Lagan cordon count (Ormeau Bridge)

Bikefast wanted to know what the peak rates of everyday cycling were in our city. We’ve talked a good bit about the perceived growth of cycling in our city and we’ve posted lots of encouraging pictures to Instagram – but we’re struggling to get good, granular data out of our Transport Department (DfI). So we took matters into our own hands. We pitched our intrepid bicycle counter (me – Ed) at three locations along the Laganside corridor on evenings in Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017 to get just a little sample of what a dedicated cordon count might show.

In the last of three articles we take a look at Belfast’s Ormeau Bridge, long held to be Belfast’s busiest bicycle junction – do the figures bear this out?

Count 3: Ormeau Bridge (north bank)

This is a complex junction as the Ormeau Road crosses the River Lagan. Heavy arterial vehicle flow between South Belfast and the city centre interacts with the Stranmillis Embankment on the north bank and the Annadale/Ormeau Embankment through route on the southern bank.

On the Stranmillis Embankment (north bank) a separated cycleway on the road links up, via a toucan crossing over the Ormeau Road, with the Laganside pathway toward the city centre, and the sites of our other two counts at The Gasworks and the Albert Bridge.

On the southern side of the bridge the areas surrounding the Ormeau Road have the highest concentration of cycling commuters in the country. Ballynafeigh ward had a 6% cycling share of all commuting journeys at the 2011 census, a figure likely to have risen towards double figures in subsequent years.

The evening rush hour in particular is a good time to see the concentration of cyclists heading across Ormeau Bridge to the (short) cycle lane shared with pedestrians or into Ormeau Park.

The northern end of the bridge is the ideal spot for counting bicycles given the crossing of the National Cycle Network and Belfast’s longest-established dedicated cycling route along to Stranmillis.

The data

Placing a video camera on a large Dutch bicycle we recorded two separate periods of the evening rush hour – one in October 2016 and one in May 2017. Both days had clear weather and no major traffic incidents were reported – just normal working weekdays.

We noted the direction of bicycle travel and some characteristics of the riders (more on that later).

Over the two days we observed a total of 362 bicycle movements in a combined 68.5 minutes, giving the Albert Bridge an estimated peak flow rate of 317 bicycles per hour, or over 5 bicycles per minute. It’s not The Netherlands, but for Belfast this is pretty cool.

This is significantly higher than the rates observed at The Gasworks and Albert Bridge junctions. This is partially down to dedicated (if not 100% ideal) cycling infrastructure on 3 arms of the junction, and a dense urban population on the city centre side of the bridge in the lower Ormeau and Holylands fuelling a counter-tidal flow back towards the city centre (higher than our last two counts).

We’ve worked up a graphic to demonstrate the flow patterns.

Those cycling from the Laganside direction accounted for 48% of journeys entering the junction while 49% of people exiting the junction were travelling south across the Ormeau Bridge.

The gender imbalance is still clear, however less drastic than our other two counts – at 28% of riders being female it’s heading towards a 2:1 ratio of male to female rather than 4:1 at the Albert Bridge. It’s an indication that Belfast still has a long way to go to make cycling safe and accessible for everyone.

Footway or roadway?

In our last article we tested the anecdotal assumption that half of all cycling movements on the Albert Bridge were on the pavement – and found it was actually closer to 60%.

Was this also the case on the Ormeau Bridge? Despite the absence of barriers enclosing the roadway – perhaps perceptibly less hostile – people still don’t want to ride with busy vehicle traffic. Remarkably almost three quarters of people cycling on the bridge (in either direction) choose the footways:

  • 43% of people cycling used the northern footway
  • 27% of people cycling used the road
  • 30% of people cycling used the southern footway

The narrow footways barely cope with pedestrian footfall and a significant volume of bicycles at present, and will be unlikely to safely accommodate a rise in cycling journeys.

It’s an indication of a sick road environment – unforgiving, unwelcoming and unattractive to those using bicycles. And it poses difficulty for pedestrians. It will need to be addressed as part of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan should the Department for Infrastructure agree with the need to plan a new arterial route along the Ormeau Road corridor.

The Ormeau Road is confirmed as the busiest bicycle junction in Belfast, and likely by extension the busiest in the country. It offers those who are engaged in planning for the bicycle in Belfast a chance to observe (in large numbers) how people cope with the limited space for cycling afforded to them, their preferences for travel in that context, and the benefits of investing in dedicated space.

Why are we doing this?

Other than being curious about the impact of the Cycling Revolution™ which, apart from some infrastructure, is still a purely organic movement in Belfast, we’re trying to highlight a big gap in government data gathering and everyday cycling insight.

Our best indication of cycling growth is at a very high level. We have the annual Travel Survey for Northern Ireland which places cycling commuting (not everyday journeys) at between 3-5% of all commuter journeys in the city.

Other than that, the Census is our most detailed look at cycling habits, but again only looks at commuting – and we’re about halfway between the 10 year gap between Census reports.

We used to have a potentially excellent source for cycling journey data – the (now defunct) Department for Regional Development’s live cycle counters. These enabled the Department (now DfI) to measure growth on key corridors.

And then they were turned off. And many were removed. The boxes may still be in place but nothing is happening inside.

We’re calling for DfI to deploy new live cycle counters in a cordon around the city to enable the growth of cycling, linked to their proposed Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, to accurately measure cycling journey levels and observe demand for new facilities.

And we need a baseline before those cycleways are built, so counters should be going in now. And to top it all off, live roadside counter displays should be deployed in a couple of locations to demonstrate to everyone that cycling is an important and growing part of our city’s transport landscape.

Enough is enough – taxis in bus lanes

Bikefast have called on the Department for infrastructure to take the long view on sustainable transport and protect our vital infrastructure from knee-jerk, un-evidenced decisions to hobble Belfast’s transit systems solely to benefit private taxi firms.

Earlier this year a group of Belfast’s biggest private taxi firms somehow secured the opening of some Belfast’s bus lanes to their vehicles, a “remarkable” lobbying effort which threatened to “sabotage the Belfast Rapid Transit system” a year before it launched, and threatened to kill off cycling levels.

Between 4,000 and 5,000 of their vehicles. (In truth not even DfI knows this figure, which is a huge issue in itself.)

At a stroke this made taxis the majority users of these sustainable transport lanes. Everyone else got four days’ notice; no chance to consult or object; no oversight from the (dissolved) Northern Ireland Assembly.

