VERSION 1.0 JANUARY 2016
This short draft manifesto draws from sources around the UK, Ireland and beyond and seeks to define the best route to a paradigm shift in Belfast transport.
It’s designed to be crafted into a better document through open discussion. It can help policy makers see the needs of cycling from a city planning and transport perspective.
NI’s Bicycle Strategy sets a radical vision for how Belfast could operate by the year 2040 – we want to see this fully realised and help to update and improve that vision.
1) Build a dense grid of protected space for cycling and liveable streets across Belfast
Requiring people on bicycles to share space with arterial motor traffic condemns cycling to be a niche activity. Giving cycling the chance to be an equal part of transport mix – for people of all ages and abilities – requires dedicated, safe, protected and separated cycling space where appropriate.
All truly successful cycling cities and regions plan, fund, build and improve space for cycling. We must learn these lessons and design cycling into all of our roads and junctions.
A lack of safe and secure bicycle parking is a big issue and major barrier to growing cycling in Belfast, as is the poor provision of interchange facilities at our train and bus stations.
Too many of our residential streets are plagued by fast vehicles and through traffic. We must learn from best practice and begin to adopt a Dutch-style classification of road and street purpose, making better use of primary and arterial routes while reclaiming our streets from car dominance.
2) Fund the Bicycle Strategy to the level needed for success
Government funding for cycling across Northern Ireland has paled in comparison to international best practice. We typically spend around 50p per person each year, compared to upwards of £25 per person annually in the Netherlands.
The Bike Life Survey of Belfast residents (both cycling and non-cycling) showed a clear demand for Dutch-levels of cycling investment. No longer will scraps from the table suffice if we want Belfast to work as a multi-modal city – vehicle congestion will grind everyone to a halt otherwise.
We must immediately commit to an annual spend of £10 per head of population (the consensus minimum for an ambitious city / region) rising by 50p in each year of the Bicycle Strategy until we reach £25 per head. This will pay back in terms of reduced congestion, better health outcomes, less household spend on transport costs and a rising quality of life around the city.
3) Safer, calmer streets where people live, work, play and shop – default 20mph
Separate cycling space is most appropriate on higher speed and higher volume arterial routes. Belfast needs 20mph to be the default street speed for all the bits in between, with exemption for arterial roads where it may be desirable.
Enabling children to play on our streets, rebuilding communities around local shopping and amenities, to walk and cycle without fear of fast traffic, requires more traffic-calming measures, cutting of most rat runs, and better designing new developments.
Independent retailers on our arterial roads labour under a false impression that on-street parking and fast, easy car access is integral to their economic outlook. Bus lanes and cycle space is often portrayed in the media as taking money directly from shop tills. Creating a welcoming sense of place, areas where people want to dwell, shop, ramble, sit outside cafes and let children play in safety is preferable to wide, noisy, polluted, hectic roads which mostly serve to speed drivers away from those same shops.
4) Target Belfast to be the top cycling city in these islands
The political and social conditions in Belfast are right to aim higher than we do. 36% of households in the city have no access to a car; typical journeys are short given the whole city is around 5 miles diametre; central government retains road funding/planning/delivery functions meaning hyper-local objections like in London are not an issue.
Our ambition had been limited by aiming to increase cycling only in line with the rest of the UK. Across NI 1/3 journeys are less than 2 miles long, and almost 2/3 are less than 5 miles long.
Seville showed how political will and a ‘get on with it’ attitude works, moving the city from a smaller cycling share than Belfast (0.5%) in 2006 up to 7% by 2011. Belfast should look beyond the confines of timid and failed policies in the UK and Ireland and aim to place itself among the elite cycling cities in Europe. This will require sustained funding and leadership over the 25 years of the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland.
5) Research cycling to support policy-making
Better decision-making and policy development relies on the availability of solid research. Belfast and NI suffer from poor recording of how many people are cycling, denying us sight of which interventions have the greatest impact.
Counts should be carried out twice a year using standardised protocols for data collection and handling, to monitor cycling flows around the city. Public display electronic counters at several ‘gateway’ sites should be used to provide encouragement and raise the profile of cycling.
A local framework for typical cycling project benefit/cost ratios should be developed through study of previous, ongoing and future pilot interventions, as well as external examples from better-developed cities and nations.
The Netherlands invests €0.5bn per year in cycling, generating a 60:1 ROI *just* in health benefits https://t.co/fDNqrGuRwZ
— GB Cycling Embassy (@GBCycleEmbassy) February 3, 2016
A macro-economic study of the potential return on cycling investment to health, the environment, the tourism economy (especially from greenway development) can allow a firmer footing for budget allocations, and the potential for more cross-departmental collaboration on meeting costs.
6) Embed cycling within Belfast city life and planning
Belfast City Council may not have devolved transport powers, but the success of Belfast Bikes shows only scrapes the surface of what it can do for cycling. Planning powers mean the council can strongly influence development of cycling facilities in new buildings, housing and area plans. Helping to provide more and safer places to store bicycles within the city, such as cycle hubs and involving local businesses to support employees, customers and city visitors to use the bicycle to get around our city.
There is a clear need to balance cycling across the city – recognising and understanding the lower levels in West and North of the city and focusing on investing in traffic-free cycling. This should not just focus on flagship projects like Falls and Shankill Greenways, or something radical like linking a bold greenway vision with peace wall removal plans, but continuing the dense grid approach which is perhaps more vital as gradients rise towards Belfast’s hills.
Truly embedding the bicycle will take a cross-city partnership between government, business, academia, the arts and citizens, merging our creativity and wit with our innovation and craft to stop trying to follow the crowd and build our own revolutionary cycling story. Belfast gave birth to the modern bicycle in 1889 and it reshaped the world – now the bicycle is returning home to positively reshape our city.