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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is no reason (cost, time, land ownership, potential objections) not to be brave and get the job done right the first time.
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.
Does anyone else think it’s a massive waste/missed opportunity that this cycleway is completely sealed off from the top of the newtownards road?
While I agree, this is probably more of an issue for the Draft Belfast Bicycle Network Plan. If the Rapid Transit route is going up the Albertbridge Road rather than the Lower Newtownards Road, I’ll be making the case that cycling infrastructure should be favoured on these remaining routes which won’t have critical bus lane infrastructure, perhaps ever. There’s also a tendancy in the BBNP to ignore nearby arterial routes if there’s greenway infrastructure – I’d make the case it’s MORE important to have supporting and dense networks near these off-road (and primarily leisure) facilities – less of an issue with the Comber Greenway but more so with the Connswater Greenway.
Certainly the grassy area under the flyover isn’t being utilised to it’s best potential, and a walkway across to the Lower Newtownards Road with a further controlled crossing, or perhaps just better access around from the proposed toucan as part of this consultation, essential especially from a pedestrian access point of view.
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Were your three issues ever addressed at the consultation stage?
Queen’s Bridge remained beyond the red line of the scheme boundary, so changes there were not taken forward by the Department. Should cycling levels rise significantly, and major problems occur on the southern deck of the bridge (as is likely, given people will use it rather than the nonsense two-crossing suggestion), then action may be taken in review. The other two aspects were accepted – the tight turn has been smoothed out, and the shared footway will not be based on the existing cross-section, but a significantly widened path which will eat into the grassed area. Unfortunately none of this is available online or in hard copy, so the finished scheme will (hopefully) show these elements as amended from the original plans.