Dipping our toes in the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

The consultation on Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan runs until 13th April 2017. The document runs to 84 pages, over 16,000 words, proposes a 130km network across a city of over 330,000 people within 44 square kilometres – in short there’s a lot to get our teeth into.

Bikefast is preparing a series of responses – both positive and negative – to most aspects of the plan. The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has helpfully included 17 questions to prompt thought and comments. Bikefast won’t be responding along these lines, but as a first stab to help you understand our thought process, here is a quick run down of how we see those 17 questions.


Question 1: Do you agree that producing a Bicycle Network for Belfast is an important element of developing a more bicycle friendly city? What time frame do you think it should cover?

Yes, it’s critically important, more so given the moves by the Department to prioritise taxi journeys over public transport and bicycle users.

What we have now is a broken road system with paint masquerading as cycling space and the bicycle left as a niche pursuit, rather than a viable transport form in a small city perfectly suited to its benefits.

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The ten-year timeframe is now shown to be a mistake. Given that the initially proposed routes barely touch the arterial / strategic road network, there would be no logistical reason not to build this proposed 130km network in four to five years.

The benefit to congestion levels would justify a front-loading of capital and resource expenditure. The ten-year timeframe means any potential for arterial route cycleway development is likely to be after 2030, which is a stark contrast to a snap decision to allow thousands of taxis to access bus lanes with a four-day turnaround.


Question 2: Do you agree that these five criteria from the BMTP (coherence, directness, attractiveness, safety, comfort) are still valid for the development of a network for Belfast? If not, what do you consider the criteria should be? Please explain.

They are grand, however the adoption and production of Sustainable Safety criteria (see Q6) for street purpose and cycling network levels of required intervention may render these obsolete.


Question 3: Do you agree that the development of a Belfast Bicycle Network is a key element in giving those who would like to cycle (but currently don’t) the freedom and confidence to do so?

Yes. However, by ignoring the arterial routes where most of Belfast’s local shops and community hubs are located is a mistake.

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It effectively creates a two-tier network and two-tiered class of bicycle users – those who are fast and confident will continue to use roads, those who are not will use routes which don’t necessarily link to their destinations.


Question 4: Do you agree that the objectives in 3.9 should be applied to the network? If not, what objectives do you think should be set?

  • To develop a comprehensive bicycle network for commuter, amenity and recreational cycling the expansion of cycling infrastructure and cycling facilities;
  • To bring good quality cycle routes within the reach of most people within the city;
  • To ensure a consistent level of service in the design of safe infrastructure – providing dedicated infrastructure where there are large volumes of higher speed vehicles and shared facilities where the volume and speed of traffic is low;
  • To encourage use of the bicycle and promote safe cycling through increasing the amount of bicycle parking, providing more cycling education programmes for both young people and adults, supporting events to promote cycling.

Should be cut down to simply:

To develop a comprehensive, high-quality, safe and dense bicycle network for everyone in Belfast to use and enjoy.

What more needs to be said or clarified in your vision/objectives statement?


Question 5: Do you agree that the primary network should be based on the concept of arterial and orbital routes?

Yes. And no. The primary network concept punts the idea of a secondary network and a city of complete streets into touch.

A primary network in isolation will certainly help with cycling levels, but without supporting interventions as a package it risks becoming a glorified tack-on which is fatally compromised from the start. While the initial network plan follows (for the most part) the three natural orbital routes of the city, the (historic, contemporary and future) arterial routes are completely ignored.

This has the unfortunate result of surrendering priority of use of arterial routes, with the vast majority of local community shops and amenities, to vehicle traffic. This should not be the starting point for any a city plan for the bicycle, or to tackle our chronic congestion.


Question 6: Do you agree that the network should be developed in Primary and Secondary stages as outlined in 3.13? If not, how should it be developed?

No. The whole Belfast Bicycle Network plan must be revised from the bottom up to take account of a more Dutch-style approach of sustainable safety:

  • ‘Single function’ roads
  • Homogeneity of mass, speed and direction
  • Instantly recognisable road design
  • Forgiving environments

Making car journeys longer, to the benefit of walking and cycling, tipping the balance towards public transport, is key to maximising the potential of this plan.

This will mean extending beyond simply the carrot of better bicycle facilities in areas of secondary importance to the population of Belfast, but incorporating the stick of vehicle constraint and de-prioritisation in favour of walking, cycling and public transport.

We need to consider the working of the city as a whole, otherwise one part of the Department for Infrastructure will continue to work in isolation to other parts with different agendas and priorities – and the city will continue to suffer.


Question 7: Do you agree that we should consider requirements of likely users on a scheme by scheme basis, for example routes which will primarily be used by children on the school journey may be best served as shared track?

No.

A dense network of cycleways, built to a common and understandable design, with repeating junction treatments to allow users of all ages and competence to navigate safely, should be the key driver. The idea that a “Primary Network” would even consider interventions which would reduce convenience and safety of pedestrians shows the flaw in this approach.

As with the welcome elimination of advisory cycle lanes as a category in the intervention types, the revised plan must also now drop bus lanes and shared footways as potential forms of cycling space.


Question 8: Are there any other kinds of bicycle infrastructure that should be considered? What are they? Do you have any views on which types of infrastructure, if any, should be favoured in developing a network for Belfast?

What should be a common, is the approach to junction protection used in the Netherlands. This would involve reworking many main junctions to remove filter phases in favour of one-a-at-time greens, or the all-green crossing phase being more commonly used these days. I suspect that by avoiding arterial routes this issue has been fudged in the plan – with the bulk of cycle route interactions with the ‘strategic’ road network being direct crossings away from major vehicle intersections. Our current infrastructure tends to disappear before ‘difficult’ junctions, this plan must not shy away from correcting this cultural tendancy.

