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.

Accessibility

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 ‚ā¨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.

Conclusion

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.

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Slow Road to Lisburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, it must be those poorly planned road works.

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

Numbers

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

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

History

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

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

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

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

Strategic road?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Local access or car park?

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

The changes were made permanent in 2014.

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

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

Confused traders

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

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

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

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

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

Any solutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some ideas for improvement:

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

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

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

    Cycling

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

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

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

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

      The bitter pill

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

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

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

      Let the train take the strain

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

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

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

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

      Summary

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

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

      Knockmore Road, Lisburn

      Cycling in Lisburn has been in the news again, and again for all the wrong reasons.

      Bob Harper has mapped all Northern Ireland’s cycle collisions between 1998 and 2014.

      image

      Red dots on this map of western Lisburn represent clusters of collisions involving cyclists.

      On 23 March 2016 a cyclist died on Knockmore Road at its junction with Ballinderry Road. The victim was Mr Mahfouz Balid, a Syrian refugee and qualified dentist, who worked in a window blind factory earning money to become a practicing dentist in the UK.

      His story was featured on BBC Newsline at Christmas.

      In the past 4 years 3 cyclists, including Mr Balid, have died on Lisburn roads.

      In November 2012, Donal Lucey, age 48, from Clonkeen, Co. Kerry died following a collision on the B49 Old Ballynahinch Road to the east of Lisburn. A ghost bike was placed near the spot where he was fatally wounded.

      image

      Donal Lucey's ghost bike (Ulster Star)

      At the time of the collision planned road works to improve safety were on hold following objections from people in Cargacreevy.

      In response to this and many other collisions, the speed limit on the B-roads coming into Lisburn from Co. Down was reduced from the National Speed Limit to 50mph and 40mph in places. It has to be noted that in a collision with a vulnerable road user at these speeds they will still most likely die.

      In November 2014 a bleak 24 hour period brought two traffic deaths. Adam Gilmour, age 8, was knocked down walking along a country road just outside Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, on his way to school. The second death was that of John Flynn, age 51, who was killed in a crash involving a HGV on the A1 between Dromore and Hillsborough.

      In the aftermath there were calls for cycle lanes on the hard shoulder of the A1.

      Mr Balid’s death also involved a HGV.

      image

      Photo: Gary Philpott Facebook

      Knockmore Road: the problem

      Local politicians were vocal following Mr Balid’s death, pointing out a plan for traffic lights at the Ballinderry Road junction had been unnecessarily delayed.

      Traffic lights are perhaps needed there, but more work needs done to make the junction safe for pedestrians and cyclists.

      Traffic lights alone won’t remove the risk of a collision between a cyclist and a turning HGV. I am not sure traffic lights would have prevented Mr Balid’s death.

      Speed kills

      Firstly and obviously, a 50mph speed limit is inappropriate along Knockmore Road, or on Prince William Road. Since these roads were constructed many more residential developments have sprung up along both roads changing the roads’ character. A lower speed limit of 40 or -better still- 30, might be safer.

      To accommodate these high speeds the junctions along Knockmore Road flare considerably, with a wide turning radius. This allows cars to leave the road without slowing significantly, not allowing drivers enough time to react should there be a cyclist or pedestrian crossing at the mouth of the junction.

      No footpath or cycleway

      Cyclists are expected to share this 50mph road with numerous HGV in an area of Lisburn dominated by industry. Yet, there are no dedicated cycleways.

      Also, recent residential development along the Ballinderry Road have brought more pedestrians to the junction.

      The footpath on the southern side of Ballinderry Road stops just short of the junction and asks pedestrians to cross to the other side. A well-worn track shows where pedestrians have continued on the road’s verge:

      image

      There is no footpath on the western side between Ballinderry Road and the Moira Road:

      image

      Desire line

      That pedestrians would rather continue walking on a verge than cross a road demonstrates the need for a safe crossing and a footpath.

      The shared use pavements along Knockmore Road stop on the northern side of the Ballinderry Road junction. Going south from the junction cyclists are compelled to use the 50mph road or use the narrow, poorly surfaced, footpath on the eastern side.

      No safe pedestrian or cyclist crossing

      There are few safe pedestrian or cyclist crossing points along Knockmore Road, the only pedestrian crossing is at the Ballymacoss Avenue junction, linking a residential area to a nearby supermarket.

