Is anywhere safe from the lycra louts? Northern Ireland, actually.

“Is ANYWHERE safe from the lycra louts? They’ve got cycle lanes galore. But now they’re on pavements and jumping lights – and mowing down pedestrians”

Thus began Brendan O’Neill’s polemic in the Daily Mail on the 7th February 2017, piggy-backing Department for Transport (DfT) figures on collisions between pedestrians and cyclists in Great Britain.

It was a thinly-veiled excuse to launch a remarkable tirade filled with unrelated hackneyed clichés about the cyclist menace. How much filler? A heroic 35 paragraphs out of 42 bore no reference to the data. Road.cc was scathing of the column:

“A follow-up piece today on the Daily Mail’s website written by Brendan O’Neill .. uses those figures published yesterday for a verbal assault on cyclists that, even by the newspaper’s standards, is as vitriolic in its rhetoric as it is ignorant of the facts.”

O’Neill even managed to deconstruct the central theme of his own piece – the DfT data showing an average of one pedestrian / cyclist collision a day in GB during 2015:

“No doubt, the upward spike in cyclists careering into walkers is partly down to there being more people on bikes.”

O’Neill didn’t need the DfT data as an excuse to write this piece – he’s a professional columnist (and journalist and editor of Spiked Online) paid to impart controversial opinion in order to attract clicks.

Typical local scene of calm and safe interactions between people in motion

Sitting here in Northern Ireland, listening to the crickets chirping while tumbleweeds roll down the Stranmillis Embankment cycle track, one might be a little baffled by this pedestrian vs cyclist vs motorist war in GB. Is there really a rising menace posed by “smug eco-warriors” in here NI, and what did that particular dickish soundbite have to do with collisions anyway?

Luckily BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme lept into the breach to provide a platform for debate between Brendan O’Neill and smug eco-warrior Green Party candidate Tanya Jones.

A fair and balanced debate, with some of the dafter points challenged by William Crawley and a platform given to someone to defend cycling.

But what about the fact this was a BBC Radio Ulster talk show being broadcast in Northern Ireland to a Northern Irish audience with a presenter and guest from Northern Ireland, about an issue of rising collisions in Great Britain championed by an English protagonist.

There’s no doubt it was topical, sparked as it was by a national newspaper article of the same day which received plenty of attention for its strident rhetoric.

But this is Northern Ireland. So, you’d imagine the show’s producers might engage in some basic research before broadcast, such as finding the local equivalent data – just in the cause of “informing, educating, engaging” the local audience.

While William Crawley was right to pick out the sense that O’Neill’s fixation on cyclists’ behaviour was verging into assigning everyone on a bicycle with the same personality type, a listener could be forgiven for assuming the topic was about all cyclists in general, whether they be in London or Lurgan.

Without having the local equivalent information to hand, Talkback missed a crucial opportunity to challenge O’Neill’s use of collision data to further his opinions, and to talk about “cyclists’ behaviour” here in Northern Ireland.

Because, over the same time period (2009 to 2015) PSNI Road Collision Statistics show that collisions involving at least one pedestrian and a cyclist ACTUALLY FELL BY 20%. I’ll say that again.

The same data for Northern Ireland showed a 20% drop.

Overall pedestrian casualties have been falling over the last 18 years, and over the seven year period referenced by O’Neill it’s broadly unchanged. Data sourced from the PSNI by Bob Harper has been expertly compiled into a user-friendly chart.

But the 20% drop in NI vs a 50% rise in GB is not even the real story, because it’s almost embarrassing to reference that (factual) percentage change when you look at the bare numbers.

That’s no fancy graphical representation – each dot equals one collision. That’s four collisions last year. I’ll say that again.

That’s one pedestrian / cyclist collision every 3 months.

So when Brendan O’Neill comes on to BBC Radio Ulster hawking his “one collision every day” line it’s wildly irrelevant to Northern Ireland.

Is it the responsibility of the show’s producers to ensure this kind of (factual) information is injected into the debate, or was that solely down to Tanya Jones as the ostensilby pro-cycling guest? That’s not for me to judge.

In light of the Northern Ireland data, would this debate on BBC Radio Ulster have been of any real public interest without Brendan O’Neill’s fiery opinion piece (remember, the opinion of one man)? That’s not for me to judge.

Any road casualty is one too many. There were 787 pedestrian casualties in 2015, with 699 involving a car, 49 involving a goods vehicle and 26 involving a bus or coach. One of the first rules of journalism is “dog bites man isn’t news, but man bites dog is”. While general road safety is picked up by media outlets from time to time, it’s desperately out of kilter for O’Neill’s rant to focus attention on just 0.5% of hundreds of pedestrian casualties.