The plan had been to roll this out as a trial for six months, likely to drift into a permanent arrangement as the controversy died down.  At the 11th hour Bikefast and Sustrans convinced Minister Hazzard to cut that trial down to 12 weeks. Good to their word, the Department ended the trial in mid-May and Belfast’s bus passengers and thousands who cycle every day breathed easier.

Now the Department wants your views on the trial and the policy, as if it wasn’t made clear enough already with a widespread negative backlash. People aren’t daft – they know adding thousands of taxis to bus lanes is a case of “how much worse will the experience for cycling be”, “how much slower will the buses run” and “how much of a reduction in safety and journey times is acceptable to the Department”?

What the Department hasn’t done is launch a full consultation – this call for views isn’t even listed on their Consultations page. In 2012 a proper consultation on the same issue (with different legislation provoking it) found 86% of people disagreed with handing our bus lanes over to private taxis.

That figure still stands.

However, the big business private taxi lobby will keep chipping away at this issue until they impose their will on everyone else. So you need to make your voice heard on why public transport journey times should be paramount in Belfast transit planning and why cycling safety is so crucial to you.

And the Department need to closely examine the process of this rapidly (and quietly) developing policy. The next Minister can decide whatever they want and civil servants will have to follow – that’s a Minister’s prerogative. But the Department has a responsibility to ensure that public funds are managed with propriety and duly safeguarded.

To that, the £90m of public money poured into making Belfast Rapid Transit (BRT) a success is clearly at stake. On the most basic level, can the Department honestly stand over a trial designed to measure the impact of this policy on BRT, which was conducted without BRT operating?

Can the Department stand confidently over this policy without the benefit of full party political donation transparency in Northern Ireland?

Is the Department prepared to swallow the insulting tone of the private taxi lobby – that taxis in bus lanes somehow lanced the boil of congestion, that private taxis are the “fourth emergency service”, and that “hundreds of jobs” are at stake when big taxi firms have in fact been expanding their business in the last few years?

Are the Department (or the public for that matter) happy to be treated like fools?

Is the Department confident to stand over data from a trial which clearly wasn’t fully designed ahead of time and wasn’t fit for purpose?

Questions went unanswered until a week into the trial, and even then in face-to-face meetings it was clear that the trial had been dumped in the lap of officials with so short notice as to render the whole exercise almost useless – no baseline data shared, no information on the scale of monitoring, no measurement criteria or success/failure bounds, and (truly shocking) some random monitoring of social media for incidents and attitudes included to boot.

The trial was a shambles because of the political direction – fair play to the Department’s honest hard work to make a good fist of it, but the whole thing should be discarded.

The only reasonable way forward, whatever your view on the policy, is to address the massive research deficit exposed by the botched attempt of a narrow interest group to pull the rug out from under sustainable transport.

This will need to stretch beyond the introduction of BRT next year to allow for that service to establish and thrive. This policy direction also signals an urgent need to begin the construction of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan so that cycling can be taken out of arguments about bus lanes.

The research which needs to be conducted includes:

  • How many taxis of all categories actually operate in Belfast (including Uber) and how has this number changed annually since the introduction of bus lanes?
  • How many taxis use diesel fuel?
  • What verifiable impact on private taxi employment have bus lanes had since they were introduced (distinct from other economic factors)?
  • What verifiable impact will bus lanes have on private taxi employment in the future (distinct from other economic factors)?
  • Will prioritising private hire motor vehicles actually improve air quality in Belfast?
  • How will this potential policy change affect levels of investment in wheelchair accessible taxis and taxibus services, and linked employment?
  • Will shifting an unknown number of private hire vehicles into bus lanes reduce the number of vehicles in general traffic lanes or lead to an overall net gain through induced demand?
  • A wide survey of health care users to determine the modal access to service points – i.e. what percentage of people every day travel by public transport, private car, different classes of taxis, walking and cycling?
  • A survey of bus passenger attitudes (and Bus Rapid Transit attitudes, once launched and bedded in) to bus lane access to determine their informed view on the journey speed and reliability issues.
  • What impact will this change have on fragile cycling levels while the Belfast Bicycle Network remains unconstructed?
  • An evaluation of safety perception and outcomes for the vulnerable users of bus lanes, those on bicycles and motorcycles.
  • What is the economic case for allowing one private service industry (taxis) free utilisation of a public utility (bus lanes) over other critical private service industries (logistics, deliveries)?
  • Survey of people who cycle and monitor journeys in bus lanes.
  • Carry out a general safety audit for the mix of vehicles in bus lanes.

Freeze the current bus lane access arrangement for the next five years (Buses, Class B and D taxis only, bicycles, motorcycles), let BRT bed in, build the initial cycling network and then carry out proper real-world studies.

Make public investment in sustainable transport your priority, don’t just hand the keys over to private interests.

Anything short of proper, independently researched evidence being used to direct policy, anything short of a full public consultation, anything short of rigorous fact checking of wild lobbying claims, anything short of fully evaluating the impact of this change within the context of Belfast congestion and the long-term future of city transport, and we’re left to conclude that those with “remarkable political clout“, beyond the current reach of scrutiny, can alter public policy to suit their interests over the greater good.

And shame on all of us if we let that overrule evidence-based policy making.

There is a fine balance in bus lanes right now which is continuing to support the growth of cycling and promises to support a fantastic new Rapid Transit system. People are responding to former Minister Chris Hazzard’s call for us to concentrate on moving people, not cars.

Don’t put that at risk for the sake of narrow commercial interests. When it comes to the volume of vehicles in our bus lanes, enough is enough.


What can you do?

Bikefast has partnered with Cycling UK and Sustrans to respond to the DfI trial – read our joint response here.

Read the Sustrans blog post on the case for no more taxis in Belfast’s bus lanes.

Send your views directly to the Department for Infrastructure here.

The deadline is 16th June 2017.

You can also use Cycling UK’s form to easily respond to DfI’s call for views here.

More reading

05 May 2017 – Belfast bus lane taxi trial ends (but attack on sustainable transport limps on)

20 Mar 2017 – Bus lane taxis “impede other road users, increase journey times” says.. Infrastructure Department

04 Apr 2017 – Push to keep taxis in Belfast bus lanes backfires (Irishcycle.com)

03 Apr 2017 – Belfast taxi postcard campaign in tatters

27 Feb 2017 –  DfI: Taxis in bus lanes trial will not default into a permanent arrangement

19 Feb 2017 – Survival guide to 84 days of taxis in Belfast bus lanes

18 Feb 2017 – Department declines to answer questions ahead of taxis in bus lanes “trial”

08 Oct 2014 – Reform and revolution | Taxis in bus lanes

06 Oct 2014 – Rapid transit? | Taxis in bus lanes

01 Oct 2014 – Wall of steel | Taxis in bus lanes

26 Sep 2014 – 4,000+ taxis in Belfast | Taxis in bus lanes

23 Sep 2014 – Perspective | Taxis in bus lanes

22 Sep 2014 – Fightback | Taxis in bus lanes

21 Mar 2013 – What value in the perception of cycling safety?

21 Feb 2013 – All Taxis in Bus Lanes – Why I Am Opposed (niroads.com)

07 Feb 2013 – DRD determined to halt Belfast cycling progress?

18 Sep 2012 – NI Greenways response to taxis in bus lanes consultation

05 Sep 2012 – Taxis in bus lanes a backward step for cycling

Lagan cordon count (Albert Bridge)

Bikefast wanted to know what the peak rates of everyday cycling were in our city. We’ve talked a good bit about the perceived growth of cycling in our city and we’ve posted lots of encouraging pictures to Instagram – but we’re struggling to get good, granular data out of our Transport Department (DfI). So we took matters into our own hands. We pitched our intrepid bicycle counter (me – Ed) at three locations along the Laganside corridor on evenings in Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017 to get just a little sample of what a dedicated cordon count might show.

In the second of three articles, we take a look at Belfast’s Albert Bridge, at it’s intersection with the National Cycle Network..

Count 2: Albert Bridge (west bank)

This is a complex junction as East Bridge Street meets the Albert Bridge. Heavy arterial vehicle flow between East Belfast and the city centre interacts with roadway entry and exit points on Laganbank Road and at Maysfield – although both are restricted to with-flow movement by a central reservation. A pedestrian crossing sits between these and the bridge.

High pedestrian footfall is generated by the office blocks which have sprouted up over the last 15 years around Central Station – the region’s busiest railway station. On the east bank of the Lagan the dense communities of the Short Strand, Lower Ravenhill, Woodstock and The Mount power a strong tidal pedestrian commute.

The National Cycle Network (Route 9) through Belfast crosses East Bridge Street at this western end of the Albert Bridge.

The data

Placing a video camera on a large Dutch bicycle we recorded two separate periods of the evening rush hour – one in October 2016 and one in May 2017. Both days had clear weather and no major traffic incidents were reported – just normal working weekdays.

We noted the direction of bicycle travel and some characteristics of the riders (more on that later).

Over the two days we observed a total of 328 bicycle movements in a combined 84 minutes, giving the Albert Bridge an estimated peak flow rate of 236 bicycles per hour, or about 4 bicycles per minute. It’s not The Netherlands, but for Belfast this is pretty cool. The rate is almost identical to the nearby Gasworks Junction we studied in part one.

We’ve worked up a graphic to demonstrate the flow patterns.

Those cycling from the Waterfront direction accounted for 41% of journeys entering the junction while 56% of people exiting the junction were travelling east across the Albert Bridge.

Naturally for an evening rush hour, very little cycling traffic is headed towards the city centre, which lacks a dense resident population – interestingly Deliveroo riders provided a large proportion of those who were travelling that way.

As with the Gasworks there is a clear gender imbalance with 19% of those cycling being female. It’s an indication that Belfast still has a long way to go to make cycling safe and accessible for everyone.

Footway or roadway?

One aspect of the Albert Bridge which has troubled road engineers and campaigners alike is the perception of a hostile roadspace for those cycling. The tall concrete and metal vehicle restraint barriers on both sides of the four lane roadway hem you in, giving no “escape route” to the footway.

The Cycling Unit (and their predecessors) have shared anecdotal observations that about 50% of people cycling on the bridge do so on the footways rather than take to the road.

So with our handy dataset, we decided to clarify the situation a little – and Bikefast has found the majority of people cycling on the Albert Bridge use the footways, closer to 60% of all movements (in both directions):

  • 18% of people cycling used the northern footway
  • 42% of people cycling used the road
  • 40% of people cycling used the southern footway

The footways are too narrow at rush hour to accommodate high pedestrian footfall and a significant volume of bicycles. It’s an indication of a sick road environment – unforgiving, unwelcoming and unattractive to those using bicycles. And it poses difficulty for pedestrians.

While building a bridge at the Gasworks will divert some cycling journeys off the Albert Bridge, the general growth of cycling which will follow the adoption of Belfast Bicycle Network Plan requires some form of cycling adaptation here. Bikefast’s Restitching Belfast series proposed fitting additional pedestrian walkways on the outside of the bridge platform, allowing the current footways to be converted to dedicated cycleways.

Even though this section of the city was familiar to Bikefast, the level of bicycle usage was surprisingly high, especially heading away from the National Cycle Network. It adds weight to Bikefast’s view that future cycling infrastructure development must not ignore the main arterial routes of the city.

In our final article on the Lagan Cordon Count series we will look at the Ormeau Bridge – will our data bear out its long-assumed title as the top cycling junction in the country?


Why are we doing this?

Other than being curious about the impact of the Cycling Revolution™ which, apart from some infrastructure, is still a purely organic movement in Belfast, we’re trying to highlight a big gap in government data gathering and everyday cycling insight.

Our best indication of cycling growth is at a very high level. We have the annual Travel Survey for Northern Ireland which places cycling commuting (not everyday journeys) at between 3-5% of all commuter journeys in the city.

Other than that, the Census is our most detailed look at cycling habits, but again only looks at commuting – and we’re about halfway between the 10 year gap between Census reports.

We used to have a potentially excellent source for cycling journey data – the (now defunct) Department for Regional Development’s live cycle counters. These enabled the Department (now DfI) to measure growth on key corridors.

And then they were turned off. And many were removed. The boxes may still be in place but nothing is happening inside.

We’re calling for DfI to deploy new live cycle counters in a cordon around the city to enable the growth of cycling, linked to their proposed Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, to accurately measure cycling journey levels and observe demand for new facilities.

And we need a baseline before those cycleways are built, so counters should be going in now. And to top it all off, live roadside counter displays should be deployed in a couple of locations to demonstrate to everyone that cycling is an important and growing part of our city’s transport landscape.

