and paste. It can be improved.

Abandoned railways abandon cyclists


The path itself cannot be faulted. Using the railway infrastructure allows for a quick and cheap way to create a traffic free cycling route between places. Beeching, Benson and others blessed us with a wide network of potential Greenways. Like the former Sligo, Leitrim and North Counties Railway near Manorhamilton:

However. A big however. A railway is designed not to interact with local roads. It threads its way through the landscape separate from the grid of roads and streets. The landscape of Ireland is littered with arches and tunnels, taking railways over and under rivers, roads and hills. This creates separation between the Greenway and the land it passes through.

Burrishoole road bridge, now part of the Greenway

The consequence is that people will cycle the Greenway end to end, but not interact much with the area in between.

Mayo County Council has tried to overcome this by introducing short loops on local (restricted access) roads to encourage people to visit sights and places of interest within a short distance from the Greenway. These loops are signposted and well worth their while. The obvious jumping off point for these loops are former level crossings, or where farmers created access tracks to the fields using the old railway bed.

View from Rockfleet Castle, accessible from the Greenway using a signposted loop

Some of these loops cross the N59, or require people to walk or cycle a short distance along the 100km/h main road. A road with no pavement or cycle paths. The only safe way for us to cross was to put our 10 year old on the back and her bike on the front of my bike. Not everyone has the bike to do that.

It is not sufficient to create a Greenway and not do anything about the main roads in the vicinity. These need to be designed so an 8 year old or and 80 year old can make it across safely.


On Twitter I have had an exchange with a Maghery resident about a proposal to put a walking and cycling bridge across the Bann near its mouth with Lough Neagh.

They fear that the building of a bridge will increase vandalism, spoil scenery and bring hordes of tourists to peek into their houses. So far so “Not in my back yard”.

Greenway planners need to get resident buy in by clearly setting out Greenway benefit to them. They need resident involvement in design process, and allow a meaningful consultation. Many development schemes get mired in reviews and court cases, resulting in delays, simply because the consultation process was not used to give local residents a proper voice.

Sometimes residents have a point about not wanting a Greenway on their land. At Derradda on the Newport to Mulranny section the Greenway takes an unexpected detour. It first veers off the embankment, then follows local access roads, returning to the original line via a newly built path.

The red line in the map above goes through a homeowner’s garden.

The homeowner’s objections can be understood. Not every one wants a public path yards from their property.

What it also shows is that for Greenway building authorities need not gain 100% landowner buy in. Adjacent roads can be used, if cyclists can be safely given space there. It also means a Greenway can be built, before all landowners are on board with the idea. Seeing it in practice, showing the economic potential realised, might persuade people to allow access at a later date.

In many cases local roads near the old railway line only serve to give access to properties and fields.

Realistically, roads will need to be used because the railway land was in many cases sold off. This is especially the case in towns.

Rural greenways, urban no-ways

Historical map, (c) OSI

The Midland and Great Western Railway ceased operations relatively recently. The last train trundled along the line in 1970. Just north of Newport town the railway was completely dismantled, and the N59 was partly realigned and is now where the railway was. At Burrishoole the present N59 bridges the sea inlet to the tidal Furnace Lough where the railway used to be. The old road now serves as the Greenway.

I’m not entirely persuaded that the strip of paint will keep my family safe from an errant driver on this 80km/h road.

On the edge of Newport the railway line crossed the Mulranny road.

Arch being demolished, early ’70s

Only the remnant of the arch stands today opposite Kelly’s car dealer’s. The railway line itself was built on. A small house stands where the platform of Newport station ended. The station’s goods store is a place of worship.

It is easy to miss the entrance to the Greenway, which is situated at the corner of a gravel layby. Homemade signs direct cyclists to the path. Despite this local initiative bicycle users can be seen riding the main road beyond. Mayo County Council could do more to make the path entrance more obvious.

Most cyclists use the pavement between the end of the Greenway and the town centre. There is no cycle infrastructure at all in Newport itself. The Greenway continues towards Westport beyond the town; again cyclists use the pavement to bridge the gap between the Greenway and the town.

It seems that Mayo County Council values car parking more than providing a safe, continuous cycle path through Newport town centre.

With the acres of tarmac available on either side of the Newport River bridge more can be done.

The old railway bridge is not easily accessible for cycling, with stepped access. An odd arrangement, because it is the obvious alternative crossing point to the road bridge a little further downstream.