      The solution

      At the eastern end of Knockmore Road, along Prince William Road, there is a very good bit of cycling infrastructure. And it has to be included as part of the solution. A fully segregated bidirectional cycleway, extended along the entire length of Knockmore Road.

      image

      As good as it is, the above junction is also incredibly poorly thought through. There is a pedestrian underpass under Prince William Road from the cycleway, but it offers no direct link to the shared use path along Knockmore Road. Instead, cyclists are expected to use the lights and cross the roads at the junction. Why not have a link marked with the red arrow-like squiggle?

      There is ample space along Knockmore Road for a bidirectional cycleway. The junctions with side roads should be designed so as to allow a car turning off the Knockmore Road to stop and yield to cyclists, without interfering with traffic going straight ahead.

      Provided it is set well enough back from the main road cyclists will be protected from turning articulated HGV.

      image

      Hastingsweg, Dordrecht, NL

      Summary

      1. Complete the shared use path along the northwest side of Knockmore Road from Prince William Road to Moira Road.
      2. Construct a bidirectional cycleway along the southeastern side and connect to existing cycleway at Prince William Road.
      3. Reduce speed limit to 30mph.
      4. Provide traffic lights and safe pedestrian and cyclist crossing at Ballinderry Road junction.

      Letter from America or “Saving the Life of a Befuddled Ex-Pat”

      Dear Cargobike Dad:

      I am an American physician resident in China for the last decade, moving April 2015 to Belfast to take up a post at Queen’s. I have been a year-round bike commuter for 25 years in a number of places, the last 10 car free, and I am very much hoping to commute and shop in NI by bike. We will be living in Hillsborough […], R/T of 25-30 mi per day to work at Royal Victoria Hospital. I was hoping I might ask you some questions about resources for planning a cycle route, advisability of using a MUP like the Lagan Towpath for this ride, etc. I will certainly understand if you are too busy, given that you must receive a number of such queries. But then “Saving the Life of a Befuddled Ex-Pat” has the ring of an interesting blog post! In any event, thanks for providing such a great resource for cycle advocacy in NI. I would very much like to get involved in local advocacy of that nature, not much space for such in China…Please feel free to contact me by email if it is convenient for you to reply.

      Best regards,
      Nathan

      Dear Nathan,

      Thank you for your kind comments. As for your questions about a Hillsborough to RVH commute, I put it to Twitter and between their replies and local resources this is what I came up with.

      Type your query into Google and it says to take the A1 from Hillsborough to Lisburn. Don’t ask Google! Their recommended routes are often in the chocolate teapot category: useless.

      I would not advise cycling up and down the A1 from Sprucefield to Hillsborough. It is a busy fast dual carriageway trunk road with a poor safety record for cyclists.

      Road users who want to avoid the A1 have two options. The first is to take the Comber Road out of Hillsborough, then take a left through Ravarnet into Lisburn; the other is to take Culcavy Road and after crossing the M1 motorway take the first turn right (Blaris Road) towards Lisburn. The Blaris Road is an on-road section of NCN9 and leads to the entry of the Lagan Towpath. The latter, Culcavy Road route, would be my preferred option.

      The Towpath is heavily used by cycling commuters between Lisburn and Belfast. It is unlit, so a good set of lights is essential in the darker months. Some sections are prone to flooding. Twitter is a good source for up to the minute news of it being passable. Look up Lagan Valley Regional Park on Facebook; they update their pages regularly with notifications and events.

      image

      Towpath traffic east of Lisburn (top left to middle right, source Strava heat map)

      In Belfast continue on the Towpath all the way to the Botanic Gardens entrance on Stranmillis Embankment. Go through the park (anti-clockwise) and exit the park at Botanic Avenue behind the main Queen’s University Belfast buildings. At Shaftesbury Square take the Donegall Road. Then the first right past the petrol station (Roden Street) and cross the Westlink into the Royal Victoria Hospital campus.

      In winter time Botanic Gardens is closed in hours of darkness, so leave the Towpath at Lockview Road, Stranmillis, then up Stranmillis Road towards the Ulster Museum and Queen’s University Belfast, joining University Road. Turn left into Elmwood Avenue, then right and immediately left into Jubilee Road, the entrance to Belfast City Hospital. Turn right after the multi-storey car park then left, across the mini-roundabout and on to the Donegall Road. Then as before.