Lagan cordon count (Gasworks Junction)

Bikefast wanted to know what the peak rates of everyday cycling were in our city. We’ve talked a good bit about the perceived growth of cycling in our city and we’ve posted lots of encouraging pictures to Instagram – but we’re struggling to get good, granular data out of our Transport Department (DfI). So we took matters into our own hands. We pitched our intrepid bicycle counter (me – Ed) at three locations along the Laganside corridor on evenings in Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017 to get just a little sample of what a dedicated cordon count might show. In the first of three articles, here’s what we found happening at the Gasworks..

Count 1: Gasworks Junction

Why the Gasworks? Well, it was our first choice, as the central vertebrae in Belfast’s spinal cycling route, offering the shortest, safest connection to the city centre.

The National Cycle Network here earns that title in a way few other facilities in Northern Ireland do. You can cycle from Lisburn to Newtownabbey only encountering vehicle traffic when crossing a handful of roads – a shared towpath winds through Lambeg, Edenderry and Malone, before a pleasant 1.2km of kerb separated cycleway spirits you along the Stranmillis Embankment to the Ormeau Bridge.

The shared Laganside path then skims the edge of the city centre to the Albert Bridge, onward under the new Waterfront Exhibition Centre, mixing shared footways, cycleway, traffic-closed streets and out to the Loughshore Path which stretches to Whiteabbey and eventually to the Newtownabbey Greenway.

Two of the key cycle corridors across the Lagan for city centre journeys are the Albert and Ormeau Bridges, while sitting in the middle is the Gasworks Junction, providing access to the office development in Gasworks Park and a further 1km of traffic-free cycling directly to the heart of the city centre along on the Alfred Street Cycleway.

It’s the gravitational centre of cycling in Belfast.

And it should be even more important. The Gasworks Bridge, a £7m-£9m proposal to create a traffic free link at Gasworks Junction across to the Ormeau Park would truly revolutionise active travel in Belfast. It just needs an Assembly, Executive, and a capital injection from the next Finance and Infrastructure Ministers.

The data

Placing a video camera on a large Dutch bicycle we recorded two separate periods of the evening rush hour – one in October 2016 and one in May 2017. Both days had clear weather and no major traffic incidents were reported – normal working weekdays.

Where the Gasworks Path meets the Laganside Path is a simple three-way junction with a short red bridge marking the point where the Blackstaff River merges with the Lagan.

We noted the direction of bicycle travel and some characteristics of the riders (more on that later). As expected, the dominant flow into the junction was from the Gasworks and Albert Bridge directions – coming from the city centre – and leaving the junction to the south – where as far back as 2011 cycling accounted for over 6% of commuting journeys by residents just across the Ormeau Bridge.

In total over the two days we observed a total of 369 bicycle movements in a combined 94 minutes, giving the Gasworks Junction an estimated peak flow rate of 236 bicycles per hour, or about 4 bicycles per minute. It’s not The Netherlands, but for Belfast this is pretty cool.

We’ve worked up a graphic to demonstrate the flow patterns.

Gasworks_graphic

Those cycling from the city centre through the Gasworks accounted for 49% of journeys entering the junction while 69% of people exiting the junction were travelling towards Ormeau.

Somewhat disappointing is the continued gender imbalance in cycling, with females accounting for less than a quarter of those cycling. That’s a better percentage than any official count we’ve seen over the last five years, but an indication that Belfast still has a long way to go to make cycling safe and accessible for everyone.

We also captured a little time-lapse video of part of the count in May to show how people are using the junction.

The 2011 Census recorded 2,282 regular cycle commuters across the whole of Belfast, which was a 60% rise since 2001. Without a baseline for this exact location for those time periods (and the ability to look beyond commuter cycling) we can’t make a judgement on cycling growth beyond 2011. But 236 bicycles per hour (peak) in one location in the city looks extremely healthy in that context.

It’s fair to say a large proportion of those heading either direction along the Laganside Path will continue their journeys across the river at either the Ormeau or Albert Bridge (and we have data to look at that aspect). Opening a fourth arm of this junction by building the Gasworks Bridge would not only serve the many people already using this junction, but with journey time saving and extended traffic-free routes through the Ormeau Park on the opposite bank, hundreds more people could be encouraged to travel actively here.

Up next we look at the Albert Bridge where the National Cycle Network crosses a key commuting corridor between East Belfast and the city centre.


Why are we doing this?

Other than being curious about the impact of the Cycling Revolution™ which, apart from some infrastructure, is still a purely organic movement in Belfast, we’re trying to highlight a big gap in government data gathering and everyday cycling insight.

Our best indication of cycling growth is at a very high level. We have the annual Travel Survey for Northern Ireland which places cycling commuting (not everyday journeys) at between 3-5% of all commuter journeys in the city.

Other than that, the Census is out most detailed look at cycling habits, but again only looks at commuting – and we’re about halfway between the 10 year gap between Census reports.

We used to have a potentially excellent source for cycling journey data – the (now defunct) Department for Regional Development’s live cycle counters. These enabled the Department (now DfI) to measure growth on key corridors.

And then they were turned off. And many were removed. The boxes may still be in place but nothing is happening inside.

We’re calling for DfI to deploy new live cycle counters in a cordon around the city to enable the growth of cycling, linked to their proposed Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, to accurately measure cycling journey levels and observe demand for new facilities.

And we need a baseline before those cycleways are built, so counters should be going in now. And to top it all off, live roadside counter displays should be deployed in a couple of locations to demonstrate to everyone that cycling is an important and growing part of our city’s transport landscape.

Hume Dunlop Bridge waiting for an Executive

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Belfast bus lane taxi trial ends (but attack on sustainable transport limps on)

The strange saga of the push to get thousands of private hire taxis into Belfast bus lanes continues as the Department for Infrastructure announces the end of their trial.

As first reported by Bikefast in February, the trial permitting Class A taxis to use the bus lanes on the East and West Belfast Rapid Transit routes and the 12 hour bus lanes in the city centre will definitely end at midnight on Sunday 14th May 2017.

The return to normal running of bus lanes this May is down to the efforts of Bikefast, Sustrans and former Minister Chris Hazzard – the trial was originally planned to last for six months, only shortened to 12 weeks after our last minute intervention with the Minister and officials in early February.

From 00:01am on Monday 15 May 2017, access to bus lanes will return to pre-trial arrangements with only Class B Wheelchair Accessible / Belfast Public Hire and Class D / Taxi Bus services permitted to use the bus lanes.

Both Class B and Class D taxis are already permitted to use all appropriately signed bus lanes. Class B taxis are wheelchair accessible taxis and are mostly former Belfast Public Hire taxis but can include wheelchair accessible taxis which were formerly licensed as private hire. Class D taxis are known locally as Taxi Bus services.