The railway line used to go through two tunnels south of Newport. I guess it was too costly to restore these and run the Greenway through them.

A common mistake

The Comber Greenway similarly ends at the edge of Comber town where the A22 has taken the place of the old Belfast & County Down Railway line. Cyclists have to use the Old Belfast Road and narrow, congested Castle Street and Mill Street to reach Comber town square.

A better solution in Comber is to route all motorised vehicles coming from Dundonald and the Glen Road (via Glen Link) down the A22 to the Killinchy Street roundabout. Make Railway Street one way Dundonald bound from Lime Grove to reduce rat-running. Block off the Old Belfast Road junction with the A22 and make the route from there to Comber town square a cycle priority street, banning access to motor vehicles at the A22 viaduct.

Removing through traffic from Castle Street and Mill Street will enhance the shopping experience; currently shoppers have very little room, with pavements barely wide enough for a pram. Castle Street could see motor vehicles removed entirely, with access maintained through Bridge Street Link.

Comber’s cycle streets could look like this:

It is for the people and traders of Newport and Comber to decide whether to bring the Greenway and its many users into the town centre safely, or continue to live with streets completely dominated by motor vehicles.

Michelle McIlveen as Transport minister had great ambition for the Comber Greenway to be a Cycle Superhighway, but how can it be a fully developed transport link if cyclists are abandoned at the edge of town?


The Great Western Greenway is a good template for Greenways across Ireland. The benefits are clear, adding millions to the local economy. From Waterford to Sligo, Leitrim and North Counties old railways are being transformed.

More thought should be given to drawing the Greenway into town centres. Simply painting a line on a road and sticking a bicycle motif down will not do. Such as this example from Westport.

Poor cycle lane design, along the R335 in Westport

In Northern Ireland proposals and plans for hundreds of kilometres of Greenways are in development. The lack of an Executive should not hold up local planning and design proposals.

However, some day soon a Minister will have to allocate budget to these plans and allow these paths to be built.

Out of despair…

I dedicate this post to David Catherwood, Stevie Lynch and Gavin Moore. I pray their deaths will not be in vain.

It is hard to find the right tone after the tragic events on 11 July 2017. Gavin Moore, a well-known member of North Down Cycling Club, died when a driver collided with him on the Ards to Bangor dual carriageway. My sympathies are with his partner and children.

At the same time I feel anger. Anger that in the space of one year three cyclists have died on North Down roads. Two on the A21, one on the A2. I’m angry that these deaths will soon be forgotten about by all but the immediate family.

On 19 July 2016 – A2, near Cultra, David Catherwood:

On 6 October 2016 – on A21, near Conlig, Stevie Lynch:

On 11 July 2017 – on A21, near Conlig, Gavin Moore:

It is for the authorities to establish how these three people died.

And in June 2017 a cyclist was injured on the A21 at the Newtownards Road roundabout on Bangor’s ring road.

What the these roads have in common is their near complete lack of designated cycle infrastructure.

The number of collisions involving cyclists across Bangor is sobering. Each dot represents someone whose trip out on a bicycle took an unexpected and unwelcome turn. Most, thankfully, resulted not much more than a grazed knee, or a broken bike, however for some that collision left them with life-long changes.

North Down MLA, Steven Agnew sees the need for better cycle infrastructure:

And perhaps in response the Department for Infrastructure built this:

(Co. Down Spectator, via Facebook)

UUP MLA Alan Chambers saw the funny side:

This kind of infrastructure is not going to enable 8 to 80 cycling, not even if the bicycle motifs and arrows are put the right way around.

It is totally unacceptable to have cyclists share road space with fast motor traffic travelling at 50 to 70mph. At these speeds an error by any road user can have serious consequences. At such speeds a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist will always result in death or serious injury. It is nothing short of a miracle that some walked away physically uninjured from the collision on Tuesday, 11 July.

(I will leave aside the A2 for this post. I hope to revisit it in the future.)

A Cycle Priority Street for Conlig

Before the A21 dual carriageway was completed in 1976 Bangor to Newtownards traffic went through Conlig village. The old road is still there as the Old Bangor Road and Main Street. It only gives access to the village. Conlig has 2 buses an hour in each direction.

Both motor vehicle access points from the bypass to Conlig have seen collisions with cyclists and are not safe. An alternative is needed.

