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.

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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.

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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:

Quick response template for the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

The Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consultation closes on Thursday 13th April 2017. Bikefast has been analysing, responding and objecting to elements of the plan in fine detail.

Not everyone has the time to do this. (Neither do we, to be honest, but hey ho.) So if you want to get involved and support the points which Bikefast has been raising, we’ve made it easy for you.

You can copy and paste as much or as little of the message below, and add your own opinons and suggestions, before emailing it to the Department for Infrastructure Cycling Unit at the following address:

cycling.unit@infrastructure-ni.gov.uk


Dear Cycling Unit,

I support the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan however I would like to see changes to the document in line with the objections and analysis by Bikefast.

Getting people onto bicycles and out of cars in large numbers is one of the most important ways to tackle congestion, improve healthy and make Belfast a great city to live in. The draft plan goes some of the way to matching this vision but falls just short.

Specific elements which need further work in discussion with stakeholders such as Bikefast, Sustrans, Cyclist.ie and Cycling UK include:

Overall objective
I agree that a simplified objective best suits the vision for everyday cycling in Belfast:
To develop a comprehensive, high-quality, safe and dense bicycle network for everyone in Belfast to use and enjoy.

Arterial routes
The plan needs to be revised to ensure high quality cycling provision goes along the streets where people travel and congregate in our city. I will pledge to support your efforts to plan and implement arterial cycleways. I want to be supported to cycle everywhere in the city, not pushed away from the important neighbourhood streets where vehicles currently travel in the highest concentrations.

Methodology
Belfast needs to adopt a Sustainable Safety-style method to determine the usage and priorities in Belfast’s street network. This needs to be based on the acceptance that people will cycle and walk everywhere and that situation-appropriate infrastructural or vehicle constraint measures should be the fundamental framework for the city. Arbitrary lines on a map guessing or dictating where people should cycle or not cycle is not a good approach. The ‘Secondary network’ also cannot wait for up to 10 years to be addressed.

Timescale
The plan can be delivered faster than the 10 year and 25 year stages you have outlined. Seville built a similar network in just 2 years. We need to solve Belfast’s congestion now and a fully funded capital works programme should commence immediately with the main bulk of the network rolled out within the next Assembly term, with a review before pushing on with more.

Circulation
The inner ring should be a two-way cycleway along the current ‘vehicle’ inner ring, with another ring route immediately outside this to reflect the travel needs of the dense inner core of the city. The middle ring should be based on dedicated and separated cycleways, which support greenways, not flood them with too many users. Vehicles should be actively discouraged from using the middle ring as a fast way around the city, pushed instead to the outer ring. The outer ring proposal works well for Belfast.

Isolation
The Department should back up the Bicycle Strategy with an over-arching plan (be it the 3-five-10 strategy or a specific Belfast Congestion Plan) to make cycling measures a strategic priority to make Belfast work for people, not cars. The Cycling Unit is sticking its neck out and without appropriate clout will be left to wage inch-by-inch battles for space and route priority with opposed interests. The Bicycle Strategy cannot live in isolation of other transport forms, and cannot always be in a submissive position to vehicles.

City Centre
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 Peter’s Hill / Shankill Road

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.

Gasworks Bridge
I support the immediate green light of capital investment to create this critical link in the proposed Belfast Bicycle Network.

Taxis in bus lanes
Bus lanes are not cycling infrastructure and should not form a part of the future bicycle network in Belfast. However, until this plan delivers high quality cycling routes along arterial routes where cycling users currently travel in relative safety and comfort, bus lanes must not be flooded with taxis.

Best wishes.

Circulation: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan objection

Bikefast’s official consultation response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consists of four articles laying out our objections to the document.

Objection three deals with the three radial routes. Bikefast has made a strong case that route selection for the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan should be methodical and not left to emotive arguments or a popularity contest. However ring routes are ring routes and there’s not too many options to play with in Belfast. In Bikefast’s view a few amendments are required to potentially transform cross-city transport.

