The last word: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

This is the FOR AVOIDANCE OF DOUBT article on the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan. We thank you if you’ve read the (long, sorry) articles we’ve published to analyse and object to portions of the Plan.

We’ve also felt the need to drift off into the realm of philosophical critique of the Plan’s basis and backing. While that gets to the heart of what went wrong with the route map, it doesn’t get down to the level of proposing changes on a street-by-street basis, which is what the Cycling Unit are expecting from responses.

Sometimes consultation exercises can get picky about that kinda thing and we can’t afford for Bikefast to be excluded from post-consultation discussions – especially on areas where other may have piled in with significant and detailed objections. We need to be at that table, so we have to play the game according to the rules too.

So this is our wash-up of important issues either missed in our response, missing from the Plan, and one version of our counter proposal full route map.

City centre approaches and spine

The city centre doesn’t feature heavily in the draft plan.

We were prepared to listen to the arguments from the Cycling Unit on the use of 4.5m bus lanes to make final half mile journeys, although Bikefast is firmly opposed.

Then another silo within the Department for Infrastructure shafted the city and gave bus lanes to private taxis. So this is now on the agenda front and centre – bus lanes are 100% finished as cycling infrastructure in Belfast and must be removed from the plan altogether.

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Therefore high quality strategic cycle routes approaching and travelling across the city centre are essential.

The two spinal streets in front and behind the City Hall (May St / Howard St and Wellington Pl / Chichester St) need the highest profile cycle routes in the city, with both streets laid out in a 3 lane pattern (bus lane, vehicle lane, cycleway) along their length.

The city centre approaches are not satisfactory – two main strategic cycle routes should be placed on each point of the compass around the City Hall:

East – Queens Bridges and Albert Bridge

North – Royal Avenue / York Street and the route to the Docks
South – Dublin Road / Gt Victoria Street and the Lagan corridor

West – Grosvenor Road and North Street / Shankill Road

Lack of new cycleways in South and East

Here’s a question which I’m not sure the Cycling Unit has fully considered. Cycling levels in the city are currently concentrated around the Ormeau Road, lessening as you move away from this area so well-served by the traffic-free National Cycle Network. East Belfast is also significantly ahead of North and especially South Belfast.

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Looking at the Draft Network route map, you’re struck by how much reliance is placed on existing infrastructure in South and East Belfast – existing greenways, riverside paths, parks. Flip this point around – very little in the way of extended and new infrastructure is planned where cycling levels are at their highest.

It looks pretty stark on map – here’s a (very rough) indication of new cycle routes, removing those where some form of facility already exists.

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The outskirts of the city get far more new cycle routes. The big centres of cycling right now get hardly anything.

This also means that West and North Belfast, so much in need of safe cycling space to balance up the city, get a disproportionate level of new cycling routes.

That is a good step and very important, but not at the expense of doubling down on a good thing. Bikefast is not advocating taking proposed routes away from West and North – in fact we propose to add significantly more that the Cycling Unit have planned (see below) – but in South and East we’re on to a good thing and need to super-charge that, not rest on our laurels.

Gasworks Bridge

There is a reference to this proposed bridge in the route plans, but not specific section which leaps out as it should to say:

A FUNCTIONING BELFAST BICYCLE NETWORK WITH ENHANCED TRAFFIC-FREE JOURNEY OPTIONS REQUIRES THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE GASWORKS BRIDGE WITHIN FIVE YEARS OF THIS PLAN BEING ADOPTED

You can say this in your plan. It’s your plan.
The bridge has planning approval and is shovel-ready.
The city needs it as a key link in the south east quarter.
Own it.
Run that flag up your mast.
Don’t be shy.

Belfast Bikes

There’s not that many reference to the Belfast public hire bicycles scheme in the Plan. What references there are don’t get into the expected territory of planning routes with an eye on the scheme – whether promoting future usage (push) or responding to developing usage patterns (pull).

Some of the other areas we think are a little light in the Plan and need a firm and frank discussion with Bikefast and friends about:

  • creation of bicycle hubs in the city centre
  • plans for cycling integration with the Transport Hub
  • park and ride sites
  • facilities at train stations
  • secure cycling parking
  • the route map as placed against a population density map

We’ve bored everyone enough with long explanations – you have our number. Call us.