The old road begins here and ends here, separated from the bypass by fences, but allowing pedestrian access in both cases. Widening access and building a short stretch of cycle path would allow cyclists access to the old road from the bypass.

The village main road currently has a 30mph speed limit, which is enforced by speed cushions. The presence of traffic calming suggests that speeding is an issue in the village. However, it is not a road with a high traffic volume.

The village environment can be improved and cyclists’ lives be saved by changing Main Street to a cycle priority street. 

Here is a cycle priority route in Utrecht, NL:

Overtaking is discouraged by including a cobbled centre median, forcing motorists to slow to cycling pace. The road itself only gives access to adjacent properties and through traffic is routed elsewhere. And the area is a 30km/h (20mph) zone.

Another example is this “fietsstraat” in Lent, near Nijmegen, NL. It is also a bus route. 


A Cycle Priority Street cannot live in isolation. It is pointless to protect cyclists and at each end throw them in front of cars as bumper fodder.

At the Bangor end a short bidirectional path would need to be be built to take cyclists to the cycle priority street beginning. But there is also the generously laid-out Rathgael Road and Newtownards Road roundabouts. Both need to have protection for cyclists added. This can be achieved within the footprint of the current roundabouts.

And in Newtownards at the Donaghadee Road roundabout a similar pattern emerges. 

The A21’s generous lane widths, verges and median can be better used to provide designated cycle paths on either side of the road. The paths must be bidirectional to reduce the need for cyclists to cross the road. From Bangor the bidirectional path on the eastern side can be ended at the Green Road junction, allowing cycle access to the light industrial zone and government offices east of the A21. For onward travel the bicycle user can switch to the route through the village.

In Newtownards there is less space available, so a road diet of reducing the northbound from 2 to 1 running lane may be necessary to accommodate safe space for cycling.

At Conlig improvement can be made for the junction with Green Road. The best solution is to take pedestrians and cyclists over, or below, the main road into the village. The current arrangement of staggered pedestrian crossings and lights is not ideal. Until there is money found for a bridge or tunnel, the crossings will need to be adapted to allow bicycle users across the A21 and into Conlig village, via Green Lane.


3 fatal road traffic collisions involving cyclists, 2 at Conlig on the A21, should spur the authorities into action and make budget available to build infrastructure that will prevent more deaths in North Down.

  • Conlig village Main Street and Old Bangor Road could become a cycle priority street, taking cyclists off the main A21 carriageway. 
  • Short stretches of bidirectional paths will need to be constructed to connect the cycle priority street to Bangor and Newtownards. 
  • On the eastern side a bidirectional path can be built between Bangor’s ring road and Green Road, to reduce the need for bicycle users to cross the main carriageway.
  • The pedestrian crossing at the Green Road junction needs to improved.
  • The three main roundabouts on the A21 need to see protected space for cycling.

    Mid and East Antrim Cycling Routes Masterplan

    When I first arrived in Northern Ireland in 1992 I took my 3-speed Dutch bike on a trip from Belfast to Larne along the A2 on a sunny August Bank Holiday. It wasn’t until I reached Eden on the outskirts of Carrickfergus on the way back I encountered another cyclist: a venerable man on a well-maintained classic road racing bike. We looked at each other as if we had encountered an alien from another planet. We nodded by way of greeting and went on our way.

    On the back of their Local Development Plan, Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have presented their Cycling Routes Masterplan. You can get a copy by emailing Lynda Foy at the council.

    Lisburn and Castlereagh hid their Community Greenway plans in the lengthy Local Development Plan. Their plans were a giant step forward, but still well short of enabling a modal shift towards cycling. 

    Belfast also has a Network plan, but it should be ripped up and redrawn. It is half a plan. And the best half was mysteriously left out.

    Mid and East Antrim Borough Council have asked Sustrans to help develop their plans and it shows. At first glance the networks proposed for Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne are a true network of paths, reaching into neighbourhoods and connecting with key destinations: schools, railway stations, shops and businesses.

    The plan also reaches out beyond town limits with a number of Greenways across the council area. The maps rather optimistically mention existing cycle paths along the A26 and A8. 

    Sustrans authorship also shows itself in the reluctance to move away from shared use paths and more forcefully claim space for cycling on the towns’ main thoroughfares.

    A change of climate

    East Antrim is of course the constituency of Sammy Wilson MP, infamous for his climate change denial and nudity, who claimed that Northern Ireland’s climate and topography don’t lend themselves to cycling.

