Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has been in post since May 2016. In that time you may not have had the chance to gauge how progressive a Transport Minister he plans to be.
CS Lewis Square, the centrepiece of the £40 million Connswater Community Greenway in East Belfast, officially opened last night in a massive family party. Tucked away within that magic tale was another piece of a wider story arc – a bold eastward extension of the Belfast Bikes scheme.
The Coca Cola Zero Belfast Bikes scheme celebrates its first birthday, following a successful year that saw the people of Belfast take Northern Ireland’s flagship public bike scheme to their hearts.
Since the initiative was launched on 27 April last year, usage has grown steadily with more than 191,000 journeys undertaken by the scheme’s 6,000 annual and casual users. The bikes have travelled estimated 174,000 km – a distance equal to four times the circumference of the Earth.
There are currently 33 docking stations and 330 bikes, available for hire 365 days a year, from 6am until midnight. Further expansion is planned this year to three hospital sites and eight community areas. Stations at the City and Royal hospitals are due to be installed in late May, with the other stations scheduled for installation later in the summer. The Council is developing a strategic plan for further expansion of the scheme.
Belfast Lord Mayor, Arder Carson, said “the popularity of the scheme clearly shows that the Council were right to back this sort of transport in the city centre.”
“As a result of this civic leadership, Belfast is a lot more cycle friendly than it was in the past, and its reputation as such can only be enhanced by the ongoing and planned future investments in the city’s cycling infrastructure, helping us to reduce vehicular traffic, boost the health of our people and add to the friendly relaxed European atmosphere in the city.”
Andrew Grieve from the Department for Regional Development Cycling Unit hopes that ongoing and future work to dedicated cycling infrastructure will encourage more Belfast Bikes use.
“With an average of over 500 bicycle rentals each day, the number of people using the bicycle as a healthy, convenient and enjoyable way to travel within the city continues to grow. The availability of this scheme together with the new bicycle infrastructure in the city centre will help more people to have the freedom and confidence to travel by bicycle for everyday journeys.”
Matthieu Seguin, General Manager of Coca-Cola HBC in Ireland and Northern Ireland is proud that Belfast Bikes have helped “people to integrate cycling into their everyday lives.”
“Reaching over 190,000 journeys in just 12 months is a fantastic achievement, and is testament to how well the bike scheme has been integrated into the fabric of Belfast City. As the summer season approaches, I urge more people to consider signing up to the scheme, availing of the option of a healthier and happier commute.”
— Gary Potter (@belfastgary) April 27, 2015
Gordon Clarke, Director of Sustrans Northern Ireland which was involved in delivering on-road cycle training to new subscribers in 2015 hopes the scheme will go from strength to strength.
“We are delighted with the success of the Belfast Bikes which shows the appetite there is in the city and beyond for cycling. Belfast City Council and the DRD are to be commended for this visionary initiative which has certainly created a better place for people to work, live and move in.
— Michael Jeffrey (@jikemeffrey) July 23, 2015
There are currently 3,500 annual subscribers who pay £20 a year, and around 2,400 casual users who pay £5 for three days’ use. Users can register for the scheme by telephone, online or via a Smartphone app. After registration, the first 30 minutes of bike use is free of charge, which makes Coca Cola Zero Bikes ideal for short journeys around the city.
Declaration of interest – I am a paid-up annual subscriber and a huge fan of Belfast Bikes. As a daily cycle commuter I use Belfast Bikes primarily as a way to shuttle around the city at lunchtime, or occasionally for meetings elsewhere in the city. £20 for a year compares very favourably with gym membership..
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) April 22, 2016
It’s worth repeating the point that 191,000 journeys is a phenomenal success. In six months Belfast recorded 100,00 journeys, compared to Glasgow taking 14 months from launch to do the same, with more bikes, stations and subscribers.
Expansion is inevitable, and Phase Two is likely to concentrate on the cycling heartlands of Belfast to the south and east – if only because the ‘interim’ expansions already announced are primarily to the north and west.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) November 17, 2015
What surprised many was the Central Station to Gasworks journey being the most popular, or perhaps it isn’t a surprise given the excellent Laganside pathway. When year one journey data is released to the public it will be a prime tool to evaluate the streets with highest demand for dedicated cycling facilities.
Tomorrow sees the first anniversary of the Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes scheme. You have the opportunity to get involved in some fun events and free prize give-aways to mark the occasion.
