Belfast Bicycle Network Plan launched

Belfast will construct a dedicated bicycle network running to more than 130km over the next decade. The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has released its Belfast Bicycle Network Plan for public consultation with the message that our city’s current reliance on the private motor car is “killing us”.

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Following the overarching Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland, published in August 2015, Belfast was selected as the first urban centre to get a dedicated route plan. The city already has a seemingly impressive 80km collection of cycling space, however the majority is based on ‘advisory’ on-road cycle lanes with no more than 4km of dedicated and protected cycleways. As well as the poor quality, continuity of routes is a major barrier to mass cycling.

Belfast has seen significant investment in active travel and public transport in the last decade. Bus lanes have sprung up around the city in preparation for next year’s launch of Bus Rapid Transit, while the Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes public bicycle hire system has proved among the most popular in the British Isles.

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This is the first major city-level cycling policy document published in our history, and promises to leverage the bicycle as tool to make Belfast a better place to live:

“Imagine the kind of a city we could have with less motor traffic – less noise, less pollution, healthy people and a more pleasant environment to spend time in, live in and enjoy. I want to build a network of continuous, coherent, comfortable and attractive bicycle routes, with minimum delays, to encourage more people to choose to travel by bicycle rather than jumping in the car.”
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard

The overall plan is an amalgamation of 11 separate route corridors, based an inner, middle and outer ring pattern, and arterial linkages from city centre to the outer ring and beyond. There is a mix of existing route corridors (the Comber Greenway, Loughshore Path and Lagan Towpath extending to the edge of the map are most obvious) and several brand new route suggestions.

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This draft is focused on a “Primary network” of routes to facilitate journeys around the city.

“The network is about providing dedicated infrastructure for people who wish to cycle and for ensuring that conflicts with other road users are minimised. It is not intended that cycling will always take priority over other users but that specific cycling initiatives will provide a safe environment which will encourage people to use the bicycle with confidence. However, it must be remembered that the road user hierarchy requires that the most vulnerable users must be considered first, starting with pedestrians and then bicycles.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

Further work on a “Secondary network” is expected to follow in the next few years, based on traffic-calming a network of streets between the primary routes and arterial routes. The plan is targeting a wide range of people in Belfast, as it identifies that 45% of journeys in the Greater Belfast area are less than two miles in length.

The draft route map will place a dedicated cycle route within 400m of two-thirds of the population of Belfast.

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The 11 routes each have an assessment of the current provision and suggested improvements to bring the design up to the standard laid out in the Bicycle Strategy.

“The proposed network in Belfast recognised the following five main criteria for network design:

  • Coherence: cycling infrastructure should form a coherent entity, linking all trip origins and destinations; with a continuous level of provision;
  • Directness: routes should be as direct as possible, based on desire lines, since detours and delays will deter use;
  • Attractiveness: routes should be attractive on subjective as well as objective criteria. Lighting, personal safety, aesthetics, noise and integration with the surrounding area are important;
  • Safety: designs should minimise the danger for all road users; and
  • Comfort: bicycle routes need smooth, well-maintained surfaces, regular sweeping, and gentle gradients. Routes need to be convenient to use and avoid complicated manoeuvres and interruptions.”

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The document continues in the remarkable progressive vein of thought and action by current Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard. The sentiments in the foreword are thrown into sharp relief by the recent comments of UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the position of cycling on our roads:

“Most of us travel. Many of us, at some time of the day, are traffic – heavy, slow moving traffic. It is not quick, it is not enjoyable and it is killing us. There is a better way and an increasing number of Belfast people are choosing it. They are getting about by bicycle.”
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard

The plan also gives us a first glimpse of the remarkable plans for High Street in Belfast. This spring, work should begin to reduce this unnecessarily vehicle-cluttered mini-highway into a people-centred, traffic-calmed boulevard with landscaped cycleways on either side.

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The costs of the 130km network proposal are not detailed, except for reference to the overall targets within the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland.

“The Bicycle Strategy suggests cycling investment of £12.5 million capital per annum within five years (split 2:1 between capital and resource) and £18 million per annum within ten years across the region in order to achieve the ambitions set out in the strategy. Delivering this [Belfast] network is also predicated on funding at that level.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

Given the Northern Ireland Assembly will dissolve this week, and uncertainty looms over when the Assembly and Executive might resume – and the critical identity of the next Transport Minister – it is unclear at this stage how the draft plan will proceed after consultation.

Download the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan from the DfI website (2.8MB).

The consultation process will run to Thursday 13th April 2017. A series of public consultation events will be held during the consultation period throughout Belfast.

You can email, write or respond online to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan.


Comment

It’s great to see Minister Chris Hazzard continuing to push out progressive policies even in these last days of the current Executive.

At 84 pages long and covering a whole city, we’ll take our time to digest and analyse the good and bad parts of the plan over the next few days, along with proposing some very obvious and necessary changes.

10 Replies to “Belfast Bicycle Network Plan launched”

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