    It is satisfying then to see that this plan is the best of the three I have looked at. Imagine a steady stream of Larne residents pedalling past Wilson’s constituency office. These plans can make it so. Alas, the plans do not include a path along the length of Larne’s Main Street, but let’s hope Mid and East Antrim find the money to put a bike hangar, or public pump and repair station right in front of Wilson’s office.

    The plan does not contain many words, but instead showcases areas of opportunity and areas for improvement. The numbers on the town maps correspond to action points.


    The timescale for these plans is a leisurely 10 years. That is too long. It should be 5 years at most. We are facing an acute obesity crisis in UK and Ireland because of inactivity. 0% of school children cycle to school and we will fail them and their generation if we do not act. We cannot afford to let these plans drag on for a decade.

    None of the planned routes require large capital outlay. There are no iconic bridges to be built. These plans involve mostly retro-fitting paths to wide roads, and updating existing infrastructure. Many of the fixes such as cutting back vegetation can possibly be achieved within existing budgets.

    Even if there were need for an underpass, it wouldn’t take very long to build:


    If there is serious money to be spent for the benefit of bicycle users it should be to make safe the borough’s junctions and roundabouts. What is missing from the plan is an inventory of dangerous junctions and roundabouts and actions to mitigate for the danger.

    This junction in Ballymena was the scene of a fatal collision involving a cyclist and a bus. The proposals don’t appear to address this junction other than with some paint creating an on-road route.

    Instead cyclists are to be ushered through a side street.

    As with the Belfast plan, these plans stand or fall by their offering cyclists a direct safe coherent route of consistent quality from anywhere in town to any destination. Or, if you don’t create a safe cycling environment you will not see an increased uptake of cycling.


    The areas of opportunity identified are the very wide roads in the towns. 

    That is the Galgorm Road, where lane width far exceeds car width. The lane should be no wider than the bus. This would give acres of space either side for cycle paths and bus stop bypasses. Like so:

    Bike paths can be installed quickly without impeding existing traffic flows and at the same time prioritise bus services over cars. A pity therefore that giving up parking spaces and space on main roads for bike lanes is a battle these plans mostly avoid.

    Case 1, Ballymena:

    There is an obvious northeast to southwest diagonal route possible through the town centre. Note how the purple line doesn’t cross the town centre. Instead the bicycle user is routed away from the heart of the town and instead sent through a riverside park. It is a missed opportunity. Perhaps the roads here are too narrow to include cycle infrastructure. 

    Definitely no room for cycling here. 

    Case 2, Carrickfergus:

    Carrickfergus railway station is in the wrong place. It should be at the North Road bridge. This situation cannot be helped. However the back entrance is accessible on traffic free paths from North Road. You would think consequently that at the Sustrans NI HQ the North Road would see the first cycle route drawn alongside it. On the map North Road (yellow) runs from top to bottom with the railway station a red dot at the bottom of the map.

    North Road is perhaps a narrow lane. And putting in a cycle path alongside would need homeowners to give up their gardens. 

    Again, absolutely no room for cycling here.

    Best Practice

    There is no point in looking to Utrecht for inspiration on how we could change these good plans into excellent plans. Utrecht has spent in excess of €180 million in 4 years on cycling infrastructure. But the video makes a couple of good points.

    The Dutch cycle network doesn’t live in isolation. It is enabled (increasingly controversially) by a road and motorway network designed to keep motor traffic out of towns. It is aided by a ruthlessly efficient public transport network. It is underpinned by a philosophy of sustainable safety, enabling all age all ability cycling. It puts pedestrians and cyclists first. And these principles can be applied on a small scale. In Co. Antrim.

    Despite Copenhagen once again crowning itself the world’s cycling capital we have to look to small Dutch towns instead to understand how it all hangs together. On a small scale. In Venray

    At this point I usually bring up the larger city of Venlo 15 miles south. Mostly because I grew up there, though I was born in Horst halfway between the two. Venray, however, is by far the most bicycle friendly town in Limburg. It has a higher than Dutch average modal share for cycling. In many ways Venray can be compared to Mid and East Antrim’s three main towns. It has a rural catchment area with similar economic circumstances and a socially conservative political scene.

    In Venray they protect cyclists where needed:

    And keep out cars where they are not needed:

    And Venray has a large bicycle storage area near its station. A station, like Carrickfergus Station, built in the wrong place.