Outer ring

Excellent work here by the Cycling Unit who nailed this aspect of the Plan. The Cycling outer ring unashamedly runs along the existing A55 (vehicle) outer ring of the city. Many areas already have cycling space of varying standards, but there’s lots of space to play with around the entire 27.8km route.

outerring
Draft Belfast Bicycl Network Plan outer ring proposal – spot on

The outer ring must continue to play a strong, perhaps enhanced, role for traffic management if cycling within this cordon is to thrive.

Traffic volume and speed dictates that cycling facilities along the length will be of the highest quality, not the compromise we have now.

One minor suggestion would be to incorporate the Giant’s Park Bridge idea from the Restitching Belfast series, which could extend the outer ring in North Belfast across the railway, motorway and into the fast-developing new employment and leisure quarter of Belfast.

Middle ring

While the outer ring is critical for circulation of all traffic, the informal middle ring of Belfast is contested space. The Cycling Unit have also allowed themselves (and their route) to be diverted by the Connswater Greenway in East Belfast, going against the natural grain of this important ring route for active travel.

In many ways this middle ring (as used by traffic today) shouldn’t exist. The quickest way from Park Centre to Forestside is Tates Avenue – Eglantine Avenue – Chlorine Gardens – Ridgeway Street – Sunnyside Street/Annadale Avenue – and it’s completely inappropriate for large numbers of vehicles. But through the years little cut-throughs and rat-runs have become established thoroughfares for vehicles and the city has adapted accordingly.

untitled_map_22_by_ni_greenways_04_12_2017_08_51_16
Informal Belfast middle ring – Chlorine Gardens and Dundela Avenue the daftest bits

The eastward extension of this is Sunnyside Street/Annadale Embankment – Mount Merrion – Ladas Drive – Grand Parade – North Road – Dundela Avenue – Holywood Road, again relying on streets (Dundela Avenue in particular) that it’s almost shameful to consider the traffic we permit to plough through.

The Cycling Unit have attempted to devise a similar middle cordon around the whole city for the bicycle network.

middlering.png
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan middle ring proposal

We have minor suggestions for alternatives in North and West Belfast, although the Grosvenor / Springfield Road corridor should be treated as a full arterial route in its own right and a cycling route extended from city centre to the outer ring.

It’s when the middle ring reaches South and East Belfast that Bikefast feels the Cycling Unit have really missed a trick.

For a start, the existing dedicated cycleway along Park Road has been ignored, instead of being extended right up to the Ravenhill Road.

IMG_8319
Dedicated cycleway along half of Park Road – should be extended

From here the NI Greenways proposal to cut the one-way rat-run of Ravenhill Park/Onslow Parade to create two traffic-calmed two-way streets snipped to through-traffic at the Kingspan Stadium should have been preferred.

ravenhill-park-small
How to eliminate a major rat run and make a cheap addition to the Cycling Network

Then comes an ideal opportunity to roll out a Dutch-style roundabout on the Cregagh Road – to rein in what is a hideously fast double lane nightmare for pedestrians and bicycle users.

roundabout
Model of how the Cregagh Road roundabout could be calmed and people-prioritised

To this point the Cycling Unit have been going across the Ormeau Park (nice), Ardenlee Avenue (far more troublesome than Ravenhill Park) and arriving at Ladas Drive via Gibson Park Avenue.

This is where Bikefast expected the Cycling Unit’s vision to match ours – utilising the wide spaces and direct middle ring corridor of Ladas Drive – Grand Parade – North Road – Dundela Avenue to the Belmont Road.

But they got distracted by the excellent Connswater Greenway. This is problematic for a number of reasons.

  1. The natural pattern of the middle ring is already established. This bicycle ring takes users away from this route of high demand. As with the problem of ignoring arterial roads, the Cycling Unit are back to expecting people to change their travel patterns to suit the plan, not planning routes to suit users’ needs.
  2. It’s a shared path, with children’s playparks alongside. As the greenway approaches the Castlereagh Road the boardwalk is a tight 2.5m bounded by fencing, which is unsuitable for two-way cycling plus sharing with large volume of pedestrians.
  3. The death knell for the idea – a gate has been installed at the Castlereagh Road entrance. Ladas Drive and Grand Parade don’t have gates for traffic. Bicycle users shouldn’t be diverted to routes where this is likely to happen. That alone scraps this unnecessary diversion.