      The main drawback of the Towpath is it’s definitely the long way round. And doesn’t go in the direction you want.

      Some cyclists use the Sandy Lane short cut to avoid the scenic route:

      image

      If you are a confident commuter, a straight run down the A1 between Lisburn and Belfast is shorter and quicker than the Towpath. This stretch of the A1 carries less motorised traffic because of a better alternative route for cars: the M1. It has stretches of cycle lane and the bus lanes are open to cyclists in the morning and evening rush hours.
      The shared use path on the outbound Belfast Road, Lisburn is best avoided by cyclists. It is poorly conceived and badly executed.

      Join the A1 in Lisburn town centre, continue on the road into Belfast. Take the Jubilee Road entrance to Belfast City Hospital, then as above.

      Better by bus?

      Public transport options are good with regular express bus services to Hillsborough from the bus station at Glengall St (behind the Europa Hotel), which is within easy walking distance of the Royal. Some services also stop at the halt at the foot of the Roden Street footbridge.

      Best of both worlds (and what I would do if I were in your shoes)

      Cycle to Lisburn railway station, fold up your QUB Cycle 2 Work scheme Brompton or similar and take it on the train to Belfast. From Great Victoria Street Station cycle to the Royal. There are no restrictions on folding bikes on Translink trains.

      You are of the campaigning kind so you can ask your local political representatives (councillors and MLAs) to lobby the Department of Regional Development (soon to be the Department for Infrastructure) for a two-way, 4m wide cycle way between Hillsborough and Lisburn, running to the east of the main A1 road, serving Sprucefield, linking to the Towpath, Lagan Valley Hospital and Lisburn town centre.
      It is election year (and next year also) so politicians are open to seduction by a good vote winning proposal.

      Finally

      Our Cargobike causes much rubber necking in Lisburn. It is not a cycling town. It will be good to see more bike users showing there is an alternative to the car!

      Lisburn: Room for Improvement (II)

      At the end of February I dropped off my eldest at school in South Belfast and cycled to Lisburn to join my wife and youngest for an appointment at a clinic. I asked Google for the shortest route and it suggested the following 7.2 mile route.

      Finaghy to Warren Map

      It would indeed have been the shortest and fastest¬†if I hadn’t spent the last 10 minutes of the ride looking for my destination. (Mental note to self: old ladies at bus stops are not a reliable source of geographical information. It transpired I cycled right past the building and as I asked the lady I had my back turned to my destination.) Which rather conveniently brings me to my first point:

      Signage

      It isn’t obvious enough. There are some cycling related signs in Lisburn town centre, but as soon as you head out of town the signs simply disappear. I avoided Laganbank Road and chose the Lagan towpath towards the southwest. If Google hadn’t told me where the entrance was I would not have found it. The signage on and towards the towpath in the direction of Belfast in marked contrast¬†is very good.

      image

      Access across a car park, with no real thought how to reach the destination

      Access to the start of the Lisburn section of the Towpath is across a pub car park. And crossing from the Belfast to Lisburn section of the Towpath to the Lisburn section includes using the daunting Laganbank/Sloan Street/Linehall Street junction.

      The Masterplan recognises that this entry point to town deserves better than a municipal car park and a pub. So, here is what the dreamers at DSD have come up with:

      Sloan Street Office Development

      The view is looking East across the Lagan where there will be an additional bridge for pedestrians (and cyclists?) as an alternative to the existing route. There will be a riverside development of offices on the eastern bank.

      The western bank of the river will be privatised, with the existing car park north of the bridge given over to mixed retail and residential development. Also included here will be city centre hotel, with a¬†basement car¬†park (yet more parking…) beside the river.

      The Towpath from Belfast effectively stops at the access road to the Island Centre. It then resumes on the other side of the Sloan Street bridge, past the pub and its car park. If the plans are implemented as intended they will make this gap in the Towpath permanent. This is not a problem, as the saying goes, it is an opportunity.

      Imagine a¬†piece of engineering to link the two sections of the towpath. In Belfast underneath Governor’s Bridge an underpass was constructed to take pedestrians and cyclists from Stranmillis Embankment to the start of the Lagan Towpath. An underpass is a¬†relatively simple engineering solution, but as the DSD wants to pawn off the riverbank to private ownership impossible to incorporate. However, Lisburn could put itself on the map if they did something like this:

      Read all about this underpass bridge in Haarlem here.

