Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Sainsbury’s 3 major supermarkets across the city were included.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Sainsbury’s store in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?


Sainsbury’s Forestside

6Points

6 points out of 7 for Sainsbury’s Forestside points to something decent happening in South Belfast. Yes the racks are a little close to the wall, but if the transportfiets pictured below feels comfortable here, it passes the test of quality. In fact there’s a little of everything here except for racks into double figures – otherwise this would be hands-down the best supermarket bicycle rack in Belfast.

SainsburysForest

What brings this store up to 6 points is an additional service targeted at shoppers arriving by bicycle. The only supermarket in Belfast to actually go the extra mile, locks are available to rent in case you forgot to bring one.

Forestside

This is easily in the top three locations in the city – but is it the very best?


Sainsbury’s Kennedy Centre

2halfPoints

Sainsbury’s might kick themselves here – great potential wasted on poor execution and planning means just 2.5 points out of 7. The racks are too far from the entrance for comfort, which is a further problem without CCTV coverage.

SainsKennedy

But we can only award half a point for a sheltered location – for some reason the racks were placed half under the roof and half out – with the unfortunate sight of poor drainage leading you to imagine a bike locked to the third rack might end up being dissolved in a heavy shower.

PSX_20151126_162324

What could have been..


Sainsbury’s Knocknagoney

5Points

Another strong showing from Sainsbury’s down on the Harbour Estate with 5 points out of 7. This rack is just within the bounds of proximity to the entrance, saved somewhat by the view out from the store and CCTV coverage.

SainsburysKnock

Store management could have a winner here with a little more thought and investment. Although Sainsbury’s support for a Belfast to Holywood Greenway would go a long way to increasing two-wheeled custom and currying favour with me..


What Sainsbury’s say..

“Holywood:

  • New bike racks added to store 8 months ago.
  • Cycle to Work scheme in place at their store.

Forestside:

  • In conjunction with the shopping centre there is a Cycle Club. Customers are encouraged to take part as well as colleagues and managers. Organise bike rides, hold events.
  • Bike racks out the front of the store.
  • Cycle to Work scheme.

Kennedy Centre:

  • After Christmas will be getting the City Bikes – massive boost for cycling.
  • Bike racks outside the store.
  • Cycle to Work scheme.”

Verdict

SainsRank

Not the only supermarket chain with 2 stores rated with 5 or more points, but it’s the consistency of good quality bicycle provision that gives Sainsbury’s a decent average score of 4.5 out of 7 points. Sainsbury’s are in a great position to make a few tweaks and sew up the top spot in 2016.


How does Sainsbury’s rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Marks and Spencer’s 4 major supermarkets were included, as well as the flagship city centre Food Hall on Donegall Place.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each M&S store in Belfast rate for attracting customers by bicycle?


M&S Ballyhackamore

0Points

Ouch. Just a stone’s throw from the Comber Greenway and this M&S Food Hall has no bicycle facilities.

MSBally

A bad start.


M&S Boucher

2Points

 

On the same block where the world’s largest online bicycle retailer Chain Reaction Cycles has its flagship Belfast store, M&S has made a half decent effort to encourage customers to drop in and lock their bike outside.

MSBoucher

These two bike racks hide behind the bin and are easy to miss (I did first time round*) and although they benefit from being right beside the store entrance, the lack of shelter or CCTV, as well as the bin reducing the quality of the space, holds back the score to just 2 out of 7 points.

Space and cost isn’t an issue for Chain Reaction – showing the way for M&S to improve..

MSChain

 


M&S Donegall Place

2Points

A rating of 2 stars for M&S Donegall Place is probably down to the work of the government Streets Ahead project, with 3 good bicycle racks outside one of 3 main entrances to the flagship city centre store.

MSDonegall

There’s scope to add racks facing Belfast City Hall and in Callendar Street to make this a much more accessible store.


M&S Forestside

3Points

Whether the credit goes to Forestside management or M&S is debatable, but losing a point for quality is not debatable here. While the racks benefit from a close position to the dedicated M&S entrance, and a CCTV camera is a good deterrent to theft, the racks themselves suffer from some unfortunate conflicts.

MSForest

Whether it’s the street light pole or the exit sign getting in the way of locking up your bike, this area occasionally gets seen as a dumping ground or other worthy causes..

Again, given the high quality facilities just around the corner at Sainsbury’s Forestside, M&S should be doing better here.


M&S Lisburn Road

0Points

Gah – in Belfast terms (which isn’t saying much) the Lisburn Road is a cycling superhighway. But no racks for passing customers on bicycles here.

MSLisburn

So both Tesco and M&S on the Lisburn Road are currently failing in this department – I wonder which supermarket will react the quickest?


What M&S say..

“We offer a ‘Cycle2Work’ scheme which gives all our employees in the UK significant discounts and extras on bike purchases.

“Given the focus on cycling in Northern Ireland at the moment this is something we will look at in the coming months and speak with our landlords and retail park colleagues about.”


Verdict

 

MSupdate

It’s a disappointing average score of just 1.4 out of 7 for Marks and Spencer, and the racks at Donegall Place and Forestside may be more through luck than M&S design. There is much to do in 2016 for this premium brand, with Ballyhackamore and Lisburn Road stores representing the most obvious quick wins.


How does M&S rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.
*This post was updated on 9/12/15 to amend the score of M&S Boucher as that store’s 2 racks were missed on the initial visit. This changes the overall M&S score from 1 out of 7 to 1.4 out of 7. This did not affect the original overall 4th place rank of M&S on the league table.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Lidl’s 5 major supermarkets were included, along with the flagship city centre store at High Street.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Lidl store in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?


Lidl Andersonstown

image

No racks.

LidlAndy


Lidl Castlereagh

0Points

Nothing. This store has a special place as the inspiration for this survey, so thank you to Lidl.

LidlCastle

Knowing my luck it’ll be the last supermarket in Belfast to get a bike rack. More on that later..


Lidl Connswater

0Points

No bicycle racks at a supermarket virtually on the Connswater Greenway is bad enough.

LidlConns

Having Halfords next door showing you exactly what is possible (even if you consider this limited space) is much worse.

LidlHalfords

There will be no excuses here next year.