    Outlined in red are the covered bike racks. And they are always full to bursting with bikes as they are at every Dutch railway station. The storage area is not guarded but some bike lockers are available for added security. OV-Fiets hire bikes are also available.

    And obviously the station can be reached on designated cycle lanes:

    Venray has a lively cycling culture. It is justly proud of its annual 4 day bicycle tour festival at the end of July.


    Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Larne are firmly in Belfast’s commuter belt and many brave the horror of traffic on the M2 and M5 to access places of employment in the city. There is a rail service to these towns, but it could be much better. One train an hour to and from Ballymena is not good enough. 

    And that 26 mile train journey should not take 50 minutes and cost £13. The same journey is 35 minutes by car. The aim should be to offer at least two trains an hour taking no more than 35 minutes. There is no point in encouraging a bike-train solution to car commuting misery if the train bit is so costly in time and money.

    For comparison the diesel train service from Venlo to Cuijk is 28 miles, takes 37 minutes and has a frequency of 30 minutes. It costs €9.62 for a single journey. The Dutch government has pledged money so the line will be electrified and partially doubled to allow an increase in frequency and introduce intercity services. Additional stations could also be added at some point in the future, though for now a station at Grubbenvorst is shelved.

    As with Dutch trains there is little room for bicycles, and not at all in rush hour, unless it is a folding bike.

    To increase bike-train or bike-bus as a commuter mode and start relieving congestion on Belfast’s northern approaches cycle storage at stations and principal bus stops needs to be built and expanded.

    Bike lockers could be placed at unmanned halts and at bus stops, in addition to increasing racks at manned stations and using double deck bike racks as found at many Dutch stations. Or Cambridge, or Sutton:

    Hire bikes

    Bicycle hire should be made available at Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Larne stations. Visitors to the towns could then arrive by bus or rail and continue to their destination by bike.

    In conclusion

    These plans represent a real change for people in Mid and East Antrim. For many cycling to school, shops or work cycling can become a realistic alternative to taking the car. The proposed paths amount to a fairly coherent network. Many key destinations are made accessible for bicycle users, and some (but not all) main roads will get designated cycle space. 

    The plan itself admits there could be linking and new routes added. The lack of a spine to the networks in Ballymena and Carrickfergus will need to be addressed to ensure directness isn’t compromised. Forcing cyclists on an unnecessary detour is a central failing of the Belfast Network Plan; Mid and East Antrim need not make the same mistake.

    Another aim is to make bike-train or bike-bus a realistic alternative for commuters to Belfast. The plan includes installing extra racks at bus and railway stations. Bike lockers could be used at less secure unmanned halts and principal bus stops.

    A major block to developing bike-train are the poor railway connections to Belfast. The trains are too infrequent and slow and tickets too expensive. Significant investment in more rolling stock is needed to expand to a 30-minute frequency. Additionally, the continued use of diesel trains can no longer be justified. Electrification of NI’s rail network should be pursued as a priority.

    The plan does not set clear targets for cycling uptake. And as a result it is difficult to gauge how these plans will cope with 5, 10 or 30% modal share. What modal share is the council aiming for? The plans should say and the paths should be built to accommodate that level of cycling.

    Using shared paths is already causing problems in Belfast where cycling sits at 3-5%, so where possible they should be avoided. If shared paths need a Sustrans initiative to avoid conflict the shared path has outgrown its capacity to accommodate the volume of users with divergent needs.

    Finally, the biggest and darkest cloud. Unfortunately roads and transport are not controlled by councils. Instead roads are administered by the Department for Infrastructure. They are very reluctant to shift road space towards accommodating more bicycle users. The council’s Cycling Routes Masterplan could very well fall victim to Departmental inertia and lack of cooperation.

    Lisburn: Changing Gear at Last?

    Lisburn City and Castlereagh Council recently published its Preferred Options Paper for the Local Development Plan. The paper and it’s appendices contain a wealth of local information. It shows the direction in which the Council is heading. Some of this was foreshadowed in the Masterplan: the inexplicable decision to turn Lisburn Station into a Park and Ride halt, for instance. Another was the failure to recognise cycling as a grown-up transport option

    The Masterplan is slowly being implemented. Those markers of civic progress, new pavements, novelty streetlights, shared space and obstacles to the visually impaired are appearing in Lisburn centre.

    Cycling goodness
    The local plan contains numerous mentions of cycling and greenways.

