When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

A reply to the Department of Infrastructure in defense of Belfast city centre pedestrians

Many thanks for your email of 5 July 2017. I've included the relevant pieces of our correspondence at the bottom of the article.

To summarise, as part of a welcome and revolutionary cycling scheme on Belfast's High Street, you've oddly tacked on a proposal to scrap a zebra crossing on nearby Castle Place. This is likely to be the country's busiest* dedicated pedestrian crossing, and you intend to replace it with.. a signal-controlled crossing which will necessarily prioritise vehicle movements compared to the current situation. 

Despite (access-only) traffic levels not expected to change as a result of the overall scheme, you've presented a recipe for constant conflict and the clear downgrading of pedestrian experience.

And while you've briefly skimmed over the technical process of how you've reached this opinion, you haven't said why it's even on the agenda.

That's why you have an objection from Bikefast. And it's not going away.

“I trust that this information is helpful”

Actually your note of 5 July 2017 may have been the least helpful email I’ve ever received from the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) or your predecessor Department for Regional Development. Repeating a single sentence and adding one more to say “we did an assessment” wasn’t your finest hour.

A copy of that assessment, made under “Local Transport Note 1/95 – The Assessment of Pedestrian Crossings” attached to your reply – now that would have been helpful.

Naturally you’ll rectify that error asap so that we can discuss the matter face-to-face on something of an equal footing. It’s likely to be of wider public interest at this stage, as it will surely include usage levels on the crossing by pedestrians, buses and access vehicles.

I am mindful that my objection may by holding up the wider High Street cycling scheme, so I’m going to make things crystal clear for you:

  • I am not objecting to the High Street cycling scheme.
  • I am fully in support of the High Street cycling scheme.
  • I am objecting to the inclusion of the Castle Place pedestrian crossing in the High Street cycling scheme.

There is a clear distinction between the two areas and you’ll need to provide some exceptional justification for its inclusion, because:

  • This crossing has nothing to do with the High Street cycling scheme.
  • It doesn’t interact with any of the proposed High Street cycling infrastructure.
  • Pedestrian and vehicle volumes on this crossing will not change significantly as a result of the High Street cycling scheme.

Extraordinary change requires extraordinary reasons and you haven’t come close so far.

"The Department would be of the opinion that [this is] the most appropriate means of control"

That last word reveals everything about the vehicle-addicted thinking still rattling around DfI. Old habits and all that..

This is a big messy city centre crossing point with wonderfully messy movements between key pedestrianised areas. That's what pedestrians do when they feel safe to roam - make lots of movements which bamboozle traffic engineers.

Yes, vehicle drivers have to wait a little longer than they'd prefer. One exception to a  country-wide system where pedestrians play a subordinate role.

And you want to bring control to that mess. Control the pedestrian mess. In the heart of a city centre pedestrian area.

The initial consultation talked of this change helping to "improve pedestrian safety & traffic movements" yet you still haven't addressed the so-obvious-it's-painful rebuttal to that point:

"People will cross despite the light phases in their hundreds throughout the day. Traffic will be emboldened to travel at a higher speed than currently. This is a pro-car measure in an otherwise wonderfully pro-people plan and needs to be thrown out."
Revolution on the High Street, Bikefast - 29 March 2017

People will ignore your new crossing in droves, especially as it appears to still be offset from the direct desire line between Lombard Street and Cornmarket.

You will create more conflict. You will reduce safety.

It's worth reflecting on the fact you're attempting to downgrade the country's busiest dedicated pedestrian junction while your Department (under the last Minister) has signalled its intention to launch a Walking Strategy.

That strikes me as a very courageous decision.

Also, remember the hierarchy of road users in the Bicycle Strategy? Maybe the irony is lost on you that pedestrians will get dumped down the pecking order on one of the first major cycling schemes under that strategy.

And never mind that this critical decision on a Castle Place crossing is buried in a consultation on a High Street scheme. In fact, Castle Place isn't mentioned in the consultation article on the Department website.

Nor, in fact, is it mentioned in the draft Order The Control of Traffic (High Street, Belfast) Order (Northern Ireland) 2017, which I suspect makes the process of removing the crossing from the scheme due to this objection rather quite easy.

Regardless, given all of the above, I doubt you can reasonably stand over the level of scrutiny you've afforded to this small but significant change.

