Bin Lane Binned?

On Thursday a little bird told me that DRD were having an information event at their HQ in Belfast’s Adelaide Street.

Here is the press release.

We weren’t given much notice. Yet I found myself with a spare 30 minutes, grabbed a Belfast Bike from Bradbury Place and went to inspect the plans.

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On offer were two versions for an improved two-way cycleway between Chichester St and Ormeau Ave, one with the cycleway to the east, the other to the west (the current situation). The plans are designed to improve the network of paths between Belfast Bike Hire stations at Arthur Street, Alfred Street and the Gasworks.

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East

And:

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West

The plans are not yet finalised and many details remain to be resolved.

Cycling Unit staff were open to suggestions and ideas. For instance, having parked cars act as protection for the cycle lane was suggested by a number of people and I got the impression DRD would look at this variant.

Some of the “details” are quite serious.

There is an obvious gap in provision on Ormeau Avenue. Currently a short stretch of shared use path connects the Gasworks site to Joy Street. Are DRD proposing to extend the shared use path to the next junction? Or is something better in the pipeline, perhaps a protected cycleway all the way from the Gasworks to Blackstaff Square?

The importance of this missing link will become very evident when the Gasworks Bridge opens. More cyclists will use the routes leading to the bridge. A similar gap exists at Shaftesbury Square where there is no eastbound cycle lane or crossing connecting Donegall Road and Donegall Pass.

It would be better for the Cycling Unit to start a discussions with the DRD Dinosaur Unit that is still looking to implement the Southern section of Belfast’s inner ring, so blocking any development along Ormeau Avenue (and blighting the area with fenced off surface car parks). Plans for a gyratory to take traffic between Cromac Street and Bruce Street should not stop the development of a cycle path along the Avenue. Ormeau Avenue is wide enough to reallocate space for cycling.

I suspect the gap is left in the plans as leverage for further budget and development. A holistic large-scale area-wide approach may well be unpalatable to the car lobby within DRD.

A second issue is the Advanced Stop Lines in the design. Why? Why in the UK are cyclists abandoned when they need protection most, i.e. at junctions? The lane needs to come right up to the junctions. The design plans for the May Street crossing are a case in point:

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The minor junctions in the design are designed right: the lane carries across the side road; and priority is given to the cyclists over traffic emerging from side streets. I’d prefer a little more hard protection at the corners to stop drivers left- or right-hooking.

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The Cyclesaurus Memorial Junction

The good news is that the Cyclesaurus is going to die. At last (see design above). However, the issue of cyclists needing to cross the carriageway (and pass each other on the right side) has been moved to the path’s entry points at Chichester Street and Ormeau Avenue.

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West fudge

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East fudge

The designers have drawn a patch of shared space to fudge the ends. But as above, good design at the junction can sort this out.

One big disappointment is that Upper Arthur Street remains open to cars. What is the rationale behind this? There are two on-street parking spaces in one version, none at all in the other. Why do cars need access at all? There needs to be access for deliveries, emergency services and collecting refuse, but I struggle to see the need for any other motorised vehicles.

As you drive down May Street a sign directs you down Upper Arthur Street for access to the Montgomery Street and Victoria Square multi-storey car parks:

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Sign on May Street

It appears DRD see Upper Arthur Street as a shortcut to access city centre multi-storeys.

One of the principles underlying Groningen‘s successful cycle strategy is making drivers go the long way around, but giving cyclists, pedestrians and public transport direct access. Here, motorists are given a sneaky shortcut, consequently access for pedestrians and cyclists is compromised.

When you pass this sign you have already passed Montgomery Street. But the street’s one way direction is “wrong”. And arguably the person who ignored the previous right turn on to Victoria Street to access Victoria Square should not be rewarded with a shortcut to make up for their foolishness.

To access the multi-storey the direction of the one way Montgomery Street could be reversed between May Street and the car park entrance. Cars exiting can leave the area by Gloucester Street and Seymour Street.

All things considered, would it not make sense for Upper Arthur Street to be closed off for motorists, allowing for the carriageway to be used as a cycle route and increasing outside space for the street’s cafés and restaurants? Here’s an example in central Utrecht, photographed by @cyclingchch:

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I don’t often advocate the removal of a cycle path. Here, removing cars and the infamous bin lane are probably the best solution.

Cyclesaurus Again

BBC Northern Ireland on Monday, 25 May 2015, showed “Something to Ride Home About”, featuring the best of cycling in Northern Ireland and Michael Smiley.

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The photo above shows a cyclist approaching Belfast’s award winning Cyclesaurus. The cycle path is a two-way provision running alongside one ways Alfred St and Upper Arthur St. The latter section is colloquially known as the bin lane.

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The cyclist continues on the green path across the junction. And this leaves him on the wrong side of the street. Where they ran out of paint.

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This is the new and improved Cyclesaurus.

The correct way to use this marvellous piece of official street graffiti is of course to keep to the left of the lane. Stop and yield to all traffic approaching the junction. Then cross the junction diagonally. DRD have kindly provided a miniature cycle lane as an aide memoire to cyclists.

Someone in DRD must be really proud that it was featured on TV.

BeRTie Bus

A special mention and thank you to Olivia who inspired me to tell you this story:

Time has flown on the island of Sodor. In the days after Thomas’s original tales a very important man came and told the Fat Controller to shut all the branch lines.

Only Gordon was allowed to thunder up and down the main line for a little while longer. Not all the branch lines were closed: after a big argument a couple of suburban stretches were kept.

The narrow gauge lines in the mountains were abandoned. And the Thin Controller lost his job. He went to a second career as a tour guide at the Railway Museum, so he could still talk to his little engines when nobody was watching.

Gordon was soon retired, replaced by dodgy, unreliable Canadian diesel engines, who pull comfortable and elegant French coaches; they don’t get on at all. Now the local railway lines are operated by a fleet of busy Spanish diesels. And often you see a green Japanese diesel train in Tidmouth when the express engine has broken down again.

All rural services, once operated by Thomas and his friends are now taken care of by buses. The original Bertie Bus is in the museum together with Henry. No one is really sure why they kept that engine; all he did was toot, huff and puff.