      As the underpass bridge sits clear off the bank, there will be no issues over access rights.

      And let’s not just link the two severed sections of the Towpath this way, but at the southern end include a link to the opposite bank as per the Masterplan, giving cyclists and pedestrians a traffic-free alternative to the existing road bridge.

      Surfacing

      The Lisburn town section of the Towpath is a step back in time. The path surface is poor, and in places muddy. And a pillar supporting a sewer pipe across the river sits in the middle of the path. Further on, where the river goes under the A1 Hillsborough Road the cyclist needs to duck to avoid hitting the arch of the bridge. The paths linking the towpath to the housing estates are no more than unpaved forest tracks, covered in deep mud. On the Towpath there is no indication which track offers the best access to the various residential areas, such as the Old Warren Estate, and there is no access that I could see to the Lagan Valley Hospital. (11/3 There is access to LVH, but not signposted, see comment below).

      Traffic-free Lisburn

      The positive is that the Lagan Towpath is a¬†traffic-free route that goes past the town’s hospital and¬†almost reaches the Sprucefield shopping development. So much more could be made of this¬†path¬†if a traffic-free link was created from the Towpath to Sprucefield across the A1 and underneath the M1. At the Sainsbury’s end of the Sprucefield¬†site bicycle parking is provided, but no real thought is given how one might get there.

      At present the Towpath dead-ends at Blaris Road. As does the Lagan Navigation. The M1 Motorway was built across the old Lagan Navigation and the canal is now lost.

      image

      Plans are drawn up to revitalise the link by water between Lough Neagh and Belfast. Sustrans route 9 takes a right on Blaris Road and sends you on quiet rural roads towards Mazetown and Moira beyond.

      In Lisburn there are very good separated cycle tracks beside Knockmore Road and Prince William Road. These tracks, however, and the Lagan Towpath running from Edenderry in the far northeast of the council area to  the Sprucefield Shopping Centre (almost) do not add up to a network for active travel. The Cardiff study points out that if cycle tracks were built cyclist numbers will increase. Thought needs to be given to linking the tracks and doing it so that schools, libraries, health centres, shops, leisure and community centres can be reached without having to share road space with cars.

      Many safety concerns in local neighbourhoods will be addressed by Pat Ramsey’s private member’s bill. But slowing cars down to 20mph is not enough. Active travel and public transport need to have an added incentive for people to leave the car at home. Cycling and walking will be seen as a safe option¬†if interaction with motorised traffic is kept to a minimum. I have previously blogged about closing rat runs. Across Lisburn there are a number of rat runs that could be closed off to through traffic, but kept permeable for pedestrians and cyclists. Judicious closing of rat runs disincentivises car use, but gives pedestrians and cyclists the bonus of being able to travel the most direct route.

      The end of Knockmore Road and its cycle tracks is near the Lagan on the Moira Road. A link could be made from the junction to the existing Towpath, alongside the Lagan (black), skirting the housing areas of southwest Lisburn. Alternatively, a link could be made from the Knockmore Road junction to the Blaris road Рpart of NCN9 (red).

      Knockmore Towpath Link

      Similarly, across the north of Lisburn centre a traffic-free route can be created that starts at the end of the cycle track at Prince William Road and goes past Tesco, Wallace Grammar School (Clonevin Park), Friends School (Magheralave Road), Wallace Park and Fort Hill Integrated and onwards to the Lagan Towpath at Huguenot Drive, Hilden. This route can be extended past the Hillhall Estate across the M1 and onto Hillhall village (in orange in the map below). Along Prince William Road a segregated cycle track can easily be accommodated, with the double roundabout upgraded to provide a peripheral segregated cycle track with priority over the access roads.

      (Dark) green tracks already exist

      (Dark) green tracks already exist

      Of course there have to be links into the town centre (for instance along the Pond Park Road in yellow, linking to the existing shared use paths along Derriaghy Road), taking in as many local amenities as possible. At present it is impossible to walk and cycle safely from the town centre and bus station to the Lagan Leisureplex. There are footpaths, and attempts have been made to help cyclists across the Laganbank Road/Hillsborough Road junction, but it is simply not good  enough. What use is a leisure centre if the only way to get there in one piece is by going by car?