"I look forward to your reply"

Based on the lack of information provided, the headlong rush to reduce pedestrian priority and safety - and the startlingly stubborn nature of consultation correspondence - you're demonstrating the Department lacks the in-house expertise to manage this crossing.

It's a classic traffic engineering solution searching for a problem which doesn't exist. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  If change is needed, it should proceed from a place-making standpoint, focusing first on whether there's a need for vehicles to be travelling through here at all.

The balance is currently right - thousands of pedestrians moving freely between traffic-free areas while a handful vehicles pass through in turn. Making thousands of people wait for permission to cross will lead to a vast bulk ignoring your control "solution" and continuing on their own desire lines. And that's a failure of design.

So let's have that face-to-face meeting I've asked for since April, but the message is clear - the objection from Bikefast remains firmly in place. Regardless, I would be grateful if you could reply in writing to confirm if you are prepared discard this institutional obstruction to getting on with the important job of modernising High Street.


Correspondence to date

Bikefast email to DfI, 24 April 2017

I'm writing to comment upon the proposed scheme on High Street. I greatly welcome the scheme and the work which has been done to date, but I strongly suggest changes are made before the scheme is finalised. These can be summarised as follows:

...

b. changing the Castle Place pedestrian crossing from zebra to puffin is an unacceptable reduction of pedestrian priority [objection]

...

More detail is available on the Bikefast.org website and I'd be happy to meet to discuss the implications of issues identified in the current design and the benefits of amendments.


DfI email to Bikefast, 1 June 2017

Network Traffic, Street Lighting and Transportation
Eastern Division

BELFAST CYCLE NETWORK (BCN) SCHEME 4 - HIGH STREET, BELFAST
THE CONTROL OF TRAFFIC (HIGH STREET, BELFAST) ORDER (NORTHERN IRELAND)

Thank you for your email dated 24 April 2017 regarding the above scheme proposal and objections associated with the scheme.

Firstly can I thank you for the words of support for the work being undertaken by the Department in Developing the Belfast Cycle Network, it is appreciated.

With regard to the points raised within your email I can respond as follows:

..

b. The Department would be of the opinion that the use of PCats (Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals) or a Puffin crossing would be the most appropriate means of control, safety and balances the needs of pedestrians / cyclists and motorists / public transport.

..

I would be grateful if you could reply in writing to us .. by 23 June 2017 to confirm if you are prepared to withdraw your objections.

I trust that this information is helpful and I look forward to your reply.


Bikefast email to DfI, 19 June 2017

Many thanks for your letter.

While few of my points have been reasonably addressed, I can appreciate some of the constraints which are involved. However point b with regards to the change from a zebra crossing to a controlled crossing is very far from a design constraint but a choice. And very clearly the wrong choice to prioritise vehicles movements.

Specifically on this point I cannot withdraw my objection. I would appreciate if you can facilitate a meeting to discuss the issue (perhaps in partnership with my colleagues in Sustrans and IMTAC) to find a way forward.


DfI email to Bikefast, 5 July 2017

Network Traffic, Street Lighting and Transportation
Eastern Division

BELFAST CYCLE NETWORK (BCN) SCHEME 4 - HIGH STREET, BELFAST
THE CONTROL OF TRAFFIC (HIGH STREET, BELFAST) ORDER (NORTHERN IRELAND)

Thank you for your email dated 19 June 2017, in relation to Belfast Cycle Network (BCN) Scheme 4 - High Street.

During the design stage of the scheme this crossing point at Castle Place, Belfast was assessed in accordance with the Local Transport Note 1/95 - The Assessment of Pedestrian Crossings. As a result of this, the Department would be of the opinion that the use of PCats (Pedestrian Countdown at Traffic Signals) or a Puffin crossing would be the most appropriate means of control, safety and balances the needs of pedestrians / cyclists and motorists / public transport.

In relation to your meeting request, the Department would be willing to have a meeting with you to discuss your objection to the scheme and a suitable date / time can be arranged.

Regardless, I would be grateful if you could reply in writing to us at the address above by 26 July 2017, to confirm if you are prepared to withdraw your objection.

I trust that this information is helpful and I look forward to your reply.