Lidl High Street

0Points

This is a curious case. The location doesn’t benefit from any government-provided on-street racks.

LidlHigh

Unfortunately for Lidl, word reached NI Greenways that 3 wall-mounted bicycle racks were slated for inclusion as part of the planning process for this relatively new store.

PP

More on this later too..

LidlHighBikes


Lidl Shore Road

2Points

Just when you thought we were going for a clean sweep, along comes the strange phenomenon of the wheel-bending rack. Unsigned and very hard to spot even when standing right next to them, these are the most basic of provision and frankly the worst supermarket bicycle racks in Belfast.

LidlShore

This particular rack at the Shore Road store even has the added danger of being right beside the ‘road’ in the car park – a car parked right over this spot just after I wheeled away. 2 points out of 7 for a rack and proximity, and not much else.


Lidl Stewartstown

3Points

Another wheel-bender at Stewartstown, this time scoring 3 points out of 7 for the additional benefit of being under the store roof for shelter.

LidlStew

These racks feel like an afterthought.


What Lidl says..

“2 stores mentioned have bike racks presently (Shore Road and Stewartstown). 2 stores are currently being redeveloped (Connswater and Andersonstown Road) and we are considering plans to have bike racks. Unfortunately our city centre location does not have a car park therefore we cannot facilitate a bike rack. “


Verdict

LidlRank

The statement from Lidl is welcome (God knows many have tried on Twitter to get such detail) but what’s left unsaid is quite interesting. First off, that firm ‘no’ on High Street is strange given the planning permission had 3 racks listed.

No mention is made of the quality of the racks slated to go into Connswater and Andersonstown Road – front wheel racks again? Please no. Finally, the silence on Castlereagh Road is funny given how many times ‘feedback has been passed on‘ over the last two years. Maybe management might be advised to actually engage with organisations who care about cycling? It’s not like Lidl is pushed for space on this site..

LidlPano

Come on Lidl, you can do much better than an average 0.83 out of 7 points, if you really care. I’m rooting for you.


How does Lidl rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Iceland’s 12 major supermarkets were included, which includes 2 city centre stores on Bridge Street and Castle Street.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Iceland store in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?


Iceland Andersonstown

0Points

Not a good start.

IceAndy


Iceland Antrim Road

0Points

No racks here.

IceAnt

Just next door a row of small independent stores do a great job of encouraging people to arrive by bicycle.

IceComp

But not Iceland. Why not?


Iceland Ballysillan

0Points

A theme developing here.

IceBal


Iceland Bridge Street

2Points

A place to park a bicycle! However, was this cycle hoop installed by Iceland or the government? So no point for quality, and anyway we’re a bit past offering customers a street pole to park against while shopping.

IceBridge

Other than that it’s beside the entrance and fairly visible while inside.


Iceland Castle Street

0Points

Clearly there’s no space to install bicycle racks here. Ahem.

IceCastle


Iceland Cregagh

1Point

I’m sorry, but we’re giving this bicycle rack to Transport NI as it’s on the footway somewhere near this Iceland store. A point for being able to lock a bicycle in the general area.

IceCreg


Iceland Finaghy

0Points

This is depressing.

IceFin


Iceland Kennedy Centre

0Points

This Iceland store is inside the Kennedy Centre, which has no bicycle parking at the main concourse entrance. Just yards away the Jobs and Benefits Centre shows how easy it is to install decent bicycle racks.

IceKen


Iceland Newtownards Road

1Point

I suspect it’s Belfast City Council’s Renewing The Routes project to the rescue here.

IceNew

Space does exist in the small car park to the side of the store, but no bike racks. We’re less than a minute’s cycle from the Comber and Connswater Greenways here.

IceNewRack

That’s a Sheffield stand close to the neighbouring Russell’s convenience store. One point, hardly worth shouting about.


Iceland Park Centre

3Points

Easily the best of the lot, although crucially the glory is shared with Dunnes Stores and the Park Centre management.

IcePark

5 good racks right beside the centre entrance, although a big missed opportunity for shelter and CCTV coverage keeps the score low.


Iceland Shankill

0Points

Nowt.

IceShan


Iceland York Road

Nah.

IceYork


What Iceland says..

Iceland declined to comment.


Verdict

IcelandRank

Is that really 12 Iceland supermarkets in Belfast, with a total of just 8 bicycle racks between them, and not one obviously installed by Iceland themselves? An average score of just 0.58 out of 7 points is shocking.

Iceland and I agree on one thing – there is nothing good to say about this. Iceland accounts for more than a quarter of all the supermarkets in Belfast, and has a lot of work to do to bring them up to standard in 2016.


How does Iceland rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Dunnes Stores’ 2 major (grocery) supermarkets were included, along with the flagship city centre Food Hall on Cornmarket.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Dunnes Stores location in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?


Dunnes Stores Annadale

1Point

This is a whopper of a disappointment. Why? This decades-old Dunnes supermarket sits right in the middle of Belfast’s Cycling Revolution, in the Ballynafeigh ward with cycling at over 6% share of journeys to work, the best in the whole country.

image

So with a spacious (and barely ever full) car park out front, there is.. one cycle hoop next to the store. Again there’s no clear ownership by Dunnes so no extra point for quality, and the dark spot would make anyone think twice before leaving their bike.

image

Expecting shoppers to latch their bicycles up onto the car park fence (as is common) just isn’t good enough. This should be a class-leading location.


Dunnes Stores Cornmarket

2Points

Like Marks and Spencer around the corner, Dunnes may be benefiting from a little bit of government-provided good fortune here – so no additional points for quality.

image

However the prime location outside the store makes this a great option for shoppers.


Dunnes Stores Park Centre

3Points

Good fortune or not – who knows? Either way the site beside the entrance and decent quality mean Dunnes and Iceland have to split the credit here. It’s a moot point as this Dunnes is closing, which is a major blow to Park Centre and the local community.

image

Shelter and CCTV, along with another rack at the second entrance would be useful additions for Iceland and if another supermarket anchor tenant moves in.


What Dunnes Stores says..

No comment received.


Verdict

DunnesRank

Dunnes Stores could be very lucky here – you couldn’t say for certain that any of these bike racks were installed at the behest of Dunnes, and yet the 3 Belfast stores get an average score of 2 points out of 7. Annadale sticks out like a sore thumb and better use could be made of the car park to attract some of the hundreds of people cycling past every day.