Our own version of the whole route map

We didn’t want to, but the Cycling Unit expect us to. We feel an objective methodology should be applied working back from the point that cycling journeys must be supported everywhere in our city. But for what its worth, if you want our opinion of something better, knock yourself out..

We’re done. Well okay, one final, final point.

The public consultation has closed. Don’t keep the process towards a final plan as a closed internal discussion. You have a whole rake of statutory-level stakeholders to draw upon, but you need to get Bikefast, Sustrans, Cycling UK and Cyclist.ie representatives around a table – regularly – as you rework the route map and change the priorities.

We look forward to working in partnership with you to make the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan better.


For more information on Bikefast’s full response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consultation see the following articles:

3 Replies to “The last word: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading your objections to the network plan. It helped me to make my own response to the consultation, so thanks for all the work you have done on it.

    I am a Deliveroo rider and spend a lot of time travelling from restaurants (mostly in the city centre) to customers’ homes (mostly in the inner city and middle suburbs, but sometimes as far out as the outer ring). I have had a good think about which routes would help me to travel, and also where less confident or young cyclists would benefit most and I have come up with a couple of suggestions.

    They are both routes that use existing roads with enough space to handle a dedicated cycle lane, but, for most of their lengths, they could also serve as useful quiet routes with shared road space, if they were clearly signposted, easy to find, and had restricted on-street parking. They both cover mostly flat land and would be suitable for inexperienced cyclists. They are:

    (1) From the existing gate at the Lagan Towpath/Halifax Building/site of future Gasworks bridge (and let’s leave this gate permanently open), over Cromac Place, crossing the Ormeau Road at the existing junction to Donegall Pass. Turning right onto Pakenham Street, crossing Dublin Road and Great Victoria Street at the existing pedestrian crossings, then following Stroud Street to Sandy Row and crossing over to Blythe Street. You can turn off to your left down Oswald Park to the park at the railway junction, then use the existing pathway to arrive at the Donegall Road. The route would continue through the double roundabout, under the balls on the falls, and continue up the upper Donegall Road until it reaches the Falls Road.

    This route is already an important one but I believe it is underused by cyclists because it is quite intimidating at the junctions, especially Shaftesbury Square. My suggestion uses existing crossings to go around it. At other junctions, better signposting and shared crossings with pedestrians could help give cyclists confidence. There would also be opportunities to build cycling infrastructure into future development as a lot of the land adjacent to this route is currently derelict. And I would hope that the route would help regenerate places like Sandy Row.

    (2) From the existing cycle path at Alfred Street/Ormeau Avenue, going right up either Ormeau Avenue or Bankmore Street (whatever fits into the development plan for the road). Then left through Maryville Street, crossing Donegall Pass to Posnett Street, which bends round to join Botanic Avenue. From here, over the Railway Bridge, to Cromwell Road, I would like to see on-street Parking eliminated and a dedicated cycle lane with wand separation from motor traffic. Cyclists, motor traffic, and pedestrians are in constant conflict here so this would benefit everybody, at the cost of a small amount of parking in an area where there are lots of alternative parking spaces potentially available. Cromwell Road, Wolseley Street, and Rugby Road could then provide a ‘quiet streets’ route through the Holylands to Botanic Gardens and Queen’s University.

    Note that this route is already in constant use. Connecting it and promoting the roads in it to signposted quiet routes or cycle paths would simply encourage more users and make it safer. This is especially important because it links the student area, where there are many young people with no access to cars, to the city centre. Crucially, it fits in between the Lisburn and Ormeau Roads, and so would reduce congestion on them if more people choose active transport. The route would have a fairly minimal impact on other traffic and avoid intimidating junctions.

    Here’s a map if you’d like to take a look: https://calum.carto.com/builder/4a15b70a-2102-11e7-bc5a-0ef24382571b/embed?state=%7B%22map%22%3A%7B%22ne%22%3A%5B54.57847944356232%2C-5.9694814682006845%5D%2C%22sw%22%3A%5B54.594942167761396%2C-5.9159231185913095%5D%2C%22center%22%3A%5B54.5867116372605%2C-5.942702293395997%5D%2C%22zoom%22%3A15%7D%7D

    I hope the response to the consultation is positive and network development can get underway quickly!

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