The Connswater Greenway is already a transformative leisure and utility linear park, but it should not have large numbers of faster commuter and through-journey cyclists funnelled down its narrow shared paths – especially if the only reason is that we aren’t confident enough as a city to take away road space from motor vehicles.

We should be building dense, better cycling networks to support trips to and from our excellent greenways, not using them to tick a box and say “job done, cycling catered for”.

circulation_by_ni_greenways_04_12_2017_08_55_29
Bikefast’s proposed middle ring route

Part of the reason why these routes have become so critical for car travel is the lack or orbital bus routes – perhaps a legacy of the Troubles. One advantage of this for cycling is the lack of competition for space from bus lanes.

But there is a more fundamental question – what damage does the volume of vehicle traffic around these streets do to the neighbourhoods they plough through? In planning for a healthier city, shouldn’t we prioritise pedestrian and cycling movements on these corridors, but critically look for ways to push vehicle journeys to the more capable A55?

If we leave a pleasant route for vehicles to circulate within the city, which gets you to your destination quicker than the more appropriate outer ring, you’re not encouraging active travel enough. If you then plan your bicycle route to go around the houses to avoid upsetting this vehicle route, you’re doing this all wrong.

The middle ring needs a big rethink, and not just where the bicycle network routing is concerned. There must be separated cycleways on the existing road network and avoiding the inappropriate Connswater Greenway diversion.

With no circulating bus services people really only have two choices for non-walkable journeys here – the car or the bicycle.

The vehicular traffic using these middle routes must be assessed and a plan devised to push more of the through-journeys onto the A55 outer ring. That means road widths tightened, more zebra crossings, junction capacities reduced, perhaps some through access snipped.

This way the middle ring can become one of the most critical corridors for active travel in Belfast, not this afterthought.

Inner ring

This is where Bikefast’s vision deviates the most from what the Cycling Unit have presented. The inner ring in Belfast is the subject of many plans for how the streetscape should be prioritised – from the Urban Motorway plans of the 1960s which would have devastated the city, to the more people-focused plans of today, which still largely hinge on maintaining the flow and volume of vehicle traffic around the city centre core.

For the most part the Cycling Unit have planned a route as expected for two-thirds of the natural (vehicle) inner ring, but on the eastern edge of the city centre there is an unnecessary diversion. This heads out to the existing Laganside facilities which are too far from the natural orbit of the city centre.

innerring
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan inner ring proposal

From Ormeau Avenue to Cromac Street, going on to Victoria Street and the Dunbar Link is a deadly racetrack where cycling is virtually impossible. This is where the cycling inner ring needs to flow, and to allow two-way movements to make the bicycle more attractive where vehicles are restricted to northbound travel only.

This is especially crucial for the new Ulster University Campus as the most direct line from the Holylands to Buoy Park is along this corridor – a luxury afforded to cars but not planned for bicycles – a mistake of priorities.

Victoria Street is something of an urban motorway – almost completely devoid of street frontage and life, so clogged with fast vehicle traffic as the width of the road expands from 3 lanes to as many as six past Waring Street. Returning people in place of a few cars would be a worthy outcome of this plan if it builds upon the small section of cycleway already there.

Bikefast’s big counter proposal is to double up the Primary Network around the inner core – making two concentric circles to make the options for cycling that much better than vehicle travel.

circulation_by_ni_greenways_04_12_2017_08_53_30
Bikefast’s proposed inner ring route – actually two inner rings

A natural street-based route is available in North and West Belfast. Something a little more visionary is available along the southern side – a future proposal in the paused Restitching Belfast Series will provide the detail – but running a cycleway from the Westlink Crossing along Roden Street, the Central Rail line, Cameron Street, a new link down to the Laganside path at the Gasworks would provide a route of exceptional utility for the city.