The Department for Infrastructure has been gathering information on the impact of taxis using bus lanes. It will assess all the information gathered, including any views received, and present it to the next Minister in order for a decision to be made on long term access for taxis in bus lanes.

The Department is also currently seeking views on bus lane usage via an on-line survey available on the nidirect Citizen Space portal.

Comment

The latest battle is over but the war on priority for sustainable transport in Belfast is far from finished – and the odds remain astonishingly stacked against bus passengers and bicycle users.

Private taxi lobbyist have been busy peddling their own brand of facts about the magic properties of this data-gathering trial – led by the rallying cry of “success” despite no benchmarking criteria existing in the public domain, as well as the eye-popping claim that congestion in Belfast has been reduced.

Belfast City Council’s City Growth and Regeneration Committee now finds itself in the awkward position of deciding whether to stick its neck out for a trial which is now definitely ending. The unedifying sight this week of a councillor waving promotional material from the private taxi lobby during a Council motion to support extending the trial was one the more instructive episodes in this saga.

Bikefast has requested a hearing at the next committee meeting after the no-discussion motion was adopted – we are still waiting for a response.

The Department continues to drive the policy though, partially to fit in with changing taxi regulations. The latest strange move is an open public survey – perhaps to rebalance against the 86% of respondents to the 2012 public consultation who didn’t want thousands of taxis in bus lanes?

Also, kudos on that end date..

They risk starting another useless popularity contest with their online attitudinal survey – inevitably provoking the kind of get-out-the-vote response which has no place at the centre of transport policy formation.

If you were wondering how those funny little postcards were doing, look away now..

Bikefast continues to rely on evidence – mostly provided by the Department itself but frustratingly ignored time and time again – for its arguments. We’ll be publishing our assessment of the whole taxis in bus lanes episode early next week – including reasonable steps forward to keep all of Belfast moving, not to destroy sustainable transport infrastructure in order to increase the profits of private businesses.

Belfast Bikes – the end?

More than one third of the fleet of Belfast Bikes are currently out of action due to either theft or vandalism, placing the system under noticeable stress and putting a huge question mark over the viability of the scheme.

IMG_8386

With almost 5,000 annual members and over 5,000 casual subscribers clocking up over 405,000 journeys since the launch in April 2015, the scheme has been hailed a great success for the city. But a recent spate of theft and vandalism is jeopardising the future of the scheme and having a severe impact on the number of bikes in circulation for users.

Social media chatter over the past few months has indicated a growing issue with bike availability – a common issue with docking station rebalancing operations – but a noticeable increase in user frustration has been obvious.

Belfast City Council have now announced that a shocking 210 of the 576 bikes in their fleet have either been stolen or have had to be taken out of service due to vandalism.

These problems are costing the scheme almost £1,800 per month. Over the Easter weekend, 19 bikes were stolen, six of which were recovered, and a further eight were vandalised.

Although some of the Belfast Bikes have been stolen for personal use, much of the damage inflicted on the public bikes is simply mindless vandalism, with, in one case, a bike being sawn in half.

IMG_8385
A Belfast Bike sinking into the silt under the Dutch Bridge at Maysfield

Now, Belfast City Council and the Police are appealing to bike users, and the public in general, to report theft and vandalism to the scheme operators, or bring it to the attention of the police.

PSNI Sergeant Pete Cunningham said:

“We would appeal to anyone who witnesses any instances of theft or vandalism to the bikes to report this to police immediately so that we can address the issue and deal with those who are responsible. Please contact the PSNI by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency. Or, if you would prefer to provide information without giving your details you can contact the independent charity Crimestoppers and speak to them anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston, added:

“Along with our partners, the Department for Infrastructure, we made a conscious decision to invest in a scheme for the benefit of the people of Belfast.

“Belfast Bikes has enjoyed a hugely successful start-up period, and the popularity of the scheme clearly shows that we were right to back the initiative.

“It also goes hand in hand with 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.

“But we have to address the problem of antisocial behaviour and put measures in place to safeguard the scheme.”

The Belfast City Council release also pointed to users’ responsibility to guard against theft.

“Many bikes are stolen because they are not properly locked when returned to a docking station. If you’re a scheme user, a quick pull of the bike to make sure it’s properly locked, will also help to keep the bikes as safe as possible.”


Comment

Bikefast first became aware of the scale of the issue during the low tide of the Lagan on Thursday 13th April 2017.

Spotting a random bicycle sticking out of the silt under the Albert Bridge, our intrepid photographer took a walk as far as McConnell’s Weir at the Gasworks, and was shocked to find ten Belfast Bikes in plain view dumped in the river. We raised our concerns with the Council that day.

IMG_8389IMG_8390IMG_8400IMG_8392IMG_8391IMG_8388IMG_8387

 

The numbers of bikes being stolen and destroyed is shameful and unsustainable.

Make no mistake we’re watching the death of the system, unless the local community comes together to stop this pointless destruction.

Belfast Bikes is a cheap, socially inclusive transport form for everyone in the city – £20 a year places this within the budget of everyone – and it’s about to be squandered.

Bikefast has to take issue with the Council’s analysis – the sheer level of theft shows it can’t be the odd user returning their bike incorrectly.

This is widespread organised vandalism. If there is a flaw which is being exploited – and 19 bicycles stolen over the last weekend screams out that someone has learned a trick and is sharing that knowledge – then infrastructure providers Nextbike must identify and fix it before it’s too late.

For comparison, the Dublin Bikes scheme lost just 12 bikes in its first four years of operations – Belfast beat that tally in a weekend.

The good will and committment of councillors and funders is not unlimited and losses on this scale are mortally wounding the scheme. If a way can’t be found to stem the bleeding – community intervention, CCTV, infrastructural amendment – the end for Belfast Bikes will come sooner than is believable.

Belfast school run health check (crowd sourcing)

We need your help!

Bikefast is conducting a survey of every school in Belfast and we need some crowd sourced help to complete it.

bikes

We want to establish how the bicycle is being supported as a travel mode and how much the car is being catered for in our city’s “school run”.

This is off the back of Department for Infrastructure data which shames us all – cycling accounts for 0% of the school run to primary and post-primary schools.

To do this we want to collect information on the:

  • number and quality of bicycle parking spaces on school grounds
  • number of car parking spaces (staff, general use, blue badge, waiting zones)

It turns out that neither the Department for Eduction or the Belfast Education and Library Board collect this type of information, so we have to manually collect it ourselves at individual school level.

With 193 nursery, primary and post-primary schools in Belfast, that’s a task beyond even our volunteering powers in the absence of a reliable email list for those schools.

So we’re asking for your help. If you’re a pupil, teacher or parent at a school in Belfast, we’re asking you to fill in the blanks in our list below. We’ll use this to assess the current balance of travel provision by schools and see where action needs to be directed.

Teachers might want to use this as an opportunity to get a class involved in doing a quick spatial survey.

We’ve started the list by looking at Google Maps, but this is purely guesswork and needs on-site confirmation. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Bicycle stands should typically count for two spaces if there’s good access on both sides.
  • Only formal bicycle parking stands should be counted, not informal poles or fences.
  • Drop zones and informal daily parking in quads or open grounds can be tough to quantify so we’ll take your best guess at the peak capacity.
  • We’re only counting spaces within school grounds – on-street parking will not be counted.

Numbers are all we need – please do not take pictures within school grounds, unless you have permission from the school.

You can add your survey figures in a number of ways:

We’re hoping to compete the list by the end of the summer term for analysis before the new school year starts.

Get surveying!

 

The list so far

School (italics = unconfirmed data) Bicycle spaces Sheltered Y/N Total car parking (of which) general use (of which) staff only (of which) blue badge (of which) drop zone
Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School
Arellian Nursery School
Ashfield Boys’ High School 111 109 0 2 0
Ashfield Girls’ High School 82 78 0 4 0
Ballysillan Primary School
Belfast Boys’ Model School
Belfast Model School For Girls
Belfast Royal Academy
Belmont Primary School
Belvoir Park Primary School
Ben Madigan Preparatory School
Bethlehem Nursery School
Blackmountain Primary School
Bloomfield Collegiate
Blythefield Primary School
Botanic Primary School 5 5 0 0 0
Braniel Primary School
Breda Academy 114 114 0 0 0
Brefne Nursery School
Brooklands Primary School
Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh
Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagain
Bunscoil Mhic Reachtain
Bunscoil Phobal Feirste
Cairnshill Primary School 10 10 0 0 0
Campbell College 165 162 0 3 0
Campbell College Junior School 57 39 0 2 16
Carr’s Glen Primary School
Carryduff Primary School
Castlereagh Nursery School
Cavehill Primary School
Cedar Lodge Special School
Christ the Redeemer Primary School
Christian Brothers School
Clarawood Special School
Cliftonville Integrated Primary School
Colaiste Feirste
Corpus Christi College
Cranmore Integrated Primary School
Cregagh Primary School
Currie Primary School
De La Salle College
Dominican College
Donegall Road Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Downey House School 73 66 5 2 0
Dundela Infants School 16 16 0 0 0
Dundonald High School
Dundonald Primary School
Dunmurry Primary School
Edenbrooke Primary School
Edenderry Nursery School
Elmgrove Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Euston Street Primary School 21 19 0 2 0
Fane Street Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Finaghy Primary School
Fleming Fulton Special School
Forge Integrated Primary School 82 81 0 1 0
Forth River Primary School
Fullerton House Preparatory School
Gaelscoil an Lonnain
Gaelscoil Na Bhfal
Gaelscoil na Mona
Gilnahirk Primary School
Glenbank Nursery School
Glendhu Nursery School
Glenveagh Special School
Glenwood Primary School
Good Shepherd Nursery School
Greenwood House Assessment Centre
Greenwood Primary School
Grosvenor Grammar School 220 193 0 12 15
Harberton Special School
Harding Memorial Primary School
Harmony Primary School
Holy Child Nursery School
Holy Child Primary School
Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School
Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School
Holy Cross Nursery School
Holy Evangelist Primary School
Holy Family Primary School
Holy Rosary Nursery School
Holy Rosary Primary School
Holy Trinity Primary School
Hope Nursery School
Hunterhouse College
Inchmarlo
John Paul II Primary School
King’s Road Nursery School
Knockbreda Nursery School
Knockbreda Primary School 15 15 0 0 0
Knocknagoney Primary School 43 41 1 1 0
Lagan College
Lead Hill Primary School
Ligoniel Primary School
Lisnasharragh Primary School 101 0 24 2 75
Little Flower Girls’ School
Longstone Special School
Loughview Integrated Primary School
Lowwood Primary School
Malone Integrated College
Malvern Primary School
Matt Talbot Nursery School
Mcarthur Nursery School
Mercy College Belfast
Mercy Primary School
Methodist College 100 100 0 0 0
Mitchell House Special School
Nettlefield Primary School 11 10 0 1 0
New Lodge Nursery School
Oakwood Integrated Primary School
Oakwood School and Assessment Centre
Oldpark Nursery School
Orangefield Primary School 100 51 0 4 45
Our Lady and St Patrick’s College
Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School
Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School
Our Lady’s Girls’ Primary School
Our Lady’s Nursery School
Park Education Resource Centre
Rathmore Grammar School
Ravenscroft Nursery School
Rosetta Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Sacred Heart Primary School
Sandbrook Nursery School 0 0 0 0 0
Scoil An Droichid
Scoil na Fuiseoige
Seaview Primary School
Seymour Hill Primary School
Shaftesbury Nursery School
Springfield Primary School
Springhill Primary School
St Anne’s Primary School
St Bernadette’s Nursery School
St Bernard’s Primary School 92 0 0 0 0
St Bride’s Primary School
St Clare’s Primary School
St Colm’s High School
St Dominic’s High School
St Genevieve’s High School
St Gerard’s School and Support Services
St Ita’s Primary School 54 38 0 6 10
St John the Baptist Primary School
St Joseph’s College
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Kevin’s Primary School
St Kieran’s Nursery School
St Kieran’s Primary School
St Louise’s Comprehensive College
St Luke’s Nursery School
St Malachy’s College
St Malachy’s Primary School 25 24 0 1 0
St Maria Goretti Nursery School
St Martin’s Nursery School
St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School
St Mary’s Primary School 12 12 0 0 0
St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary School
St Matthew’s Primary School 17 16 0 1 0
St Michael’s Nursery School
St Michael’s Primary School
St Oliver Plunkett Nursery School
St Oliver Plunkett Primary School
St Patrick’s College
St Patricks Primary School
St Paul’s Primary School
St Peter’s Nursery School
St Peter’s Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
St Rose’s Dominican College
St Teresa’s Nursery School
St Teresa’s Primary School
St Therese Nursery School
St Therese of Lisieux Primary School
St Vincent de Paul Primary School
Stanhope Street Nursery School