*It could also very possibly be the crossing at the Europa Hotel on Great Victoria Street, but let's not split hairs 😛

Cycling investment and the DUP Deal

So the confidence and supply deal is done and the DUP have brought home the bacon – £1.5 billion for Northern Ireland in exchange for propping up Theresa May’s minority government. And a whack of cash is listed under infrastructure, but will active travel continue to live off scraps, or can this critical policy area move from the fringes to the mainstream?

Part of the financial package has been specifically earmarked for “infrastructure development” to be delivered by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI):

“The UK government will allocate £200m per year for two years and with sufficient flexibility as to the choice of project to ensure the Executive is able to deliver the York Street Interchange Project and other priorities.”
UK government financial support for Northern Ireland (GOV.UK)

Transport-wise, eyes will be lighting up thinking of the big-ticket road and rail possibilities. Setting aside the £120m–£165m York Street Interchange, which will take up a big chunk of the cash, off the top of my head the priorities might be:

  • A5 and A6 road projects into the west of the province
  • Widening the Sydenham bypass east of Belfast
  • Newry Southern Relief Road
  • M1/A1 Sprucefield Bypass
  • Transport Hubs in Belfast and Derry~Londonderry
  • Rail links to our three international airports
  • Upgrading the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise rail service, with possible electrification

Over on Slugger O’Toole, Andy Boal gives a realistic assessment of how the £400m in chips may fall on a road-and-rail blinkered transport investment strategy. For a long list of roads projects in early planning or likely to evolve following this announcement, you’d do well to consult the excellent NI Roads site. For rail options check out the consultation paper on the Railway Investment Prioritisation Strategy from 2014.

Undoubtedly some of these projects will now progress quickly with additional investment available, and dormant road schemes will have the dust blown off.

What is less certain, as always, is where active travel fits in.

With a few exceptions, active travel hasn’t featured in the headline discussions of where to spend the windfall. Why would it? Investment in walking and cycling has always been the poor relation of the high-prestige ribbon-cutting road projects. And yet the mood music seems to have changed in the last few years.

Belfast regularly features as one of the worst cities for congestion in the UK and Europe – and our politicians and planners seem to be accepting that building roads isn’t going to solve that problem.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the York Street Interchange – and it’s clearly going ahead – while it may smooth traffic flow around the city, it certainly won’t solve Belfast’s systemic congestion. There are simply too many people driving too many cars through too small a space in the city.

The last Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard put this clarity to the front of policy discussion – talking of the stark choice between demolishing rows of houses on our arterial streets to widen roads for cars or investing in public and active travel to move more people.

A £90m investment in Belfast Rapid Transit will see a genuine alternative to private motoring debut in the city by September 2018, as long as sense prevails through the maddening stupidity of the taxis in bus lanes issue.

Yet cycling investment still, stubbornly, has not advanced as hoped.

 

To make everyday cycling a viable option for people in Belfast, in other urban centres and along potential greenway corridors, the Executive needs to be putting around £20 million a year, every year, into active travel.

It doesn’t even come close at the moment, despite the constant chorus of support.

In two successive Assembly elections in 2016 and 2017, The Election Cycle campaign run by Cycling UK, Sustrans and Bikefast saw around three quarters of returned MLAs pledging their support to fund cycling at this level.

The incoming Minister will have the numbers in the Assembly to back them – but will they have  personal, party and Executive colleagues’ commitment?

Of course, there is still one more critical deal to be done – getting that Executive up and running after a six month hiatus. While the numbers say the next Infrastructure Minister is likely to be from either the DUP or Sinn Féin, any of the five main parties could conceivably take the portfolio depending on decisions about forming an opposition.

The DUP Deal has whipped the media into a frenzy looking at infrastructure shopping lists as if hundreds of millions of pounds is burning a hole in our pocket. There are some projects such as the traffic-free Gasworks Bridge which are shovel-ready and should be part of the windfall discussions.

But, in general terms the £400m infrastructure boost is a distraction for cycling. We shouldn’t be chasing it.

Cycling and active travel has long suffered from being seen as an area suited to short-term boosts, holding out for crumbs from monitoring rounds or dedicated projects. What we need is a carved-out place within the annual DfI budget, capital and resource, which allows for long-term planning.