From here the route would follow the existing National Cycle Network to York Street railway station.

Summary

As part of an overall remedy for Belfast’s congestion ailments, the bicycle has a critical role to play in challenging the orthodoxy of vehicle travel patterns.

Around the edges of the city there is plenty of space to ensure good dedicated cycling facilities, but as a general concept we need to be pushing more cross-city journeys onto this ring road and away from the clogged middle ring and inner rings.

lordrings
All of Bikefast’s proposed ring routes

This is where the stamp of the cycling network should be at it’s highest profile – taking space back from vehicles which shouldn’t have carte blanche to run through these neighbourhoods.

In the inner city the density of cycling network should be increased by creating two inner ring routes which build on existing facilities and creates new pathways – while showing we are not afraid to reduce space for vehicles.


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

Timescale: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan objection

“This was one of the keys for our success: the basic network was made in just one year, and the first extension in the next three years.”
Ricardo Marques Sillero

In the third objection article from our Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan analysis series, Bikefast points out that, for a plan so lacking in ambition, a ten-year timescale is far too long.

The Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan was launched in January 2017 at what should have been a quiet beginning to the second year of the new Northern Ireland Executive.

We had a functioning government in Northern Ireland with the most progressive Transport Minister in our history.

Everyday cycling development was in safe hands and the next four years of the Northern Ireland Assembly was promising to deliver, not just talk about, cycling investment.

Then everything changed.

The collapse of the Assembly and Executive is a tale to be told elsewhere, but suddenly the reset button was hit, and we lost Chris Hazzard as Minister. Even more shocking (from a Belfast cycling perspective) the Minister used his final days in office to announce a trial to allow thousands of taxis into Belfast bus lanes – practically the only safe space for cycling ahead of this new Network Plan.

That particular move continues to be resisted, but the timing was galling when set against the 10 to 25 year window of our bicycle strategies – without a word to any cycling groups, the most fundamental change to alternative forms of transport in Belfast happened on FIVE DAYS NOTICE.

Now there’s a timescale money can’t buy.

Another less shocking news item also hit the city in the interim – that Belfast’s congestion continues to be classed among the worst in UK and Europe, if not the world. We’ve become used to it – and yet the default response from business and media is that the private car not getting enough priority in the city. As if bus lanes and cycle infrastructure is the cause congestion, not the sheer volume of vehicles trying to plough through the city at will.

These developments have short and long-term impacts on the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan.

Should ongoing talks manage to resolve the current political impasse, we’ll hit the reset button on a fresh Assembly term likely to extend to a standard five years to 2022. And the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan will be finalised and ready for investment as a new Minister comes into post.

As it stands the poorly planned network of routes is scheduled to be in place by 2027:

“The Belfast Bicycle Network will be phased in over time. The Primary Network, which will serve as a trunk system from the suburbs to the city centre, will be developed over the next ten years – starting in the areas where there is already a higher level of cycling. As this network is rolled out, work will be carried out on the Secondary Network. This will increase network density, improve access to the network and provide more connections to services for local areas.

“The Bicycle Strategy suggests cycling investment of £12.5 million capital per annum within five years (split 2:1 between capital and resource) and £18 million per annum within ten years across the region in order to achieve the ambitions set out in the strategy. Delivering this network is also predicated on funding at that level.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

The over-arching Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland only plans for the Secondary Network in Belfast (all the critical “last half mile” bits in between the Primary strands) to begin work from 2027 onwards, with a target completion date of 2040.

a-bicycle-strategy-for-northern-ireland.pdf.png

What we don’t see is any idea of building in a review of the Primary Network, or any action to improve or add routes between years 11 to 25. And even then, the city only has a modest goal of getting to a 12% modal share by 2040.