Strandtown Primary School
Stranmillis Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Strathearn School
Strathearn School
Taughmonagh Primary School
The Cathedral Nursery School
The Good Shepherd Primary School
Royal Belfast Academical Institution 116 116 0 0 0
Tor Bank Special School
Tudor Lodge Nursery School
Tullycarnet Primary School
Victoria College
Victoria College Prepatory School
Victoria Nursery School
Victoria Park Primary School
Wellington College 58 56 0 2 0
Wheatfield Primary School
School (italics = unconfirmed data) Bicycle spaces Sheltered Y/N Total car parking (of which) general use (of which) staff only (of which) blue badge (of which) drop zone
Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School
Arellian Nursery School
Ashfield Boys’ High School 111 109 0 2 0
Ashfield Girls’ High School 82 78 0 4 0
Ballysillan Primary School
Belfast Boys’ Model School
Belfast Model School For Girls
Belfast Royal Academy
Belmont Primary School
Belvoir Park Primary School
Ben Madigan Preparatory School
Bethlehem Nursery School
Blackmountain Primary School
Bloomfield Collegiate
Blythefield Primary School
Botanic Primary School 5 5 0 0 0
Braniel Primary School
Breda Academy 114 114 0 0 0
Brefne Nursery School
Brooklands Primary School
Bunscoil An Tsleibhe Dhuibh
Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagain
Bunscoil Mhic Reachtain
Bunscoil Phobal Feirste
Cairnshill Primary School 10 10 0 0 0
Campbell College 165 162 0 3 0
Campbell College Junior School 57 39 0 2 16
Carr’s Glen Primary School
Carryduff Primary School
Castlereagh Nursery School
Cavehill Primary School
Cedar Lodge Special School
Christ the Redeemer Primary School
Christian Brothers School
Clarawood Special School
Cliftonville Integrated Primary School
Colaiste Feirste
Corpus Christi College
Cranmore Integrated Primary School
Cregagh Primary School
Currie Primary School
De La Salle College
Dominican College
Donegall Road Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Downey House School 73 66 5 2 0
Dundela Infants School 16 16 0 0 0
Dundonald High School
Dundonald Primary School
Dunmurry Primary School
Edenbrooke Primary School
Edenderry Nursery School
Elmgrove Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Euston Street Primary School 21 19 0 2 0
Fane Street Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Finaghy Primary School
Fleming Fulton Special School
Forge Integrated Primary School 82 81 0 1 0
Forth River Primary School
Fullerton House Preparatory School
Gaelscoil an Lonnain
Gaelscoil Na Bhfal
Gaelscoil na Mona
Gilnahirk Primary School
Glenbank Nursery School
Glendhu Nursery School
Glenveagh Special School
Glenwood Primary School
Good Shepherd Nursery School
Greenwood House Assessment Centre
Greenwood Primary School
Grosvenor Grammar School 220 193 0 12 15
Harberton Special School
Harding Memorial Primary School
Harmony Primary School
Holy Child Nursery School
Holy Child Primary School
Holy Cross Boys’ Primary School
Holy Cross Girls’ Primary School
Holy Cross Nursery School
Holy Evangelist Primary School
Holy Family Primary School
Holy Rosary Nursery School
Holy Rosary Primary School
Holy Trinity Primary School
Hope Nursery School
Hunterhouse College
Inchmarlo
John Paul II Primary School
King’s Road Nursery School
Knockbreda Nursery School
Knockbreda Primary School 15 15 0 0 0
Knocknagoney Primary School 43 41 1 1 0
Lagan College
Lead Hill Primary School
Ligoniel Primary School
Lisnasharragh Primary School 101 0 24 2 75
Little Flower Girls’ School
Longstone Special School
Loughview Integrated Primary School
Lowwood Primary School
Malone Integrated College
Malvern Primary School
Matt Talbot Nursery School
Mcarthur Nursery School
Mercy College Belfast
Mercy Primary School
Methodist College 100 100 0 0 0
Mitchell House Special School
Nettlefield Primary School 11 10 0 1 0
New Lodge Nursery School
Oakwood Integrated Primary School
Oakwood School and Assessment Centre
Oldpark Nursery School
Orangefield Primary School 100 51 0 4 45
Our Lady and St Patrick’s College
Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School
Our Lady Queen of Peace Primary School
Our Lady’s Girls’ Primary School
Our Lady’s Nursery School
Park Education Resource Centre
Rathmore Grammar School
Ravenscroft Nursery School
Rosetta Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Sacred Heart Primary School
Sandbrook Nursery School 0 0 0 0 0
Scoil An Droichid
Scoil na Fuiseoige
Seaview Primary School
Seymour Hill Primary School
Shaftesbury Nursery School
Springfield Primary School
Springhill Primary School
St Anne’s Primary School
St Bernadette’s Nursery School
St Bernard’s Primary School 92 0 0 0 0
St Bride’s Primary School
St Clare’s Primary School
St Colm’s High School
St Dominic’s High School
St Genevieve’s High School
St Gerard’s School and Support Services
St Ita’s Primary School 54 38 0 6 10
St John the Baptist Primary School
St Joseph’s College
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Joseph’s Primary School
St Kevin’s Primary School
St Kieran’s Nursery School
St Kieran’s Primary School
St Louise’s Comprehensive College
St Luke’s Nursery School
St Malachy’s College
St Malachy’s Primary School 25 24 0 1 0
St Maria Goretti Nursery School
St Martin’s Nursery School
St Mary’s Christian Brothers’ Grammar School
St Mary’s Primary School 12 12 0 0 0
St Mary’s Star of the Sea Primary School
St Matthew’s Primary School 17 16 0 1 0
St Michael’s Nursery School
St Michael’s Primary School
St Oliver Plunkett Nursery School
St Oliver Plunkett Primary School
St Patrick’s College
St Patricks Primary School
St Paul’s Primary School
St Peter’s Nursery School
St Peter’s Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
St Rose’s Dominican College
St Teresa’s Nursery School
St Teresa’s Primary School
St Therese Nursery School
St Therese of Lisieux Primary School
St Vincent de Paul Primary School
Stanhope Street Nursery School
Strandtown Primary School
Stranmillis Primary School 0 0 0 0 0
Strathearn School
Strathearn School
Taughmonagh Primary School
The Cathedral Nursery School
The Good Shepherd Primary School
Royal Belfast Academical Institution 116 116 0 0 0
Tor Bank Special School
Tudor Lodge Nursery School
Tullycarnet Primary School
Victoria College
Victoria College Prepatory School
Victoria Nursery School
Victoria Park Primary School
Wellington College 58 56 0 2 0
Wheatfield Primary School

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.

nsewbelfast

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:

Isolation: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan objection

Bikefast’s official consultation response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consists of five articles laying out our objections to the document. Objection five deals with the lack of an over-arching strategy which the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan needs for cover – with the aim to use the bicycle and its infrastucture as tools to fix Belfast.

“Imagine the kind of a city we could have with less motor traffic – less noise, less pollution, healthy people and a more pleasant environment to spend time in, live in and enjoy.”
Chris Hazzard, Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

There is only one other reference to congestion in the document.

Bikefast’s main objection articles have mostly been about the lack of ambition in the route map and the timescale. But running as a thread along all of the objection topics is a bigger issue. We are of the opinion that the Cycling Unit are being left to attempt the impossible – radically increasing the mileage of cycling routes and the levels of cycling in Belfast completely in isolation to any other transport strategy.

Why is that problematic?

It can be seen in the route choices. The most glaring indication of the Cycling Unit not having faith in the ground they stand on within their own Department is the lack of arterial routes.

The Department bears the scars of very public (and ongoing) battles with self-interested business groups over schemes like Belfast on the Move, Belfast Rapid Transit, Taxis in bus lanes, 20 mph zones and so on.

While the last Minister showed some real backbone in standing ground on some of these issues (until the election was announced) the car-centred culture within the Department is still the greatest barrier to cycling investment in Belfast.

Little silos of interest compete against each other. The Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan targets set way back in 2001 show this starkly – while the desire to enhance active travel and public transport is there, so is the need to make sure car journeys do not deteriorate.

When car use continues to rise, that sets a clash of priorities – and the car should never be prioritised in a dense urban environment.

The Department was ambivalent towards the two 20mph private members bills in the last two Assemblys (along with the PSNI) effectively killing any notion of this radical and much-needed intervention being imposed upon them. Instead of creating wide areas of safer travel at a stroke, the Department prefers a softly softly, don’t antagonise the driver approach which will get us nowhere fast.

The Department is rolling out a Rapid Transit system which it is hoped will revolutionise public transport on the 3 initial corridors and perhaps across the city in future. And yet the very managers of that project wilfully ignore the damage that flooding our bus lanes with private taxis will do to that system before it has even launched.

It’s this silo approach which means the Cycling Unit have their own little place – propose and plan cycling routes. Can they take away unrestricted parking bays the length of an arterial street like the Ormeau Road?
Their plan says not.

Can they cut all through traffic between two parallel arterial streets to tip the balance of journey comfort and directness away from car travel and towards active travel?
Their plan says not.

Can a Bicycle Network Plan be so stuffed full of little carrots that the stick becomes unnecessary when we want widespread modal shift in a city?
Maybe, but this plan doesn’t come close.

Which is why the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan needs to be a sub-set of a wider plan. One with more clout. One that Ministers and Departmental staff will refer to when planning a city-wide change like the Cycling Unit is attempting here.

One that says “there are too many vehicles using this street” and then directs a complete streets approach to attempt to change the situation.

Is this plan the trailed “3-five-10” strategy which was announced in January but is currently nothing more than a headline?

We’d assess it for its potential, but nothing more than the press release has come forward to date. It may or may not be what we are calling for.

Or is it Bikefast’s idea for a Congestion Plan for Belfast?

A plan which assesses the changing patterns in travel over the last fifteen years, documents the issues with congestion, is brutally frank about the over-reliance on car travel within and from outside Belfast, and devises a set of interventions to change things – not promote alternatives and hope for the best as we do today.

We’re going to gather more ideas to fill out this concept, but the broad brush strokes are simple:

  • Draw up existing mode split movement patterns for all arterial streets in Belfast
  • Take a special look at commuter flows coming from outside the city boundaries
  • Identify areas out of balance with the the city averages
  • Amalgamate the modal split upwards to a city-wide score
  • Look at best practice cities across the world to benchmark our modal splits
  • Set five, ten, 15, 20 year targets for what a healthy city split should be
  • Apply interventions on a street-by-street basis to alter travel priorities and options
  • Complete a city-wide parking survey to determine on-street usage (all-day vs churn)
  • Regulate arterial on-street spaces, subordinate to active travel & public transport
  • Radically cut private vehicle priority where M-way, rail, Transit alternatives exist
  • Plan to reduce city centre car parking (Belfast City Council has begun this process)
  • Enhance and further incentivise park and ride sites in a cordon around Belfast
  • Plan for all schools in Belfast to radically cut down on staff and pupil car parking
  • Cut all major neighbourhood rat runs to push vehicle traffic to appropriate routes

..and much more. But you get the idea.

An agreed Congestion Plan for Belfast would set a clear vision to loosen the grip of private cars on our clogged city. it would mean all Department staff and partner organisations would be working towards a shared goal, not looking after their own interests.

congestion_target

Why is this important?

“Almost one in four Northern Irish children born at the beginning of the new century was obese by the age of 11, a new study suggests.”
BBC News

That’s why separating Bicycle Network from overall vehicle reduction strategy is a mistake.

Because the health of our city and our people is declining and without restricting the all-access pass which private motor vehicles have in our city, liveable streets will not be an option in this critical fight.

The splitting of the Primary and Secondary network under the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan shows why a Congestion Plan is needed. It would allow the Cycling Unit to go beyond its own silo and make real difference to the city.

We have a new mantra given to us by former Transport Minister Chris Hazzard. We need to mainstream it in Belfast, make it the founding statement for all work on urban transport in our city.

We’ll do more work to on this proposal, but in the meantime our objection stands on the basis of the Department allowing the Bicycle Network Plan to go it alone – to face the wrath of opposing interests without the firm political will and strategic backup it needs to be a real success.

We don’t want Belfast to be a dull, plodding addition to a list of competent cycling cities of the world. Belfast has never done things by half. This is a city with a world-class reputation for innovation, risk and progress, and some awful history too.

We don’t make middling efforts. We make a splash. Our cycling network needs to do that too. We start by overhauling Dublin and London.. because we can. We have the tools, we just need to money.

Then we shoot for the big prize, make the world sit up and notice what we’re doing.

We need to ruffle feathers to do it, but the reality of congestion and poor health make the perfect storm for radical change as a necessity – and starting right now.


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