Lagan Weir Bridge

Tuesday, 30 June 2015 saw the opening of the £5mln Lagan Weir Bridge. It is more of a reopening because it is a replacement for the first Lagan Weir Bridge.

The first bridge was a of relatively simple construction comprising of a series of decks between the weir’s buttresses. It was completed in 1994.

The Weir serves to stop mudflats being exposed between Stranmillis and the City Centre. Dredging and aeration also helped reintroduce life to the river.


At either end of the bridge there were a flight of steps for and two semi circular ramps to allow prams and mobility scooters on to the bridge.


East bank access


West bank access

But look! The first bridge was not a shared space. It was a footbridge. Where cycling was banned.

With much fanfare Department of Social Development (the government department in charge) billed this as an investment in cycling, by allowing cycling on the new bridge.

The DSD, rather than DRD, are taking the lead as the weir and bridge has been part of the Lagan regeneration project, bringing the river back to life and developing the derelict river banks for housing and leisure. The bridge reconstruction is part of DSD’s Queen’s Quay Masterplan (pdf)

Graham Construction won the contract for the new crossing. They also were responsible for the ramps at either end and the replacement of the wasteful Halogen floodlighting with energy efficient LEDs.




So we get a gracefully curved shared space, crossing the river. And three benches down the middle towards the west bank of the bridge. There is no separation between pedestrians and cyclists.

On the positive side, the wider deck (up to 8m) will give much more space to pass. Or stop, sit on a bench and eat your piece.

To me it has echoes of Rotterdam’s Rijnhavenbrug. The Rotterdam bridge is built on a much bigger scale, with a lifting section to allow ships to pass. Mark Wagenbuur comments that the deck arrangement will only work in situations with few cyclists. Rotterdam has a low cycling uptake in comparison to the rest of the Netherlands, but their low is still a 4- or 5-fold of Belfast’s figure.

Another shared space bridge in the Netherlands is Venlo’s Weerdsprong. It is remarkable for its lighting design. Venlo also has a cycling modal share roughly double that of Rotterdam. It will be interesting how all three designs cope with the disparate demands of cycling and walking.

Doomsayers are blasting the plan, with the arguments boiling down to shared space = no space for cycling or pedestrians. And where there’s conflict there is local radio phone in show host Nolan.

I am no fan of shared space, but I like this bridge as a public space.

If you want a bridge with separate space for cycling to cross the Lagan there is the QE2 within a stone’s throw upstream.

Taking back the Square

DSD (keep up, it is yet another Government department who shape cycling provision in Northern Ireland) have announced a consultation on plans to redevelop Shaftesbury Square in Belfast.

That the Square needs a fair bit of work is something everyone agrees on. For instance, the bombed shell of the Social Security building on the Eastern side was nominated for the Channel 4 programme ‘Demolition‘. The intended target was the adjacent Donegall Pass RUC Station; a 500lb device was detonated by the IRA on 24 March 1992. There are plans for a new office block fronting the square.

More recently, in 2013, the best-known tenant on the square, Paul Rankin’s Cayenne Restaurant (formerly the Michelin-starred Roscoff) closed its doors.

The Square is not a good place to be, with dereliction, vacant properties and the domination of the square by motorised traffic. There are diverse flows of traffic crisscrossing the square:


Note bullet point 5:

There are advisory cycle lanes on Donegall Road (usually blocked by parked cars in contravention of HC 140), but none of the other roads leading off the square have any provision for cyclists. Pavement cycling is rife and it shows demand for segregated lanes is there.


It is good to see a government report acknowledge there is a problem for cyclists. And plans creating a better North-South cycle track is excellent news. It doesn’t, however, spot the glaring gaps for cyclists in this square.

While North-South is receiving attention, cycling from West to East will remain impossible, without getting off your bike and walking or going on a detour down Great Victoria Street and coming back up Dublin Road.


No way ahead; cyclists must dismount


Even Google gives up; walk your bicycle #fail

Such a detour is no problem for a car driver, but it is a problem for pedestrians or cyclists. The pedestrians were given a pedestrian crossing across the middle of the square; well almost: they were given a signalled crossing to the central traffic island from where they must run across 3 traffic lanes or use the crossing at the northern end of the island; nothing was done for cyclists.