      Links to Belfast

      There are two routes to Belfast. The Lagan Towpath (NCN9) meanders its way along stretches of river and canal. The second more direct route is along the A1 (red in the map above). The DRD Cycling Unit proposes a SW-NE axis through Belfast, which could neatly be extended into Lisburn via the red route. There is existing provision for cyclists, but it would need serious upgrading. The existing roundabout at McKinstry Road/Queensway can be replaced with a Dutch-style roundabout¬†(more specifically¬†the design that doesn’t have priority for cyclists used outside built-up areas). There are painted white¬†lines and some green paint and¬†for some reason the Belfast-bound cyclist is expected to share the narrow pavement on Belfast Road. Ideally, there should be a cycle superhighway between Belfast and Lisburn, allowing for greater cycling speed, and reducing congestion on both the A1 and M1 by people choosing the bicycle over their car.

      Finally

      And¬†so you got to your destination by bicycle and the only place to lock up your bike is at a fence or to a lamp post? A major health facility such as the Warren Children’s Centre should have bicycle racks.¬†At present¬†access to the front door is across a congested car park with no clear demarcated path for pedestrians. It is a microcosm of Lisburn: access to the centre is across a car park, with no real thought how people without cars reach their destination.

      Lisburn: Room for Improvement (I)

      People often forget my Northern Irish roots. There is some truth in saying you can fire a gun in Newtownards main shopping street and you are bound to hit someone who is related to me. My links to Lisburn are more straightforward.

      As the Japanese swept across South East Asia in 1942 and sank British ships off the coast of Ceylon the British army called young men to arms. Many in British India signed up willingly, but some chose not to serve. If you were born in Ireland you could avoid being sent to the Burmese jungle. And many claimed an Irish heritage. By the time they called up my grandfather, so the story goes, the recruitment officer had heard so many jokers claim their crib stood in Ireland he didn’t believe my grandfather was born in Ballymacash, Lisburn in 1916. He served, survived and returned to civilian life as a missionary in newly independent Pakistan. For a decade he lived and served in a small town outside Islamabad that no one had heard of until US special forces raided a villa there and killed one Osama Bin Laden.

      Also, I live in Lisburn. The Royal Mail disagrees and has put us in Belfast, County Antrim, which is doubly wrong. We can see County Antrim from our front door, but we most definitely live in County Down.

      So, having established my credentials as someone living in Lisburn and a pedant we can get to the meat of this blog.

      Improving Lisburn for active travel

      Previously I have complained about the poor cycling infrastructure in Lisburn. There is no point in moaning if you cannot think of ways to improve the place.

      A study of medium sized cities across Europe (by which the researchers from Cardiff¬†mean a population between 100,000 and 500,000) has found that if you a) discourage car use, b) build bike lanes and c) subsidise public transport use of bicycles and public transport increase. Or more succinctly: “build it and they will come”. GDP correlates with car ownership and use,¬†meaning higher earners drive more. Although GDP is, as NIGreenways points out, also related to cycling uptake. So not only do wealthy people drive more they also own bikes and use them.

      Lisburn councillor Alexander Redpath of the UUP proposed cutting car park charges and increase car parking to revitalise the ailing town centre. He joins a loud-mouthed throng of¬†politicians, a¬†fashion retail guru¬†and small traders who grossly overstate the importance of car access to the success of shops.¬†“Research by Sustrans in a Bristol retail centre showed that 55% of shoppers walked to the shops, 6% cycled, 13% came by bus and 22% drove. However, shop owners significantly overestimated the numbers of those coming by car ‚Äď they estimated that car users were 41% of the shoppers.” says the Campaign for Better Transport (link above).

      image

      And:

      image

      Redpath fails to understand that allowing more cars into the town centre is detrimental to the town. And it isn’t as if Lisburn is poorly provided for with car parking spaces. Every inch of space that isn’t a building or a road is a car park. And some of these, notably at the Island Centre, are free.

      Making shopping in Lisburn town centre a pleasant experience will help, though. The walk from Graham Gardens multistorey to Bow Street is depressing; the Bow Street businesses have their backs turned, fortified with high walls with spikes on top. Some welcome.

      image

      Increasing pedestrianised areas where people can spend their leisure time, and do more than just shopping has been recognised as being of key importance. The DSD Lisburn Masterplan builds on this vision, but to date precious little of it has been achieved.

