The 18th of May marks the birth of the modern bicycle right here in Belfast.
In 1889 Willie Hume of the Belfast Cruisers Cycling Club proved the superiority of a safety bicycle fitted with pneumatic tyres developed in the city by John Boyd Dunlop. The ubiquitous penny farthing racer became obsolete and cycling changed forever.
In 2017, everyday cycling in Belfast is waiting for a re-formed Executive to green-light a traffic-free bridge linking the city centre with the south-east of the city. Within a stone’s throw of our city’s unique and pivotal cycling history, Bikefast today calls for it to be officially named the Hume Dunlop Bridge.
Take a dander around Belfast today and little evidence remains of the exploits of John Boyd Dunlop and Willie Hume. A blue plaque on May Street marks the spot where Dunlop, a Scottish-born veterinary surgeon, invented the first practical application of a pneumatic tyre to help his son ride a bicycle on Belfast’s cobbled streets – and then developed it into a commercial product.
Willie Hume, club cycling racer from East Belfast, took a punt on Dunlop’s safety bicycle fitted with his unique tyres and raced it on 18th May 1889 at the North of Ireland Cricket Club grounds. Hume won four races out of four that day, causing a stir and proving the superiority of the safety bicycle and “sausage tyre” which would go on to revolutionise cycling.
— Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (@newbelfast) May 7, 2014
The site is now a housing development on the Lower Ormeau Road, where a special plaque was erected for the Giro d’Italia which passed by in 2014.
Just 400m north of the site of this unique moment in history lies the Gasworks Junction on the Laganside traffic-free path. This section of the National Cycle Network links Belfast city centre with a traffic-free route stretching around 20 miles between Newtownabbey to the north and Lisburn to the south.
A gap of a mile between the Albert and Ormeau road bridges could be reduced by this dedicated active travel bridge which would create amazing linkages and journey options across the city:
The Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge will be a twin pylon stayed bridge spanning 140m across the River Lagan from the Gasworks site to the indoor Tennis Centre and Ozone Complex. The width of the bridge at 5.0m will accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists and improve linkages between communities from both sides of the River Lagan. It will also improve transport linkages to the City Centre for pedestrians and cyclists and accessibility to leisure facilities and parks for local communities and commuters. It will encourage sustainability by enabling people to choose healthier cleaner forms of transport and improve road safety to provide an alternative traffic free route.
Department for Infrastructure
The Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, in whatever form it emerges from consultation, has the Hume Dunlop Bridge at its heart. Not surprisingly given the existing route infrastructure, this is the gravitational centre of everyday cycling in the city with the highest peak flows in Belfast.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) October 2, 2016
A Hume Dunlop Bridge would undoubtedly begin to multiply the numbers cycling in this area for a range of purposes – commuting, utility, shopping, leisure and so on.
— Dunlop Tyres UK (@DunlopLive) November 22, 2013
It passed planning (just) last year and is effectively shovel-ready. It needs between £7m to £9m of capital to realise this transformative project for The Markets and Lower Ravenhill. Without a working government in Northern Ireland it remains a stalled project.
To kick-start the delivery phase of the Cycling Revolution in Belfast, this pivotal bridge must be one of the first items in the new Infrastructure Minister’s inbox.
— Victory Chimp (@VictoryChimp) November 11, 2014
And what better way to provide a lasting, physical tribute to the events of 1889 than naming it the Hume Dunlop Bridge?
Happy Hume Dunlop Day!