Mrs Smith lives in a little house off one of Tidmouth’s main roads. The main road is clogged with cars and buses. Cars were the future they said. Motorways would snake across the city, whisking people here and there. The reality was somewhat different. The city’s roads are congested, noisy and smelly. It does Mrs Smith’s asthma no good.

Her mother’s cottage by the former railway line was surrounded by a fragrant garden, with flowers and blossoms of every kind imaginable. She remembers her mum telling this crazy story about her saving the life of a talking engine. Certainly, every year she was entitled to one free trip to the seaside, courtesy of the railway company. But when the line was abandoned she didn’t go to the seaside anymore. “I don’t care for coaches”, she used to say.

Mrs Smith prefers getting about on a bicycle. She has an antique black bicycle with a basket. Such as a community midwife would have had in the middle of the last century. People point and laugh as Mrs Smith cycles past.

Mrs Smith uses the bus lanes to get into town. It’s not great; and officials from the government are forever hatching plans to make it worse. She protested against allowing taxis in bus lanes at City Hall and got a photo taken by the Tidmouth Mail, probably because she was the only woman there.

But a little while ago an information leaflet came through the door telling her that the bus lanes were to be extended and would be for the use of buses, cyclists and permitted taxis between 7 in the morning and 7 at night.

The new buses, all called BeRTie, were full of themselves: puffed up for having Priority over other traffic; they had Magic and could Change the Traffic Lights to Green. And with their Camera Eyes they could Enforce. And BeRTie buses were so important they could never be late.
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Mrs Smith cycled down the bus lane one day when all of a sudden a BeRTie Bus hurtled past her beeping its horn loudly. Mrs Smith was so shaken she stopped cycling altogether.

The New Controller, however, was delighted, because BeRTie was on time.

Mr Clyde lives a couple of streets up from Mrs Smith. He has a family bike and uses it to take his twin boys to school. People recognise him because of the bicycle. People don’t laugh at him or his bike. They stand dumbfounded and slack-jawed. Children think it’s wonderful and all want to have a go.

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When the Government announced their plans to have BeRTie buses he campaigned to stop them using the abandoned railway branch line as an “Expressway” for the BeRTies.

Mr Clyde even wrote to the Fat Controller to come out of retirement and speak against the plans at a Rally. The Fat Controller replied though he supported the campaign, public speaking was no longer possible on account of his throat cancer caused by smoking too many cigars.

Mr Clyde had been delighted when the campaign succeeded in saving the abandoned line as a Greenway. And now he was delighted to see the BeRTies with a halt at the end of his street.

One day Mr Clyde was taking his twin boys to school, going along the BeRTie Bus lane when he overtook a BeRTie at a halt. When Mr Clyde was beside the bus it suddenly pulled out. Mr Clyde was sandwiched between the beeping BeRTie and a car that was overtaking Mr Clyde.

Happily, no one was injured but Mrs Clyde would only agree to him cycling if he stayed on the pavement. Mr Clyde thought a bus stop bypass would have prevented the “near miss“, but the New Controller said there wasn’t any room, or money to put in such an expensive thing. He blamed the Project Creep for the lack of money. The Project Creep doesn’t do anything but costs money nonetheless.

BeRTie Bus’ camera eyes showed that he hadn’t done anything wrong. BeRTie was pleased and so was the New Controller.

Darla and Chuck are from Omaha. They love Sodor because Darla’s great uncle by marriage has a Sodor heritage, and that made her a Sodor-American. She was the President of the Sodor Friendship Association in Omaha. Chuck also has a Sodor heritage, but mainly because he believed that Sodor was part of Sweden and his grandparents emigrated from Sweden.

Darla and Chuck hired some Pimm’s hire scheme bikes to see the sights and visit the address where the great uncle lived. (The original terraced house is no longer there, because it was cleared to make way for a motorway that was never built. Instead it is a run-down surface car park.)

Darla and Chuck were cycling on a BeRTie Bus lane when a large lorry turning left cut across their path and they were both killed instantly. The lorry driver drove on for about 100 metres before onlookers managed to attract his attention and stop him. He put his phone down, telling his lover he’d be a little later than usual.

The Coroner was scathing about many things, but mostly about the design of the BeRTie Bus Lanes which gave a false sense of security to cyclists, but in fact, as in this case, led them into the path of danger and their untimely death.

The lorry driver, the government, the Mayor and the New Controller said they were very, very sorry. However, they soon forgot all about it when a member of One Direction said something vaguely intelligent: “Let’s stop pretending bus lanes are cycling infrastructure that will encourage non-cyclists to start cycling.”

But no one understood that really.

Lagan Valley Regional Park (LVRP)/Bog Meadows/Whiterock Community Greenway

Deep in the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan (BMAP) 2015 there is a section devoted to Community Greenways.

When I saw the title “Lagan Valley Regional Park (LVRP)/Bog Meadows/Whiterock Community Greenway” and skimmed over the proposed route my heart nearly leapt for joy, because here was a proposed route that would take us on a Greenway between home and our primary school.

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Greenway (green) and route to school (red)

But

All is not what it seems.

Here is the entire route. As with any urban planning document it is huge. Handily, someone also provided this route description:

Begin at Shaws Bridge within the LVRP and travel in a northerly direction, past the Queens University Playing Fields and the House of Sport.

This is the A55, so not exactly an off-road experience here. You will share the greenway with 30-35k cars a day. The pavements are shared use. While the road racing fraternity ignore the shared use path, commuters use it increasingly:

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At the Malone Roundabout, travel west along the Upper Malone Road, cross the road and travel along Harberton Park.

If you’re cycling you must join the road at the Roundabout just at the point where traffic speeds up to leave it. The alternatives are to get off and push or ignore the law and cycle on the pavement.

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End of 🚲 route

A signalised crossing will be needed here to cross the Upper Malone Road.

The area around Shaw’s Bridge has become a major destination for MTB cyclists. No safe access to the tracks around Barnett’s Demesne is provided. Groups of school age children use the pavements along all major roads in the area to get to the tracks.

Jeff Dudgeon, Balmoral UUP councillor says, “[o]ne of the most frequent complaints I received from constituents during my election campaign was about cycling on pavements.”