Imagine beginning a debate on car collisions with a tirade that drivers are “smug, arrogant, puffed-up, little emperors”.

William Crawley handled the debate expertly – and referenced the GB nature of the data -but the audience was left with a huge piece of the jigsaw missing – the local angle.

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Taxi driver unlawfully blocking a cycle lane (file under dog bites man)

O’Neill’s “rant” was even less palatable given that two people died while cycling on London’s streets the day before it was published.

Issues of cycling safety and recklessness are occasionally topical and important debates to have. It should be argued in print, on the internet and across the airwaves. We would all be so lucky to have a skilled and intelligent broadcaster like William Crawley to be the impartial voice in all of these discussions.

But if we’re having that debate here in Northern Ireland, give the audience the facts on the local situation – don’t lazily import in data which is wildly unrepresentative. By the PSNI numbers there is no cyclist menace here. People on bicycles are not “mowing down pedestrians” here. You would be forgiven for thinking the opposite having listened to O’Neill on Talkback.


O’Neill got what he needed out of the appearance – airtime to promote his Daily Mail column and his achingly edgy opinions. The Radio Ulster audience didn’t get what it needed – to be better informed about the reality of the issue here in Northern Ireland.

I’m reminded of Ian Paisley’s first meeting with Martin McGuinness where the Unionist firebrand said to his Republican foe-turned-partner:

“We don’t need Englishmen to rule us. We can do that ourselves.”

Northern Ireland doesn’t need an Englishman bringing his imagined road war over here from Great Britain. We’re getting on fine by ourselves.

(So the stats say.)

Chris Hazzard leads 2016 Fréd Award winners

Northern Ireland’s Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard has won the 2016 Fréd Award for Most Engaged Politician of the Year on cycling matters. Winners across eight categories have been announced as voted for by the cycling public.

Chris has been Infrastructure Minister since May 2016, but due to the fall of the Executive and Assembly he has just 4 weeks left in post. The public vote recognised the remarkable progress in everyday cycling since last summer, with a Greenways Strategy and Belfast Bicycle Network Plan launched, as well as a culture embedded within the Department of people-focused transport, rather than vehicle-focused.

Velo Café Magasin picks up the prestigious award for Best Local Bike Shop for the second year in a row – the only returning winner this year.

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Retiring East Belfast MLA Sammy Douglas wins the special Fréd of the Year Award in recognition of his outstanding work as a champion of cycling and greenways over the years, including the Comber Greenway which gets this year’s Good Infrastructure Award.

Steven Patterson (Sustrans) said of Sammy’s impact and legacy:

“It’s fair to say that in the history of the Northern Ireland Assembly no politician has cycled so many urban miles as Sammy D. One of the advantages of having a local Assembly is our access to local politicians. As long as you are prepared to turn up at 7am at the Holywood Arches Sammy D was happy for a constituency meeting while cycling the greenways of the east.

“Sammy has some notable achievements – ss Peter Robinson’s community advisor he was a key voice in keeping the Comber Greenway as a cycle and walking route, not as a route for Bus Rapid Transport (which is now rightly using the Upper Newtownards Road). Sammy has supported many Sustrans projects from the Comber Greenway to the community projects with the Mens Group in Ballybeen.

“In his role within East Side Partnership, Sammy has been the Project Champion of the wonderful Connswater Community Greenway both as a concept project and now as it’s being delivered. Sammy comes from a community development background and is keen on linking all sides of the city. There is a memorable photo of Sammy and the then Lord Mayor of Belfast, Cllr Tom Hartley, cycling a tandem in Orangefield Park on his beloved Connswater Greenway.

“So Sammy we wish you well as you stand down from being an MLA and thank you for all you have done for people who will benefit for years to come on the greenways of East Belfast. You have left a great legacy and we thank you.”

Sammy’s work championing the Comber Greenway is shown by the public’s pride in this great facility, which gets this year’s Good Infrastructure Award.

The other side of that coin is the Bad Infrastructure award, our equivalent of a Razzie. Advisory Cycle Lanes have joined Cyclesaurus and two-time winner Belfast City Centre in gaining the most ire of the cycling public.

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The Auction Rooms in Maghera win the coveted Best Cycling Cafe Award from two-wheeled customers, while the efforts of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust  in promoting cycling have gained the attention and respect of their staff who turned out to vote them the Best Employer for cycling in 2016.

The Fréd Awards are part of The Fréd Festival, an ongoing celebration of cycling with everyone with a good idea offered the opportunity to pitch and run a cycling-themed participation event.