      2014-02-25 13.09.10

      Removal of this sign will send out an encouraging message to people who do not use cars to access Lisburn town centre. It should be replaced with a sign directing cyclists to the nearest bike racks.

      Cycling in Northern Ireland makes up a tiny percentage of traffic . It is virtually non-existent west of the River Bann. So why should traders make it easier for cyclists? Or pedestrians?

      NI Travel Survey 2012

      Lisburn’s topography actively discourages any mode of transport other than car use. The design of the one-way system’s junctions¬†and the poor provision for pedestrians around the town centre exacerbate the centre’s lack of attraction to visitors. The town centre is an island cut¬†off from the residential areas by fastflowing streams of traffic. [Added 27/3/14 and amended 29/3/14: On Wednesday, 26/3/14 a 6 year old boy was knocked down on Railway Street (part of the town centre’s one-way system) and¬†was admitted to¬†Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital¬†where he later died. His twin brother was also injured.]

      Lisburn Masterplan Movement

      Taken from the Lisburn Masterplan, page 107 (pdf)

      A picture starts emerging of a town centre that has provided so well for cars it has ceased to be a destination, even for those in cars.

      Multistorey Madness

      The Masterplan is full of good intentions, and some proposals are very good. The aforementioned area where Bow Street has turned its back (the McKeown Street/Graham Gardens area) is subject to a makeover. However, it is still written with the car driver in mind, and additionally to developing the Graham Gardens area for more pleasant retail/leisure, car parking provision is expected to increase by adding a deck to the multistorey providing an additional 72 spaces. So we get pleasant retail with a view of a very unpleasant car park.

      Littered throughout the plan are proposals for multistoreys; two virtually surrounding the chocolate-box nostalgic station building with its distinctive GNR(I)-coloured bricks. The Masterplan suggests 640 spaces are up for grabs, the bulk of which make up the Lisburn Park and Ride facility, effectively attracting 450 or so cars into the town centre in order for their drivers to go off to Belfast by train and spend their money there.

      Would a Park and Ride facility for commuters at the presently mothballed Knockmore halt in the midst of an industrial area not make more sense and keep these additional cars out of the town centre?

      Lisburn, the gambling addict

      Having gambled on cars and lost, Lisburn, like a gambling addict, continues to gamble on cars. Maybe it is time for a new direction, and start conveniencing those who arrive by means other than cars? I am always struck by the bravery of the people who wish to shop in Lisburn and who decide to walk from their house outside the town centre. Coming from the west pedestrians need to cross the Longstone Street gyratory, a fast-flowing circle of traffic. It has no provision for cyclists on the gyratory itself (I do not rate Advanced Stop Lines as cycling infrastructure and agree with NIGreenways they are useless).

      The entire arc of A-roads around the south of the centre from Seymour Street in the east to Thiepval Road in the west needs to be looked at in great detail and make it less of a barrier. The Masterplan, though recognising the issue, does not wholly explain how traffic will be discouraged from using these roads, and providing for more parking space within the arc will not do much to lessen the deadening effect of these roads on the town centre.

      There is a glimmer of hope in the proposals for the Laganbank site around the bridge at Sloan Street. Plans for a hotel, residential development and some commercial space will perhaps also include plans to turn the adjacent roads into an altogether more pleasant space. I do have an interesting idea (I didn’t, but saw it on the Internet) on how to improve that particular corner of Lisburn and put the town on the map in terms of cycling infrastructure.

      More of that in part 2.

      Lisburn – A Town for Cars

      When I was a child I had a blackboard and I used chalks to draw road maps with improbably intricate junctions, little towns and so on. I filled the town with small Lego buildings and drove my Matchbox cars around the road network.

      Every time I cycle around Lisburn I am reminded of this. A toy town, with a weapons-grade road network.

      On 28 August I cycled from Knockbracken Healthcare Park to Knockmore to collect our car from Lindsay Cars Accident Repair.

      Here is the route I took: 

      image

      Pretty much a straight line, 9.9 miles from door to door. From KHCP, up the old Saintfield¬†Road, then Mill Road, Mealough¬†Road to Drumbo, Drumbo¬†Road, Tullyard¬†Road, down Glen Road and left on the Hillhall¬†Road to Lisburn. In Lisburn: Sloane Street, Laganbank¬†Road, Governor’s Road, Longstone¬†Street, Longstone¬†Road, Moira Road and right into Knockmore Industrial Estate.