Instead of going along the very noisy and busy A55 I go underneath the ring road beside the river and then up the lung-bustingly steep “Clement Wilson Ramp”. This leaves me at the signalised pedestrian crossing north of the Malone Road Roundabout. From there I go down the Strangford Avenue rat run, to join Harberton Park and on to rejoin the A55.

As does the Greenway. Because the landowners are not yet on board with the idea of a Greenway from Harberton Park to Lisburn Road pedestrians and cyclists are diverted back onto Belfast’s Ring Road:

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians
Travel along the periphery of the RUAS Showgrounds and Balmoral Golf Club.

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage
Travel to the end of Harberton Park and turn left down Balmoral Avenue. At the junction with the Upper Lisburn Road, turn left and travel in a south westerly direction until you reach the railway bridge leading into Musgrave Park where you can rejoin the Greenway

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The A55 Greenway

The following section of the greenway is fully accessible to pedestrians,

but not cyclists.

Turn left and travel along the Upper Lisburn Road to no. 24. Cross the road here and continue down the narrow footpath and across the railway footbridge into Musgrave Park.

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You would think a pedestrian link to a hospital site would be fully accessible for people of all ages and abilities. And the irony is that the hospital is the Northern Irish regional centre for orthopaedic medicine, rheumatology, sports medicine and has a rehabilitation unit. But isn’t easily accessible for people with any kind of problem walking.

But back to the Greenway A55:

Travel north west through Musgrave Park and out onto Stockmans Lane. Turn left along Stockmans Lane and travel towards the motorway (M1) roundabout, before passing under the M1 bridge to reach Kennedy Way.

Stockman’s Lane is the A55. As is Kennedy Way:

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians

Travel north along Kennedy Way before turning right into Blackstaff Road and a further right into Blackstaff Way. At the bottom of Blackstaff Way, turn left onto the vacant ground. Travel around the boundary of Milltown Cemetery and through St Galls GAC Playing Fields onto Milltown Row. Travel west to the top of Milltown Row, cross the Falls Road and enter the Falls Park.

This bit of the “Greenway” leads through a light industrial estate. You are treated to the back of an Asda, a council waste recycling site and various commercial units. Lorries thunder up and down. Happily, there is an alternative involving Belfast’s Ring Road:

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage

Travel along Kennedy Way. At the roundabout beside the Westwood Shopping Centre, turn right onto the Andersonstown Road. Continue along this road, which becomes the Falls Road, in a north westerly direction. At the Falls Road / Glen Road roundabout, continue straight on, passing Milltown Cemetery on the right. Enter Falls Park on the left and rejoin the Greenway at this point.

[added 28/3] It will be a relief for cyclists to leave the Andersonstown and Falls Road behind at Falls Park. This stretch of the “Greenway” includes two notorious roundabouts. The first at Kennedy Way is terrifying.

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Greenway Roundabout

The slope across the roundabout, the high central island make it difficult to see cars coming. Trying to cross as a pedestrian, pushing your bike is no better. On all approaches motorists queue across the zebra crossings, and driving across them when pedestrians are crossing. It’s captured by the Google car:

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The only reason cyclists are not killed here is because cycling’s modal share in West Belfast is 0%.

The roundabout where the Andersonstown Road morphs into the Falls Road is no better. It is a wide unmarked triangular space with a circular “feature” in the middle. It’s a free for all.

I have looked for it and I cannot find the roadside sign saying the Highway Code is suspended in West Belfast and it’s do as you please.

However, back to the Greenway:

From Falls Park it is not far to the glorious end:

The following section of the greenway is fully accessible to pedestrians
Follow the pathway in a northerly direction through Falls Park, past the playing fields and Belfast City Cemetery, out onto Whiterock Close and along the Whiterock Road into the Belfast Hills where the greenway ends.

There is however an alternative that isn’t accessible for pedestrians. What is the point of that? And it includes yet another of these terrifying roundabouts, where traffic pushes on regardless of what or who has right of way. It’s the Falls Road / Whiterock Road roundabout:
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The current roadworks to accommodate the Belfast Rapid Transit lanes do not help.

Alternatively, exit the Bog Meadows at St James’s Road and travel in a northerly direction along St James’s Crescent and onto the Donegall Road. Travel west to the top of the Donegall Road and turn left along the Falls Road. At the Falls Road / Whiterock Road roundabout, turn right and continue up the Whiterock Road.

The following section of the greenway is inaccessible to pedestrians

Travel through the Belfast Metropolitan College Campus past St. Johns GAC grounds to Corpus Christi Church. Cross Springhill Drive and continue along the Springhill open space, past the playground and onto the Springfield Road. Turn left and continue along the Springfield Road and connect back into the greenway route at the Whiterock Road beside New Barnsley Parade.

But wait! There is another route. An alternative to the alternative:

Alternative Pedestrian Linkage
From the Whiterock Road, travel past the Belfast Metropolitan College Campus and turn right along the Ballymurphy Road. Turn right along Springhill Drive and then continue north along the Springhill open space to rejoin the Greenway at this point.

Pedestrians or cyclists? Pedestrians and cyclists?

The first obvious observation is the complete lack of thought given to cycling. Accessibility is used only in reference to walking. What is the overarching vision for Community Greenways?

Community Greenways serve a variety of functions including:

• Offering pedestrians and cyclists [my emphasis] the opportunity to travel from one green area to another via pleasant green surroundings; and
• Providing an ecological haven and green linkage along river corridors, pathways and disused railway lines.

To put it bluntly, the whole route needs to be re-evaluated from a cyclist’s point of view.

Also, can we really say that the A55 is a “pleasant green surrounding”?

Does this Community Greenway offer a reasonable alternative to using the pavements along the A55 for pedestrians and cyclists?

No and no.

To make this route work we need to gain public access to parcels of privately owned land. Consideration needs to be given to places where the route crosses main roads and the M1 motorway. There is a need for signalised crossings and perhaps a tunnel or bridge to cross the M1.

If we want cyclists to have full access Harberton Park needs to be upgraded to include cycle tracks. We need fully segregated tracks along the Upper Malone, Lisburn, Andersonstown and Falls Roads. The pedestrian footbridge at Musgrave Park Hospital needs to be upgraded so people of all ages and abilities can use it.

