A vehicle lane on one of Belfast’s main outbound arterial routes will be repurposed as a dedicated two-way cycleway in a revolutionary step for cycling in the city.
Middlepath Street takes strategic traffic from Belfast city centre towards the M3 motorway which links to the M1 (south), M2 (north) and A2 (northeast) and the key eastern corridor of the Newtownards Road.
Middlepath Street is currently a four lane, one way road stretching from Queen Elizabeth Bridge to the Bridge End gyratory. The right hand side vehicle lane will be converted to the highest profile cycling route in the city, visible to thousands of drivers each day.
This half a kilometre scheme will consist of approximately two-thirds kerb separated cycle track with the remaining third as a shared footway. New toucan crossings will be installed to get cycleway users between the cycling space on Queen Elizabeth and Lagan Weir bridges to the west and Titanic Quarter Railway Station and the Comber Greenway to the east.
The route in detail
Starting from the eastern end, commuters, shoppers and leisure users of the Comber Greenway can access Titanic Quarter Station using the traffic-calmed Island Street. From here a recently landscaped pathway glides down to the four lane Bridge End gyratory.
A toucan crossing will be installed to allow users to cross to the middle of the gyratory junction. This section will be shared footway – not ideal, but also not heavily used by pedestrians at the moment. The grassy area leaves plenty of space for future upgrading to a split cycleway/footway should usage levels warrant it.
Raised tables and visual warnings should help alert drivers accessing the Eastside Park and Ride to the possibility of cycling traffic.
Part of the reason for selecting a shared footway here is the major physical barrier presented by the railway bridge. The danger posed by placing a cycleway on the roadside would be considerable with the fast, heavy traffic swinging off the M3.
Hopefully lighting for the dark underpass will be considered to help avoid difficult interactions.
After the underpass the footway widens and cycling users will transition to a cycle track, separated from the road by “300mm wide preformed kerb cycle segregation units”. This marks a departure from the recent use of wand separation in inner city centre schemes such as Alfred Street. Kerb separation seems ideal for this stretch, where parking demand is very low.
“This .. provides cycle lanes on the carriageway of Middlepath Street, Belfast .. to be used by cyclists only” and will “allow cycles to proceed in both directions in the cycle lanes.”
Scheme Order (PDF)
The only width indication on the scheme says 2.5m with a 50cm buffer to the kerb. If so, it sounds a little tight for a two-way cycle track, but we’ll see how it’s implemented. Transport NI would do well to look at angled kerbing deployed in the Netherlands to add a more forgiving edge in case of mistakes although, with the intended use of pre-fab kerbs, options may be limited.
The cycleway snakes around loading bays which will help local businesses to live with the new cycle route.
Further along, Dalton Street – currently used as a potential for u-turn access back towards the city centre – will be stopped up to simplify the conflict zone where the cycleway and M3 on-slip meet.
Low level cycle signals, of the type already being rolled out across Belfast’s new cycleways, will control movements at the M3 slip.
This area is quite bereft of street life at present, with the feeling of the current state of the York Street Interchange site, also with street level motorway access traffic. The cycleway will bring human movement and life back in a big way on this (new) approach to the River Lagan.
Going under the Dargan rail bridge and the Station Street flyover approaching Queen Elizabeth Bridge, the cycleway will have priority over the (few) vehicles entering Station Street to access the car park. A new toucan crossing will bring bicycle riders to the northern side of the bridge, currently a generously wide shared (visually separated) footway.
This is perhaps the most disappointing section of the plan, with the scheme boundary not including the bridge itself. While this cycleway is rightly planned as part of the cross-city route which will funnel users over to High Street, Castle Place and on to the recently finished Durham/College Cycleway and on to the Westlink, many users will have their ultimate destination to the southern half of the city centre.
This is where a little foresight could have seen the bridge roadway reduced to the same three lanes as Middlepath Street, to enable the cycleway to be extended to Ann Street.
As it stands, perhaps half of journeys to/from the city centre will require two controlled crossing at either end of the bridge – slow and frustrating. It should be expected that the tighter southern footway will become an unofficial cycling short cut, to the detriment of pedestrians.
This a very much a dedicated cycleway scheme, not meant to be a handy waiting area for vehicles – as the enforcement provisions lay out:
Anyone “causing or permitting any vehicle other than a cycle to wait in a cycle lane .. shall be liable to a penalty charge (£90).”
Scheme Order (PDF)
The Department have started 2017 with a bang, setting out plans for the most visible new scheme of its Cycling Revolution. Nerves will be a little frayed waiting for any negative reactions from irate radio callers or
car business “lobbying” groups.
Not only will it help many thousands of people make the switch from car or bus to the bicycle between East Belfast and the city centre, but in the regular heavy congestion of the Bridge End gyratory it will serve as a reminder to many drivers of the possibility offered by the bicycle in Belfast.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) August 27, 2015
We should see the last piece of this particular jigsaw fall into place with the High Street section shortly (hold onto your hats for that one) which actually creates a traffic-free/calmed 12 mile cycle route from the Monagh Bypass in West Belfast all the way to Comber.
And all of this is before the announcement of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, due before the end of this month. What a time to be cycling in our city.
Bikefast is a volunteer effort sustained by hundreds of followers, thousands of viewers and a lot of spare time and cash. In 2017 we need to renew web hosting and continue to improve upon what Bikefast can do – from campaigning for better cycling infrastructure to more investigative reporting on issues which affect the future of cycling in our city. Any support you can offer towards these goals is appreciated.