DSD rightly point out the gap in provision on Dublin Road where cyclists at rush hour battle with 4 lanes of motorised traffic. But perhaps DSD are too focused on traffic from City Centre to suburb and vice versa.

The West-East axis is an important link for cyclists who travel from the Gasworks and East Belfast beyond (crossing the Lagan at the Albert Bridge or soon at this new bridge to Ormeau Park) to the Belfast City Hospital, Boucher Road area and the Royal Victoria Hospital. The new Gasworks bridge will only increase the number of cyclists crossing the square East to West and vice versa.

Throughout the plans cyclists’ needs are ignored. Belfast’s brand new bike hire system will see two docking stations in or very near the Square, but they don’t feature in any of the plans.


Docking stations marked H & W

The architects’ vision sees pavement cycling as the norm, with no road space dedicated to cycle tracks. The good words of bullet point 5 of the “proposed response (pdf 4.2MB)” are not visualised for us. Instead, on almost every Jetson-esque architectural daydream cyclists are positioned on the pavement.


My educated guess is that cyclists are expected to use the red coloured bus lanes.


But there is the BRT! What are these articulated buses doing in the Square, away from the Newtownards Road and Falls Road? Local roads and transport blogger, Wesley Johnston, @niroads, tweets:

Quite how DSD envisage Belfast Rapid Transit to be Rapid if buses are expected to use bus lanes clogged with 4000+ extra vehicles and double up as cycling provision is anyone’s guess.

People who don’t use bicycles now will not be persuaded to use a bicycle if bus lanes are the only dedicated road space they can expect. Allowing cyclists to use bus lanes has delivered a single figure modal share. To grow cycling, to create a cycling culture space needs to be set aside for cycling.

One vacant site near the Square, currently the Posnett St surface car park, is earmarked for social housing. It is good to see social housing so prominent in the plans. One can only hope that the architects include adequate bicycle storage for each house. If a bike shed/store cannot be realised beside or inside each property, these hangars may provide an on-street solution.

If pushed to summarise the plans for the Square: the filter lane from Dublin Road to Botanic Avenue and Donegall Pass is removed in favour of a larger pedestrian space.

How can the plan be improved for cycling?

Firstly, provide segregated tracks along Dublin Road, Great Victoria Street and Bradbury Place. One traffic lane (currently used for parking 20 hours a day) can be sacrificed and redistributed to give a 1.5m wide track on both sides of each road.
The Donegall Road advisory lanes should be segregated.
Cyclists should be able to cross the square from West to East without having to get off and push.
The Lavery’s bus stop on Bradbury Place should be moved to the Square with the cycle track behind it, creating floating bus stops.
The cyclists should have their own lights and phases in the traffic lights’ sequence to diminish conflict.
Finally, cars should be banned from Botanic Avenue. The plans get their inspiration from the pedestrianisation of New York’s Times Square; planners here should turn back the tin avalanche of motor traffic in our city centre and put people first.

A bit like so, with cycle lanes in green. image

(forgive my dreadful graphic design skills)

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 – they estimated that car users were 41% of the shoppers.” says the Campaign for Better Transport (link above).




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.


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 Masterplan (for car drivers only)

This is Lisburn:


Note the acres of tarmac. See the cars. Feel sorry for the cyclist trying to get to the “cycle box” and exiting this hell in one piece.

Many towns have ramparts, bulwarks and defensive earthworks to prevent enemies reaching the town centre.

Lisburn doesn’t need such medieval defences. It has a road system that defeats the weary and kills the unsuspecting.

I have tweeted about the barrier before:




But despair ye not! There is a plan: The Lisburn Masterplan or for the grown-up versions

Nelson McCausland, DSD Minister (stay with it, it is too confusing for me too) is responsible for reshaping this tangle of roads and turning Lisburn into a destination.

For people in cars, who get out and walk.

The Masterplan only mentions cycling once, in a reference to the leisure visitor who arrives by bicycle.

The cycling commuter, the children cycling to school, ignored and forgotten.

A big oversight. How sad. Another missed opportunity. Lisburn, despite its lofty futuristic ambitions, remains firmly wedded to that 20th century town-eating monster, the car.