New Year, new cycleway – Belfast putting itself on the map

A vehicle lane on one of Belfast’s main outbound arterial routes will be repurposed as a dedicated two-way cycleway in a revolutionary step for cycling in the city.

Middlepath Street takes strategic traffic from Belfast city centre towards the M3 motorway which links to the M1 (south), M2 (north) and A2 (northeast) and the key eastern corridor of the Newtownards Road.

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Right hand lane of Middlepath Street (going on past the bus) will become a cycleway

Middlepath Street is currently a four lane, one way road stretching from Queen Elizabeth Bridge to the Bridge End gyratory. The right hand side vehicle lane will be converted to the highest profile cycling route in the city, visible to thousands of drivers each day.

This half a kilometre scheme will consist of approximately two-thirds kerb separated cycle track with the remaining third as a shared footway. New toucan crossings will be installed to get cycleway users between the cycling space on Queen Elizabeth and Lagan Weir bridges to the west and Titanic Quarter Railway Station and the Comber Greenway to the east.

The route in detail

Starting from the eastern end, commuters, shoppers and leisure users of the Comber Greenway can access Titanic Quarter Station using the traffic-calmed Island Street. From here a recently landscaped pathway glides down to the four lane Bridge End gyratory.

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Cycling journeys from Titanic Qtr Station / Island St will use a new toucan crossing

A toucan crossing will be installed to allow users to cross to the middle of the gyratory junction. This section will be shared footway – not ideal, but also not heavily used by pedestrians at the moment. The grassy area leaves plenty of space for future upgrading to a split cycleway/footway should usage levels warrant it.

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Site of the proposed toucan crossing and the shared footway heading towards the city centre

Raised tables and visual warnings should help alert drivers accessing the Eastside Park and Ride to the possibility of cycling traffic.

Part of the reason for selecting a shared footway here is the major physical barrier presented by the railway bridge. The danger posed by placing a cycleway on the roadside would be considerable with the fast, heavy traffic swinging off the M3.

Hopefully lighting for the dark underpass will be considered to help avoid difficult interactions.

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After the underpass the footway widens and cycling users will transition to a cycle track, separated from the road by “300mm wide preformed kerb cycle segregation units”. This marks a departure from the recent use of wand separation in inner city centre schemes such as Alfred Street. Kerb separation seems ideal for this stretch, where parking demand is very low.

“This .. provides cycle lanes on the carriageway of Middlepath Street, Belfast .. to be used by cyclists only” and will “allow cycles to proceed in both directions in the cycle lanes.”
Scheme Order (PDF)

 

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Shared pavement under rail bridge will transition to a 2.5m kerb separated 2-way cycleway

The only width indication on the scheme says 2.5m with a 50cm buffer to the kerb. If so, it sounds a little tight for a two-way cycle track, but we’ll see how it’s implemented. Transport NI would do well to look at angled kerbing deployed in the Netherlands to add a more forgiving edge in case of mistakes although, with the intended use of pre-fab kerbs, options may be limited.

The cycleway snakes around loading bays which will help local businesses to live with the new cycle route.

Further along, Dalton Street – currently used as a potential for u-turn access back towards the city centre – will be stopped up to simplify the conflict zone where the cycleway and M3 on-slip meet.

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Dalton Street (on the left) will be stopped up, simplifying cycling movements over M3 slip

Low level cycle signals, of the type already being rolled out across Belfast’s new cycleways, will control movements at the M3 slip.

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Cycleway crosses M3 on-slip with dedicated cycle lights and Dalton Street stopped up

This area is quite bereft of street life at present, with the feeling of the current state of the York Street Interchange site, also with street level motorway access traffic. The cycleway will bring human movement and life back in a big way on this (new) approach to the River Lagan.

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This lane will be converted to a cycleway, on the run down to the Lagan

Going under the Dargan rail bridge and the Station Street flyover approaching Queen Elizabeth Bridge, the cycleway will have priority over the (few) vehicles entering Station Street to access the car park. A new toucan crossing will bring bicycle riders to the northern side of the bridge, currently a generously wide shared (visually separated) footway.

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This is perhaps the most disappointing section of the plan, with the scheme boundary not including the bridge itself. While this cycleway is rightly planned as part of the cross-city route which will funnel users over to High Street, Castle Place and on to the recently finished Durham/College Cycleway and on to the Westlink, many users will have their ultimate destination to the southern half of the city centre.

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Southern footway of Queen Elizabeth Bridge will be a cycling short cut to/from the south

This is where a little foresight could have seen the bridge roadway reduced to the same three lanes as Middlepath Street, to enable the cycleway to be extended to Ann Street.

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Current layout means two controlled crossings for southbound cycling
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Taking away the fourth vehicle lane on the bridge would mean a better journey option

As it stands, perhaps half of journeys to/from the city centre will require two controlled crossing at either end of the bridge – slow and frustrating. It should be expected that the tighter southern footway will become an unofficial cycling short cut, to the detriment of pedestrians.


This a very much a dedicated cycleway scheme, not meant to be a handy waiting area for vehicles – as the enforcement provisions lay out:

Anyone “causing or permitting any vehicle other than a cycle to wait in a cycle lane .. shall be liable to a penalty charge (£90).”
Scheme Order (PDF)

You can download the Middlepath scheme map from the Department for Infrastructure website (PDF, 591K).

You can feed in to the consultation by writing to the Department for Infrastructure or by emailing traffic.eastern@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk before 30 January 2017.


Comment

The Department have started 2017 with a bang, setting out plans for the most visible new scheme of its Cycling Revolution. Nerves will be a little frayed waiting for any negative reactions from irate radio callers or car business “lobbying” groups.

Not only will it help many thousands of people make the switch from car or bus to the bicycle between East Belfast and the city centre, but in the regular heavy congestion of the Bridge End gyratory it will serve as a reminder to many drivers of the possibility offered by the bicycle in Belfast.

It also supports the latest expansion of the Belfast Bikes public hire scheme which now extends almost a mile to the east of this cycleway.

We should see the last piece of this particular jigsaw fall into place with the High Street section shortly (hold onto your hats for that one) which actually creates a traffic-free/calmed 12 mile cycle route from the Monagh Bypass in West Belfast all the way to Comber.

And all of this is before the announcement of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, due before the end of this month. What a time to be cycling in our city.


widgetBikefast is a volunteer effort sustained by hundreds of followers, thousands of viewers and a lot of spare time and cash. In 2017 we need to renew web hosting and continue to improve upon what Bikefast can do – from campaigning for better cycling infrastructure to more investigative reporting on issues which affect the future of cycling in our city. Any support you can offer towards these goals is appreciated.