Similarly there is no reference to cycle-prioritised and protected roundabouts in the plan, of the type used in The Netherlands. Even Belfast City Council was bold enough to see the necessity of this in their submission to the Bicycle Strategy consultation back in 2014.

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While there is a firm and welcome commitment to ensuring a continuous network, the worry is that by avoiding main arterial routes, the Department have simple sought to avoid these types of high-profile (and yes, costly) interventions, but interventions which will be greatly required if cycling levels are to rise across all sections of society.


Question 9: Do you support the use of the network requirements as detailed at paragraph 5.1?

As far as I can see this is asking if the overall principles established to design, construct and maintain cycling routes and infrastructure should be referred to at all stages of the life-cycle of strategic transport planning, individual scheme proposals and operational.

So yes.


Question 10: Do you agree with the addition of ‘Adaptability’ as a network requirement? What other requirements would you like to see included?

Adaptability: cycling infrastructure should be designed to accommodate users of all types of cycle and also increasing numbers over time. The routes also need to be able to provide continuity with public transport modes including the Belfast Bike Share Scheme.

I think this is fair, but can mean many things – are cycle track widths going to be held to accommodate a certain target expectation of users in 10 years’ time? When the plan talks about the use of bus lanes and shared footways, what weight is being given to expected increases in cycling usage?

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The requirements are fine in of themselves, however taken as a whole it reads as a tack-on to the existing road network. To fully realise the potential of a bicycle network for those cycling and walking in the city, more explicit prioritisation of these modes over vehicle traffic must surely be referenced here.


Question 11: Do you agree that the routes should be planned and facilities designed with the achievement of increasing numbers of people cycling in mind?

Yes. The network should be of such a quality and density that we are able to specifically target uptake among current low-usage groups – children, family cycle-to-school journeys, women, older users and users wheelchair and accessibility scooter users.


Question 12: What are your views on segregation between people who walk, people who cycle and people who drive? What are your views about physical segregation between motorised traffic and nonmotorised traffic? Do you agree that there are levels of traffic (footway or carriageway) below which physical segregation is not always necessary – such as quiet routes and residential areas?

Yes, but this must be decided by a fixed criteria which the Department must develop and provide for consultation as part of this plan. Sustainable Safety principles from The Netherlands must be the guide for this document. Segregation for segregation’s sake isn’t actually the primary purpose driving street design in progressive cycling cities. Where segregated facilities have been utilised in Belfast, they have opened a new world for people to take up cycling.

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Quiet routes and residential areas cannot be simply a case of erecting a sign – as part of the overall plan for Belfast, rat run cutting and radical de-prioritisation of vehicle traffic must be the drivers to making these streets safe to cycle or walk along. And this shows again the importance of dealing with the Primary Network, Secondary Network and the city as a whole in whatever plans the Department produces after consultation.

Interventions need not be attempted on every road: although bicycles may be used on any road (except motorways) it is not necessary to undertake bicycle interventions on every street. In addition, some busy, narrow main roads present particular challenges for providing bicycle infrastructure.

This paragraph is worrying, because again it shows a narrow focus on whether bicycle infrastructure is needed or not, while ignoring the need to constrain vehicle traffic. This must be central to accommodate increased bicycle use in areas of lower speed / volume and streets where through-journeys for vehicles should be de-prioritised or prevented.

Busy, narrow main roads” is Department-speak for streets where vehicle priority must be untouchable. This is the wrong approach if we are trying to make a liveable city.


Question 13: How important is the requirement that ‘routes need to flow’? What kind of signage should be provided? What facilities should be provided?

Signage must be erected so as to allow a first-time user to navigate the city – for example, if we are actively targeting uptake of cycling and independence among children and cycle-to-school journeys, then signage and navigation of routes must be possible to those of primary school age. Similarly the network will act as a tourism asset to the city, so first-time visitors must be able to jump on a bicycle and find their way from destination to destination.


Question 14: What is the relative importance between construction of a route and its maintenance? What other guiding principles would you suggest? Please explain.

Please explain the question in a better way. These are mutually exclusive issues. You can’t maintain a route if it hasn’t been built, and there’s no point in building a route if it’s not maintained for use throughout the day and night year round.


Questions 15, 16 and 17

  • With reference to the appendices please set out your views on the proposed routes. We are interested in the positives or negatives associated with the various sections of the proposed routes.

  • What are the specific issues that may arise if bicycle infrastructure was constructed along the proposed route?

  • What other alternative routes are available?

A detailed counter proposal will be developed. A route-by-route critique would sidetrack the important critique of the method used to develop the initial route network plan, which I believe is flawed or was never present.

However one thing is clear from the recent taxis in bus lanes announcement, betraying the old-fashioned instincts from within DfI – the lack of cycleways planned across the spine of the city centre, in front and behind the City Hall, must be remedied in the final Belfast Bicycle Network Plan.

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Bikefast will provide a full response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan in week beginning 6th March 2017. Leave your comments below if you want to challenge any of the point made above. There are also face-to-face consultation events taking place across the city, with details here. You have just under six weeks left to submit views to the consultation – stick with us for the everyday cycling view.

4 Replies to “Dipping our toes in the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan”

  1. I’m against cars as everyday transport and want to see Dutch quality cycle infrastructure everywhere in Belfast. However even Dutch cities cannot ban cars, so surely to provide proper cycling infra on arterial routes would mean removing traffic completely (except in the bus lanes). Surely this is not feasible/an alternative to vehicle traffic would have to be provided. Would love to know your solution.

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