    In response to the woefully inadequate cycling provision and the lack of proposals in any of the previous plans for meaningful cycle infrastructure in Lisburn I drew some lines on a map where I thought cycle paths could go in the built up area.

    Then the BMAP of 2015 and subsequent Local Development Plan were published and I discovered my dreams and the official vision were not much different. I suppose there are only so many permutations realistically possible.

    In addition to these Community Greenways the new development area to the southwest of Lisburn will be accessible through traffic free cycling and walking routes.

    What is different about my dreams and their plans is how these paths will look. Lisburn And Castlereagh worryingly talk about walking and cycling in the same breath, as if they are the same thing. And therefore one solution will suit both kinds of road users. And their solution is Community Greenways.

    I highlighted the poor suitability of the Community Greenways for cycling before, using the Lagan Valley Regional Park to Whiterock route as an example. This meandering footpath appears to have been quietly dropped in favour of an orbital route following the A55 Belfast ring road.

    Belfast’s proposed bicycle network

    A blank slate

    Lisburn is blessed with having a nearly completely blank slate when it comes to cycling. There are (segregated) shared use paths along the Lagan and beside Prince William Road and Knockmore Road. In the wider Lisburn and Castlereagh Council area there is also the Dundonald section of the Comber Greenway. And that is, disappointingly, all.

    Segregated cycling beside Prince William Road

    As they say in the Netherlands: a good beginning is half the work done. Lisburn can put itself ahead of local authorities elsewhere in Northern Ireland by taking what good there is an extending it into a full network across the urban centres in the council area with space designated for walking and separate space designated for cycling.

    Silver bullet

    Cycling is recognised in the Development Plan as a key tool to help achieve its six strategic objectives: Enabling Sustainable Communities and Delivery of New Homes; Driving Sustainable Economic Growth; Growing our City, Town Centres, Retailing and Offices; Promoting Sustainable Tourism, Open Space and Recreation; Supporting Sustainable Transport and Other Infrastructure; Protecting and Enhancing the Built and Natural Environment.

    Enabling Sustainable Communities and Delivery of New Homes

    There is something contradictory about this objective. The highlighted housing plans in Lisburn West and Carryduff all add to urban sprawl, which induces car dependency and reduces sustainability. Only a few opportunities currently exist to add to Lisburn town centre housing, but encouragingly is not discounted completely. It is crucial these edge of town developments are fully accessible by public transport and have paths to enable cycling and walking. It is crucial sustainable transport is designed into the area’s plans, and not added as an afterthought. 

    The paths for the Lisburn southwesterly expansion follow the river Lagan and skirt the development along the M1 and the Halftown Road. A person using these paths doesn’t find entering Lisburn town centre any easier, because it has a formidable barrier of fast-flowing roads to the west and south: Thiepval Road, Governor’s Road, Laganbank Road and Queen’s Road. 

    To develop Lisburn in a southwesterly direction more needs to be done to allow cyclists and walkers safely across this torrent of traffic. The current beg-button crossings are inadequate for pedestrians. There is little to help the cyclist. 

    Pedestrians waiting to be allowed across

    Shattered Dreams

    Where this ideal of sutainability often falls down is translating them from a lofty planning statement to eventual execution. The Woodbrook development off the Ballinderry Road should serve as a reminder of this, where the economic downturn thwarted NI’s “first eco-village”.

    The plans for development of housing, or indeed transport infrastructure should be robust enough that in a round of cost-cutting sustainability is not the first casualty.

    Supporting Sustainable Transport and Other Infrastructure

    Lisburn: Opportunity to grow sustainable travel

    Sustainable travel solution doesn’t just mean finding solutions for work and school related journeys. It also means making the shopping centres accessible for cycling. The new Lisburn West development is only a Motorway’s width away from the Sprucefield shopping complex. It may as well be on another planet. There are existing underpasses which could easily see cycle and footpaths added and so increase accessibility from Lisburn.

    The town’s healthcare facilities have very poor cycle parking provision, and though there is traffic-free access to Lagan Valley Hospital from the Lagan Towpath more needs to done to allow safe cycling and walking across the nearby Laganbank Road/Hillsborough Road junction. Walking from Lisburn centre (for instance from the bus station) to Lagan Valley Hospital requires three separate beg-button crossings to cross the Laganbank Road. The refuges are very narrow; with railings added it forms a tight squeeze for parents with double prams, people using mobility aids, or cyclists too scared to use the main carriageway.