“This vision sees cycling as an integral part of a transport system that offers a choice of integrated travel modes, emphasising active travel (walking and cycling), public transport and car-sharing. In pursuing the Bicycle Strategy 2015, this vision would mean that in Belfast in 25 years time:

  • People using bicycles would become characteristic of the city; and
  • Over 12% of all daily trips made in the city would be made on the bicycle.”

Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

So let’s be clear – this is our one shot at getting it right. And there is a pressing need.

Belfast is chronically congested now. The city as a whole and individual streets within are making national headlines for traffic.

These are the warning signs of deteriorating health – a city headed either for drastic surgery to keep the current show on the road, or a drastic change of lifestyle based on active travel and public transport.

10 to 25 years isn’t quick enough to tackle the congestion we see right now.

  • The ticking time bomb of obesity demands faster action.
  • The shame of 0% of children cycling to school demands faster action.
  • The chronic congestion in a small city where only 3% of people feel confident enough to regularly cycle to work demands faster action.

Building a city capable of carrying large numbers of people on bicycles does take time, effort and dogged commitment – the oft-repeated line about being “25 years behind The Netherlands” is both correct and also a millstone around the neck of those looking to start from square one.

And then that shocking decsion to tip the balance in Belfast away from cycling and public transport and into the hands of private profit in the form of taxi companies.

Bus lanes are the backbone of the current cycling network in Belfast, even as unsatisfactory as they are. And whether or not taxis in bus lanes is pitched as a trial, the sense is of a Department and taxi lobby walking hand-in-hand towards a permanent arrangement despite what any data or evidence of harm is showing.

So with the rug pulled from under the fragile cycling revolution in Belfast, an immediate move to begin creating widespead dedicated cycling routes is imperative.

How soon can a city realistcally create this scale of network? There is an example of a super-charged jump-start.

Seville built a similar sized bolt-on cycling network within two years, and grew cycling modal share from >1% (less than Belfast’s today) to 9% within four years. It took will and a “get on with it” attitude that Belfast and the Department for Infrastructure have shown flickering signs of.

“Back in 2005 Jose Garcia Cebrian, head of urban planning and housing at Seville city council, believed that with the right infrastructure the bicycle could solve Seville’s traffic congestion problems. Cebrian noted, however, that for any scheme to be a success cycle lanes had to form a joined-up network that people would really use.

“Since 2006 Seville has increased the number cycling journeys daily from under 5000 to a whopping 72,000 per day. This happened largely due to a 80-mile Dutch-style network of well-connected cycle tracks and a 2,500-bike hire scheme, all put in place by politicians determined to encourage cycle journeys over motor traffic.

“The figures certainly stack up in terms of investment return: the €32m cycle network carries 72,000 cyclists on weekdays compared with the city’s underground system, which cost €600 million and carries 40,000 people daily.”
London Cycling Campaign

“What is noticeable is both [cyclists’] variety and the ordinariness. The variety comes from the riders themselves – a seemingly equal gender split, with ages going from children to people well into their 70s.

“The ordinariness comes in their approach. These are not the UK-style traffic-battling gladiators. Seville’s cyclists mainly ride upright old clunkers and wear everyday clothes.

“The overall sense is of cycling not as a pursuit, or a sport but, in the Dutch style, a deeply everyday activity, little more than a more efficient means of walking.”
How Seville transformed itself into the cycling capital of southern Europe, Guardian

Seville hasn’t got the gold-standard design framework of The Netherlands, but they have propagated the numbers to justify going that way. Belfast has neither right now, and still may not have by 2027 if we build too slowly in the wrong areas.

Put it another way – Seville managed to achieve a 9% modal share in four years, a little under what Belfast is targeting a quarter of a century from now.

So what can Belfast do?

Bikefast believes we need to change that leisurely ten-year timescale to match our overall ambition to become a world-leading cycling city and to begin to treat our chronic congestion now.

An incremental increase in annual funding which aims to reach £10 per head of population by the end of ten years is out of date. Bikefast has twice in 10 months gained the backing of almost two-thirds of elected MLAs to set that funding level NOW.

