Greenway Lessons

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

Abandoned railways abandon cyclists

Controversial.

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

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

Burrishoole road bridge, now part of the Greenway

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

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

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

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

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

NIMBY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rural greenways, urban no-ways

Historical map, (c) OSI

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

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

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

Arch being demolished, early ’70s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A common mistake

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

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

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

Comber’s cycle streets could look like this:

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Poor cycle lane design, along the R335 in Westport

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

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

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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: 

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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 – never 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.

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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:

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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?

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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 – I 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…