Pedestrianised areas “too large” for Belfast says traders’ body

Following calls for bus lanes to be scrapped, Bikefast can reveal that Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce (BCTC) is calling for some pedestrianised areas of Belfast to be opened to private cars.

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Is this a future vision for Ann Street?

Two days ago Bikefast broke the story that BCTC has called for an experimental removal of most bus lanes in Belfast. Yesterday we revealed that Translink’s own Business Development Manager is sitting on the Executive Council of BCTC.

BCTC launched its “Belfast Manifesto” back in September 2016 as a “clear and concise blueprint for the next 10 years for Northern Ireland’s capital city”.

It received standard coverage in local media outlets focusing on the headline talking points. But did journalists actually take the time to read it thoroughly, including this section?

Reinvent the City Centre

“to fully pedestrianise Donegall Place but make other parts of the City Centre open to private cars. The pedestrianised area in the City Centre is too large for a city of the size of Belfast. This inhibits non-retail uses and is a cause of the lack of activity in the evening”

The Belfast Manifesto, BCTC

Just let that sink in for a second.

Donegall Place in front of the Belfast City Hall has been mooted for pedestrianisation to give Belfast a European-style traffic-free square at its heart. BCTC support for this stalled scheme is most welcome.

But BCTC goes on to suggest that we have too many pedestrianised areas and (it surely must follow) some of our pedestrian streets are the “parts” to be opened to private cars.

Cities around the world are pursuing the goal of removing traffic from their centres to make them more pleasant environments for shopping, eating and living. Is Belfast about to launch an experiment in the opposite direction?

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Is Victoria Square’s open pedestrian plaza one big barrier to car traffic?

To be fair, perhaps we’ve misunderstood BCTC’s roundabout wording, so we sought clarification – is the Chamber really calling for pedestrian streets to be opened to vehicles?

Bikefast asked BCTC back in September 2016 what pedestrianised streets it envisaged being turned over to car traffic. Three months on and we haven’t received a reply.

Yesterday we asked businesses with locations on or beside pedestrianised streets, who also happen to have representatives on BCTC’s Executive Council, whether they support their streets being opened to private cars. The businesses included:

No-one had responded by time of publication.

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Are these shoppers just temporary placeholders for private car traffic?

Bikefast has also approached Belfast City Council to clarify their relationship with BCTC and what the Council’s thoughts were on the idea to open some pedestrianised areas of the city to cars. A spokesperson said:

“Belfast City Council is not a member of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce. The Council has not been asked to consider any proposals for the return of pedestrian areas to use by vehicles. Belfast City Council was not directly involved with the creation or the review of the Belfast Manifesto and did not have a say in the final content.”

Interestingly, as of 15th December 2016, BCTC still has Belfast City Council on it’s “Membership List” pages.

It’s not hard to imagine Arthur Square at Cornmarket as a bustling roundabout to regulate car movements through the city – that’s exactly what it used to be..

Perhaps the Troubles legacy of a relatively car-free city centre is a bad thing? It’s not that long ago that cars could drive along and park in Victoria Square or Ann Street:

Turning bus lanes and pedestrian streets over to private car traffic – BCTC have certainly introduced some hot topics for discussion in Belfast. Perhaps there are important lessons to be learned from Norwich’s experience of pedestrianisation..


Read more: Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

Read more: Trade body in ‘scrap bus lanes’ call (BBC)

Read more: Translink, the Belfast Chamber and bus lanes

Read more: Motorists’ fury at shocking rise in bus lanes fines stories

Read more: Rapid Transit? | Taxis in bus lanes

Translink, the Belfast Chamber and bus lanes

Translink’s Business Development Manager is sitting on the Executive Council of the business body calling for Belfast bus lanes to be scrapped, Bikefast can exclusively reveal.

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Yesterday Bikefast broke the story that the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce (BCTC) has called for an experimental removal of most bus lanes in Belfast. This would leave the majority of arterial routes in the city with no bus priority measures. Only three routes which are due to carry Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) from 2018 should retain bus lanes, according to BCTC’s proposal.

Translink is the operational brand name of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, a public corporation which operates public transport in the province. Translink’s services include Metro and Ulsterbus, which both rely on bus lanes for journey reliability and speed when avoiding rush hour congestion through Belfast.

Translink will also be operating the BRT system.

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During the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Infrastructure session when the bus lane proposal was raised, BCTC President Gordon McElroy answered a question from Kellie Armstrong MLA on any discussions BCTC had had with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) on public transport improvements:

“We have not had any direct contact with the Department. This is our opportunity to have contact with the Department. We understand that you are the Committee, and we are trying to make our representations to the Department, I suppose, through you.

“We have regular and frequent communication with public transport by working closely with Translink. Norman Maynes, who is a senior executive in Translink, is a former president of the chamber, so we work hand in glove.”

Gordon McElroy, at the Committee for Infrastructure, Wed 7th Dec 2016

According to the BCTC website, Norman Maynes was elected to the Executive Council of the Chamber in summer 2016. He is recorded as representing “Translink” on the list of Executive Council members. Although no clarification on Mr Mayne’s job role was offered by Translink, a recent press release describes him as the “Head of Business Development”.

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A Translink statement to Bikefast in September 2016 about the issues of bus lanes raised in the BCTC “Belfast Manifesto” clarified the relationship between Translink and BCTC:

“Translink is a member of Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce and work closely with them as a key stakeholder.

“Bus lanes play an important role in the overall success of our transport network in terms of making bus travel more attractive and making the best use of the road space available.

“We would not advocate the removal of bus lanes in Belfast.”

Translink was awarded a public service contract in October 2015 to be the main provider of public transport services with exclusive rights to operate the timetabled network in Northern Ireland for five years.

Along with fares collected from passengers, Translink receives direct funding from the Department for Infrastructure, expected to be £60.8m in 2015/16.

Translink has declined to comment on the annual membership fee it pays to BCTC.

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The “Lobbying” prospectus on the BCTC website raises key questions about the wisdom of Translink’s membership and how its views (and by extension those of bus passengers) are being represented by BCTC:

“Lobbying and representation are very important aspects of BCTC membership. We lobby locally, regionally and nationally with Government and other authorities on issues that are of concern to our members.

“Members’ views are actively sought and expressed, and we ensure that your opinions and demands are recognised.”

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce website, What We Do

Translink’s views on bus priority are easily found in its current Corporate Plan and appear misaligned with those being expressed through its membership of BCTC:

“Improvements in bus priority in Belfast city centre have been beneficial for Metro services with early evidence of operational efficiency improving and travel behaviour switching from private car use in the city centre to passenger transport, cycling and walking or to routes bypassing the city centre.

“Further measures are necessary, particularly outside the city centre, to continue to deliver punctual and fast services for customers. While operational improvement has been evident in the city centre, congestion and low average speeds continue to be an issue throughout the city, impacting punctuality, performance and reliability.