How does Dunnes Stores rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Asda’s 2 major (grocery) supermarkets in the city were included.

superrank

This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Asda store in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?


Asda Shore Road

5halfPoints

Asda Shore Road gets 5.5 points out of 7, one of the best scores in Belfast – but it’s held back by a minor detail. 10 racks of half decent quality (why so close to the wall?) are within a wee dander of the entrance, and covered by CCTV.

Asda Shore Road

BUT while staff and customers have a handy sheltered smoking area in the background, the second row of bike racks are open to the elements, so just a half point here. Nearly spot on.


Asda Westwood

0Points

No racks.

Asda Westwood

This is a shame for such a big store, and Sainsbury’s just up the road is doing such a good job too..


What Asda say..

No comments received.


Verdict

The smallest sample of stores in the survey so it’s one good, one bad giving an average score of 2.75 out of 7. Shore Road lifts Asda above most other chains in Belfast and helps put North Belfast (unusually) on the cycling map of the city. Replicate (or even better, surpass) those efforts up in Andytown and Asda can cruise towards the top next year.


How does Asda rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.

Residents in Belfast’s Short Strand have campaigned for years to calm the traffic on Mountpottinger Road, a key rat run for traffic using the city’s Cross Harbour M3 Motorway. A recent £275,000 road upgrade promised improvements for pedestrians, but the resurfacing scheme appears to have made the traffic situation worse. It’s time to remove all through-traffic to allow families and children to reclaim Short Strand’s streets before the shocking level of HGV traffic, which ignores a more suitable bypass, causes a major tragedy.

The Bull Run

The Short Strand community in East Belfast should be a very quiet residential area, free from traffic concerns. Due to the legacy of The Troubles it is penned in by Peace Walls, with just 3 road gateways – Bryson Street, and at either end of the main spine through Mountpottinger Road and Link.

Titanic Quarter and the M3 Motorway (the key strategic traffic corridor in central Belfast serving the Westlink, M1 and M2) sit to the north, and directly to the south a huge junction links the Ravenhill, Woodstock and Cregagh, Castlereagh, Albertbridge Roads, as well as one of just three bridges linking East Belfast to the City Centre, the Albert Bridge.

 

ShortStrandOverview

 

The four-lane Short Strand bypass should be the most preferable route for journeys between the M3 and Castlereagh Street, however a significant volume of general traffic cuts through Mountpottinger Road – most obvious at evening rush hour with long southbound tailbacks.

How bad is the situation for this otherwise sleepy residential area? Here’s a condensed 35 minutes of footage during a Friday rush hour (just after 9am) which shows the scale of the problem:

 

 

That’s 37 trucks and HGVs passing through (more than one every minute), white van man filling his boots with 41 commercial vans passing through, and an overall traffic level of around 500 vehicles per hour. The vast majority of vehicles simply enter at one end of Mountpottinger and leave at the other.

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) was at pains during the traffic reduction scheme in Belfast City Centre – Belfast on the Move – to distinguish between vehicles which had a purpose and destination in the area and those which had “no business there”. There is no more apt description for what’s happening on Mountpottinger Road. To label it a rat run perhaps minimises the scale of the problem.

The nature of these streets is very different to most of inner city Belfast. Children ride bicycles and scooters along and across Mountpottinger Road; they cross from the play-park to the shops; they roam care-free in the shadow of a constant stream of through-traffic. Collisions have occurred in the past and because of how this road is being used (or abused) a tragedy lies in wait for a local family in the future.

 

Why do drivers cut through Mountpottinger Road?

On the surface it seems strange that drivers wouldn’t use the route around Short Strand – marked in red on the map above – it’s wider, has more capacity, feels ‘faster’, and has no house frontages and very little pedestrian footfall. However some quite obvious and more subtle factors are at work which make Mountpottinger an attractive choice.

Northbound

Arriving at the Castlereagh Street junction with the Albertbridge Road, drivers are faced with a problem. The route around Short Strand involves a left turn, however the view is obscured by Bank House. Drivers can’t calculate possible hold-ups due to the volume of traffic (which can be at a standstill during rush hour) or if the lights at the Woodstock Link junction will catch them – the first of three potential red lights.

Ahead lies a wide opening to Mountpottinger Road – almost never congested heading north – and the subtle influence of being able to see buildings and hills in North Belfast.

 

Castlereagh_view

 

All the way down Castlereagh Street to this point, HGV drivers have seen the variable speed signs on the M3 Bridge peeking over the tops of the houses in Short Strand. Your destination is straight ahead, while an uncertain gamble lies to your left.

Southbound

There is less of a visual incentive to rat run when heading south, with the sweep left towards the Ravenhill junction inviting you to carry on past the immediate turn into Mountpottinger Link. Yet during the evening rush especially, stationary traffic around the Bridge End gyratory has already frustrated many drivers.

 

 

Ignoring the rat run takes you to a filter lane which has a triple whammy of frustration for impatient drivers – a signalled pedestrian crossing, an unsignalled exit and even a cycle lane to worry about – all of which means guaranteed congestion at rush hour. After that, another set of lights has to be negotiated at Woodstock Link, and the difficult-to-reach right filter lane for Castlereagh Street has a fast light sequence which can lead to long queues and delays.

Overall, both north and south routes though Mountpottinger involve just two sets of lights – one of which is an infrequently used toucan crossing – and a good chance of a beating queues. The more appropriate bypass has three signal-controlled junctions, three chances to hit a queue, and also means mixing with ‘strategic traffic’ funnelling through a mega-junction with multiple destinations.

The Mountpottinger rat run is a gamble with extremely favourable odds at rush hour, and no worse than evens at any other time.

 

Radical intervention

Local residents’ campaigning for traffic calming measures recently seemed to pay off. Road humps have been a feature for many years, yet these have failed to tackle the underlying issue. When a road re-surfacing scheme was announced for 2013-14, it was a chance to give serious thought to reducing the attractiveness of Mountpottinger Road to through-traffic. The main change was a puffin crossing at the play park beside The Strand Bar, widely welcomed as bringing “benefits for all road users and pedestrians in the local area.