Docking stations across the city will be decorated with red, silver, black and white balloons, and the Coke Zero team will be zipping between stations to give away free bottles of Coke Zero and Belfast Bikes seat covers to users.
Belfast City Hall celebrations
The Q Café radio show (10am-1pm) will be live from Belfast City Hall to join in the celebration and will be looking for users to interview – it could be you! You should also tune in to Q Radio for the chance to win:
- A family ticket to see the Waterfront Christmas panto, Aladdin
- A pair of tickets for Big Girls Don’t Cry at SSE Arena
- A family pass to Titanic Belfast
- A family pass for Belfast Zoo
- £50 Castle Court voucher
- £20 Bobbin voucher (City Hall café)
- St. George’s Market taster box
A specially prepared Belfast Bikes birthday cake will be brought out around 11am for any hungry party goers, and even if you miss a piece there will be cupcakes galore.
— Eamon Deeny (@Eamdee) April 26, 2016
From 11.30am until 1.30pm there’ll be street entertainers on the cobbled area in front of Belfast City Hall, and Sustrans and the DRD Cycling Unit are expected to be in attendance – you can find out more about the Active Belfast Challenge. More seat covers should also be available over lunchtime.
— Belfast Bikes (@BelfastBikes) April 26, 2016
Get involved with the festivities now on social media for the chance to win:
- Dinner for two at The Cloth Ear Facebook competition
- £50 Victoria Square voucher Twitter and Instagram competition – send a message with the hashtag #HappyBirthdayBelfastBikes
— TBSteve (@TBStevesPix) April 22, 2016
Last year a report showed that 19% of people in Northern Ireland listed “bad weather” as a barrier to cycling short journeys. The everyday variety of bicycle user found this a little puzzling, even while agreeing that safety and traffic were bigger barriers. So the head of Northern Ireland’s Cycling Unit decided to record his cycling weather for a year to see if folk need to wind their necks in.
“The British Isles, and particularly the north and west, is traditionally associated with wet weather. This perception leads to a typical view that cycling in Northern Ireland is a risky endeavour because of rain. With Government efforts to increase the level of cycling – particularly as an everyday activity for shorter journeys – the question arises as to whether this is a feasible objective in terms of the weather.”
(Commuter cycling weather in Belfast – DRD / Andrew Grieve)
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) December 8, 2014
Andrew regularly commutes 2.5 miles from his home in Belfast to work in the city centre – a typical journey of around 15 minutes both ways.
Each morning (usually between 8am and 9am) and evening (between 5pm and 6pm) during 2015 he kept a record of the “rain conditions” during his commuting journeys.
The results revealed something quite surprising. Although ground conditions are often damp, only about one in six of all the journeys undertaken in the study were affected by rain – 85% of journeys were ‘rain free’.
Andrew made a total of 455 weather observations over the year, split between his regular commute (348), another comparable journey in the city at the same time (29) and he stuck the head out the window another 78 times at commuting times. That’s dedication.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) April 30, 2015
Interestingly 40% of the “Dry” commutes included damp ground conditions or lying water from previous showers, but no failing rain. 6% of all commutes were “Borderline” wet – spitting, but the type of rain unlikely to get you properly wet over a 15 minute journey.
This chimes with the experience of riders who go by bicycle all year round. Having done this for over 15 years I’d describe Belfast’s weather as occasionally showery and always changeable. Crucially, our Atlantic-driven weather tends to blow through, not settle in for long periods.
Test-ride for the rain cape. Dry slacks indicate high level of success. New fashion trend, Belfast 🙂 pic.twitter.com/VvRYanITuH
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) June 25, 2014
“The results show that in Belfast, for journeys up to 2.5 miles (4 km) in length, wet weather is not a serious problem – affecting only around 3 journeys in 20 (15%). It also reports that it is rare for rain to affect both commuting journeys in the one day.”
Weather often gets trotted out on the radio show as an excuse for why Northern Ireland doesn’t have the right conditions for mass cycling (hills being another favourite). But we’ve known for a while that climate isn’t really a major factor when comparing our cycling levels with, say, The Netherlands.
Hopefully Andrew will keep the survey going, but we’d recommend a slight tweak to the methodology by splitting “Dry” into three temperature sub-categories:
- Not Tae Bad
- Taps Aff
— The Ulster Fry (@UlsterFryNI) April 20, 2016