What the DUP Deal does do is free up pressures on that annual budget, taking some big-ticket items off the table and allowing a realistic discussion on the level at which consistent annual funding for cycling should be set.

Getting people travelling actively in large numbers over short distances must be at the heart of the next Executive. Few other investments bring such strong and varied paybacks in terms of combating congestion, improving public health, tackling fuel and income poverty, making more liveable urban environments, and straying into major economic payback in tourism spend and employment when we extend to building greenways.

The next Minister, with three quarters of the Assembly wanting £10 per head annual cycling investment – remarkable cross-party political backing – can begin the active travel revolution on day one. The DUP Deal makes things easier but don’t get distracted expecting it to transform cycling – ongoing mainstream government investment is the real goal and if it doesn’t happen now, it never will.


New Infrastructure Minister’s first 100 days

With the extra spending powers open to the Department for Infrastructure, it will be a popular portfolio when (if?) D’Hondt is run to decide the shape of the new Executive. It’s now or never for cycling and active travel, so here is Bikefast’s view on five priorities for the new Minister’s first 100 days by which we can gauge their seriousness.

Additional staff for a shrinking Cycling Unit

One of the key moves to embed cycling within our centralised transport planning was the creation of a Cycling Unit in late 2013. While from the outside other regions have looked on with envy, the sad truth is that the potential of this Unit is being squandered.

Since its creation, staffing levels have been gradually run down..

..while at the same time extra-curricular responsibilities have been piled on. The Cycling Unit official title is now “The Cycling and Inland Waterways Unit”, and based on the branding on the DfI website looks likely to be renamed the Active Travel Unit in the near future. It’s classic civil service “death by a thousand cuts”.

Strong Ministerial support is needed for this group and its core aims – embedding the bicycle within everyday transport planning and usage – with enough staff to allow them to create plans, deliver on schemes and drive forward the Cycling Revolution™.

Go-ahead for the Gasworks Bridge

This is a perfect fit for the windfall from the DUP Deal – it’s shovel-ready, with planning permission secured, and just needs a £7m capital injection. It’s the lynchpin of the (draft) Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, creating a range of new active travel journey options for Belfast, many away from roads altogether.

This is a bellwether project – if you see this confirmed in the first 100 days, you’ll know the Executive is deadly serious about delivery on active travel.

Prioritise a revision of the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

The Belfast Bicycle Network Plan was launched in the teeth of the 2017 Assembly Election, and uncertainty over future government has somewhat stalled the subsequent consultation process.

Two clear issues which the public fed back need to be quickly addressed by a Minister confident in their vision for combating congestion in our city:

The new Minister will have the clout to steer a revised document down the difficult road which officials have been reluctant to tread. A new five year vision, which isn’t afraid to tackle vehicle hegemony, is a must in the short term – along with cycling funding mainstreamed in the DfI budget at around £7.5m per annum from 2018-19 onwards.

Launch the Greenways Capital Grants Programme

The Strategic Plan for Greenways was launched in November 2016 by Minister Hazzard. It’s a 25 year vision to create 1,000km of greenways across the region, with a suggested £150m price tag – less than the York Street Interchange but who’s comparing? 😉

The wheels are in motion on getting local councils to create feasibility studies and business plans through a DfI small grants competition.

The next phase is making capital available to match council-funded investment to actually start building the individual projects.

Ideally this should start high at around £5m a year available from 2018-19 onwards, when it’s possible the first projects could be ready to break ground. This needs to be a consistent annual capital budget line of around £3m stretching to 2040, but kick-starting it with a small lump sum from the DUP Deal would be a good sign of intent.

“3-five-10” plan unveiled

The tenure of Chris Hazzard at DfI was shaping up to be of great interest for active travel, before the Assembly collapsed in January 2017. One of the plans being worked on in the background was called “3-five-10”, aimed at prioritising investment and planning for:

  • walking for journeys up to 3km
  • cycling for journeys up to 5km
  • public transport for journeys up to 10km

Bikefast reckons “2-five-10” would be a much better fit, but this plan has the potential to shake up the current obesogenic status quo where the car dominates across those distances.

At present though all we have is a press release and no meat on the bones. Whoever takes up the Infrastructure portfolio should get this strategy out to consultation asap to allow spending across the department (in this time of accelerated work) to be informed and directed by it.

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