That’s a green light to aggressively pursue that commitment as soon as the Assembly is back up and running. From there it’s down to whether the Department and the Cycling Unit can deliver with that backing. And they should not be a barrier.

We believe there needs to be a front-loading of capital investment in the Belfast Bicycle Network now. The plan should be to get a high percentage of the network built within the five-year timescale of the next Assembly.

This sets a natural review period as one Minister finishes their term, allowing another to take the network on to the next level – learning the lessons and adapting to changing conditions.

Yes it will take 10, 15, 25, 40 years to get this network built, maintained, improved, extended – we’re embarking on a long-term commitment. But the best approach to starting is a shock treatment – the softly-softly approach is guaranteed to attract organised resistance from the usual quarters and the added risk of dust building up on the longer term plans.

The current timescale is too monolithic for a dynamic changing city. Once we have a better plan in place, going along arterial streets and backed by a better methodology, we should devise a timescale with more defined stages – quicker in the most crucial aspects, regular and clear review points.

There are children being born in 2017 who won’t have a completed, safe cycling network to ride from home to school and back at the conclusion of this initial network plan. We owe it to them and to everyone in our car-throttled city to get on with it now.


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

Methodology: Belfast Bicycle Network Plan objection

Bikefast’s official consultation response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consists of a generally positive response and five main objections.

Objection two is based on methodology – specifically a lack of one behind the odd selection of routes. If cycling is to thrive in Belfast, if a better mix of street life is to be enabled and motor vehicles are to be constrained to allow it, a better methodology needs to be employed.


Back in pre-consultation, the word from the Cycling Unit was the route plan would effectively be along eight points of the compass radiating from the city centre to suburbs.

The additional three ring routes will be the focus of another objection article. But the headline act was always going to be the arterial streets – the places people visit and travel through every day – and the Cycling Unit fudged it.

Why did they avoid these streets? Fear seemed to be the reason, but neither this nor any other explicit reason was explained in the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan.

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Sure, there are the five “Criteria for route selection” and 26 sub-criteria, but nothing concrete to explain the reasons behind arterial avoidance and the attempted creation of a wholly new travel network within the city. The closest sub-criteria question is:

“Is the route circuitous (more direct or less direct) compared to using the public road?”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

Strong application of this criteria might have seen every main ‘public road’ with a cycleway, but that’s the opposite of what we got.

It’s time to create a better method.

Working backwards from the other end

Let’s begin where the Cycling Unit should have started – let’s make cycleways on arterial routes the default position (as perhaps it should be in a modern city) and work backwards from there.

To help, Bikefast has mocked up a Transit Map of Belfast, with 16 key corridors identified and the types of transport supported on each. Apart from motorways and rail, pedestrian activity permeates the entire city.

BELFAST_TRANSIT

Most arterial streets in Belfast are a complex mix of residential housing, commercial units, community hubs. Most act as both general use streets and commuter corridors. We’ve added the Motorway-class roads (forgive us for upgrading the A2 past the airport and the Westlink around the centre, but they’re closer to motorways than any other roads in Belfast), the rail network, ordinary bus routes and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes opening next year.

There’s also some dedicated cycle routes, but not many – hence why we have a Bicycle Network Plan.

Of all the spokes on this bicycle wheel representing Belfast’s transit system, only the Shankill Road features on the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan – and as mentioned, this may not mean a roadside cycleway.

Question: Are there streets where space or other alternatives to private cars make the importance of a cycleway more or less necessary than others?

Perhaps.

We can start with BRT corridors. Road widening works have already made these routes capable of carrying the high-specification vehicles on extended priority bus lanes. Cycling will still be permitted on these, but the availability of a high quality public transport system will alleviate some demand for longer cycling journeys, and space is almost impossible to find now without significantly degrading the pedestrian experience. So dedicated cycleways could be deemed as less critical.

If this is the case,  then providing alternative and integrated journey options in close parallel is extremely important.