    Changing Car Culture

    To change its citizens’ travel habits the authorities need to address central failings in its current road infrastructure. It is too car-centred. Nothing in these plans reduces this car-centredness. Lisburn is too easily accessible by car, and it’s retail core is slowly being strangled to death by its noose of roads surrounding it.

    Encouragement of sustainable travel is doomed to fail if the current road network makes the decision to go by car too easy. The Plan should enable sustainable travel by building safe designated walking and cycling routes, investing in public transport by (for instance) increasing frequency and density of the network of bus routes. At the same time the use of cars should be actively reduced, by making fewer town centre parking spaces available and removing road space for cars in favour of more sustainable modes of travel.

    The council continues with its inexplicable intention to promote and use Lisburn Railway Station as a Park and Ride facility. This is inviting traffic into the town centre, but the drivers then go off to Belfast and spend their time and (more importantly) money there. To improve Lisburn centre in terms of congestion, air quality and land use it surely is better to remove this unnecessary traffic to Lisburn West/Knockmore?

    Cross-Cutting Themes

    The Local Development Plan contains a number of “Cross-Cutting Themes”, which are addressed within each objective: Promoting Equality of Opportunity; Enhancing Quality of Life; Strengthening Communities; Supporting Economic Development; Sustaining a Living and Working Countryside; Supporting Good Design and Quality Places; Protecting and Promoting the Natural Environment; Supporting Infrastructure; Climate Change.

    Promoting Equality of Opportunity

    Rural areas outside Belfast suffer from having very poor connections to centres of employment, schools or amenities such as shops and health centres. The rural areas of Lisburn and Castlereagh are no different, with bus timetables restricted to a few buses a day, aimed primarily at the school run.

    People who live in these public transport deserts are reliant on private cars for every journey. Therefore this Development Plan will need to address the needs of people who do not drive, or have easy access to a car.

    Enabling people to cycle to local amenities should be one of the ways to increase equality of opportunity. Practically, this could be assisting people to buy electric assisted bicycles, having a lease scheme. Secure bike stands at principal bus stops and rail halts will help encourage bike-bus or bike-train as a viable alternative to the car.

    Supporting Infrastructure

    Planned Community Greenways on southeastern fringe of Belfast

    Former Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard provided a boost for cycling in committing to the building of Greenways. Lisburn and Castlereagh has committed to the Carryduff Greenway project, but the path is not mentioned in this Plan. The Greenway will run from the Cairnshill Park and Ride to the Lough Moss Centre in Carryduff. It would be good to see this path included.

    Northern Ireland used to have an extensive network of local railways, which due to their lack of profitability were closed in the ’50s. The Benson Report closed nearly all the remaining lines, leaving the minimalist network we have today. Lisburn and Castlereagh saw the loss of the line to Comber (which became the Comber Greenway) and the line to Dromore and Banbridge, which was largely bulldozed to make way for the A1.

    The A1 is a route of strategic importance, but totally unsuitable as a cycling route, because it is a dual carriageway expressway. Thought should be given to developing the remnants of the Knockmore to Banbridge line into a Greenway as an alternative to the A1. Certainly in removing the bottleneck around Sprucefield space for cycling should be designed into the plans from the outset to enable cycling access from Lisburn to Sprucefield and on to Hillsborough and beyond.

    Dromore railway viaduct (Brian McElherron)

    Many important A-roads slice through Lisburn and Castlereagh, fanning out from the urban sprawl of Greater Belfast. These roads have a dreadful road safety record: in the past 4 years 3 cyclists have been killed on Lisburn and Castlereagh roads. 

    To safeguard cyclists and pedestrians all the A-roads should have designated cycle and footpaths beside them, or running closely parallel. Many of these A-roads have hard shoulders and wide verges, so installation of safe designated cycle paths should not impact on road space or landscape.

    A26 near Glenavy (Google)

    Addition of safe cycle infrastructure will enable people living in the coutryside to cycle instead of drive, to have better access to bus stops, railway halts and nearby villages and amenities. Using an e-bike will increase the range of amenities people can access without having to use a car.


    The appendices include maps with travel times for walking, cycling and driving to Lisburn, Forestside, Moira and Carryduff.

    Here, for instance is the cycle map for Lisburn, showing that the entire built up area can be traversed within a leisurely 30 minute ride. 

    Electrically assisted bicycles would greatly increase the distance people of average fitness can cover by bicycle especially in the rolling countryside to the south of Lisburn.

    A similar analysis for public transport appears to be unavailable in the Plan. This raises the question if beyond the urban area public transport is too sparse to be an alternative to car travel. Investment to increase bus and train frequency is much needed.

    Enhancing Quality of Life

    In the news recently we learnt of the health benefits of cycling. The burden of inactivity on society and the NHS is measured in billions of pounds per year. It is money we can ill afford to spend. Incorporating and enabling cycling into our urban designs will help people to get and remain healthy.

    Air pollution is an acute crisis that is killing 1000s of people across the UK prematurely every year. The prevalence of diesel engines and car manufacturers cheating emissions data means we can no longer simply encourage more traffic by building more roads and adding to Greater Belfast’s sprawl. Sprawl encourages car use as people choose or are forced to live far away from their place of work, schools or town centres.

    Lisburn has spread and will continue to spread, according to these plans. However, in common with many town and city centres Lisburn’s core is not populated densely at all. Measures should be taken to rationalise the town centre car parks into a couple of multi-storeys and reusing the surface sites for economically more profitable use and housing.

    Also the large tract of land owned by the MoD to the north of Lisburn’s centre should be carved up for housing and business, before more greenfield sites are developed.

    Supporting Economic Development

    One of the great fallacies held in our society is that driving a car is adding to our economy. The money raised through taxes does not cover the outlay needed to enable driving at current levels. More and more people are suggesting road pricing can no longer be avoided. We are paying in our health and environmental budgets for the damage done to our health, environment and society by the utter car-centredness of 20th Century urban development in Northern Ireland.

    By contrast, cycling has been shown to add to the economy, to be of net benefit. The boost to the economy through building of the Great Western Greenway between Westport to Mulranny in Mayo has added in excess of €7.2 million per year to the local economy. 

    Minister Hazzard was right to encourage Greenways, but cycling’s potential is more than income through tourism. Its benefits are also clear through less congestion, boost for local shops, better health and less environmental damage through NOx emissions, climate changing CO2 and noise.

    Sharing the vision – Millmount Village

    The Plan makes a great deal of Millmount Village on the outskirts of Dundonald, adjacent to the congested A22 to Comber and the Comber Greenway.

    It is therefore disappointing that the developer and estate agent pay little attention to sustainable travel. The Comber Greenway, which provides a near total traffic free cycle commute to Comber, East Belfast or Belfast city centre, is only mentioned in relation to leisure. The Comber Greenway runs directly past the site.

    The developer still talks of commuting by car, generously underestimating the time needed to go from Dundonald to the Titanic Quarter. It fails to mention that Titanic Quarter can be reached by a nearly 100% traffic free cycle route.

    Also missing from the advertising is Dundonald Park and Ride, minutes away from the development. It allows people to get to Belfast City Centre destinations by a Belfast Rapid Transit bendy bus.

    Whilst the Council sets out how Millmount is a shift towards sustainability, in reality the choice to drive is put first, with realistic alternatives not even mentioned.


    The Development Plan makes clear that growth in Lisburn and Castlereagh cannot be maintained using our current transport models based on private car use. The council is right to point towards more sustainable communities, where cycling is a viable alternative to car use.

    The council see that its location on one of this island’s key transport corridors could be better used by developing the land to the southwest of the Lagan. However, the spread of Lisburn should be checked and more efforts should be made to develop economically inactive sites within Lisburn centre, reducing surface car parking and putting in its place quality housing.

    Car use needs to actively reduced by removing town centre parking, increasing accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists to key destinations across the Lisburn area.

    The council see the benefit of rural Greenways, but fail to include the Carryduff Greenway project, or develop plans for the old Knockmore to Banbridge line to create a safe designated route for cycling between Lisburn, Hillsborough, Dromore and onward to Banbridge, Scarva and the Newry Canal Towpath or towards the southeast through Rathfriland, Castlewellan to Newcastle.

    Elsewhere more can be done to increase rural utility cycling by developing the use of e-bikes, providing safe designated tracks along the council’s A-road network, installing secure bike racks at key bus stops and railway halts. Money needs to be poured into increasing bus and train services.

    And finally

    Away from transport, the Lagan supported a large textile industry powered by water mills. It would be good to see water mills return to provide electricity to the communities along its banks.