The wider picture

West Belfast has a very low uptake of cycling, due in no small part to the complete lack of cycling infrastructure. Plans like this can improve the environment for cycling. Combined with initiatives to encourage multi-modal transport (cycling to a secure bike parking at a Belfast Rapid Transport halt along the Falls and Andersonstown Roads, perhaps) the cycling share may increase. Large employers such as the Royal site of the Belfast Trust are to be commended for encouraging staff not to use their cars. And the Belfast bike hire scheme should be extended to the Royal site as a matter of priority.

Is there potential for better? Maybe. The Southwest Gateway plan may give a very good alternative to parts of the greenway route set out in the BMAP. And in my opinion the two plans should be combined taking the best elements of both.

I don’t think I will personally benefit from the Greenway for the school commute. It remains to be seen if any of it can be realised by the time my youngest leaves primary school in 2023.

York Street Interchange – No Space for Cycling

DRD have released their plans for the York Street Interchange. This is a junction to the north of Belfast City Centre where the M2, M3 and Westlink to the M1 meet; Northern Ireland’s busiest.
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It is also a traffic bottleneck and a blight on the local area, with the northern inner city suburbs cut off from the centre. A wide swathe of tarmac and undeveloped real estate makes the area feel very unwelcoming.

Pedestrian and cyclist numbers were surveyed in 2010. The surveys show pretty dismal figures for an area bounded by densely populated neighbourhoods, Belfast City Centre and the Cityside retail complex.

The sheer volume of traffic, noise and wide stretches of tarmac deter pedestrians and cyclists.

From the Preferred Options Report, vol. 1.

Dedicated cycling provision throughout the existing study area is limited. None of the existing road network currently has adjacent cycling lane provision, thus cycling journeys made through the existing junction arrangement are on-road and in direct interaction with local and strategic traffic.
With reference to Sustrans [online] and Figure 6.8.1, National Cycle Network (NCN) Route 93 is aligned along the eastern periphery of the study area. This route is aligned along Garmoyle Street, Dock Street, Princes Dock Street, Clarendon Road and Donegall Quay.
BMAP (Draft) 2015 also contains proposals to connect several on-road and traffic-free local routes to NCN Route 93. Local on-road routes west of the River Lagan would run along Royal Avenue, Castle Street, Castle Place and High Street to link in with Donegall Quay.
In addition to that noted above under pedestrian facilities, Community Greenways also act as a cycle network, allowing cyclists to have a safer journey with less surrounding noise and pollution.
The NMU survey undertaken on 21 and 22 April 2010 also observed and recorded cyclist movements throughout the wider study area. This survey identified that of all the existing routes (i.e. York Street, Nelson Street, and Corporation Street) connecting North Belfast and the Docklands to the City Centre, the highest movements were recorded along Corporation Street. This would not at all be unexpected considering the proximity to NCN Route 93, availability of the road to two-way movements, and the comparatively low traffic volume. At the Corporation Street/Dock Street junction, approximately 112 cyclists were recorded moving in both directions. Cyclist movements were also recorded on York Street (particularly northbound) and none were recorded on Nelson Street.

Works to improve the area are long overdue.

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The Interchange, being situated at the edge of the City Centre, also has links to the local road network. The plans’ development for these links has been informed by the strategy and here for Belfast City Centre and the Belfast Metropolitan Area Plan 2015.

But money spent on strategic roads is money spent on cars, not bicycles!

Despite being mainly concerned with Northern Ireland’s strategic roads, cyclists have been considered in the plans. Often I see cyclists bemoaning the amounts spent on space for cars, when a fraction of that cost could pay for mile upon mile of high quality cycle network.

And they’re right. Yet these strategic roads have junctions and intersect with cyclists’ journeys. Flyovers and tunnels linking communities either side of the motorway or trunk road need to cater for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and other local motorised traffic.

On the DRD website the developers present an aerial view of the Interchange, and in the bottom right hand corner a cross section of the flyover.

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Proposed scheme

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Cross section of the flyover

The problem with the York Street flyover

DRD writes:

York Street would be raised above existing ground level as part of the works to accommodate the proposed underpasses. Two traffic signal controlled junctions would be provided at the intersection between York Street and Great George’s Street, and at the intersection of York Street and the diverge from Westlink to York Street. Existing provision for pedestrians and cyclists on York Street would be maintained as a minimum, with an expected improvement for non-motorised users at the junctions from the removal of a significant volume of traffic. Access arrangements from York Street to adjacent properties would be revised to suit its raised level.
It should be noted that the proposed changes to York Street would reintroduce two-way running of a form to provide a new bus/cycle lane in the southbound direction, from Galway House to the Inner Ring. This would be further complemented by the provision of cycle lanes in both northbound and southbound directions between the Inner Ring and Dock Street.

In bold the bits I have issues with.

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So, existing provision for pedestrians and cyclists on York Street would be maintained as a minimum. A real sense of underwhelming lack of ambition oozes from those words.

Currently, there is a pavement. And… That’s it. The improvement would be reducing the number of lanes pedestrians have to cross. As DRD continue: “an expected improvement for non-motorised users at the junctions from the removal of a significant volume of traffic.”

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Maintain, not improve

Green paint solution

It is important to realise that the project planners and engineers see a green strip of paint, or what they call an “adjacent cycle lane” as adequate.
It isn’t adequate at all. A painted line does not protect cyclists from cars, or prevent cars from straying into the cycle lane, parking there, causing cyclists to veer out onto the main carriageway.

Yet, northbound on the flyover we have no less than 4 general traffic lanes and a strip of green paint. And the two sets of northbound traffic lanes are more than the cycle lane’s width apart.
Southbound cyclists are expected to share with buses; there is no space for cycling at all.
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With so much space (over 27m from parapet to parapet) it is extraordinary the designers have not come up with a better design.

The area is the focus of much development, with the University of Ulster relocating here from Jordanstown. Planning requires parking for 200 bicycles at Frederick Street, beside the main university buildings.

Having the University of Ulster here will massively increase pedestrian and cyclist numbers in the area. The nearest station to the new campus is Yorkgate, across the Interchange.

The city centre strategy calls for part pedestrianisation of the Inner Ring, with Dunbar Link reimagined as a tree-lined pedestrian-friendly street. The square beside the Central Library will be pedestrianised and the Buoys Park will be used for outdoor events. All these locations are within sight of the York Street flyover. And of course, bikeshare docking stations will dot the area.

And despite creating these people spaces DRD are planning a flyover to deal with current car traffic levels, rather than designing for the near future where pedestrians and cyclists will dominate the local streetscape. Once the cars have been designed into the plans it will be difficult to get rid of them. It is important they reconsider now, before it’s too late.

Here’s my redesign of the flyover:

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The reduced traffic levels mean we can remove one of the northbound lanes and redistribute the space for segregated cycle paths either side, with wide buffer zones. The paths must run from Dock Street to the Inner Ring, with their own traffic lights across the Westlink off-slip and M2 slip road.

The report mentions the significant levels of cycling on Corporation Street, because of the proximity of NCN93 (even with its faults). Design this flyover right and significant numbers of cyclists will use it.

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An opportunity for a floating bus stop

Salmon

A salmon is a fish commonly pictured leaping up waterfalls, swimming against the current. A salmon also refers to a cyclist going (legally) up a one way street, against the flow of traffic.

In Belfast a small number of one way streets are open to cycling in both directions.

Most famously, the Arthur Street bin lane has a 2 way track separate from the one way street.

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It has its problems, such as bins and the bits of shared space at each end where the lane crosses Chichester Street and May Street, but with some improvements this could be a very good bit of cycling infrastructure.

I am more concerned about this:

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This is University Square in South Belfast, looking east. Some years ago DRD painted a bit of the road green, creating an advisory contraflow cycle lane.

It is cheap to implement: for the price of a few cans of green and white paint DRD can tick the “created cycling infrastructure” box in their annual management review.

It’s not very good though.

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Photo 1: the parked car is blocking the lane and forces the cyclist out into the car space, against the flow of traffic.

Or you can easily imagine how a door suddenly flung open may cause a cyclist to swerve and become a KSI statistic.

Here, the cyclist must wait until the road is clear and then move out of the lane and move back in after the obstacle.

Consider this: the car occupant can safely swing open the door wide because the cycle lane acts as a buffer zone between parked cars and moving cars.

Now remind me, a cyclist is not equipped with crumple zones, so why are they made the soft padding between two steel objects?

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Photo 2. The car space is not wide enough to allow a car to overtake a stationary vehicle without entering the cycle lane.

Would the driver of the dark vehicle have stopped if I had been closer? Experience tells me motorists think cyclists coming the other way are not traffic they have to give way to.

In this case the cyclist has right of way over the dark car, because the red stationary vehicle is on the other side of the road.

Get out of Jail

The Highway Code says vehicles may only drive or park in an advisory lane when it’s unavoidable. It’s a “Get Out of Jail Card”, one of many in the Highway Code.

To enter the parking spaces the cars must cross the lane, and that is against the rule, but it also unavoidable. So you’re allowed.

Across Belfast there are numerous  advisory cycle lanes and you’ll see cars parked in them quite legally, because it is unavoidable.

Consider this: the parking space is part of the same direction of flow as the one-way street and these two sandwich a cycle lane running the other way. It’s barmy.

Another example is found off Ormeau Avenue:

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Apsley Street

The solution in both cases is so simple it is a mystery why they didn’t get it right first time. Looking at the picture of Apsley Street above, the cycle lane goes to the left of the line of parked cars. The parked cars then act as a buffer between moving cars going one way and cyclists going the other way. Like this example in Dublin.

Review of 2014

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Belkin practicing their team time trial on Belfast's University Road

Oh, the glamour and excitement of it all. The Grande Partenza was in Belfast and despite the wet weather thousands of people cheered the riders on. It was very definitely the biggest sporting event the City has ever hosted.
Of course, there was talk of spin-off benefits for local cycling, but as the year comes to an end the Giro is a faint rosy glow, like the midday sun on a winter’s day.

Cyclesaurus dies, yet lives

The year started with a brutal killing. The Cyclesaurus, only a month before crowned worst infrastructure at the 2013 Fred Awards, was attacked by DRD assassins. When the dust cleared a new monster arose, with mutant offspring diagonally across the junction. At the 2014 Award ceremony the entire city’s cycling infrastructure received the dubious distinction of worst cycling infrastructure. It remains to be seen if DRD will tackle the whole city with such alacrity.

Just down the road, but a few decades behind

Belfast streets have some provision for cyclists; not 9 miles away Lisburn has no provision at all. The DSD’s masterplan only mentions cycling in relation to tourism. But where there is no provision the possibilities are endless.

Taking back the Square

In Belfast DSD have dreamt up plans for redevelopment of the area around Donegall Street and Shaftesbury Square. Cycling is not paid much attention, and especially the Shaftesbury Square plans need to be amended, as the square is to be included in the first phase of Belfast’s bike hire scheme as a location for 2 docking stations and is a vital link for cyclists travelling from the south to the City Centre and in the future from the Gasworks bridge towards Queen’s, City Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital and vice versa.

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As a department DSD remain blind to cycling as a mode of transport and as a means to unlock our gridlocked roads. They could argue traffic isn’t their brief, but of course public realm is. Making our city’s spaces more liveable means making them pedestrian and bike friendly; making our city’s spaces a place to linger, rather than rush through by car.

Urban Clearway, don’t make laugh

Along the main thoroughfares of South Belfast the DRD dressed an attempt at traffic smoothing as a move to benefit local trade. The concept that parking is banned on one side of the road for 2 hours a day is too difficult to understand for motorists and too onerous to enforce by the parking attendants traffic wardens.

And does it work as a traffic smoothing measure? In October the Malone Road was closed during rush hour after a fatal hit-and-run RTC. Traffic ground to a standstill when parked cars on the Lisburn Road reduced the road’s capacity to take traffic from Malone Road. You’d think that DRD are giving up on these plans. No. At the time of writing the temporarily amended parking restrictions are still in force beyond the trial’s closing date.

Waterfrontshambles

Local politicians bent over backwards to accommodate the Giro, to the extent of a temporary ban along the route on election posters that disfigure our lampposts. Did they go the extra mile when NCN9 was closed for 2 years with only the scantest of notices given? No. Cyclists have to go the extra mile and cross the Lagan 3 times to access the City Centre from the south and south east of the city. It doesn’t bode well for the city’s bike hire scheme.

Belfast, Cycling Capital

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Danny Kennedy, the Minister for Cycling

At the DRD Changing Gear event in November it was pointed out that in New York their bike hire scheme followed from implementating an extensive cycling network. Belfast risks putting the cart before the horse by having a hire scheme up and running before there is any meaningful mesh of cycle tracks and lanes across the city. The move to make the City Centre a 20mph zone is the barest minimum. At least it will reduce the likelihood of a fatal consequence to an RTC involving a pedestrian or a cyclist.

A bleak November

It has been a dark year on our roads. The number of fatalities is well above that in previous years. In one day, Adam Gilmour, 8, was killed as he and his family were hit by a car on a 60mph rural road, just outside Cloughmills. Then, outside Hillsborough on the A1 a cyclist, John Flynn, 51, was hit by a lorry.

In the wake of the accident in Cloughmills arrangements have been made so Adam’s siblings are picked up by a school bus. However, the real issue of the high rate of fatal RTCs on rural roads, speeding, the lack of footpaths and cycle tracks remains unaddressed.

John Flynn’s death could have been prevented if during the most recent A1 upgrade cycling as transport was considered and given its own space. Now we have a cut-price motorway where cars travelling at a nominal 70mph limit mix with cyclists.

Positives

The Changing Gear conference was the high point of the DRD Cycling Unit’s year. It’s been a busy year for them, as they are given the brief of making Belfast the cycling capital of these islands and not much of a budget to make it so. At the Changing Gear conference it was made clear by all the speakers how far Belfast is from being a cycling capital.
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The Cycling Unit released their draft Bicycle Strategy and drew criticism for their plans for a 2-speed network across the city. Apparently “fast commuter” cyclists’ cycle provision is different to that for inexperienced occasional cyclists. Who knew?

The plans for a multi-speed cycling network may not make it to the final document. Which is good news.

#McCauslanes

More good news comes from the DoE committee meeting up on the Hill. That department’s plans for a one-tier taxi licensing system in Northern Ireland are dead in the water. The minister was told that should he present the plans to the Assembly as they are now the 2 main parties promised to vote against. This means that Belfast’s bus lanes continue to be a relatively safe haven for cyclists.

2015

But bus lanes are not safe enough! For 2015 cyclists should continue to apply pressure on our elected representatives and argue for a better deal for cyclists.

In a climate where every penny spent by Government is scrutinised it has to be pointed out that cycling delivers far greater returns for our economy and society than spending on car-centred roads. When we have little to spend, expensive white elephant schemes with dubious benefit to our economy such as the A5 dualling scheme and the Narrow Water Bridge should be ditched permanently in favour of making our city and town centres people-friendly again.

And that means stopping the tin avalanche and returning our streets to a human scale. And the new bike hire scheme can help towards that goal.
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A Merry Christmas and a Prosperous 2015!

Evolution

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Tramore Beach, Downings, Co. Donegal

Olivia and I discussed how the slope up to the House of Sport in Belfast was limiting our enjoyment of the Cargobike. It is great for the school run and bringing home large bags of cat litter. Not so much if there is a hill to go up.

We’re not talking the Col De Madeleine here, but vicious nonetheless. We needed a bit of extra power. So the plan was born to try and fit an electric motor to the bike.

After a bit of Googling I decided to contact E-fietsspecialist in the Netherlands, based near my home town of Venlo. The site is in Dutch only.

They offer a standard “ombouwset” at 3 levels. I emailed them that I wished to fit it to a Cargobike with 20″ front wheel with rollerbrakes. They then quoted me for a bespoke package, based around their €649 “luxe set”, taking into account the power needed to pull the heavy bike along.

As I intended to fit the battery in the box I decided not to take the special luggage rack. This saved quite a bit of postage and packing.

I paid directly by SWIFT bank transfer and the package was delivered efficiently within 3 working days.

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An experienced bike mechanic with the correct tools could probably do the conversion in an afternoon, but I am a stranger to the world of bike thingummyjigs and doodlewhatsits. It took me a little longer.

I tackled the work in small bits. I divided it so I could complete each task and still use the bicycle every day.

First, I replaced the front wheel with the new motorised one retaining the brake, tyre and tube.
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It required a bit of creative thinking as the fork rubbed the engine housing if fitted according to instructions. By moving both spacers to the non-brake side it slipped in easily. I refitted the brake cable and secured to motor power lead with a cable tie.

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No room for error

The next job was fitting the brake sensors. I cut off the end caps from the cables and pulled them out from the handle bar end. I cut through the protective sheath just above the first cable mount on the stem below the handle bars. Then I removed a 4 cm section and pushed the brake cable back, this time through the brake sensor. I fed the cable all the way through and refitted the end caps and tuned the brakes.
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At this point I also fitted the display (centrally on the handle bar) with the controller button beside it.
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Then I removed the left crank arm (I got a crank puller from Chain Reaction Cycles) and glued in the pedal sensor using epoxy resin. I replaced the crank arm. I had to Google what a crank puller looks like, so I could find it in the shop.

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I drilled a 20mm hole centrally about 5cm from the back of the box and fed through all the wires and connected these to the controller box. There is only one way to fit the wires to the controller.

The battery requires an initial overnight charge so I hooked it to the provided mains adapter and let it sit. I had to fit a UK-standard plug, because the kit came with a European one. The battery can be uncoupled and removed easily. I have it secured with heavy duty velcro stuck to the foam padding the battery was sent with.

The foam pad cushions the battery from blows and shaking and protects the wires coming out of the controller end. I also tidied away all leads and wires with cable ties and the provided cable tidy.

The following morning I switched it on and miraculously it all worked. As soon as you turn the pedals the engine kicks in and it pulls you along. You have to keep pedalling to get the assistance from the engine. Braking cuts the engine and it doesn’t restart unless you turn the pedals.

The bike sounds a bit like a milkfloat, but it is a joy to sail up a hill that previously nearly killed us.

Cycling to School

Very few children cycle to school in Finaghy. Some walk, but most are brought by car. I wonder if it is the road itself that is the problem…

The new school year is well under way by now. Children are settling down into their routine. If you’re a British or Irish parent this routine will involve strapping the children into the car for the school run. In GB 82% of school run journeys between 2 and 5 miles were made by car (for primary school pupils). In Northern Ireland, according to the DRDNI Travel Survey, 60% of primary school children are brought by car, 13% go by bus, with the remainder walking or cycling. In NI 32% (GB 26%) of secondary school runs were by car. The bus dominates for this age group and for longer distances, and walking was the preferred mode of transport for journeys less than 1 mile.

Grouping walking and cycling hides very low cycling rates:

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4-11 year olds

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12-18 year olds

(GB figures from 2012 DfT Travel Survey.)

The school run is a major component of morning rush hour congestion. UK-wide the figure of morning rush hour traffic due to the school run is around 24%. Consider the difference between a mid-summer commute and one in the autumn.

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As I cycle past lines of stationary or slow moving traffic I wonder why not more parents leave the car at home and walk or cycle to school. Most parents walked or cycled to school themselves.

Ask them why they won’t allow their children to do as they did and they’ll answer it is because of the danger traffic poses that they take their children to school by car. There is the obvious flaw in their reasoning: nobody regards themselves as traffic; only others are. No car driver would regard themselves as a danger to other road users, but other car drivers are perceived as a danger to themselves.

So here we are on Finaghy Road on the southwest outskirts of Belfast. A road that is mainly residential in character, with a limited range of shops at Finaghy Crossroads where it meets the Lisburn Road. Here is also a Health Centre, a library and a youth centre.

There is a railway station, and the road is served by Metro 8 and 10 buses to Erinvale and Ladybrook. The Belfast Rapid Transit will soon reach the northern end of Finaghy Road, instead of Metro 10. At Finaghy Crossroads there are Metro 9a and Ulsterbus services towards Lisburn and beyond. Other Ulsterbus services go up Andersonstown Road and Malone Road at either end of Finaghy Road.

The road is divided into Finaghy Road North, from Finaghy Crossroads to the Andersonstown Road, and Finaghy Road South which runs to the Upper Malone Road.

Pavement parking is a major issue along the road. Parents with buggies are often forced off the footpath because motorists have not left enough space:

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There are traffic lights at the road’s junction with the Andersonstown Road, at Finaghy Crossroads and at Erinvale.

In the past few months DRD have put in a lane divider between Erinvale and Upper Malone Road. Traffic islands have been added centrally to enable pedestrians to get across.

There are three primary schools and a secondary school on the road. About a quarter of pupils make their way to school on foot. Virtually none by bicycle.
The vast majority of primary school children are brought to school by car.
At my daughter’s primary school in the mornings out of approximately 210 pupils 4 make their way to school on a bike. Here is a photograph taken on a  Bike To School day in 2014

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In the morning rush hour car traffic is slow at the Andersonstown Road end and either side of Finaghy Crossroads. The traffic lights sequence favours those on the citybound arterial roads. Considerable congestion occurs at the entrance to St. John the Baptist PS, the only primary school that is directly on the Finaghy Road. Cranmore IPS and Finaghy PS, are on campuses off the main road.

A lollypop lady helps people across at the entrance to Finaghy Primary School.

I have not mentioned cycling provision on the road. Save for some useless Advanced Stop Lines, there are no lanes, paths, lights, or cycle hoops.

This is not a road where people, of all ages and abilities who use bicycles are welcome. It is a road that also discourages walking, because of pavement parking and speeding.

In response to the killing of Adele Whiteside in 2007 DRDNI introduced lane separation between Orpen Park and Erinvale Avenue in an effort to provide a refuge for pedestrians. The works were neatly captured by Google:
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This was extended up towards Malone Road in 2014.

Elsewhere boxes are marked off for parking, but are so narrow that people choose to mount the pavement so as they fit within the limit of the box (shown in the background the picture above). Builders, similarly, put skips on the pavement.

It is a disappointment that lane separation has been chosen as a means to protect pedestrians. It can provide for a central island for pedestrians crossing and a filter lane for cars turning right.

However, lane separation makes the road more dangerous for cyclists. It squeezes cars and cycles closer together. Others have blogged about the issue and suggest improvements to help cycling.

The lane separation and reduction of space along the kerb shows how much of the tarmac is never used. Surely DRDNI are capable of implementing better solutions with all that available space?

And no, on Finaghy Road the space between the kerb and the broken line is not a cycle lane.

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It is scarcely believable that people use the Iceland customer car park on the corner of Finaghy Road South and the Lisburn Road to avoid the traffic lights. But they do. They risk a collision with pedestrians or other traffic for the sake of a few seconds. It would be a good idea to close off one end of the car park to prevent further collisions.

Finaghy Road is a museum to mid 20th century urban planning. Wide tarmac, designed to sweep suburbanites from their semi-detached to the shop, school or city centre job in their own car. Little did the planners realise how with time this suburban dream would turn into a nightmare. The fixes to make the road acceptable for pedestrians are mere symptoms of how last century’s design is not up to how we use the road today. 60s planners assumed that children would walk to school, and wouldn’t be put off by increased numbers of cars and stranger danger.

In short: would you let your child cycle to school along this road? I don’t, even though it would be the most direct route to school. So where do cyclists go? Jeff Dudgeon, Balmoral UUP councillor says: “[o]ne of the most frequent complaints I received from constituents during my election campaign was about cycling on pavements.”

How can this road for cars be made a road for people? Something like this, perhaps?

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Nijmegen, NL (André Engels)

Firstly, with four schools it should be made a 20mph road. A simple question: is speed more important to you than giving a child a reasonable chance to survive a collision?
Pavement parking should be tackled by providing car park spaces wide enough to park entirely on the road.
Where necessary, at junctions especially, cycling should be given its own space and ideally protected by car parking space.
Finaghy Crossroads should be looked at holistically. The area needs general improvement, with a more attractive and wider range of shops and services. Ratruns either side of the junction need to be closed off, but the junction itself needs some thought to allow traffic to move better. My hunch is that too much time is given to traffic on Lisburn Road, and not enough to traffic on Finaghy Road, leading to a build-up of traffic, especially around school opening hours.

And finally. Another councillor, Claire Hanna of the SDLP, mentioned how trees could not be planted along the road:

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John Hunter adds:
” I live on finaghy road south and have for 28 years, when adele was killed the youth centre pushed for traffic islands and the doe kindly provided sensible footpath parking for the residents, all the inconsiderate footpath parkers belong to outsiders who are either working on finaghy road south, the crossroads, [or] work in the youth centre and while they have a large off road carpark they insist on parking unsafely for pedestrians and mothers, the traffic islands when they were in planning it was suggested to put ramps to slow the vehicles down, this was rejected as it would cause traffic hold ups and children still assume the cars should stop for them at these islands as I have witnessed some close calls. Then the doe change the traffic lights and put filter lights in place which have caused more and larger jams as I have witnessed in 28 years plus those drivers that realise this are taking short cuts through residential roads in the finaghy estate to bypass this junction.
Regarding cyclists some are very careless and think its their right to travel along the footpath, I have a high hedge at the front of the house and at least once a month I take my life in my hands stepping out on the footpath if I dont check to see whats coming.”

NI Bicycle Strategy (draft)

On 27 August 2014 the Department of Regional Development’s Cycling Unit released its draft Bicycle Strategy. The Cycling Unit are open to suggestions and amendments to the document. Contact them at cycling.unit@drdni.gov.uk

Having read it I am fairly positive. There is official recognition that there is a need for proper cycling infrastructure, especially in Belfast and that the current infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired.

They understand that cyclists include people who work, go to school, go shopping, visit their GP or are just going for a “wee ride”. These cyclists are of all ages and abilities.

The current infrastructure is designed for hardened vehicular cyclists who cycle as if they are a car. (They probable even make car noises as they rush about.) There are few concessions to cyclists, and non-cyclists are put off taking up cycling because of their perception cycling on our roads is dangerous. No amount of training, awareness campaigns and patronising safety advice has altered that state of affairs. The percentage share of cyclists remains stubbornly stuck in single figures.

The vision is for a joined up network of high standard cycle routes along arterials, quietways, 20mph zones and greenways. It is recognised that local amenities have to be accessible. There is to be joined-up thinking with buses and trains. These routes will give cyclists confidence they can get from A to B in safety.

All of this will be based on best practice from our neighbours within the UK and Europe.

This is a breath of fresh air.

But.

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This table has raised cyclists’ hackles. On my usual commute I am a very “Fast Commuter”. I know the roads, the lights, most drivers are familiar with me and I with them. You see the same drivers, pedestrians and cyclists at the same time each day. If my journey goes elsewhere, covering unfamiliar routes, I am slower and if I am pulling a trailer or on the Cargobike I go slower still. According to this table I might be classed as an inexperienced leisure cyclist on such trips. What I do want is a confidence-inspiring safe network I can use whatever the circumstance or conditions.

The table has been adapted from the English Department for Transport, published in 2007.

Firstly, if we want to look at best practice we should not look to England 7 years ago. It would better to hold them up as an example of how not to implement a cycling strategy.

Every cyclist has different needs, based on their particular circumstances. And designing a network to meet everyone’s needs is impossible. You’d think.

This is exactly what is being achieved in municipalities across north west Europe. One joined-up network that encourages children to cycle to school, OAPs on e-bikes out for a trip to the shop, commuters and leisure cyclists in lycra or every day clothes. There are no obstacles to people with disabilities, using hand cycles or tricycles using high quality cycle lanes.

Where the document is going, though not explicitly stated in the text, but heavily hinted by the inclusion of the table is the design of a network based on cyclists’ competence. The cyclists’ differing needs will be considered on a scheme by scheme basis. The Cycling Unit will need to clarify this before the final version is released.

If you have a main arterial route, favoured by fast commuters, such as the Lisburn Road, does that mean any proposed schemes will only cater for fast commuters? What about school children on their way to St. Bride’s travelling the same route?
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So.

The draft is a good start, with room for improvement.

The Cycling Unit want your response. Here’s my letter to the Cycling Unit:

First of all I want to congratulate you on publishing your Bicycle Strategy document. It is a breath of fresh air to see a government department address cycling as a means of transport.There are many good words in it: a recognition that cyclists are people from all walks of life and all stages in life; a commitment to deliver a cycling culture in Northern Ireland.
It is not all good news. The inclusion of figure 4.3 is problematic. It suggests that different bicycle users have different requirements. And that these differing requirements will be considered on a case by case basis in the design of cycling infrastructure.
I welcome that cyclists’ needs of all ages and abilities will be considered in the design and development of cycling infrastructure. What I am concerned about is the suggestion that there will be different cycling networks for the various groups of cyclists. Fast arterial routes for fast commuters and experienced utility cyclists, quietways for the less confident, who are willing to put up with detours for the sake of safety. And segregated tracks or shared use greenways for the least able and least confident.
I believe this to be wrong. In Netherlands and Denmark the nerwork is designed so people of all ages and abilities have the confidence to cycle in a direct and easy manner from A to B. And there is an acceptance that motorists must go the long way round to accommodate this.
In Denmark and the Netherlands there is one network for all users, not a two or three-speed network with users segregated by their fitness and competence.
Consider that a tandem for the use of a visually impaired cyclist has similar design need to a fast cyclist, or one on a Cargobike: wide tracks, gentle curves, few humps, ramps or other obstacles in the road. A network should be wide enough to accommodate a parent cycling beside a child, and the racing cyclist overtaking the OAP on their e-bike. Should a fast commuter cycle route, such as the Lisburn Road in Belfast, have a different design from one that has a predominance of school children or shoppers? I believe not, and my experience of cycling in the Netherlands would confirm that belief.
Figure 4.3 has been adapted from a 2007 DfT document. I argue that looking to England in 2007 is a backward move. Instead looking to best practice across NW Europe, and American cities will allow Northern Ireland to take leap into the future, copying and developing on their best practice.
There is a notable lack of targets and budgets and I hope that future documents will go into the nuts and bolts of how the strategy will be turned into reality.
I welcome the inclusion of the Road User Hierarchy, fig 4.2. Until now design for cars has dominated Northern Ireland transport planning. I hope the realisation that cars are a costly and inefficient waste of space will filter across government departments. Much of the cycling space will need to be taken from urban car space.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment on your published draft. I hope that the final document will reflect some of the comments I have made.
Please feel free to contact me and further discuss the issues I raise.

Yours sincerely,