Luckily along the Newtownards Road BRT corridor, the Comber Greenway provides a natural parallel dedicated space for bicycles. It places an added emphasis on putting bicycle infrastructure on the Belmont Road on the opposite side to the Greenway.

In the west, the proposed Bog Meadows Greenway can provide a parallel bicycle-focused arterial corridor. In both cases providing safe cycling links between the BRT corridor and bicycle corridor are critical.

After that, any urban transport planner will struggle to argue why safe space for cycling shouldn’t be planned to support people on bicycles along our critical city corridors.

The Cycling Unit have chosen this approach; they are under an obligation to share the method they chosen to determine this (lack of) priority; they haven’t given us one to judge.

Are there streets where parallel provision of strategic roads or dedicated public transport make priority for cars less necessary than others?

Perhaps.

One strange quirk of recent INRIX congestion reporting is that the Lisburn Road is the most congested evening rush hour road in the UK (outside of London). This is the same Lisburn Road which has a SIX LANE MOTORWAY running in parallel as well as the southern commuter and intercity railway line into Belfast.

Go on, read that paragraph again.

Realistically, with those cards up the sleeve, the Lisburn Road is a prime candidate for reducing through traffic and improving facilities for walking and cycling.

All our Transport Department has been moved to do in recent years is tinker around the edges in response to a public (see: business) outcry over tickets for unlawful parking. The effects have been to further hamper the experience of cycling and public transport, while still not grasping the nettle of looking at what damage rampant traffic is doing to the life of the Lisburn Road neighbourhood as a whole.

Three arterial streets in Belfast – the Lisburn Road, Shore Road and Holywood Road – have such excellent alternative options for through-travel that vehicle journey priority should be firmly below the experience for walking and cycling.

But, in Belfast, that is verboten.

All of the other corridors, which have few strategic alternatives – where private vehicles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians must mix in some ratio – are a toss-up for the best layout and priority.

So what should the basic Transit Map look like? Bikefast humbly submits its starting point for discussion.

BELFAST_TRANSIT_AFTER

Pedestrian access everywhere; cycling facilities everywhere (unless BRT makes space impossible to find); public transport options on all route corridors.

And then we can begin the discussion on how to balance individual streets to suit the needs of everyone – not just the car commuter who refuses to look beyond the end of their own nose.

Primary, secondary or whole solution?

Without an over-arching methodology for bicycle provision, we’ve been handed a Network Plan that is actually only half a plan:

“The Primary network will be adjacent or close to the majority of Belfast communities, initially giving better access to all. The secondary network will reach further into communities and will provide access to services and other key destinations. This secondary network will carry varying volumes of bicycles depending on the population density and destination. It will have varying levels of separation from motor traffic depending upon the context and character of the area. As we view it at present, it will mainly be comprised of cycle lanes, contraflow lanes, quiet routes and bicycle priority shared lanes.

“In each neighbourhood, the secondary network will be shaped by individual projects, community input, and the goals of this document. The delivery of the network will require years of coordination and commitment and will be constructed incrementally.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

So all the bits in-between the high-profile cycleways are not being considered in detail right now. Indeed, at the public consultation events it was clear they won’t be detailed and shared for public discussion for a number of years.

The cycling network risks becoming a bolt-on to the city if measures to promote the bicycle are not taken hand-in-hand with measures to simultaneously deter, restrict or de-prioritise private car travel on the “last half mile” of journeys.

Without running cycleways along arterial streets, the Network Plan is already a Secondary network – pushing bicycle journeys to the margins, giving a submissive role for cycling in the city.

To then ignore the ‘quieter’ streets in residential areas – where a high proportion of schools happen to sit – will leave many inexperienced and nervous ‘would-be’ cyclists with the same safety dilemma as today.

These streets are flooded with vehicles making through-journeys every day. Route options for car travel is rarely less direct than for walking and cycling. Restrictions to 20mph (or slower) are few and far between. Children playing on streets outside their homes was a common feature of Belfast in years gone past – not any more.