“We will continue to work in partnership with (led by) Transport NI to implement an ongoing programme of bus priority in greater Belfast to address the issues of reducing bus speeds and congestion.”

The Translink Corporate Plan 2015/16 – 2017/18 & Business Plan 2015/16

Some of the objectives laid out in Translink’s Annual Report and Accounts 2015/16 appear to be incompatible with the removal of the majority of bus lanes in Belfast:

“Maintaining High Punctuality and Reliability Standards
We have set challenging goals to ensure that more than 95% of our services are on time and more than 99.5% of services operate reliably.

“Journey Time and other External Factors
To deliver excellent punctuality and reliability requires a partnership approach with all our stakeholders to address external factors which can impact on our services such as congestion, traffic accidents, road works and track trespass.

“Congestion is Costing our Economy
Translink will work with all key stakeholders to tackle this issue and support the development of a Transport Strategy for our cities and towns”

The Translink Annual Report and Accounts 2015/16

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Bikefast asked a series of questions of Translink to clarify its position with regard to the Chamber’s recently expressed views on bus lanes:

  • How much does Translink pay to BCTC as an annual membership fee?
  • Was Mr Maynes directly involved in the creation of the Belfast Manifesto launched earlier this year and did he ‘sign off’ on this report in his position on the Executive Council?
  • Did Mr Maynes have sight of / input into the briefing given by BCTC to the Infrastructure Committee last week?
  • How has Mr Maynes expressed Translink’s position on the retention of bus lanes in Belfast through BCTC?
  • Will Translink be considering its membership of BCTC in light of the comments made at the Infrastructure Committee last week and the potential for a perception of a conflict of interest to develop with a Translink representative on the Executive Council of a body actively advocating for the removal of bus lanes in Belfast?

In response, a Translink spokesperson said:

“Bus priority, or better phrased bus passengers’ priority, makes bus travel more attractive. This is clearly demonstrated by the strong growth of over 15% in Metro passengers over the last decade with over 500k journeys every week.

“As well as supporting the growth of public transport and active travel, a key outcome of the draft Programme for Government, there are also many other societal benefits such as enabling a strong economy, helping to reduce congestion and keeping Belfast moving, improving our local environment by improving air quality for people who work, visit, study and live in the city.

“Translink continues to work with all stakeholders, including Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce on bus and wider transport infrastructure.

“The Belfast Manifesto provides a balanced approach, which is supportive of the development of public transport, including the Belfast Hub and BRT while also recognising the place of the private car. Translink had an active role into the input of the manifesto, which takes on the many views of stakeholders and aims to make Belfast into the most vibrant, thriving city possible”.

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce were approached for comment and clarification on several points but regrettably had not responded by the time of publication.


Read more: Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

Read more: Trade body in ‘scrap bus lanes’ call (BBC)

Read more: Motorists’ fury at shocking rise in bus lanes fines stories

Read more: Rapid Transit? | Taxis in bus lanes

Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce (BCTC) has called for bus lanes across the city to be scrapped, as part of its vision to see Belfast develop “a world-class sustainable transport system.”

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Buses snarled on East Bridge Street with no evening bus lane – a  vision of the future city?

In a remarkable submission to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Infrastructure last week, Chamber President Gordon McElroy set out BCTC’s view on the progress of the ‘Belfast on the Move‘ scheme and how the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) should “be more radical” in its policies:

“One of the criticisms of the city that the chamber hears most often is that there is difficulty in accessing it. This is a constant and ongoing criticism of Belfast. We regularly hear that clients and customers avoid coming to Belfast because of access issues. Some of that may be perception but some of it is real.

There are things that create perceptions, such as the introduction of the 20 mph zone and the bus lane cameras and the press attention on the amount of revenue that is being generated from them. Those things frighten people from coming into the city.”

“Our members and the people who deal with them are most concerned about the amount of confusion that is being created by the bus lanes in Belfast. They are concerned that the bus lanes are operating at different times. Corporation Street, for example, has a bus lane but only one bus service up and down it and there is never congestion on it. The layout on Oxford Street is another concern. These are all things that are detrimental to people moving around the city.

“It does not mean that there should not be bus lanes or lanes set aside for specific types of traffic to improve transport flow. We really support the introduction of Belfast rapid transit, and the bus lanes that serve it should be there.

We propose to the Department that it be more radical and remove the non-BRT-related bus lanes as an experiment, as was done in Liverpool, where it was found that traffic was freed up and moved much more easily through the city.”
Gordon McElroy, at the Committee for Infrastructure, Wed 7th Dec 2016

Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) is not due to become operational until late 2018, but it’s unclear when BCTC want existing bus lanes to be removed.

BRT will run along the Falls corridor to the west, the Newtownards corridor to the east and a spur to the Titanic Quarter. BCTC’s suggestion would leave North and West Belfast with only one arterial route with any operational bus lanes. That’s a courageous call considering these are the two parliamentary constituencies with the highest percentage of bus commuters, taxi commuters (West) and lowest levels of car commuting in Northern Ireland, according the the 2011 Census.

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DfI’s Bus Rapid Transit route map now also the limit of BCTC’s vision for bus priority

A vast swathe of the south and east of the city would be left with no public transport priority measures at all, including the vital Ormeau / Saintfield Quality Bus Corridor which would leave the popular Cairnshill Park & Ride facility cut adrift.

The bus lanes in Belfast which aren’t part of the BRT network, and therefore assumed as targeted by BCTC to be ripped up, include:

Antrim Road
Ballygowan Road
Ballyhenry Road
Botanic Avenue
Castle Street
Castlereagh Road
Corporation Street / Garmoyle Street
Cregagh Road
Cromac Street
Crumlin Road
Donegall Road
Donegall Square East
Donegall Square West
Duncrue Street
Glen Road
Great Victoria Street
Holywood Road
Kingsway
Lisburn Road
M1 hard shoulder
M2 hard shoulder
Malone Road
Nelson Street
Ormeau Road
Queens Street
Queensway / Kingsway
Saintfield Road
Shaftesbury Square
Shankill Road
Shore Road
Stranmillis Road
Upper Lisburn Road
Upper Malone Road
Upper Queen Street
Westlink
Whitewell Road
Woodstock Road
York Road
York Street

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No more quiet bus lanes for buses, bicycles, motorcycles and permitted taxis?

This submission comes quickly after the launch of BCTC’s Belfast Manifesto which set out some more detail on the Chamber’s attitude to bus lanes. While stating that:

“Belfast needs a world-class sustainable transport system if it is to achieve the growth that is planned in future years”

..and welcoming the the planned BRT system, the document went on to call for:

“a proper and independent review of the bus lanes, speed limits and car parking in the City Centre. People in cars should not be seen as the enemy, rather as potential clients, customers, investors and visitors”.

Transport NI (the executive arm of DfI) were urged to:

“standardise the times of bus lanes to weekday and peak times only”

..and somewhat strangely to:

“specify and advertise arterial routes that are free of bus lanes”.

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Controversial bus lane on Donegall Square East and one of its many signs

The call to strip Belfast of the majority of its bus lanes comes despite the Belfast on the Move scheme being hailed a success by DfI. In a “before and after” assessment of travel habits following the roll-out of bus lanes, DfI found that there was an overall increase in people accessing Belfast city centre despite around 11,000 fewer vehicles entering the city core each day.

“More than half (53%) of the people entering the city centre in October 2013 did so using public transport, taxis, walking or cycling – compared to less than half (47%) in 2011.”
Assessing the impact of Belfast on the Move – 2013 surveys (DfI)

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One of the key bus lanes in Belfast on Great Victoria Street, targeted for removal by BCTC

One of the bus lanes which appears to be on BCTC’s hit list is Great Victoria Street, which has been highlighted by DfI as a particular success:

“Great Victoria Street bus lane is now carrying two thirds of commuters in the morning peak, yet it only takes up one half of the available road space.”

Gordon Clarke, Northern Ireland Director for Sustrans said:

“We are very concerned at this proposal by Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce. Removing bus lanes is a retrogressive step especially when many of these bus lanes will be required for the future proposed expansion of the Belfast Rapid Transit network.

“Bus lanes are also protected routes for cyclists and are therefore vitally important for bike commuters until such times as there is better infrastructure. Belfast Bike Life report found that people want more segregated cycle lanes and significant investment. Sustrans’ recent survey of commuters in east Belfast for the CHIPS project found a lot of people are keen to cycle to work but are put off by the sheer volume of cars on our roads.

“We have reached saturation point at peak times in the city for car traffic which is a major cause of air pollution. Belfast is trying to tackle this problem with four air quality management areas in the city centre. Removing bus lanes and encouraging more cars in the city centre will cause air quality to deteriorate further and is off-putting for people living and working in the city. This is finally being recognised as a serious health issue with cities such as Paris proposing a ban on diesel cars by 2025.”

DfI’s own recent assessment of the progress of Belfast on the Move may give a clue as to the chances of success for BCTC’s lobbying efforts to remove bus lanes:

“About 40% of households in Belfast do not have access to a private car – the Department’s transport policy therefore remains focused on the movement of people, rather than vehicles, at peak times. It is therefore important that the allocation of road space is proportionate.

Bus lanes form the backbone of the Metro bus network in Belfast. They have improved bus service reliability and passengers are enjoying a reduction in journey times, helping to reduce congestion and make the city more accessible.”

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce were approached for comment and clarification on several points but regrettably had not responded by the time of publication.


Read more: Part two – Translink, the Belfast Chamber and bus lanes

Read more: Motorists’ fury at shocking rise in bus lanes fines stories

The shape of things to come

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.

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You might have been impressed by his predecessors Danny Kennedy and Michelle McIlveen’s committment to active travel. You might have recently seen that fantastic greenways announcement, but maybe you’re waiting to see what effect the Belfast Telegraph’s bus lane fetish has on policy formation.

If you have had any doubts about where Belfast is headed in terms of transport planning, this might help – a response during Infrastructure Questions on Monday 28th November 2016:

“I would not have stood in the House recently and made the decision to proceed with the York Street Interchange if I did not accept the arguments that it is a strategic piece of infrastructure that not just the city of Belfast but the economy as a whole requires.

When looking at the economy .. we continue to talk in the House and on the public airwaves about moving cars. We need to talk about moving people.

Moving people in and out of Belfast city is good for business; moving cars is not.

What are we to do after York Street? Are we to bulldoze half of Great Victoria Street because we need two extra lanes in Great Victoria Street? Are we to demolish Belfast City Hall because we need a bigger roundabout at Belfast City Hall?

We need to talk about moving people, not cars, in and out of Belfast.”

Minister Chris Hazzard at Infrastructure Questions 28 Nov 2016

Meanwhile, Sammy Douglas MLA kicked off a discussion around greenways, where the thorny issue of the excellent Connswater Greenway highlighting the need for investment in the adjoining Comber Greenway raised more interesting news:

“My Department will shortly undertake a public consultation on the Belfast Bicycle Network, which includes the Comber Greenway. The consultation will seek views on a number of improvements to the greenway, including lighting part of the route.

Following consultation on the network, consideration will be given to whether lighting is appropriate on parts of the route, taking into account environmental concerns and the needs of the adjacent properties and neighbours.”

Minister Chris Hazzard at Infrastructure Questions 28 Nov 2016

Looking to the wider greenway network development (queston by Jenny Palmer MLA) it turns out the Minister is a big fan of the Lagan Towpath:

“I am a regular user of the Lagan Towpath in particular. It has great heritage and also great potential for the future. You only have to go on to it at the weekend to see that it is absolutely buzzing. It is like a high street in the town.

It is great to see. The long-term vision of the Lagan linking into the restoration of the Ulster Canal and even further is a project that is worth good attention in the years ahead.

I only wish that I had the money to start work tomorrow.”

Minister Chris Hazzard at Infrastructure Questions 28 Nov 2016

What potential does the greenway network announcement have beyond active travel, looking specifically at the tourism sector? (question by Nichola Mallon MLA)

“I was delighted and privileged to launch the greenway plan just outside Dundrum on the old Belfast and County Down Railway line, which used to bring hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists from Belfast to north and south Down, including to Newcastle, my part of the world. There is no reason why we cannot extend out for active travel and cycling.

When you talk to anyone involved in the tourism industry, they tell you that they want active tourism or activities that take people out of the city to destinations such as Newcastle. This can definitely be part of that. Some of the schemes for the Glens and another one to link Carlingford lough and Lough Neagh are very exciting. There are some great schemes for us to be excited about over the next five to 10 years.”

Minister Chris Hazzard at Infrastructure Questions 28 Nov 2016

Urban greenway development may have seen subsumed within in the mostly rural network announcement, but it’s very much on the agenda: (question by Paula Bradshaw MLA)

“The [Carryduff Greenway] scheme first came on to my horizon when the Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, talked about it. As someone who knows the lay of the land in that part of the world, I think that it would be a fantastic asset.

It could also play a vital role in alleviating congestion from the city, considering the success of the Cairnshill park-and-ride facility. A greenway there from Carryduff through Belvoir Forest would be a great asset.

I encourage the council to do all that it can during the detailed design. Like other schemes that I have mentioned, it could be a huge asset.”

Minister Chris Hazzard at Infrastructure Questions 28 Nov 2016


Comment

Let’s just take a look at what the Minister is outlining here:

  • rural greenways as signature tourism projects to drive our economy
  • suburban greenways to alleviate congestion by dovetailing with public transport
  • enhancing urban greenways to help people choose the bicycle year-round
  • designing urban centres around the needs of people, not cars

This is not a result of heavy lobbying, pushing from the outside – this is coming unprompted from the new Minister.

Is Shane Ross taking in these terms? Is Chris Grayling? I’m genuinely interested to benchmark this against other administrations in these islands because it appears our Minister really gets it.

The Lion, the Witch and the Belfast Bikes

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.

CS Lewis Square should develop Holywood Arches into the urban heart of east Belfast, providing a space for residents and visitors to use for events and activities.

Only a few days before the launch event we got signals that a Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes Station was to be installed on the site.

Belfast City Council confirmed the immediate operational launch of the station:

“The CS Lewis Square docking station is being jointly funded by the NI Executive’s Urban Villages Fund and Belfast City Council. CS Lewis Square station has 16 docking points.

“Another 10 bikes are being added for the CS Lewis Square expansion. This brings the total number of bicycles in the Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes scheme to 393.

“We are launching a further three docking stations in East Belfast to link up the CS Lewis Square docking station with our existing network. Exact locations are still being negotiated.”

What makes this expansion significant is the thrust away from the original core of the scheme within the city centre; it’s the most remote station installed to date, at almost 3km distance from City Hall.

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Residents around the Holywood Arches now have a genuine commuting link with Belfast city centre by public hire bike, as do the many workers in Connswater Retail Park.

The station lies far outside the 300m-500m radius of adjoining stations which has governed location spread to date, so it’s good to see immediate supporting stations being delivered to bridge the gap.

And it seems the ‘interim’ expansion, ahead of the official Phase Two of Belfast Bikes growth, hasn’t finished yet.

“Docking stations at Falls, Carlisle Circus and Grosvenor Road still to be installed once planning approval granted. Further expansion plans still to be agreed but will be subject to funding Council approval.”

CS Lewis Square lies at the crossing point of the two Belfast greenways – Comber and Connswater – a crossroads that offers a cycling corridor 7 miles eastward to Comber, northward to Victoria Park and the North Down Coastal Path, and westward into Belfast city centre and Lisburn and Newtownabbey beyond.

The southward portion along the Connswater Greenway is still under construction, with the link across Connswater Retail Park and Avoniel expected to complete in the New Year.

Recently opened sections beyond now permit traffic-free travel from The Hollow at Beersbridge Road through Orangefield Park and the Marsh-wiggle Way as far as Braniel.

(Main image by Steven Patterson, used with permission.)

Motorists’ fury at shocking rise in bus lane fines stories

Hard-working motorists in Belfast are being hit with record levels of bus lane fines stories. An investigation by Bikefast into bus lane articles shows a shocking increase of 104% in news and editorial output, from the Belfast Telegraph alone, over the last four years.

Stories such as “Belfast bus lane driver fined over £4,000 has yet to pay single penny” are being published at an unprecedented rate of one every two weeks since January 2015. A staggering 51 bus lanes articles appeared in the Tele over that period, compared to just 25 over 2013 and 2014.

The disclosure will add to the growing criticism of the Belfast Telegraph, and is worrying local traders and “the motorist”.

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Local media safety expert Harry Bollards thinks there may be a flaw in the editorial system:

“It’s concerning that we haven’t seen a reduction in bus lane fines stories as time goes on. Journalists have had time to get used to the new system as it beds in, yet they still get caught writing these stories on average twice a month.

“CCTV cameras have been erected around the city, but they have yet to detect any hint of an editorial change, such as to ask – are these fined motorists daft, selfish, ignorant, reckless or plainly too dangerous to be driving a car in a busy urban environment?”

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One keen motorist from Belfast (who spoke on condition of anonymity) says the situation is driving him out of the city:

“These bus lanes stories are all over the place – they just appear out of nowhere when you least expect it. I can’t park outside my local newsagent any more without going in and seeing another bloody story about bus lanes on the front pages.”

“And they’ve made the rush hour unbearable – I’m stuck in heavy congestion watching buses and cyclists fly past, having to listen to Stephen Nolan or Frank Mitchell jumping on the bus lane bandwagon. They’re impossible to avoid.

“The weird thing is these journalists write stories to make you sympathise with people, like they’re the innocent victim of some money-grabbing scheme – and YOU could be caught out next. As a driver who’s never been fined for being in a bus lane, they sound mostly like chancers or idiots to me – nothing I can identify with.”

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A spokesperson for all the media dismissed criticism of bus lane stories saying:

“It’s very easy to avoid a bus lane fine story – if you don’t make the mistake of reading the Belfast Telegraph or turning on your radio, you have nothing to worry about.”

Many ordinary motorists are believed (although we have no evidence) to be shunning Belfast due to worries that thousands of evidently unsafe drivers are circulating around the city with no idea how to read road signs.

Terry Towelling, owner of popular Belfast haberdashery Sew’s Yer Ma, claimed bus lane stories are destroying his business:

“I think footfall has dropped and everybody tells me the same reason why – they don’t want to be seen dead driving around Belfast, in case people think they’re one of these thousands of incompetent motorists.

“The media are painting grown adults as lacking the basic ability to identify simple markings and diagrams, and adapt their driving to travel safely around city streets. They’re making it socially unacceptable to be seen behind the wheel in Belfast.”

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When asked for a comment, Councillor Billy B. Biscuits described it as:

“A shaackin sityeeyayshin soitis.”

In a later written statement, he said:

“It is becoming increasingly apparent to a lot of people that the bus lanes and the cameras on them are a money-spinner for local newspapers, rather than pointing out how much faster buses are moving people around Belfast. Like that Irish News story last week – “Belfast bus speeds up 4km per hour in two years despite dedicated lanes” – which somehow spun objective evidence of success of the bus lanes as a negative story. Here’s me ‘wha?!’

“It’s high time the local media carried out a review of its bus lane policy before law-abiding motorists, who are perfectly capable of operating a motor vehicle without attracting fines for contravening road rules, are put off shopping in Belfast by these stories.”

Sammy Wilson was not approached for comment.


2015/2016 Belfast Telegraph bus lane articles (51)


2013/2014 Belfast Telegraph bus lane articles (25)


More bad satire

Concerted effort puts cycling at heart of York Street Interchange

One aspect perhaps overlooked in today’s announcement of progress on Belfast’s £130m York Street Interchange (YSI) project is the success in forcing engineers to place high quality cycling space at the heart of the scheme.

The scale of the YSI project – making a free-running interchange between three motorways beside the centre of Belfast – and several objections meant a Public Inquiry was held in November 2015. Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard’s announcement of progress (subject to funding) was accompanied by publication of the Inquiry Inspector’s Report.

“For an urban road project between £125m and £165m it is unacceptable in this day and age for a) the plan and b) the engineers working to those objectives to claim not to have responsibility beyond the benefits to motorised users.”
NI Greenways verbal submission to Inquiry

A lengthy critique of the original plan for the York Street (local traffic) spine running through the motorway underpasses and bridges was published in March 2015 and highlighted some main concerns from a cycling perspective:

  • poor 1.5m advisory cycle lanes
  • continuing use of defunct advanced stop lines
  • bus lanes continuing to be pushed as cycling infrastructure
  • cycle tracks not bypassing bus stops
  • inconsistent cycle provision design northbound vs southbound
  • no thought to increased ‘street life’ due to new Ulster University campus
  • poor junction designs with left turning traffic in conflict with cyclists
  • claims of a lack of space despite many separation strips as ‘dead space’

In total 33 objections were made to the (then) Department for Regional Development (DRD) / Transport NI (TNI) about the scheme – a remarkable 20 of which related to the poor cycling provision.

“I think that balance [of objections] gives some indication of how much value the people of Belfast place on being able to move around safely by bicycle.”
NI Greenways verbal submission

Several campaigners and Sustrans made written and verbal submissions to the Inquiry. A combination of scathing criticism and obviously flawed design and thinking, along with the developing Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland, and the adoption by TNI of the London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS) as its design manual for cycling schemes, meant a reworking of the scheme was deemed necessary, before the Inquiry even got going.

“The York St Interchange plan was, in essence, a blank canvas. Standard-setting, high quality cycling routes can be designed in from the beginning rather than the typically more difficult retrofitting. Instead the plans included designs which took the worst elements of Belfast cycling routes – advisory cycle lanes, bus lanes, essentially sharing with or fitting in around motor vehicles.”
NI Greenways verbal submission

What’s changed?

The biggest change occurs along the length of the York Street section. An inconsistent and outdated approach led to a northbound cycle lane designated only by paint, and a shared bus lane for most of the southbound route.

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Recognising the problems the design caused, the revised scheme separates the northbound cycle track with wands (seen in action here on Alfred Street) while the southbound section now separates cycling journeys from other bus lane users. While wands won’t be deployed southbound (as it stands) it’s a big step forward to recognise that a bus lane in itself is not cycling infrastructure and, where space is not an issue, cycling should have dedicated space.

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We also have a bus stop bypass!

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Where once buses would come into conflict with users of the on-road advisory cycle lane (above) now a dedicated cycle track winds behind the bus stop.

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And just for good measure, TNI threw in a second bus stop bypass going southbound. Ta!

The original plan had several junctions where left turning vehicles would conflict with the cycle lane hovering across the entrance. In the new plan, wand-separated cycles tracks now take cycle track users away from this point of conflict, allowing the crucial mitigation of eye contact between driver and cyclist at dedicated crossings.

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The Inspector’s Report accepts the thrust of the objections on cycling provision, and acknowledges TNI’s good work to respond:

Consideration on provision for cyclists

It was very clear from reading the earlier correspondence from Sustrans and a considerable number of other Objectors, that the original proposed provision for the cycling community was far from satisfactory. Indeed, Mr [Gordon] Clarke (Sustrans) spent some time reinforcing this point in his presentation at the Inquiry.

However, it equally apparent that a combination of dialogue between TNI and Sustrans Representatives, a willingness to make changes and the introduction of current design standards has led to a situation where most of the original issues have been resolved.

It was claimed that an earlier adoption of the higher standards could have eliminated the need to ‘retro-fit’ the design changes. However, the constraints imposed by the existing built infrastructure might still have limited the room for manoeuver by the design team.

It is not clear whether the anticipated very considerable increase in the number of cycling journeys over the next ten years has been fully assessed by TNI within the context of the YSI Scheme. It was claimed that a rise in cycling use is foreseen within the DRD Bicycling Strategy, which was published in August 2015.

The major drivers of this change would appear to be:

  • the construction of the new Ulster University complex
  • the construction and location of the new student residential accommodation
  • the future expansion of the Belfast bike hire scheme

Continued dialogue between TNI and Sustrans is clearly highly desirable in order to seek acceptable solutions to the outstanding issues.

Whilst acknowledging concerns over ‘project creep’, TNI should re-examine their proposals for the roads at the extremities of the Scheme to ensure that as far as possible the anticipated cycling and other infrastructure developments outside the footprint of the Scheme are taken into account in the YSI project.

Recommendation

Dialogue to continue between TNI and Sustrans in order to seek acceptable solutions to the outstanding issues.

  • TNI to re-examine their proposals for the roads at the extremities of the Scheme to ensure that as far as possible the anticipated cycling and other infrastructure developments outside the footprint of the Scheme are taken into account within the YSI project.
  • TNI to reassess the implications of both the new University and emerging DRD cycling strategies on the Scheme, as it is anticipated that this will transform the area around York Street beyond recognition
  • TNI to investigate mitigation measures to provide a degree of protection to
    cyclists and pedestrians from wind and rain on the York Street Bridge

York Street Interchange Inspector’s Report

What still needs to change?

While the objectors and TNI found common ground in the revised scheme design, there was one major flaw in the revision which was picked up by the Inspector:

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“The Inspector said that it had occurred to him .. that when travelling in a northbound direction along York Street to the Brougham Street junction on a bicycle, you would be emerging from behind a bus stop and onto the lane on the carriageway and immediately encountering traffic turning left. Did that merging from two different directions not lead to a risk of accidents. There may well be buses sitting at that bus stop, so traffic passing by those buses would not see the cyclists emerging.”

“Mr Spiers [TNI] said he was content that the proposal meets current standards.”

York Street Interchange Inspector’s Report

The dotted black line is (apparently) critical to the reason why the Brougham Street slip lane wasn’t revised to safely accommodate cycling, as others have been. Technically it falls outside of the scope of the YSI project and therefore won’t be considered as part of the scheme.

This leaves a very dangerous end to an otherwise excellent northbound route, and should be urgently addressed, as suggested by the Inspector’s first recommendation.

TNI’s response to the Inspector’s third recommendation on wind and rain mitigation will be fascinating to observe 😉


Congratulations to everyone who fed into the Inquiry process through objections or submissions to improve the cycling aspects. The York Street Interchange may prove to be the pivot point for embedding cycling-as-transport into major roads schemes as a matter of course, not a matter of how loud we have to shout.

Sirocco Skyway (Restitching Belfast 4)

The Sirocco Skyway is a proposal to create an iconic elevated traffic-free pathway across the city skyline of Belfast. As part of the Restitching Belfast series, we look at creating a new route to link Central Station with Titanic Quarter and directly connect the Comber and Connswater Greenways with the city centre.

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Standing on East Bridge Street looking from Central Station towards Cave Hill opens a panoramic view of the proposed 850m pathway route, linking South and East Belfast across the River Lagan.

The main access point would be from the bridge, opposite the entrance to Central Station, opening out into a wide pathway along the right hand (east) side of the railway line.

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Starting point for the Sirocco Skyway at the height of East Bridge Street

The path would sweep down on a gentle gradient to the existing car park beside the railway, and around the back of the pumping station on May’s Meadow.

Utilising the existing parapets of the railway bridge, the Skyway can be suspended over Laganbank Road to the river’s edge near El Divino nightclub, and then over the Lagan. A similar set-up currently exists on the other side of the bridge with a well-lit pedestrian walkway linking the two riverbanks.

Sunset over the Central railway bridge and possible Skyway

Crossing the Lagan hugging tight to the railway bridge, the Skyway would cross the red brick boundary wall of the Sirocco Works site.

Sirocco Works

The former Sirocco Works stood on this site from the 1880s and the industrial machinery developed here included the world’s first air conditioning systems. The now derelict Sirocco site has been in various stages of planned development over the last decade, with the economic downturn scuppering the advanced “Sirocco Quays” plan:

“Plans for the waterside development included 5,000 apartments, a hotel, an international convention centre, a supermarket, leisure facilities and other retail sites.”

Belfast Telegraph 18 February 2016

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Sirocco Skyway crossing the Lagan and rounding the edge of the Sirocco site

The site has recently been taken over by new owners. Belfast City Council are working on an “East Bank Framework” which has this area in its scope.

Sirocco Works site looking to the railway line

It’s an ideal time for public and private bodies to embed the Skyway concept as a high profile traffic-free access to benefit (and attract) users of the site.

While this is primarily envisaged as a functional commuter and access route, the addition of a major private development on the route offers possibilities for a New York Highline-style public realm enhancement along the Sirocco Works section – as well as the benefit of costs shared between the public and private sectors.

Towards Titanic and the greenways

While the river and the Sirocco site pose formidable barriers to attempting this direction of journey at present, the massive Bridge End gyratory junction also presents a woeful environment. The Skyway proposal would simply glide over these multi-lane racetracks.

Passing across Bridge End at the first railway bridge, the elevated pathway would need to carry over the service station while clinging to the railway line.

Behind this, the Eastside Park and Ride site would greatly benefit from excellent pedestrian access for passengers using Central and Titanic Quarter stations.

It would also link in with the Middlepath Street Cycleway due to be installed in early 2017. Flying over Middlepath Street, the Skyway would fall gently down to meet the existing (and recently upgraded) access path to Titanic Quarter Station.

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Sirocco Skyway descends from the bridge over Middlepath Street

Onward cycling trips would utilise the station underpass into Island Street which, with upgraded traffic calming, would lead directly to the Comber Greenway at Dee Street.

This would complete a high-quality link to the convergence of the Comber and Connswater greenways at CS Lewis Square, with its new Belfast Bikes station pointing to a future where cycling is more critical to inner city travel.

Lanyon Tunnels and Maysfield

The Skyway plan offers a chance to create a fully traffic-free interchange at East Bridge Street. The recently announced £2.6 million funding for the Lanyon Tunnels project is a major boost to the Markets area. The derelict and fenced-off archways under East Bridge Street will be redeveloped into a crèche, an employment education and training club, community space, cafe and health and fitness facility.

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View to Lanyon Place and River Lagan through the Lanyon Tunnels

“Although not in use for over 70 years, the tunnels are an important part of Belfast’s commercial heritage and were originally used by cattle traders as holding pens for cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse in nearby Stewart Street.”

Belfast City Council

Included in the plan is an access tunnel to link the Markets with the Lagan. Bringing an access ramp down to the western side of the railway line would enable direct traffic-free journeys from the Markets into Titanic Quarter and on to the Comber and Connswater greenways.

This is even more critical with the go-ahead for a £55 million office development on the brownfield site between Central Station and Stewart Street. Providing the best possible incentives for the expected 2,500 workers on this site to cycle to work can help to mitigate further parking and traffic issues which have blighted this area for years.

Main path over car park, access paths through Lanyon Tunnels either side of railway

Another (eastern) access path down to the existing street which runs through to Central Station would enable fast access to the new Concentrix and Allstate offices under construction at May’s Meadow, and on to the Laganside path heading towards the Gasworks and Ormeau.

East Bridge Street improvements

This development of a fast cycling commuter route (just one controlled crossing in the 2.6km between Oxford Street and CS Lewis Square) would need the additional support of dedicated cycling space on the run to the top of East Bridge Street.

This would provide relief to safely by-pass the hideous traffic which regularly snarls along this stretch, tipping the balance further towards cycle commuting as an attractive option. It’s also another essential step to widen the city’s cycling demographic.

The necessity for dedicated cycle space here will only be increased by Bus Rapid Transit which will run along East Bridge Street from 2018. Unravelling bicycles and ‘rapid’ buses on a tough hill for the infrequent cyclist makes sense. Even now many people take to the footway to safely avoid standing traffic, putting strain on a space filled with people hurrying to catch the train.

The Sirocco Skyway vision brings together a stunning view of the Belfast skyline with genuine possibilities for modal shift linking three of the fastest developing commercial and residential areas of Belfast – Titanic, East Bank and May’s Meadow. A partnership between Belfast City Council, the Department for Infrastructure, Translink, private developers and communities in the Lower Newtownards Road, Short Strand and The Markets could deliver an excellent facility which the whole city could be proud of – and in a very short time.


What do you think of the idea of a Sirocco Skyway? Would it make a difference to your journeys around the city? Let us know in the comments below and share the article on social media.


Amended article 5th Dec 2016: in the original article it was incorrectly stated that Arup are working on a development plan for the new owners of the Sircocco site. In fact, Arup are leading the development of the East Bank Framework for Belfast City Council.

Getting on the wrong side of cyclists

Should Belfast’s new cycling infrastructure be fully separated from general traffic on the busiest roads? Are kerbs and painted surfaces enough, or should bollards be deployed – and if so, how should they be spaced? Can we simply rely on drivers to obey traffic rules or is it better to design out bad behaviour and the need for costly enforcement?

These are some of the questions which the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) are wrestling with as they continue to roll out a new generation of cycle routes ahead of 2017’s Belfast Bicycle Network Plan. One existing cycle track on Victoria Street offers some key lessons, and poses questions of the Department’s willingness to act on safety concerns.


Belfast’s ‘noughties’ generation of cycling infrastructure was marked by a mish-mash of styles and priorities indicative of both scant resources and cultural resistance within the former Roads Service (now Transport NI (TNI), the executive agency of DfI, responsible for implementing road schemes). Great on-road separated facilities such as the Stranmillis Embankment were.. well.. that was about the only one.

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Whatever cycling ‘infrastructure’ that got rolled out across the city was either badged-up (and inappropriate) footways, or dreaded, useless and mocked advisory cycle lanes.

Genuinely interesting experiments with separation tended to be on a small-scale such as the Bin Lane on Upper Arthur Street. Kerb separation didn’t stop determined drivers from unlawfully blocking that cycle track, and (in this era of the DfI/TNI Cycling Unit) a new approach is being tried with wand separation (more on that soon).

Another approach was more in line with the one-way style of cycle track seen around Copenhagen. It keeps cycling space distinct from the road and footways at different levels, but no other physical separation between general traffic and those cycling.

This was the vision for a short stretch of Victoria Street, as a way to link journeys coming from the NCN Route 9 / 93 at the Waterfront – a traffic-free route running for around 20 miles between Newtownabbey and Lisburn – into the city centre. Where it differs from the general implementation in Copenhagen is that it was designed for cycling journeys running against the flow of traffic – a contra-flow cycle track. It was something new for the city, and couldn’t have been visually clearer that it was intended for bicycle use only.

It also seemed slightly radical for Belfast in that the road was reduced from four lanes to three to accommodate cycling. But to call it “road space reallocation” would be going too far – the loss of the fourth traffic lane to an underground car park entrance to Victoria Square across the Chichester Street junction made this road space less functional. And the three on-street parking bays which the cycle track replaced meant flowing traffic was unable to use this lane for most of the day.

But as the images above show, the footway was regularly utilised as a ‘grey-area’ car park – neither pay-and-display nor entirely allowed. Google Streetview’s archives show the scale of the ‘culture’ of footway parking here:

In an area with such high parking demand, leaving areas of open public space to the whims of drivers was never a sustainable policy. The cycle track had the accidental effect of removing a line on on-road parked cars, making it easier for people to drive their cars up onto the footway. Realising this, a solution was sought prevent anti-social parking altogether – separation bollards (or “wands”).

And so wands were installed. But not on the hatching between cycle track and traffic lane, which would have protected the track and its users from vehicles, but only between cycle track and footway.

While this seemed to be a clear improvement for pedestrian safety, illicit parking was now concentrated on the cycle track.

The Victoria Street cycle track is classed as a mandatory cycle lane, which carries specific rules:

Contravention code 49 may be used for vehicles seen to be parked [wholly or partly] on a mandatory cycle lane. No observation period will be applied.

Traffic attendants may only enforce mandatory cycle lanes. These are at carriageway (road) level and are separated from the rest of the carriageway by a solid white line or by a raised traffic island.

Vehicles are not permitted to park on mandatory cycle lanes with the following exemptions:

  • Council/Government Department in Pursuance of Statutory Duties
  • Emergency Services (Fire, Police, Ambulance, Customs)
  • Road Maintenance
  • Statutory Undertaking (NIE, Water, BT, and so on)

Parking and parking enforcement (nidirect)

But that’s not quite helping in real life.

These cycle tracks seems to work in Denmark, so why not in Belfast? Lack of cycling culture? Low cycling levels? Whatever the reason, the Victoria Street track ends up as an informal car park for too long to make it safe space for cycling.

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It’s the height of daftness that when the opportunity presented itself to TNI to protect all vulnerable users on this part of the street, the cycle track was left exposed. People who cycle here might think they’re the butt of a bad joke, but the punchline was even better – drivers can still access and park on the footway.

Remember that TNI designed this to be a contra-flow lane (although it’s two-way in practice) so that anyone cycling as intended who meets a blocking vehicle has two choices – dismount and walk on the footway, or take to the road against the traffic.

Neither option is particularly attractive or even practical with a cargo bike or kids’ trailer. In fact, it’s absolutely lethal given that commercial vans on delivery runs dominate the blockages during weekdays:

How often do vehicles block this lane? A Traffic Watch NI camera broadcasts a live image of this exact spot, which allowed a time-lapse capture of the problem over two weeks in October 2016 (each frame is snapped at a five minute interval):

(© Crown copyright – images sourced from trafficwatchni.com, delivered by the Department for Infrastructure – video compiled by Chris Murphy.)

As the cameras demonstrate, usage of the cycle track by vehicles is regular – sometimes for sustained periods – and the footway behind is (somehow, still) fair game. This hasn’t been helped by the strange disappearance of some wands.

In July 2015 a Department for Regional Development (now DfI) statement on problems with the cycle track acknowledged the wand placement wasn’t working, but cited a lack of budget to enable the obvious fix:

“The wands were introduced because of car parking on the footway. It was anticipated that with the other markings, and the green surface of the cycle track, it would be pretty apparent that the space was not intended for vehicles. However I would have to agree with you that some parking is taking place.

“A second line of wands could be considered behind the kerb between the cycle track and the nearside running lane. In any case we currently have no budget for such works.”
DRD response July 2o15

Adding another line of wands is the last thing we need to be cluttering the street with. But moving the wand line over to the road side of the cycle track seems to be the only sensible move.

It’s only necessary because drivers seem determined to use the space, to the detriment of others’ safety. Making things “pretty apparent” to road users isn’t much of a deterrent. Enforcement and the likelihood of being caught could be, but it seems a lot of people are prepared to take the risk for the reward of a handy spot of free parking.

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Enforcement is patchy, and at any rate costs public money to undertake – for a few wands more in a better pattern, anti-social driver behaviour and the need for enforcement could be very cheaply designed out.

Now that TNI has established the Cycling Unit’s principle of protecting cycleways in areas of high parking demand with wands, this aberration needs to be addressed urgently.

Or does that request contain a terribly naive assumption?

For one final observation poses an interesting question of TNI cultural resistance to cycling.

In an area where TNI wanted to specifically exclude access for vehicles (the Victoria Street footway) wands were installed in a tight pattern with gaps of roughly 1.5 metres.

Meanwhile, in an area where people cycling asked, through public consultation, to be protected from vehicle incursions (the Alfred Street cycleway) wands have only been installed at 6 metre gaps, wide enough for cars to slide through.

Does this betray the whispered notion that elements within TNI see ‘protected’ cycling space as fair game for vehicles to share? That vehicle access is seen as acceptable and positively encouraged by design?

That the desire for handy parking by one driver should outweigh the safety of many people travelling by bicycle? It’s not a great foundation for a cycling revolution..