BEST LOCAL BIKE SHOP

WINNER: Velo Café Magasin
RUNNER-UP: McConveys and Chain Reaction
NOTABLE: Dave Kane, Kinnings, CicliSport Moneymore, Norm’s Bikes Belfast, Belfast Bicycle Workshop.

BEST EVENT

WINNER: Grand Fondo
RUNNER-UP: Bikes Beach BBQ
NOTABLE: Ciclovia, Lap the Lough, Causeway Sportive.,Sperrín 600, Red Bull Fox Hunt, Piccolo Fondo, Cinecycle, UCX & Kinning CX League, Killinchy 150.

GOOD INFRASTRUCTURE

WINNER: Comber Greenway
RUNNER-UP: Lagan Towpath
Notable: Connswater Greenway, Newry Canal, Castleward, Craigavon, Davagh Forest & Rostrevor MTB trails, Royal Victoria Hospital cycle parking, Allstate diversion on River Lagan, Sam Thompson Bridge.

BAD INFRASTRUCTURE

WINNER: Advisory Cycle Lanes
NOTABLE: Generally badly implemented and policed cycle lanes are causing the most concern, followed closely by the Albert Bridge and Belfast city centre.

BEST CAFE

WINNER: Auction Rooms Maghera
RUNNER-UP: 5A Stranmills
NOTABLE: Velo Café Magasin, Lock Keeper’s Inn, JACK Holywood Arches, Harrisons Greyabbey, Gilbert Fayre, Allens of Caledon.

BEST EMPLOYER

WINNER: Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
RUNNER-UP: Allstate
NOTABLE: Liberty IT,  CitiBank, Portview Construction, Fitzwilliam Hotel, IBM, PSNI.

BEST POLITICIAN

WINNER: Chris Hazzard MLA
RUNNER-UP: Chris Lyttle MLA
NOTABLE: Sammy Douglas MLA, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir MLA, Peter Weir MLA, Philip McGuigan MLA.

FRÉD OF THE YEAR

WINNER: Sammy Douglas MLA
RUNNER-UP: Michael McBride (Belfast HSCT)
NOTABLE: Drew Murray (Killinchy CC), Brendan McCartan (Phoenix CC), Martin Grimley (Ulster Cyclocross League), Toby Watson (VC  Glendale), Danny Blondiel (Belgian  Project), Sustrans staff, Paul Irwin (Kingmoss CC), NI Greenways.

Find more information on the 2016 Fréd Awards on The Fréd Festival website.


As well as the main voting categories, we left the platform open for voters to express their wishes for anything to do with cycling in 2017. Here’s all of the responses we received:

VOTER’S WISHES FOR 2017

“A Belfast to Bangor “cycleable” Greenway needs to happen soon and we need “Staying alive at 1.5″ advertisements in the Press/TV/Billboards etc. (some fecking chance though).”

“Expansion of safe cycling routes across Belfast and improved enforcement to prevent parking in cycle lanes.”

“More cyclists, more awareness, less accidents.”

“More cycle lanes and enforcement of clear-zones…too many are out of use.”

“More bikes.”

“I hope for more bike events for kids and families.”

“I hope Stephen Nolan shuts the fuck up about “bikes v cars” on a slow news day to boost flagging listener figures.”

“I hope we appoint a Dane/Dutch/German as the head of Road Planning.”

“I wish the Tories, UKIP and Trump the best of luck as they attempt to time-travel back to 1954.”

“Continued education of other road users to be considerate of cyclists and give them room on the road.”

“More greenways.”

“Access to more city-style bicycles such as the dutch or danish to encourage more relaxed upright commuting to ease congestion. And that bike ownership would outstrip cars by the end of the year! ;-)”

“More bike, more lanes, more people.”

“More bike lanes.”

“More imagination and support in Belfast . Monthly ciclovia events.”

“Better cycle infrastructure.”

“Rollout of Belfast Cycle Network.”

“Creation of excellent design standards that are the base for the next cycle infra.”

“Much more investment.”

“A comprehensive improvement to establish a network of safe greenways and cyclepaths for Belfast and Northern Ireland and a year for everyone to just calm the hell down about roads.”

“No cars parked in cycle lanes!!”

“Convert all disused railways to a) railways or b) greenways.”

“Investment!”

“More Greenways.”

“I hope to see more biking infrastructure in North Belfast. Along the Antrim Road is probably the least catered for arterial route for cycling and anyone who isn’t very confident is put off using it.”

“More segregated cycle lanes, everywhere!”

“To get faster!!”

“Fully segregated bike lanes in Belfast east West and North and south.”

“Better cycling infrastructure and fewer cycling deaths.”

“Increased spending on infrastructure and a public information campaign from Stormont correcting the myths some drivers believe about cycling. Also zero tolerance enforcement by PSNI of any traffic violations ranging from front fog lights when not needed through to close passes.”

“Cycle further than I ever have.”

“Better cycling infrastructure.”

“To see the Mourne greenway become a reality.”

“Greenways feasibility studies obtain funding to take to construction.”

“More dangerous and inconsiderate drivers being prosecuted.”

“More cycleways, safer cycling.”

“A safer year on the road where no cyclists loses their life.”

“I would like safer roads for cyclists!”

“More cycle lanes.”

“Driver education.”

“Health, wealth and safety to all cyclists.”

“Improved driver education and/or enforcement of poor driving and space provision.”

“Extend Belfast public bike hire scheme out to Stranmillis.”

“Hopefully the Connswater Greenway will deliver on the early promise.”

“To keep cycling.”

“A smartphone app to report (bust) people parking in bus/cycle lanes!”
“Belfast city closed street events – monthly.”

“Less lycra.”

“When I’m on my bike I want to feel welcomed and valued in my city.. Oh and I’d like a brown springy Brooks saddle.”

“I’d love to see a safe way to cycle across the Albert Bridge. I’d really like to see cycle lanes not be full of parked cars. I’d love to see people free to jump on their bikes without feeling like they need to be bedecked in hi-vis & helmets. And I’d really love to see mindsets changing so that people realise the roads belong to cyclists as much as everyone else – because otherwise, parents are never going to have the confidence to
let their kids cycle independently.”

“Fast and +ve feasibility studies into the wider proposed greenway network.”

“More dedicated bike lanes.”

“New velodrome in NI.”

“A velodrome.”

“A bigger better Fred Fest/Bike week.”

“More cycle Greenways on Ireland.”

“Better advertising on bike safety for road users like the one RTE promote.”

“Signage on roads tell motorists to keep a safe passing distance.”

“Introduction of cycling lanes & smooth hard shoulders for cycling on the major roads.”

“Non money making Giro legacy event, not the Gran Fondo that just lines pockets of organisers.”

“Make more irresponsible cyclists responsible for their own actions by enforcing the laws they are bound by.”

Belfast Bicycle Network Plan launched

Belfast will construct a dedicated bicycle network running to more than 130km over the next decade. The Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has released its Belfast Bicycle Network Plan for public consultation with the message that our city’s current reliance on the private motor car is “killing us”.

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Following the overarching Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland, published in August 2015, Belfast was selected as the first urban centre to get a dedicated route plan. The city already has a seemingly impressive 80km collection of cycling space, however the majority is based on ‘advisory’ on-road cycle lanes with no more than 4km of dedicated and protected cycleways. As well as the poor quality, continuity of routes is a major barrier to mass cycling.

Belfast has seen significant investment in active travel and public transport in the last decade. Bus lanes have sprung up around the city in preparation for next year’s launch of Bus Rapid Transit, while the Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes public bicycle hire system has proved among the most popular in the British Isles.

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This is the first major city-level cycling policy document published in our history, and promises to leverage the bicycle as tool to make Belfast a better place to live:

“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. I want to build a network of continuous, coherent, comfortable and attractive bicycle routes, with minimum delays, to encourage more people to choose to travel by bicycle rather than jumping in the car.”
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard

The overall plan is an amalgamation of 11 separate route corridors, based an inner, middle and outer ring pattern, and arterial linkages from city centre to the outer ring and beyond. There is a mix of existing route corridors (the Comber Greenway, Loughshore Path and Lagan Towpath extending to the edge of the map are most obvious) and several brand new route suggestions.

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This draft is focused on a “Primary network” of routes to facilitate journeys around the city.

“The network is about providing dedicated infrastructure for people who wish to cycle and for ensuring that conflicts with other road users are minimised. It is not intended that cycling will always take priority over other users but that specific cycling initiatives will provide a safe environment which will encourage people to use the bicycle with confidence. However, it must be remembered that the road user hierarchy requires that the most vulnerable users must be considered first, starting with pedestrians and then bicycles.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

Further work on a “Secondary network” is expected to follow in the next few years, based on traffic-calming a network of streets between the primary routes and arterial routes. The plan is targeting a wide range of people in Belfast, as it identifies that 45% of journeys in the Greater Belfast area are less than two miles in length.

The draft route map will place a dedicated cycle route within 400m of two-thirds of the population of Belfast.