However, the enhanced channelisation of the road – providing a central hatched area to create turning boxes for vehicles – was a clue that the needs of vehicle movement and safety was being elevated above the need to reduce traffic volume and speed. Channelisation simply allows vehicles to smoothly travel past stationary vehicles waiting to turn right which might otherwise halt traffic flow. Instead of making Mountpottinger Road a quiet street where people could cross anywhere, installing a puffin crossing was an admission of defeat – we can’t do anything about the flood of traffic, so here’s one good crossing point.

 

 

And the overall result of the road improvements? Residents will tell you the traffic levels are as bad as ever, and HGVs rattle through all day every day, hardly noticing the road humps as they heave their loads.

The problem is DRD didn’t proceed with an explicit aim to remove through-traffic – instead it ended up aiding and accelerating the typical through-journey, skewing the risk/reward balance in favour of rat-running.

https://twitter.com/OnTheFence22/status/618683697928249344

What is required now is a far more radical intervention, with the sole aim of displacing strategic through-traffic back onto the strategic route around the area and reclaiming the streets for local residents, families and children. A 20mph zone should be introduced tomorrow, but physical changes to the streets are badly needed.

My preferred street redesign (intended to kick off discussion) is based on three key principles:

  1. Remove *all through-traffic (see 2)
  2. Retain the Metro 5A bus service through Mountpottinger Road
  3. Provide a design solution with the least inconvenience to local vehicle movements

 

Dissuasion at the entrances

The visual attraction to straight-ahead rat-running from the Castlereagh Street junction must be eliminated. To begin with, any scheme intending to reduce traffic levels on Mountpottinger Road will mean two exit lanes will be unnecessary, so the road should be tightened to one lane in, one lane out.

 

Albertbridge_Junction_1

 

Shifting the ‘entrance lane’ over to the right will break up the visual invitation to fly straight ahead, and some structural planting, trees etc. will add to the feeling of a barrier. However the goal is not to close the entrance – so as to inconvenience local residents – but to plant a seed in drivers’ minds that this is a residential street, not a ‘main road’. Earlier signage on Castlereagh Street can flag up ‘No through road’ or ‘Unsuitable for HGVs’ to further dissuade use.

 

Albertbridge_Junction_2

 

At the Mountpottinger Link end, the sweeping filter lane allows HGVs to trundle through at speed, again tipping the risk/reward balance towards rat-running.

 

Short_Strand_1

 

Removing this filter lane, and designing a tighter turn into Mountpottinger Link will allow residents and buses to access the area, but will be slower – making it more difficult for trucks and articulated lorries to negotiate. The straight-ahead option becomes far more attractive in drivers’ minds.

 

Short_Strand_2

 

On their own, design changes at the gateways will only dissuade general traffic, but not stop rat-running. Ideally, blocking up Mountpottinger Road at some point would achieve this aim, but would fall foul of objective 3 – annoying local residents to the point of probable objections. One solution however offers a way to ‘snip’ the road without actually closing it to traffic – a Home Zone.

 

ABD0678
The Dings Homezone development, Bristol (Picture Library Sustrans on Flickr)

 

These interventions have been trialled in England (but never here) and are a way to radically alter the design of a street to provide strong visual cues to drivers to alter their behaviour, including using build-out elements and designated parking areas to create chicanes to further control speed and movement.

A Home Zone on a short stretch of Mountpottinger Road, in conjunction with work at the gateways, has the potential to solve all the traffic issues in the area at a stroke.

 

Mountpottinger_1

 

At the southern end, Madrid Street could be quickly redesigned as a through-road, requiring northbound traffic on Mountpottinger Road to stop and give way. The entrances to the Home Zone could be placed on the right hand side of the road to further confuse users arriving for the first time. Now instead of a fast through-road, general traffic would need to make a significant diversion along Lisbon Street to the left and Edgar Street to the right.

The Home Zone itself could be designed with a single lane, allowing only one vehicle to cross comfortably at a time. Signage for the home zone could include ‘No through-traffic’, ‘Buses, access and parking only’ as more ways to make people wishing to drive through feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Metro bus services would be the only through-traffic to regularly use the Home Zone – not ideal, but socially important for the area. 10 buses per hour would be an acceptable trade-off to remove hundreds of other vehicles.

 

Mountpottinger_2

 

The Home Zone area would be paved to indicate to drivers that this area is not a road for driving at speed, but is for a different purpose. At the northern end a mini roundabout could facilitate movements to/from the Home Zone and between Mountpottinger Road and Beechfield Street.

Drivers arriving expecting to scurry through the area at speed would be met with a series of visual and physical obstacles to progress which, encountered once, would plainly stop any thought of future rat-running.

The benefits of a Home Zone solution include:

  • Radically altered streetscape to remove propensity to rat run through the area.
  • The impact on local residents would be minimal.
  • Risk/reward of rat running tipped away by slower journeys and embarrassment of travelling through a clearly residential place.
  • Bus services can continue to move through Mountpottinger Road.
  • Access retained for emergency services, municipal and utility services, residents parking and local movements.
  • Walking, cycling and street play is promoted through a more pleasant road environment and radically reduced traffic levels.
  • Local vehicle movements across the Home Zone are still possible, if not as attractive as before.
  • Two alternative local routes (Lisbon and Edgar) are available on either side.

Any possible delays to Metro 5A service due to these streetscape changes would be offset by a more reliable journey times at rush hour, with tailbacks eliminated at the junction towards Castlereagh Street. An agreement would need to be reached with Translink to ensure that non-operational services – empty school buses and terminated services – returning to the Short Strand depot would use the bypass route rather than the Home Zone.

The Short Strand faces a daily invasion by impatient drivers, a shameful situation which makes a serious or fatal collision seem inevitable in the near future. The quality of life for residents, young and old, is unnecessarily affected by noise, vibration, fumes and physical danger, and the main authorities with a role in changing the situation – DRD, Belfast City Council to name but two – will fail us by ignoring the problem. A Home Zone-centred street redesign has the potential to make a difference, but a better solution may be out there – it’s time to start that discussion. Through-traffic has no place on these streets, and for the good of Belfast we need to take a stand and recognise the need for change. Short Strand residents could draw some inspiration from their counterparts in the Amsterdam neighbourhood “De Pijp” over 40 years ago..

