A major factor in West Belfast’s low cycling rates is a lack of safe, dedicated connections with the city centre. A new greenway project to create a 2.7 mile traffic-free corridor from the heart of Belfast to Andersonstown could boost active travel in the city, and enhance the prospects of an even more impressive West Belfast project.
Recent work on the creation of the first cross-Belfast cycling route means a traffic-free link now exists between the Broadway roundabout and College Square North. This is a mix of shared footways and dedicated cycling space which, catering for the more inexperienced end of cycling users, provides a great new facility for the city.
The next extension of this route will head east onto High Street and Middlepath Street into the Titanic Quarter. But looking west there is another potential new route which could make cycling a viable option for journeys from Andersonstown all the way to the heart of the city centre and beyond – the Bog Meadows Greenway.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) September 22, 2016
At the Broadway roundabout, where the Westlink becomes the M1 motorway as it dives under the RISE sculpture (affectionately known as the Balls on the Falls), the traffic-free cycling route from Belfast effectively terminates. This is also the south western extent of the Belfast Bikes station network, with public hire bikes available just inside the entrance to the Royal Victoria Hospital.
Just across the double roundabout beside Donegall Road lies an entrance to the Bog Meadows. This is a 47 acre wetland nature reserve bounded by the M1 motorway, Milltown Cemetery and the Kennedy Industrial Estate.
The existing pathways across the Bog Meadows and across into Falls Park cut a handy route as far as Turf Lodge, but does little to promote safe cycling routes into the more populous areas of Andersonstown and beyond. The Bog Meadows featured in a recent bicycle vs car journey comparison made by the Department for Infrastructure’s Cycling Unit:
One aspect that’s clear from the video, and a cycle around the Bog Meadows, is the tight paths widths and varying surface conditions. There is a mix of concrete and loose quarry dust sections, with narrow sections that can be a struggle to cycle on, let alone share with other users. This, coupled with the swing to the west instead of south, means the route lacks attractiveness for commuting and utility journeys.
Planning a dedicated cycling route along the edge of the M1 motorway to the Kennedy Indutrial Estate would create a truly viable active travel corridor into Belfast City Centre, capable of real modal shift and relief to the congested Falls Road.
One mile of new and upgraded pathway would create a 2.7 mile end-to-end traffic-free cycling route between Kennedy Way and Castle Street. It would link big trip generators like the employment, retail and community hub around the Kennedy Centre, the Park Centre, and the Royal and City hospitals. At the southern tip lies Casement Park, at the northern tip the new Belfast Transport Hub and city centre.
Proposing to build anything on or near a nature reserve raises environmental red flags. However there are many examples around the world of greenway projects which integrate harmoniously with delicate natural landcsapes and habitats.
To make the Bog Meadows Greenway a reality would likely require a wide, elevated, wooden boardwalk path for sections where a hard surface would negatively affect the marshes and its inhabitants – like that used across Burton Marshes on the English / Welsh border or the Ivy Creek Greenway in Atlanta, Georgia. Path-level solar-powered lighting could provide a non-intrusive way to enable evening commuting journeys to continue through the winter.
— Atlanta Trails (@atlantatrails) April 25, 2014
Providing this new route across the Bog Meadows could be planned and executed quickly and relatively cheaply. It would also benefit the realisation of a grander plan for the area, the Southwest Gateway.
The masterplan, commissioned by the Department for Communities and designed by the Paul Hogarth Company, sets out a vision for the future of the area and contains proposed actions to improve the look and function of the area.
The centerpiece is a proposed green bridge across the M1 motorway, linking the Bog Meadows to the Boucher Playing Fields – creating a wildlife, active travel and leisure corridor breaking the disconnection caused by the motorway and industrial estate developments.
What's your vision for Belfast's SW Gateway? Join us today btwn 4 – 7pm at KennedyCentre for the 6th & final drop-in pic.twitter.com/fu2FVzSjzI
— ThePaulHogarthCo (@PaulHogarthCo) February 11, 2015
The Southwest Gateway doesn’t appear to include a route parallel to the M1 in its masterplan and the implementation may be some time (and money) away from realisation. The Bog Meadows Greenway is modest in comparison, but full of utility deliverable in the short term.
West Belfast has lagged behind other areas of the city (and country) in cycling levels. While there are potentially many unique reasons for this, a lack of dedicated infrastructure is noticeable in comparison to the Lagan and Lough corridor in North and South Belfast, and the Comber and Connswater Greenways in East Belfast. The Bog Meadows Greenway could be the start of a cycling revival in the west.
The benefits of a Bog Meadows Greenway include:
- Reduction in journey times between Kennedy Way and centre with less time spent sharing with traffic
- Traffic-free link from the Transport Hub to Casement Park
- Connects two major shopping hubs with Transport Hub and developing Belfast Cycle Network
- Connects West Belfast residents via National Cycle Network to Newtownabbey, Lisburn and Comber
- High-profile cycling development in full view of M1 traffic can encourage modal switch
- Addresses the imbalance in Belfast with existing greenways in East, North and South but not West
- Potential extension of Belfast Bikes to the West with big trip generators (hospitals, Transport Hub) along the route
What do you think of the idea of a Bog Meadows Greenway for Belfast?
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