      Lisburn should put a sign up saying “Cyclists not welcome”, much in the way that other councils put bars¬†across layby entrances to stop Travellers stopping there.

      I’ve commented before on Lisburn’s poor cycling facilities.

      Hillhall Hell

      The route across Lisburn took me down a short stretch of the Hillhall Road. I have never been so scared, or so close to death.

      I tried avoiding this road. Google drew a blank, suggesting long detours adding miles to my journey. I simply could not avoid the short stretch between Glen Road and Church Lane, Hillhall.

      I briefly considered continuing on the Tullyard¬†Road and then down the Comber and Saintfield Roads into Lisburn, but I am not a grimpeur: the Tullyard¬†route is better known as the Bloody ‘ard route.

      Traffic was so heavy that crossing into Church Lane (a right turn across two lanes of traffic) seemed the more dangerous option. Instead I persevered along Hillhall Road.

      Why is it that people have to overtake so urgently? Why is it they have to do so without considering other road users? If it isn’t safe, don’t overtake. Is there traffic coming the other way, don’t try and fit yourself between them and me.

      (My breath is wasted complaining about motorists’ behaviour, though. As a cyclist I am per definition a Red Light Jumper and therefore lose all arguments, ever. And obviously I don’t pay road tax, so that’s me told.)

      The real issue is the road’s narrowness and many bends and corners, coupled with the high traffic volume. There is a poorly maintained pavement down one side and there are no cycle lanes at all. Between Mill Road and Pinehill¬†Road, Drumbo, there isn’t even a poorly maintained footpath.There are no crossing points for pedestrians, and with the demise of Hillhall Primary no lollypop ladies there.

      On this twisting narrow road a continuous rumble of traffic taking a shortcut from East Belfast to Lisburn and the M1 and vice versa. It is a rural rat run. A hell of a road.

      (Added 19/6/2014) The sections of the Hillhall Road where the national speed limit was in force have been reduced to a maximum speed of 50mph. Has someone been reading my blog?

      And the Saintfield and (Old) Ballynahinch Roads out of Lisburn are no better. A cyclist died there in 2012.

      A solution? Best practice from elsewhere in Europe (trying very hard not to mention Netherlands again and again) suggests a kerb-separated cycle lane beside these roads.

      However, there is a more interesting alternative for a cycle path from Hillhall¬†Village to Lisburn town centre. Church Lane runs from the Hillhall¬†Road to the back of the Hillhall¬†Estate. Take a left and you’re back at the Hillhall¬†Road at Largymore¬†Primary School. Take a right and a right again and you are on the NCN9, yards from the Island Civic Centre.

      Church Lane, Hillhall

      Now imagine cars banned from Church Lane, with vehicle access limited to residents and farmers tending their fields. Red or green tarmac to mark it clearly as a cycle path. Children from Hillhall village could cycle, almost traffic-free, to the nearest school; grownups could get to work and the shops in Lisburn without getting the car out of the drive. With a kerb-separated path along the Hillhall Road as far as Glen Road, the residents of Drumbo could equally benefit.

      Entering Lisburn by bicycle down the main road is daunting. At the bottom of the Hillhall Road there is a roundabout Рnever a good place for a cyclist. Crossing over the M1 bridge, you want to be in the right hand lane to go straight down the Hillhall Road. The bulk of the traffic wants to go in the left hand lane down Largymore Drive towards the M1. Expect to overtaken and undertaken, or both at the same time.

      Remember all those cars that overtook with inches to spare, speeding as they did so? Recognise the lorry from the tree surgeon’s that nearly took you out with the¬†wood chipper¬†it¬†was towing? Here they all are waiting at the red traffic light at the junction with Sloane Street.

      All that reckless overtaking and speeding and they are as quick as a cyclist. Annoy them further by staking your claim to the Advanced Stop Line. I, on this occasion, found access to the ASL blocked by cars waiting to leave the petrol station forecourt.

      The Saintfield and Ballynahinch Road converge and dump the cyclist on the Saintfield Road roundabout at the other end of Largymore Drive link Road.

      The roundabout centre islands would be an ideal place to put the “Cyclists not welcome” sign.