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The 11 routes each have an assessment of the current provision and suggested improvements to bring the design up to the standard laid out in the Bicycle Strategy.

“The proposed network in Belfast recognised the following five main criteria for network design:

  • Coherence: cycling infrastructure should form a coherent entity, linking all trip origins and destinations; with a continuous level of provision;
  • Directness: routes should be as direct as possible, based on desire lines, since detours and delays will deter use;
  • Attractiveness: routes should be attractive on subjective as well as objective criteria. Lighting, personal safety, aesthetics, noise and integration with the surrounding area are important;
  • Safety: designs should minimise the danger for all road users; and
  • Comfort: bicycle routes need smooth, well-maintained surfaces, regular sweeping, and gentle gradients. Routes need to be convenient to use and avoid complicated manoeuvres and interruptions.”

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The document continues in the remarkable progressive vein of thought and action by current Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard. The sentiments in the foreword are thrown into sharp relief by the recent comments of UK Transport Secretary Chris Grayling on the position of cycling on our roads:

“Most of us travel. Many of us, at some time of the day, are traffic – heavy, slow moving traffic. It is not quick, it is not enjoyable and it is killing us. There is a better way and an increasing number of Belfast people are choosing it. They are getting about by bicycle.”
Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard

The plan also gives us a first glimpse of the remarkable plans for High Street in Belfast. This spring, work should begin to reduce this unnecessarily vehicle-cluttered mini-highway into a people-centred, traffic-calmed boulevard with landscaped cycleways on either side.

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The costs of the 130km network proposal are not detailed, except for reference to the overall targets within the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland.

“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 [Belfast] network is also predicated on funding at that level.”
Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan

Given the Northern Ireland Assembly will dissolve this week, and uncertainty looms over when the Assembly and Executive might resume – and the critical identity of the next Transport Minister – it is unclear at this stage how the draft plan will proceed after consultation.

Download the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan from the DfI website (2.8MB).

The consultation process will run to Thursday 13th April 2017. A series of public consultation events will be held during the consultation period throughout Belfast.

You can email, write or respond online to the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan.


Comment

It’s great to see Minister Chris Hazzard continuing to push out progressive policies even in these last days of the current Executive.

At 84 pages long and covering a whole city, we’ll take our time to digest and analyse the good and bad parts of the plan over the next few days, along with proposing some very obvious and necessary changes.

Belfast Bikes safe after public outcry

Belfast councillors have reacted to a flood of public complaints by voting to retain the current service offered by its Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes public bicycle hire scheme.

At today’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, a proposal to attempt to claw back £15,000 in operating costs by reducing the “free” initial 30 minutes of every journey to just 15 minutes was rejected.

As reported by Bikefast yesterday, fears were raised that membership would become less attractive to existing and potential members, threatening the viability of the award-winning and successful scheme. Reaction was strong on Twitter and on Bikefast’s Facebook page as scheme members were left “gobsmacked” by the move.

Belfast City Council released a statement after the issue was settled by the committee:

“Belfast Bikes was one of a number of council initiatives discussed as part of this year’s rate setting process for 2017/18. It was decided at SP&R committee, subject to council ratification, that the current pricing structure will remain in place for this period.

It was also agreed that, since the scheme has now been in place for nearly two years, it would be timely to conduct an overall review on its operation, looking at options for expansion, driving membership, costs and boosting income.”

Reaction was swift from councillors who support the scheme and wider moves to make Belfast a more active city:

Alliance Councillor Michael Long, who brought the impending vote to public attention on Wednesday, expressed his relief at the outcome:

“The 30 minutes free is one of the most appealing parts of the scheme, so I am delighted we have now saved that aspect. It is crucial we do not stop there but continue to help the scheme grow and expand, particularly more widely into suburban areas, as well as other locations in the city centre.”

And the Belfast Bikes Twittermeister seemed to be in fine spirits given the public reaction to the whole thing:

After the vote, the Belfast Telegraph maintained its strange editorial slant on the issue, with continued use of language which paints scheme users in a bad light:

Let’s hope this was only a minor bump on the road to an expanding scheme which continues to embed cycling into the heart of city life.


Update 1 Feb 2017:

Here’s more detail on those inital proposed amendments..

Death knell for Belfast Bikes?

Belfast City Councillors will vote tomorrow on reducing the “free” first 30 minutes of Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes journeys to just 15 minutes, fundamentally altering the nature of the popular and successful public cycle hire scheme. Will this move to squeeze more revenue from users, and make the scheme less attractive, depress membership levels and push the scheme into a death spiral?