 


The footprint of the abandoned Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway winds silently through the Glens of Antrim. The scenery along the old narrow gauge railway route is truly magical; it’s time to make a nailed-on tourism case for creating a walking and cycling greenway to lift the local economy.

GLENSbig

The Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway opened in stages between 1875 and 1876. The line was initially constructed to service the transport of iron ore from various mines to the north of Ballymena to Red Bay for shipping to England. A depression in the market in the 1880s led to the line being taken over by the Belfast & Northern Counties Railway in 1884 and it was gradually upgraded to enable passenger services.

Due to the difficult gradient down to Cushendall the line terminated 3 miles away at Retreat, and passenger services halted at Parkmore, just short of where the line crosses Glenariff Forest Park today. The station at Parkmore still stands today, just beside the Ballyeamon Rd / Glenariffe Rd junction. Passenger services ran until 1930 and the line ceased all operations in 1940.

© CartoDB and Nokia (follow link for more info)

Ballymena to Cargan

The footprint of the line in Ballymena out to the M2 has been almost fully erased by housing and road development over the decades; it’s impossible to see this being resurrected. For a more contemporary plan to enable leisure walking and cycling trips through the town, the Braid River Greenway offers hope (more later). A brand new link from Broughshane to the old railway line may be possible.

Once out of Ballymena town, intensive farming activity over the last 75 years has removed most traces of the line even from satellite imagery. Occasional glimpses of a railway hedgerow or embankment are rare through Quarrytown until the line reaches Rathkenny – one example being the line approaching the Knockan Road at Turtles Garage in the picture below.

Railway embankment visible at Knockan Road

From Rathkenny to Cargan the line runs in close parallel to the Cushendall Road. This affords a continuous view of embankments, cuttings and tree lines, frequently punctuated by buildings which have cropped up on the old trackbed – the car dealership Wilson’s of Rathkenny being a prime example.

Resurrecting a fully continuous railway line converted to a greenway path through Martinstown to Cargan seems to be a challenging prospect, given this development.

Around and beyond Cargan are the railway sidings which provided the impetus to originally create this railway, to the iron ore mines (see map). This fascinating aspect of local history could be brought to a wider audience by extending pathways outwards from the ‘main line’ along these mining routes, possibly linking in with the Dungonnell Way walking route.

Glenravel

Climbing sharply out of Cargan, the main line frees itself of all building development and hugs the Glenravel Road. Long stretches of embankment dovetail with mountain streams and provide well-worn trails for local livestock.

Looking towards Cargan from Glenravel

At the junction of the main line and Evishacrow mines, the siding bridge can be seen gradually crumbling into the river. Old rails cut to support a concrete track are clearly visible, although the bridge is too fragile to support more than the odd sheep these days.

Mineral siding at Glenravel

The main line sweeps majestically through a valley from here, crisscrossed by the Cargan Water stream, with bridge abutments crying out to carry people across once more.

Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway at Glenravel

There is no difficulty selling the idea of a greenway here – this picture (adding a path and tourists) would proudly sit alongside some of our key tourism draws.

Railway winds through valley at Glenravel

Along the stretch from Cargan to Retreat old bridges which used to carry folk over the railway are visible, many braced against the inevitable deterioration which decades of loneliness brings. Imagine how a greenway project could restore these magnificent features to preserve for future generations and signal our pride in our engineering heritage.

Braced bridge near Parkmore

You can read a little more on the history of the area on the Glenravel Historical Society website.

Glenariff Forest Park

I stumbled upon this section in September 2013 and fell completely in love with the place and the greenway idea. There is a pronounced kink in the Ballyeamon Road as it enters Glenariff Forest Park, which obscures a remarkable straight route through the woods for the old narrow gauge railway. This begins as a hulking embankment at the southern end, rising through the trees towards a cutting at the northern tip where the road latches on once more.

Forest cutting through Glenariff

A stream running across the mossy forest floor meant the railway line needed to cross a bridge. The remaining abutments silently stare at each other in this eerie, hidden clearing.

Old bridge abutments in the forest corridor

The towering trees, swaying and creaking gently in the wind, set against this human achievement of driving a railway across the Glens of Antrim gives a truly magical feel to the place. At the head of the wooded section is another old bridge which used to cross the railway line, marking the boundary between the real world and the secret place beyond, evocative of our own C.S. Lewis and stepping into Narnia.

Looking towards forest cutting from Essathohan Bridge

Just beside the forest corridor are the Essathohan Bridges, the rail and road bridges set side by side. This is one end of the Dungonnell Way and pony track around Glenariff Forest Park. Having an established forest park right on the greenway offers the chance to develop camping facilities, allowing tourists on long cycling holidays the option to base themselves in the area for a night or two.

Essathohan Bridges carrying road and rail over Essathohan Burn

Down to Cushendall

From Glenariff, the route crests over the glen and begins to descend towards Cushendall. The Essathohan siding marks the highest point for any railway in Ireland (319m) which in turn would make this the highest greenway in Ireland – a nice selling point.

The embankment pictured here clings perilously to the side of Crockalough as the railway line reaches its terminus.

Looking back towards Parkmore from Crockalough

The engineering challenge of taking the railway down to Cushendall and Red Bay, or more likely the prohibitive cost, meant the line terminated here at Retreat. This perch on the hill provides epic views down towards Cushendall and, on a clear day, all the way to the Mull of Kintyre.

Embankment and bridge abutment at Retreat

With no rail link beyond Retreat, passengers were carried from Parkmore to Cushendall by coach, however to create a world-class greenway a solution to bridge this 3 mile gap from Retreat will need to be found, perhaps along quieter country lanes down the hill.

Like the ideas to reconnect Ballycastle with Ballymoney with a greenway on the old trackbed, or Newcastle with Belfast along the old Belfast and County Down Railway, the pretty coastal village of Cushendall could once more see tourism and leisure traffic driven to the town by the Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway line.

Braid River Greenway (Ballymena)

Tucked inside DSD’s Ballymena Town Centre Masterplan (PDF) published in 2009 was a proposal to implement a greenway along the Braid River, likely sometime within the 2020s:

“This would entail the establishment of continuous foot and cycle path connections along its length, connecting outlying settlements such as Broughshane and Tullaghgarley with the Town Centre. The project would create opportunities for improved flood mitigation measures, wildlife habitat and riverfront development where appropriate.”