      All the traffic from rural County Down is funnelled down Sloane Street. There are some stretches of green tarmac to help the cyclist, but confidence and strength are needed to make it to the ASLs and get out of the path of turning vehicles, especially articulated lorries trying to round the corner on to Laganbank Road. This is definitely not a safe place to cycle, and people will prefer using the pavements.

      Laganbank Road/Governor’s Road

      We’ve got to the Laganbank¬†Road. Google suggests a detour along the Lagan Towpath, which I ignored. There is a steep incline, with traffic lights at the top, then a descent towards the Hillsborough Road junction.

      I needed to go straight over. There is some green tarmac between the two traffic lanes to help you.

      image

      Getting there in rush hour is an adventure. Note how narrow it is. Of course, cars should not be impeded at all. Ever.

      Here’s what a Lisburn cyclist says of Governor’s Road:

      image

      There is some cycling infrastructure here too. Going up to the roundabout (more of a gyratory: there are houses in the middle) there is some green tarmac between the double yellow lines, no more than a bike’s length. It is possibly the shortest, narrowest cycle lane in the UK.

      The final stretch

      The Longstone Road is one of those one-and-a-half lane wide roads. People don’t know whether to drive single file, or if they can both fit side-by-side as they overtake the cyclist. Without causing too much bother the lane can be reduced in width, and a separate bidirectional cycle lane created.

      What inevitably will happen here is the creation of a cross-hatched lane separation down the centre of the road. This will limit the space for cycling and force drivers to overtake cyclists more closely. The separation is put in place to prevent glancing blows between vehicles travelling in opposite directions. Laudable, but it also endangers the lives of cyclists. Has anyone investigated if lane separation was a factor in the death of this cyclist in Newry?

      image

      Elsewhere in Lisburn

      • The one-way city centre race track

      As most towns with delusions of grandeur Lisburn has an impressive town centre one way system. It is a two-lane wide track with numerous junctions, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings. It resembles my childhood urban planning fantasies most. The Lisburn DSD masterplan recognises¬†the urban race track’s¬†detrimental effect on the town centre, despite it being the main access to the town-centre multistoreys, surface and underground car parks. The corner of Bow Street and Antrim Street, with a diagonal pedestrian crossing is¬†a collision¬†waiting to happen.

      Rounding the corner from Antrim Street into Bachelor’s Walk cyclists will prefer to use the left-hand lane, to prevent drivers undertaking. Feeding across fast-flowing traffic is not easy. Only those well-versed in Cyclecraft,¬†vehicular cyclists¬†who cycle as if they are driving a car, will not find this daunting. The overwhelming majority, me included,¬†would prefer not to.

      There are ASLs along the circuit, but with no thought given how a cyclist can safely access these (providing they are not blocked by a car), they are pretty useless. At either end of the pedestrianised section of Bow Street bicycle parking is available; 3 double hoops at each location.

      • The Wallace Avenue cycle lane

      With much fanfare, I exaggerate,¬†DRD announced that it had completed a cycle lane in Lisburn in June. Yes, there it is, right at the bottom of the press release, almost a little afterthought. So what did we get for our taxpayers’ money?

      We get an advisory cycle lane that runs almost the length of Wallace Avenue. You can guess that it stops short of the junction with the A1 Seymour Street, leaving the cyclist marooned in queuing traffic. But why is it an advisory lane? The lane is on the northern side of the road, where parking is prohibited. This, surely, could have been a mandatory lane, with at least a rumble strip to stop cars straying into it; better still marked with lane dividers, or, ideally, a kerb.

      Again DRD excels in falling well short of best practice. A missed opportunity.

      • Prince William Road/Knockmore Road

      We have had the bad and the ugly. Is there any good? There is and it is here!  Lisburn possesses an off-road cycle network. No lie РI can hear the gasps from the readers. This kind of path will encourage school kids to cycle, and people to leave their cars in the drive.This is what I would love to see more of in towns and cities across Northern Ireland. It could be better of course: the signalled crossings are not clearly separated for pedestrians and cyclists. Also, along Knockmore Road cyclists have to give way to cars on side roads, though efforts have been made to slow traffic down with speed cushions at minor junctions.

      Finally

      Did you know that in 2013 Lisburn was European City of Sport? Me neither. But there you go. Here is the dedicated website. Of course the city council are promoting this with adverts on the back of some Metro buses¬†in Belfast. And guess what sport was not featured…