Coca-Cola Zero Belfast Bikes has been running since April 2015, with an initial 300 bikes available at 30 stations rising to 400 bikes at 40 stations by the end of 2016. This early expansion was driven by a combination of a high level of usage and the involvement of public and private funding to add new stations.

In a straight comparison with Glasgow’s larger scheme, Belfast Bikes performance has been remarkable.

But as Glasgow looks to move to a rapid expansion on the back of more modest usage, Belfast may be about to hamstring its scheme in an attempt to save money.

It’s understood a report has been prepared for the Council’s Strategic Policy and Resource Committee which sets out options to claw back the running costs of the scheme. A report by the Belfast Telegraph in September last year described the award-winning scheme as operating at a “huge financial loss”, a “shortfall that may have to be made up by the city’s ratepayers”.

The article in the Tele was full of language which would lead you to believe the system would be running at profit but for naughty cyclists exploiting loopholes and taking money right out of ratepayers’ pockets:

“We need to keep reviewing the bike scheme,” admitted Ulster Unionist councillor Sonia Copeland. “We are trying our best as a council to get as many people as possible cycling, and we need to see how we can get more people to use bikes, but the scheme must be financially viable.

“What’s happening at the minute is that people are taking a bike for 30 minutes, then putting it back and taking another one, so they never pay for its usage. We need to look at the viability of that. If we all agree on a way forward, perhaps we could recoup something before the end of the financial year (March 2017).”
(Belfast Telegraph 29th September 2016)

What we don’t have is the context of the figures involved – or indeed the exact ongoing financial figures to hand. Public bike hire systems around the world are subsidised systems – they necessarily run at a deficit. Belfast City Council know this, planned this, but the current membership and revenue figures are understood to be below projections.

The option under closest scrutiny appear to be a proposal to remove the “loophole” in the scheme where users get the first 30 minutes of any rental free. This is the same loophole which exists in almost every other membership-based public bike hire system in the world, with 30 minutes being the standard (London, Paris, Dublin, New York, Barcelona..) rising to 60 mins (Hangzhou in China, the world’s biggest scheme) to as much as 2 hours (Marathon in Greece).

I’ve tried to find a scheme which works on a 15 minute basis, but haven’t managed it so far – is Belfast about to try a world-first in reduced service?

Alliance Councillor Michael Long raised the issue in public this week claiming that Alliance were the only party who will attempt to keep the “free” 30 minute window in place. In discussions with other parties’ representatives ahead of tomorrow’s vote it appears that many actually oppose this change – but we await the outcome of the vote. Any change would need to be ratified by the full Council on 1st February.

If there really is a shortfall in revenue then we need time to look at positive measures, with a focus on the primary goal of Belfast Bikes – increasing membership and usage.

What are some of the other options for revenue raising? There are over 300 public bike hire systems around the world offering a wide range of learning and options for pricing models and extra revenue. Stakeholder groups such as Sustrans, Cycling UK, Cyclist.ie and Bikefast can bring expertise to bear – if given the chance. Off the top of our heads:

Fully pay-as-you-go

If councillors are so concerned about citizens and visitors getting a free ride at the expense of ratepayers, reworking the hire model to pay-as-you-go is a reasonable option to investigate. Some systems around the world only offer a flat daily hire rate. While this may seem fairer, it will still require a subsidy, and things like extended periods of bad weather can affect income vs an annual membership model. It’s fair to say a change of this kind this is a longer-term option, and is likely to have been considered in the original Belfast Bikes business case.

Raise the annual membership rate

This is another option to be considered with caution. Glasgow’s less used scheme (also operated by Nextbike) charges £60 for an annual membership – three times the level of Belfast and Dublin, and approaching the price of a basic bicycle. A minor increase may be a short term fix to the revenue shortfall, but has enough research been done to identify the level at which membership becomes less attractive to the widest possible customer base? And a strength of the scheme is the current access for the more deprived inner city areas – why begin to price out those who could benefit most from cheap city transport?

Nextbike to allow corporate memberships

Time and again from the start of the scheme companies in the city have expressed interest in paying for a central corporate Belfast Bikes account. For a large, but discounted, annual fee, companies could provide Belfast Bikes memberships to their staff as a employee benefit. This would drive both revenue and overall usage, and expand the user base and visibility of the scheme. It’s understood this currently isn’t possible, but should be urgently investigated.

Bulk targeting of city visitors

Working with the growing tourism sectors to leverage usage of Belfast Bikes is another no-brainer. From installing a large use-as-needed Belfast Bikes station by the cruise ship terminal, and partnering with operators to offer deals to passengers, to the Waterfront Conference Centre paying Belfast Bikes to add a package for delegate access to the scheme to their offering, there are plenty of innovative options if Nextbike can integrate into their system.

Belfast Bikes as a stocking-filler

One thing missing from the Belfast Bikes offering is a voucher card. With annual membership still just £20, making a gift card for this amount available to buy would help to raise revenue at Christmas and through the year as an easy gift option. This is practically free money, but not currently exploited.

Advertising

Coca-Cola Zero’s contract for advertising will be up for renewal next year. An expanded scheme should be attracting more than the roughly £100k a year currently paid to date. The council should be currently assessing options to improve the advertising offering, and whether additional station-based sponsorship could be weaved into the system as another revenue stream.

Confidently expand the system

Yes, this may seem like a strange cost-cutting suggestion, but bear with me. The footprint of the initial scheme was almost exclusively in the inner city, which (if you know Belfast) hardly anyone lives in. Commuting use (and therefore commuting-focused membership) is almost non-existent. Expanding the scheme into the heartland of cycling in the city – South Belfast, with its parks and towpaths – would instantly attract many more subscribers and start a bicycle commuting revolution in the city.

While every station has a captial and revenue cost, the overall scheme deficit (AKA subisdy) will only be reduced by attracting more users.

Seek subsidy from external bodies

If Belfast Bikes expands into a more commuter-led model, that will remove cars from the roads during peak hours. It stands to reason that the Department for Infrastructure (already so generous in providing capital to kick off the scheme) could feed in a per-journey subsidy for peak hours as a way to reward sustainable travel. While not a fortune, it could certainly help, and would send the right signal about government commitment to improving our transport infrastructure. Naturally if other towns and cities replicate the Belfast Bikes scheme, this should be applied across the board. The question of health benefits also raises the potential for a per-journey subsidy from the Department for Health or Public Health Agency.

These are longer term strategic questions for transport and health policy- and if it sounds daft, subsidising travel by bicycle is being trialled on the continent. Belfast could be a test bed for a slightly different, but still beneficial model.

This only scratches the surface of the positive, member-and-revenue-attracting options open to the Council to support Belfast Bikes. No doubt Council officers who designed and operate the scheme will have these and many other ideas, and trialled solutions, to hand – but we seem to be set upon a harshly political decision of a top-slice off a fragile service.

The swiftness of this situation – we only learned of the problem on Wednesday and the vote is on Friday – means stakeholders have been shut out from the process.

Active travel charity Sustrans is similarly concerned about the current rush towards a change in the scheme:

“The Belfast Bike Share Scheme has been one of the biggest boosts to cycling in the city. It is such a visible feature of Belfast’s support for active travel and has helped transform the image of cycling as being only for lycra-clad sporty people.

Since the scheme was launched in April 2015, the number of bikes and docking stations has expanded including at three hospital sites in Belfast so there are now 400 bikes and 40 docking stations.

Bike Share Schemes around the world don’t tend to make money but rather are an alternative mode of public transport, generally subsidised by government.

The reason for this is they are a vital investment in reducing urban congestion, improving air quality and public health by offering people another means of getting about the city.

Contrary to the Belfast Telegraph article (Thursday January 19) there is no loophole in the scheme nor is there a pay-as-you-go option as reported.

The scheme is members-only where you pay a £20 annual subscription (or £5 casual subscription, geared more towards tourists). The first half hour journey is free, after that you pay 50p for every half hour. The first half hour free is an incentive to become a member rather than a loophole. To reduce it, as was discussed at Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, could result in losing members and not attracting additional users. Alliance Councillor Michael Long has objected to reducing the incentive to just 15 minutes, saying this would amount to a paltry saving of just £15,000.

What hasn’t been factored in, is that it would cost a lot of money to update the docking stations. Therefore Sustrans believes this move would be counter-productive and not cost-saving in the end.

The Council should be looking to get more funding from a cross-section of bodies who benefit from the scheme such as the Department for Infrastructure, Public Health Agency and private sector such as businesses who want to attract people into the city.

It is clear that in the short lifespan of the Belfast Bike Share Scheme it has increased active travel around the city for a wide range of people but particularly commuters, made the city more liveable and given it a more continental European-feel.”


Let’s hope the Council are not left embarrassed by a decision which undermines its own success in a city which is just beginning to embed the bicycle into everyday life.

Belfast’s Middlepath scheme – almost there

The Department for Infrastructure’s (DfI) latest high-profile cycling scheme grasps the cycling revolution by the collar and gives it a much-needed shake. Taking away a vehicle lane in favour of a kerb-separated cycleway is a great sign for the forthcoming Belfast Bicycle Network Plan, but a few issues need to be corrected as the design consultation closes.

Overall this scheme will be a critical link between East Belfast and the city centre and is warmly welcomed by Bikefast. It will enable many new types of journeys to be completed on bicycles by new users – young and old, experienced and not yet. It’s a brave first move and is a credit to the Department’s staff and the Minister who brought it to public consultation.

There are three main areas which Bikefast believes must be addressed before the scheme goes ahead.

Queen Elizabeth Bridge

This may technically sit outside the scope of the current plan, but should be given full consideration. The cycleway terminates before the bridge, with the plan to divert users over a toucan crossing to the northern footway. As pointed out in more detail in this article, less than half of journeys will desire to be shunted over the road here.

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The majority will be accessing the city centre and southern destinations using the cycleway on Ann Street or past the Waterfront. As such, these users will face an unnecessary double crossing at both ends of the bridge or (as will happen in real life) simply take to the southern footway ignoring the crossings.

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Ironically DfI’s own Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan clarifies the problem here:

“Routes need to flow and must take account of how users actually behave: routes need to be as direct and continuous as possible. The big advantage of a journey by bicycle is that delays are at a minimum. A long detour or obstruction will mean that people will not use the infrastructure but resort to using the footway or carriageway.”

The southern footway is too tight (and cluttered with lighting poles) to safely accommodate increasing cycling traffic and existing pedestrian movements. Continuing the cycleway across the bridge by taking away the outside (fourth) vehicle lane, as with Middlepath Street, would be a far more sensible option at this stage.

Simplifying a tight turn behind loading bays

The loading bays outside the businesses situated behind the railway bridge will be essential for trade. However the design for the kink in the cycleway is far too tight. People cycling in an eastbound direction will potentially be unsighted by large lorries and may naturally drift to the right of the cycleway, leading to conflict.

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From the design it appears one sharp corner will also include a hump – not a great idea. Instead more gradual turns should be designed in to smooth movements across this section.

Prioritising grassy spaces over user safety

The section between the railway bridge and the crossing at Titanic Quarter Station is planned to be a shared footway. This is the major mistake in the scheme (as bounded in the consultation) and should be addressed urgently.

There is ample room to create a dedicated cycleway alongside the footway by eating into the grassy area beside the flyover, and room to work with by the park and ride facility.

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The Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan lists shared use paths as only the fourth best option when considering the types of facility to be used:

“Proper segregation is the preferred form of infrastructure for the primary network although this may be varied depending on both the volume and speed of other traffic.”

“Shared use path or track: a path physically separated from motor traffic and designated for shared use with pedestrians (appropriate in circumstances where the volume and speed of motor traffic is relatively high but the pedestrian footfall is low).”

While the pedestrian footfall may be low here, the footway itself is extremely narrow meaning that any interactions here, whether with pedestrians or other bicycle users, will be very tight, perhaps requiring a dismount for safety.

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The speed and volume of traffic dictates that the best solution must be sought on this critical new link on the Belfast cycling network. Setting the bar high here will help to steer more contentious future schemes in the right direction.

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There is no reason (cost, time, land ownership, potential objections) not to be brave and get the job done right the first time.


Comment

Overall it’s an excellent plan which will increase the number and percentage of cycling journeys in this section of the city. It’s a stepping stone for Belfast Bikes extension, links the city centre with CS Lewis Square and the twin greenways of the east, and demonstrates the intention of the Department for Infrastructure to truly embed the bicycle into Belfast city life.


The consultation closes at 5pm on Monday 30th January 2017 – you can have your say through the methods listed on the Department for Infrastructure website.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The route in detail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Comment

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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Is this a future vision for Ann Street?

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

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

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

Reinvent the City Centre

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

The Belfast Manifesto, BCTC

Just let that sink in for a second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No-one had responded by time of publication.

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Are these shoppers just temporary placeholders for private car traffic?

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read more: Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

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

Read more: Translink, the Belfast Chamber and bus lanes

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

Read more: Rapid Transit? | Taxis in bus lanes

Translink, the Belfast Chamber and bus lanes

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

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

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

Translink will also be operating the BRT system.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce website, What We Do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Translink Annual Report and Accounts 2015/16

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

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

In response, a Translink spokesperson said:

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

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

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

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

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


Read more: Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

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

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

Read more: Rapid Transit? | Taxis in bus lanes

Business body wants Belfast bus lanes binned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

..and somewhat strangely to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Clarke, Northern Ireland Director for Sustrans said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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