Looking at the map below there are a number of existing pathways across the town hugging the river bank. An obvious plan would be to link these with an improved riverfront, so shamefully surrendered to the car parking needs of the Braidwater retail park. Who knows, perhaps a Maine River Greenway could link the future greenway at Randalstown to Ballymena and beyond to Cullybackey?

© CartoDB and Nokia (follow link for more info)

The Ballymena, Cushendall and Red Bay Railway wasn’t the only narrow gauge railway terminating in Ballymena. Not content with the idea of a riverside pathway network and a greenway rising up through the Glens towards the coast, there is scope to create a further greenway from Ballymena to Larne – but that’s for another time..

Building the Glens of Antrim Greenway

The case for building this greenway is strong:

  • a rural location keen for investment
  • strong public transport links at Ballymena
  • existing plans to make Ballymena a greenway ‘hub’
  • world-class scenery able to attract external visitors
  • links to leisure facilities (Glenariff Forest Park) and the Causeway Coast

The greenway plan lies between two council areas, Mid & East Antrim Borough Council from Ballymena to Parkmore and Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council from Parkmore to Cushendall. There is also a large section under the control of the DARD Forest Service through Glenariff. However the majority of the route is likely to be in private ownership following the sale of railway property following closure.

Development of a greenway will depend upon the creation of a strong local lobby and partnership between politicians, stakeholders, community interests and landowners. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo isn’t a copy-and-paste blueprint for solving thorny issues, however the partnership working which delivered and maintains that project is worth reflecting on, as are the documented and cherished economic benefits to that remote region.

Cutting through Glenariff Forest Park

While decades of farming and community growth makes a route out from Ballymena challenging to say the least, the upper reaches of the old line sit in plain view and unhindered by recent human development.

The beauty of the surroundings and the resilience of the cuttings and embankments to survive the decades challenges us to imagine how this line can once again carry people, from near and far, across the Glens of Antrim.

Northern Ireland has it bad when it comes to cycling, with our constant rain and wind, awful drivers and hardly anywhere safe to cycle. Those are the simple assumptions, but what does the public actually think about cycling?

The Department for Regional Development (DRD) has published a report called “Public Awareness of Travelwise NI Initiatives – Findings from Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey May 2014”. You can see the headlines and download the full report here to read how “only 2% of people already cycle short journeys of up to 3 miles (4.8km)” and “over two fifths (42%) of people don’t own / have access to a bicycle“.

Headlines are great, but which golden nuggets caught the eye of @nigreenways? Here’s eight things from the survey which give little-known insights into cycling in Northern Ireland..

Harden ye (weather isn’t a big issue)

The weather is an easy brick to throw at talk of a cycling revolution, yet what seems like a discouragingly wet climate for cycling doesn’t tally with the experience of everyday users. Even on rainy days (it hardly ever rains all day here) bicycle racks in Belfast are more occupied than ever..

The survey shows that weather isn’t a big issue, only making it to fifth place on the list of issues at 19%, down from 24% in 2011. Our obsession with the weather means people here should be experts at sticking the head out the window and judging how dry they’ll be after 20 minutes of cycling. 🙂

weathersml

Interestingly, people are far less worried about bad weather when considering cycling 3 miles than when they’re considering walking 1 mile.

Pensioners are putting kids to shame

Granda

Here’s a surprise – youngsters these days think cycling is too hard. Despite being the group most likely to be already cycling short journeys, at 6% people aged 16-24 are most likely of any group surveyed to say “cycling takes too much effort”. Granny and Granda seem to have less of an issue about covering 3 miles on 2 wheels – just 5% think it’s too much effort. Buck your ideas up young’uns!

Lack of female bike ownership is a problem

Practical

Just 50% of females in Northern Ireland have access or own a bike which would allow them to complete a short journey. This tallies with previous DRD NI Travel Survey data which shows only around one fifth of the female population in Northern Ireland cycles each year, compared with a third of males. Overall bicycle ownership levels are a thorny structural barrier to cycling, but half of women in Northern Ireland simply aren’t in the game.

Cycling’s image problem

IMAGE

It’s often hard to distinguish if cycling makes me look unemployed (can’t afford to buy a car) or affluent middle class (can afford to buy a bicycle) and there’s plenty of people on social media to shout both points at you. As it turns out, there may be a surprising bias against cycling among those who are unemployed, of whom 14% say “I’m not the type of person who rides a bicycle” against just 9% among those who are employed. The other groups with the highest rates are those 65 and over (18%), females (14%) and those with a disability (14%).

Urban cyclists get on better with drivers than rural cyclists

IMG_1308

Cycle camera footage has raised the profile of difficult interactions on our roads, and you might think the busiest city roads would be the cause of greatest resentment. Not so, as 16% of urban dwellers in Northern Ireland say “lack of consideration from car drivers” is a discouragement to short cycling journeys, but almost a quarter of rural dwellers say the same (23%).

Parents can do the school run by bicycle

Albert

Having to juggle a school run with getting to work seems to rule out the bicycle for many people. Perhaps surprisingly, of those surveyed who have dependants, just 11% said “difficulties with managing children” was a problem. And more people without dependants see the car as quicker than the bicycle (8%) than those with dependants (7%).

People are getting wise to the key issues

change

Looking at the change in attitudes over the last three years points to a maturing understanding of how to make cycling better in Northern Ireland. It appears access to bicycles may have dropped (let’s see how the Giro d’Italia and Belfast Bike Hire affects that) but alongside fewer concerns about weather and image, we can see a greater focus on the problems of sharing space with traffic and lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure.

Our cycling levels are shameful

IMG_9599-001

Okay, we already knew this, but yet another survey has confirmed how few people choose to cycle in Northern Ireland. Generously the report records cycling to school at 1% of journeys (16+ years old) while the DRD Travel Survey has shown a spiralling decline below even that woeful mark in the last decade. Male cycling to work levels are at a more encouraging 3%, while female cycling to work levels flat-line at 0%.

In 2011 6% of people said nothing would put them off cycling – that figure has dropped to 3%, a really “significant decrease” of confidence in the hard core regular cycle demographic.

“We appreciate that many people feel that provision is frequently fragmented and of varying quality. Where ‘opportunities’ arise, i.e. provision of bicycle infrastructure as part of road maintenance or upgrade schemes we will seize these opportunities.”

(Draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland / DRD / August 2014)

Detailed plans have been released to inform a public consultation on the York Street Interchange, a £125m-£165m project to redesign the north quarter of Belfast’s traffic. It marks a key junction for the Department for Regional Development’s (DRD) cycling flirtations, with two ways to turn – allow past mistakes to be repeated, or start to back up active travel rhetoric with action.

Instead of a standard-setting cycling corridor linking York Road with the city centre, poor design elements betray the typical bolt-on approach to cycling provision. Nothing less than the Department’s own Cycling Revolution™ itself is at stake if the heavy-hitting strategic road engineers continue to brashly ignore the needs of those who could choose to use the bicycle.

YSI800

In short, the York Street Interchange (YSI) plan aims to remove the street-level bottleneck at the convergence of the M2 (to the north), the M3 (to the east) and the Westlink/M1 (to the southwest). Of most concern from a cycling perspective is the desperate lack of vision for the main ‘local’ spine of the project, York Street (highlighted in red on the map above) which would serve as a natural focal point for short to medium term cycle infrastructure plans.

It connects a number of key areas – the City Centre, the new Ulster University campus, a large shopping complex and the York Street Railway Station. There are a further 3 points to note when considering the project from an active travel perspective:

  • Streets Ahead Phase 3 about to reshape the northern approach of the centre to enhance the urban environment for shoppers, pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users
  • the woefully indirect National Cycle Network Route 93 skirts the edge of the YSI project area
  • Belfast Bike Hire stations planned in a dense pattern, with future expansion to the north very likely if successful

“Dedicated cycling provision throughout the existing [YSI] area is limited. None of the existing road network currently has adjacent cycling lane provision, thus cycling journeys made through the existing junction arrangement are on-road and in direct interaction with local and strategic traffic.”

(York Street Interchange Preferred Options Report: Volume 1 / DRD / October 2012)

YSIgantry

The current conditions for cycling are awful, with the 5 to 6 lane York Street forming the northbound section of a huge gyratory system. Traffic volume and speed make this desperately unattractive for cycling, and southbound journeys impossible without taking to the (deserted) pavements. The whole area is a tarmac jungle, long ago purged of vibrant street-level human activity.

But the YSI project offered some hope – after all, taking into account the usual physical constraints, DRD and their contracted designers have been working on a blank canvas. While the project objectives and designs may have pre-dated the Cycling Revolution™, we might expect to see something a little bit radical..

..but instead we have the usual advanced stop lines, on-road cycle lanes (which the Chair of the All Party Group on Cycling Chris Lyttle referred to as “little more than a few of pots of paint”) and the coup de grâce – a shared bus and cycle lane. Because that’s what old-school road engineers think people riding bicycles in cities want, or certainly can be fobbed off with.

We’ll look later at the archaic cycling provision and compare with developing standards in other UK cities. But a more fundamental problem with the YSI plan lies in the power relationships inside DRD – what good is a Bicycle Strategy if those who design the blue riband strategic road schemes can simply bypass it?

“We will work with other Government Departments, District Councils, the voluntary and private sectors and other interested parties to ensure that the Strategy is fully and optimally implemented.”

(Draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland / DRD / August 2014)

Cross-Departmental cycling working groups have already been set up to ensure co-ordination of cycling activities across Northern Ireland government. But what about the toughest nut to crack – the vested interests within the Cycling Unit’s own Department? High quality cycling space is absent from the YSI project, including the crucial ‘local traffic’ bridge passing over the sunken motorway connections. Is this because it sits in another “silo” within DRD, which couldn’t give a fig about the “problems” of cyclists?

“I am very clear on where the boundaries of my scheme lie. I am very aware of project creep, because project creep relates to increased costs .. this cannot be seen as the answer to everyone’s problems for the whole of the area. We have accommodated the link through under the Whitla Street underpass, to provide for the linkage to one of the cycle route networks, so there are changes to that. We are consulting with our cycling colleagues to ensure that as far as possible we accommodate them. The reference to the “couple of cans of paint” on the York Street Bridge – I think there has to be a bit of an appreciation of the cost of widening that bridge to accommodate these. It is not insignificant to widen that bridge in those circumstances to provide an extra, say 1.5m on each side.” [my emphasis]

(Roy Spiers / DRD / at the Regional Development Committee, 19 February 2015)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pnqhz2fR1w?t=2h18m11s&w=800&h=450]

.

The language is instructive – this is a motorway scheme, a motor vehicle project, something to make car journeys faster. Pedestrians naturally have their footways, and the railway line is immovable, but cars, vans, trucks and motorbikes are the focus, the boundary limit. Decent cycling infrastructure? Improving access for cycling? Not part of the plan. A problem. An addition. Project creep. An unforeseen exception. Not something to be integrated into a £165m project, but a difficult, unreasonably costly (!) and frankly unwelcome accommodation.

By the way, you might consider that to be the biased view of a pro-cycling writer – but it’s writ large in the project brief..

What of that bridge which would have to be widened to “accommodate” the wild demands of the “cycling lobby”?

Cargobike Dad does an excellent job of reallocating the generous motor vehicle space on the bridge, but you only need to look at the real estate given over to “separation strips”. Keeping vehicles apart appears to have a higher priority than providing space for cycling. On questioning the representatives at the YSI public face-to-face consultation event, these 1.6m strips were described as “essential” for traffic lights. This despite the fact there are existing overhead gantries on the road, and another is planned for the new scheme.

Who’s asking for a widened bridge? No-one. That’s a handy bit of bluster to distract from engineers’ unwillingness to imagine that a good quality cycle route should, over time, reduce non-strategic vehicle traffic levels.

“We are committed to creating a network of high quality, direct, joined up routes. We want to make the bicycle an attractive, obvious mode of transport, and to help those who choose to cycle, by having high quality infrastructure which provides greater priority for the bicycle.”

(Draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland / DRD / August 2014)

It might be worth learning the lessons from the last bridge built over a strategic road in Belfast. Less than ten years ago and a mile away is the Grosvenor Road bridge, rebuilt as part of the Westlink upgrade. Dedicated cycling space wasn’t included, missing another “once in a lifetime opportunity” to remove a physical barrier between the City Centre and West Belfast with its terribly low cycling rates.

As it turns out some DRD engineers managing YSI also worked on the Westlink project. So who is advising the current “Strategic Advisory Group” on the active travel elements of the YSI project, to ensure history doesn’t repeat? Sustrans would be a safe and trusted option for DRD – again the language is instructive:

“The Strategic Advisory Group is a group of individuals who I have invited who, I feel, have a contribution to make to the aesthetics and integration of this. This carries on from a similar group that I had in place for Westlink. If I open this out to all and sundry I get nowhere, is the answer. Sustrans is not on the group. The thing is, I am there, I chair the group, I will be looking at the aesthetics, the integration, user appreciation of the route to ensure that if there is something that we can do to make it more user-friendly in any circumstances for non-motorised users, as well as motorists.” [my emphasis]

(Roy Spiers / DRD / at the Regional Development Committee, 19 February 2015)

That even a (relatively conservative) group like Sustrans isn’t permitted near this little silo in DRD speaks volumes for the chances of dragging blinkered road engineers into the 21st century.

“We aspire to become more like our European neighbours who have embraced the bicycle as simply ‘another mode’ of transport that is accessible, attractive, safe and desirable.”

(Draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland / DRD / August 2014)

Inconsistent route design

One of the key problems with any cycle route in Belfast (if we have such things) is inconsistency. Whether it’s cycle lanes disappearing at junctions, bus lanes marketed as cycling infrastructure or plainly dangerous design features, these are issues which need to be addressed in all forthcoming road schemes.

Here we have a northbound on-road cycle lane (whether it’s advisory or mandatory is not the point – only paint ‘separates’ bicycles and motor vehicles) and a southbound route largely shared with buses, taxis and motorcycles. It could be lifted from any arterial route in Belfast today where this pattern repeats – and has delivered shamefully low cycling levels to date.

inconsistent

Where space exists beside the bus lane for a separate, dedicated cycle track, instead we have hatching where buses can apparently overtake cyclists safely and without causing intimidation. The lack of insight is par for the course.

No bus stop bypass

Cycling past the busy Cityside Retail Park means potential conflict with buses, which have to cross the cycle lane to reach the bus stop.

© Crown Copyright - published with permission of DRD
© Crown Copyright – published with permission of DRD

The bus stop bypass is a common design feature in The Netherlands, taking the cycle lane behind the bus stop to avoid conflict. It’s beginning to be rolled out in areas of the UK and Ireland where authorities are truly serious about cycling..

Hanging cycle lanes

In quick succession bicycle users will face conflict actively designed into York Street – a left turn into the Cityside Retail Park followed by a left turn to Brougham Street (pictured below).  The cycle lane continues across the turn, leaving a the cycle lane hanging between two lanes of motor traffic. This is plainly dangerous, and a massive barrier to inexperienced or nervous bicycle users.

© Crown Copyright - published with permission of DRD
© Crown Copyright – published with permission of DRD

It’s exactly the type of design one would expect the DRD Cycling Unit to be phasing out, in favour of international best practice.

ASLs everywhere

The advanced stop line cycle box – an easy stamp to show cycling has been catered for, while actually doing nothing to grow cycling levels. And the YSI designers have gone ASL-wild, with a desperately scatter-gun approach.

© Crown Copyright - published with permission of DRD
© Crown Copyright – published with permission of DRD

Some with lead-in cycle lanes, some without; some which are placed at the entrance to a road; one which place the braver cyclist into lanes which lead only to a motorway. There is even a monster ASL which is FIVE lanes wide – and didn’t the wider cycling world laugh at Belfast (it’s worth reading this entire thread for the disbelief) especially when the penny dropped that it already exists..

The ASL is a useless substitute for truly safe junction design, explained in simple terms here by Bicycle Dutch

Transport shift at the University

The importance of active travel at the new Ulster University campus seems to have been given very little attention. By 2018 over 15,000 students and staff will be based on the edge of the YSI site. A quick look at the various planning applications for student accommodation give enough cause for a major objection to the current YSI design. These five plans alone (listed on the excellent Future Belfast website) cater for over 500 bicycle parking spaces, vastly outnumbering the planned car park spaces. This is harsh reality clashing with DRD fantasy..

“We want to be visionary in our approach and we want to embrace innovation. We are developing a long term strategy, spanning a 25 year horizon, to give us the chance to make Northern Ireland a cycling society.”

(Draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland / DRD / August 2014)

By 2040 the streets in this area should have good quality space for cycling in a dense grid suitable for users of all ages and abilities, linking in with a new bridge across the River Lagan and serving a growing, vibrant inner city population who will be less reliant on car transport. How much of this can be created cheaply and easily now on YSI’s blank canvas, instead of DRD having to return for a costly and disruptive (perhaps prohibitively so) retrofit later?

futureYSI

The Bicycle Strategy took flak for its inclusion of ‘types of cyclists’ which many pointed out could lead to just this type of patchwork design. Any engineer considering how to include space for cycling in the YSI plans should have only one user in mind – an 8 year old child. Get it right for them, and you get it right for everyone.

Whether with a peer group or with their family, ask yourself would an 8 year old feel confident and be safe to cycle through this area? If the answer is no, change the design to make it safe. If you’re wondering why an 8 year old needs to be cycling through a busy interchange, you are the impediment to necessary change.

From the initial aims and objectives of the project through to the delivery mechanisms, ploughing a huge road scheme through a city quarter and denying any responsibility to create benefits for non-motorised users is desperately arrogant. It’s time to hand the ‘local’ sections over to the DRD Cycling Unit which, both technically and politically, faces its first big test. I hope they can strike a decisive early blow for the Cycling Revolution™.

Send your views on the York Street Interchange project by the consultation closing date on Tuesday 10th March to:

The Divisional Manager
Transport NI – Eastern Division Headquarters
Hydebank
4 Hospital Road
Belfast
BT8 8JL

Or email to: roads.sriteastern@drdni.gov.uk

For more resources on the York Street Interchange try these sites: