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.

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.

Sirocco Skyway (Restitching Belfast 4)

The Sirocco Skyway is a proposal to create an iconic elevated traffic-free pathway across the city skyline of Belfast. As part of the Restitching Belfast series, we look at creating a new route to link Central Station with Titanic Quarter and directly connect the Comber and Connswater Greenways with the city centre.

skyway

Standing on East Bridge Street looking from Central Station towards Cave Hill opens a panoramic view of the proposed 850m pathway route, linking South and East Belfast across the River Lagan.

The main access point would be from the bridge, opposite the entrance to Central Station, opening out into a wide pathway along the right hand (east) side of the railway line.

IMG_6370.JPG
Starting point for the Sirocco Skyway at the height of East Bridge Street

The path would sweep down on a gentle gradient to the existing car park beside the railway, and around the back of the pumping station on May’s Meadow.

Utilising the existing parapets of the railway bridge, the Skyway can be suspended over Laganbank Road to the river’s edge near El Divino nightclub, and then over the Lagan. A similar set-up currently exists on the other side of the bridge with a well-lit pedestrian walkway linking the two riverbanks.

Sunset over the Central railway bridge and possible Skyway

Crossing the Lagan hugging tight to the railway bridge, the Skyway would cross the red brick boundary wall of the Sirocco Works site.

Sirocco Works

The former Sirocco Works stood on this site from the 1880s and the industrial machinery developed here included the world’s first air conditioning systems. The now derelict Sirocco site has been in various stages of planned development over the last decade, with the economic downturn scuppering the advanced “Sirocco Quays” plan:

“Plans for the waterside development included 5,000 apartments, a hotel, an international convention centre, a supermarket, leisure facilities and other retail sites.”

Belfast Telegraph 18 February 2016

skyway_low
Sirocco Skyway crossing the Lagan and rounding the edge of the Sirocco site

The site has recently been taken over by new owners. Belfast City Council are working on an “East Bank Framework” which has this area in its scope.

Sirocco Works site looking to the railway line

It’s an ideal time for public and private bodies to embed the Skyway concept as a high profile traffic-free access to benefit (and attract) users of the site.

While this is primarily envisaged as a functional commuter and access route, the addition of a major private development on the route offers possibilities for a New York Highline-style public realm enhancement along the Sirocco Works section – as well as the benefit of costs shared between the public and private sectors.

Towards Titanic and the greenways

While the river and the Sirocco site pose formidable barriers to attempting this direction of journey at present, the massive Bridge End gyratory junction also presents a woeful environment. The Skyway proposal would simply glide over these multi-lane racetracks.

Passing across Bridge End at the first railway bridge, the elevated pathway would need to carry over the service station while clinging to the railway line.

Behind this, the Eastside Park and Ride site would greatly benefit from excellent pedestrian access for passengers using Central and Titanic Quarter stations.

It would also link in with the Middlepath Street Cycleway due to be installed in early 2017. Flying over Middlepath Street, the Skyway would fall gently down to meet the existing (and recently upgraded) access path to Titanic Quarter Station.

skyway_end
Sirocco Skyway descends from the bridge over Middlepath Street

Onward cycling trips would utilise the station underpass into Island Street which, with upgraded traffic calming, would lead directly to the Comber Greenway at Dee Street.

This would complete a high-quality link to the convergence of the Comber and Connswater greenways at CS Lewis Square, with its new Belfast Bikes station pointing to a future where cycling is more critical to inner city travel.

Lanyon Tunnels and Maysfield

The Skyway plan offers a chance to create a fully traffic-free interchange at East Bridge Street. The recently announced £2.6 million funding for the Lanyon Tunnels project is a major boost to the Markets area. The derelict and fenced-off archways under East Bridge Street will be redeveloped into a crèche, an employment education and training club, community space, cafe and health and fitness facility.

IMG_6373.JPG
View to Lanyon Place and River Lagan through the Lanyon Tunnels

“Although not in use for over 70 years, the tunnels are an important part of Belfast’s commercial heritage and were originally used by cattle traders as holding pens for cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse in nearby Stewart Street.”

Belfast City Council

Included in the plan is an access tunnel to link the Markets with the Lagan. Bringing an access ramp down to the western side of the railway line would enable direct traffic-free journeys from the Markets into Titanic Quarter and on to the Comber and Connswater greenways.

This is even more critical with the go-ahead for a £55 million office development on the brownfield site between Central Station and Stewart Street. Providing the best possible incentives for the expected 2,500 workers on this site to cycle to work can help to mitigate further parking and traffic issues which have blighted this area for years.

Main path over car park, access paths through Lanyon Tunnels either side of railway

Another (eastern) access path down to the existing street which runs through to Central Station would enable fast access to the new Concentrix and Allstate offices under construction at May’s Meadow, and on to the Laganside path heading towards the Gasworks and Ormeau.

East Bridge Street improvements

This development of a fast cycling commuter route (just one controlled crossing in the 2.6km between Oxford Street and CS Lewis Square) would need the additional support of dedicated cycling space on the run to the top of East Bridge Street.

This would provide relief to safely by-pass the hideous traffic which regularly snarls along this stretch, tipping the balance further towards cycle commuting as an attractive option. It’s also another essential step to widen the city’s cycling demographic.

The necessity for dedicated cycle space here will only be increased by Bus Rapid Transit which will run along East Bridge Street from 2018. Unravelling bicycles and ‘rapid’ buses on a tough hill for the infrequent cyclist makes sense. Even now many people take to the footway to safely avoid standing traffic, putting strain on a space filled with people hurrying to catch the train.

The Sirocco Skyway vision brings together a stunning view of the Belfast skyline with genuine possibilities for modal shift linking three of the fastest developing commercial and residential areas of Belfast – Titanic, East Bank and May’s Meadow. A partnership between Belfast City Council, the Department for Infrastructure, Translink, private developers and communities in the Lower Newtownards Road, Short Strand and The Markets could deliver an excellent facility which the whole city could be proud of – and in a very short time.


What do you think of the idea of a Sirocco Skyway? Would it make a difference to your journeys around the city? Let us know in the comments below and share the article on social media.


Amended article 5th Dec 2016: in the original article it was incorrectly stated that Arup are working on a development plan for the new owners of the Sircocco site. In fact, Arup are leading the development of the East Bank Framework for Belfast City Council.

Allstate NI Laganside diversion

Work is beginning this week on the new Allstate NI office block between Belfast’s Central Station, the former Maysfield Leisure Centre and the Lagan River. Users of the Laganside path will face a number of diversions over the course of the expected 22 months of construction work.

The new Allstate building was recently given a green light by Belfast city council planners, and will include a contribution towards establishing a new Belfast Bikes station on the riverside. Allstate NI are also previous winners of the Best Large Employer for Cycling in the Fréd Awards.

Fences are already in place which will divert people around the loop path for one month, to allow for the main pathway to be widened. Construction on the green will mean a security and safety hoarding will be erected on sections of the main path.

Allstate_temp_route
Image reproduced with permission from WDR & RT Taggart

To maintain the path width on this heavily-used facility, the contractors will create a cantilevered extension over the river. When this is in place the loop section will be closed to public access.

image
A temporary path will extend ahead, cantilevered over the river

This is certainly an improvement over the situation at the Waterfront Hall which has closed the National Cycle Network for 2 years. This temporary construction will be removed at the end of the works and the main path reinstated to its current configuration.

The final site plans show a slight drawback with the existing access directly into the Central Station taxi rank from the loop path being lost to the new building.

Allstate_new_route
Image reproduced with permission from WDR & RT Taggart

It is a pity that this heavily used cut-through could not have been accommodated in the overall scheme design, as it will add a lengthy diversion across the Dutch bridge and up beside Maysfield Leisure Centre, soon to be the site of a new Concentrix building.

image
Getting to Central Station from the Gasworks will mean crossing the Dutch bridge in future

Overall it’s good to see developers ensuring that cycling journeys are protected to the best extent during building works, and working to advise users of the disruptions at key stages. Access between the Gasworks and Albert Bridge will be maintained throughout, keeping the critical spine of the Belfast cycling network intact.


For more information or queries about the works contact Stewart Graham (OHMG Ltd)
E: sgraham@ohmg.com