The Primary and Secondary networks are two sides of the same coin – users’ journey choices will be determined by interplay of both. Ploughing on with one while kicking the other into the long grass is wrong. It make also be realpolitik – and we’ll deal with that in our final objection article on Isolation.

If we want to make Belfast safe for cycling in greater numbers (and for all road users) while determining the types of infrastructural interventions required in different areas – to create safer, livelier, healthier streets – we should be looking to employ the best methodology available.

Sustainable safety

Sustainable Safety is the name for the Dutch approach to achieving safer roads. It is not about creating cycleways alone, but instead categorises streets, users, speeds and volumes of traffic along five lines:

  1. Functionality (of roads)
  2. Homogeneity (of mass, speed and direction of users)
  3. Predictability (of streets and user behaviour by recognisable design)
  4. Forgivingness (of both environment and users)
  5. State awareness (by users)

It’s worth reading Mark Wagenbuur’s excellent summary of Sustainable Safety to see the purpose and achievements. As a framework it’s not primarily focused on bicycle infrastructure, but a clear outworking is determining the level of intervention required wherever bicycle users go – which in The Netherlands as in Belfast is everywhere people go.

“The approach began with establishing that the road system was inherently unsafe. The goal was to fundamentally change the system by taking a person as a yardstick. The guidelines for design were to be the physical vulnerability of a person, but also what a person can and wants to do (humans make mistakes and don’t always follow rules). There is now an integral approach to the road system which refers to ‘human’ (behavior), ‘vehicle’ (including bicycles!) and ‘road’ (design). Roads and vehicles must be adapted to the human capabilities and the human has to be educated enough to be able to operate a vehicle on a road in a safe manner. The approach is pro-active, it wants to remedy gaps and mistakes in the traffic system before crashes occur. So Sustainable Safety is about a lot more than just infrastructure.”
Sustainable Safety, Bicycle Dutch

A Sustainable Safety-based approach to mapping out the street network of Belfast would provide a systematic and objective way to prioritise usage needs and interventions required to adequately support those needs.

We could apply more radical snipping of through journeys for vehicles between the arterial streets of the city. We could prioritise the most vulnerable users in all places, especially where volume and speed of vehicles is highest – which in Belfast happens to be the same arterial streets where life tries to thrive, many times in conflict with the needs of vehicle traffic.

And rather than tacking on a bicycle network on its own terms, unlikely to match users needs, we can design liveable streets where bicycles can play an important role.

 

Summary

 

Bikefast agrees that most of the Plan is acceptable, but the route map is the central error and needs to be scrapped. What we replace it with and how those new lines are decided will set Belfast on a course for either a future streetscape designed around people and vulnerable road users, or continuing to submit to the motor car’s voracious appetite for space.

We can’t detect the Cycling Unit’s method. Have they even looked at population density, and does that matter in such a small city? Have they looked at current cycling levels across the city and planned accordingly? And if so, which way has that influenced their decisions – infrastructure prioritised to low uptake areas or building upon already successful areas, or a balance of both? We can’t assess or make arguments on any of these kind of issues without their method explained.

Consultation respondents have been encouraged to suggest their own routes – which puts us into a cul-de-sac of a popularity contest. Instead the Cycling Unit, supported by fellow forward-thinking stakeholders, should methodically determine the needs and safety of bicycle users, and by extension all road users, across the city.

The keen-eyed among you may be wondering how far from a critique of the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan is Bikefast straying here? The problem with launching a 130km city bicycle network suggestion is that it is attempting alter the travel patterns of anything up to half a million people on a good day. The scope is huge but the vision is desperately narrow.

We want to change that. We think we need to change that. We think Belfast deserves better.

A healthy modern city should actively encourage walking and cycling everywhere; prioritise public transport on key corridors; and do its best to harness private motor vehicles which do so much damage to the other modes and city life in general.

You simply can’t build for the bicycle in isolation of other travel forms.

But that’s the subject for our fifth objection – next up is our view on the proposed timescale..


For more information on Bikefast’s full response to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan consultation (closing Thursday 13th April 2017) see the following articles: