Biffa’s explanation this time is that neither Biffa nor their client businesses are responsible for blocking the cycle lane. A mysterious unseen force is at work! Sensing Biffa trying to cover their behinds in the face of evidence showing blatant obstructions, NI Greenways allows poor Biffa enough rope to hang themselves..
According to our Traffic Dispatcher at the depot, he has spoken with the driver who does this round. The driver has assured us that when he gets to the bin it is already in the cycle lane and after he empties it he sets it back against the wall. This afternoon our depot spoke to the manager of the Basement bar and explained the situation, he has told us that they always leave the bin up against the wall when they put it out in the morning. Given that both the manager of the bar and our driver are both insisting that they leave the bin against the wall, it must be being moved by a third party. If we could obtain CCTV we’d know for certain. Unfortunately, all we can do for now is move the bin back every time we discover it relocated. Happy to work with you if you have any other suggestions.
– May 7 – NI Greenways
Really appreciate you getting back so quickly.
Can I clarify exactly what you’re saying in your email, perhaps easiest if we refer to the attached picture?
The Basement staff and Biffa staff are leaving the red Biffa bin by the wall (marked GOOD) but some unknown third party is moving them to the cycle lane (marked BAD, Wastebeater bin as example). Is this correct?
– May 7 – Biffa
This appears to be the case. As I said, we are happy to work with you on a solution, if one can be found.
– May 8 – NI Greenways
Thanks for the clarification. The solution is very obvious when we summarise the situation as you lay it out:
Basement staff are leaving the Biffa bin out for collection on the pavement, obstructing the public footpath
Some mysterious third party is then moving the bin to obstruct the cycle lane
Biffa staff collect the refuse and return the bin to its position obstructing the footpath
Again a third party then removes the bin to obstruct the cycle lane
Basement staff (at some point) take the bin back into the alleyway
So, whether or not some pesky unseen hand is taking the Biffa bin into the cycle lane, you’ve been very clear that both Basement staff and Biffa staff are placing the bin in a position which restricts pedestrian use of the footpath. If this is reported to Roads Service, the bin could be removed. This could leave the Basement liable to a return fee, and could jeopardise your client relationship. Never mind the grubby corporate image for Biffa of a branded bin blocking a city centre footpath/cycle lane and causing great inconvenience for wheelchair users among others.
The solution is very simple. Bins should be left at, and returned to, the alleyway. I look forward to your reply
– May 8 – Biffa
Many thanks for your suggestion. I’ll speak to the depot and find out whether this is possible. I imagine from our point of view, it makes no difference if the bin is located in the alleyway. However, I’m based in Birmingham and not familiar with this area. By leaving the bin in the alleyway it may be obstructing delivery/emergency vehicles or there may be some other reason. I’ll check with the depot and let you know.
– May 8 – Biffa
I’ve spoken to the depot. They will ask the driver to pull the bin the 100 yards up the alley way back to the basement bar after it has been emptied. If its left in the entry to the alley way it’ll block access to a garage, which may explain the third party issue. Hopefully this will resolve the issue.
… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …
Give credit to Biffa for another speedy response and, at the point of complaint, a willingness to engage. Also thanks to DRD, who are keen to hear about bins blocking this cycle lane, and will happily remove offending items if reported.
Whether the spooky third party movement excuse was a spectacular porky or not, at least it cleared up that Biffa bins shouldn’t be blocking the pavement or the cycle lane. And they won’t be in the future. Will they? Oh Biffa..
This was actually the second illegal parking survey conducted by Belfast cyclists, and we received a terribly poor response last year (red light jumping – really?!). This time around, the Department have spent even less time addressing the survey, with another crushingly boring letter (with press office written all over it) ignoring the problem. The full response is attached below, but is perfectly summarised by the final sentence:
“Following your e-mail [the traffic warden contractor] NSL has been directed to continue to take enforcement action as necessary on their routine patrols during clearway periods.”
This can reasonably be boiled down to:
We are acting upon this information by doing nothing different.
The circumstances may be slightly different, but look 100 miles down the road to the Dublin City Council Beta Projects and despair that DRD can’t be more open to this kind of innovative public engagement.
Frustration is building that DRD have no interest in looking at this issue, and by association, no interest in the safe operation of the existing cycle lane ‘network’. The survey team will be seeking a meeting with DRD to address cyclists’ real concerns, to try to move the issue forward:
Does DRD recognise there is a particular issue of importance being raised here?
Does DRD feel it is acceptable for the level of illegal blocking of cycle lanes to be happening under its watch?
What is the typical number of NSL staff deployed to patrol the city centre parking zone each weekday (09.00-18.00)?
By comparison what is the typical number of NSL staff deployed on arterial routes each weekday evening during urban clearway operation (16.30-18.00)?
How does DRD/NSL track the operational coverage of wardens on arterial routes?
How are the effectiveness of the new scooter wardens / clamp and tow truck assessed?
What are the performance measures for NSL?
What is being done to address the ‘hot spots’ identified in the 2 surveys, for example Shankill, Springfield, Castlereagh, Cregagh and Crumlin roads?
What further engagement with local businesses on arterial urban clearway routes has happened / is planned since the Parking Do’s and Don’ts leaflet?
Although no-one’s betting the house on that meeting happening..
Thank you for your recent email about illegal parking in cycle lanes in Belfast during morning and evening clearway periods.
As you will be aware, NSL provides parking enforcement on behalf of Roads Service and routinely deploys Traffic Attendants to patrol the main arterial routes in Belfast during the morning and evening clearway periods. Traffic Attendants will take enforcement action if they detect vehicles parked in contravention of enforceable restrictions.
Roads Service’s records for Belfast show that in 2012, during clearway periods, 5528 Penalty Charge Notices (Parking Tickets) were issued to vehicles parked on the carriageway and a further 363 to vehicles parked on the footway. It is not possible to separate Parking Tickets issued to vehicles parked in cycle lanes as they would be issued for the clearway contravention.
During clearway periods vehicles are permitted to set down and pick up passengers, however they cannot simply park. If a vehicle is detected by a Traffic Attendant as parked during clearway times and the driver is in the vehicle they will be afforded the opportunity to drive away and park legally elsewhere, however, unattended vehicles should be issued with a Parking Ticket.
During clearway periods it can be difficult for Traffic Attendants to deal with short term parking as vehicles often park for a few minutes only, or they may drive away before a Parking Ticket is issued, or the Traffic Attendant may be patrolling another location when these vehicles park.
As part of the new Parking Enforcement contract which commenced in October 2012 Roads Service has also introduced a number of new initiatives including;
The distribution of parking information leaflets to the public detailing the Do’s and Don’ts when parking their vehicle, including clearways, bus lanes and cycle lanes. (copy attached)
The development of a Parking Enforcement Protocol, which provides the public with detailed information on all the parking contraventions, including bus lanes, cycle lanes and clearways, this is available on NI Direct website: Travel, transport and Roads / Parking and parking enforcement section.
The Introduction of scooters specifically for clearway enforcement patrols. These provide greater flexibility, can cover greater distances and should provide more effective enforcement.
Roads Service does respond to requests for additional enforcement, subject to resources, if there are locations where there is persistent parking during clearway periods. Following your e-mail NSL has been directed to continue to take enforcement action as necessary on their routine patrols during clearway periods.
Bike Week 2013 offers people in Northern Ireland a unique opportunity to hear from active travel experts and to quiz local politicians on cycling development.
Two free public events in Derry~Londonderry and Belfast on Wednesday 19th June entitled Politically Painless Active Travel will explore the steps to get more people cycling and walking in Northern Ireland. The events are being organised by CTC, Sustrans, Travelwise and Derry City Council.
Registration is free and both events are open to the public.
Rachel Aldred is a London-based cycling sociologist who teaches and researches transport.
A Senior Lecturer in Transport at Westminster University, blogger and commentator on cycling strategy, policy and culture, Dr Aldred will be speaking about how to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream, and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability.
Gordon Seabright is the Chief Executive of the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), the national cycling charity. CTC is an independent charity, with 70,000 members nationally. Gordon took up post in March 2012. He will be giving an overview of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s cycling inquiry, getting the fundamentals right and the economic benefits of cycling.
You can follow Gordon Seabright on Twitter at @GSeabright.
Lilli Matson is Transport for London’s (TfL’s) Head of Delivery Planning. She leads TfL’s strategy and planning of surface transport priorities and projects – with a focus on managing freight and transport demand, planning for bus priority across London, promoting walking, cycling, accessible public transport and improving road safety. She will give insights into implementing active travel on crowded roadspace and the political leadership needed.
Politically Painless Active Travel seminar
Getting more safer walking and cycling The Guildhall, Derry~Londonderry 10am Wednesday 19 June 2013
10.00 Registration and coffee
10.20 Jimmy Spratt MLA
Welcome from the Chair of Regional Development Committee
10.25 Dr Rachel Aldred
How to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability
10.50 Denise Gallanagh-Wood (An Taisce) and Michele Murphy (Sustrans)
Getting the nation walking and cycling and the success of green schools in Ireland and Bike It in Northern Ireland
11.15 Dr Willie Burke (Derry City Council) and Ross McGill (Sustrans) Route Development and promotion in Derry~Londonderry
12.00 Lilli Matson (Transport for London)
Implementing active travel on crowded roadspace and the political leadership needed
13.30Walk~Cycle to the Peace Bridge and Riverside Greenway to look at Derry~Londonderry’s active travel infrastructure
14.00 (back at The Guildhall) Sean Lynch MLA The Deputy Chair of the Regional Development Committee chairs the afternoon session – a member from each of the 5 main Northern Ireland political parties gives the party view on walking and cycling, and then questions from the floor
15.15 Gordon Seabright (CTC Chief Executive)
**Anyone travelling from Belfast to The Guildhall/Peace Bridge event can take advantage of the superb rail link to the North West. Enjoy free WiFi and a relaxing trip along one of the most picturesque rail journeys in Europe. The 07.10 departure from Belfast Great Victoria Street will arrive at Derry~Londonderry at 9.25am. It’s a £17.50 day return from Belfast.
Politically Painless Active Travel public meeting
Getting more safer walking and cycling The MAC (The Factory space), Belfast 6pm Wednesday 19 June 2013
18.00 Arrival & registration
18.10 Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy
Welcome and Minister’s comment
18.15 Gordon Seabright (CTC Chief Executive)
Overview of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry, getting the fundamentals right and the economic benefits of cycling
18.40 Dr Rachel Aldred
How to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability
19.05 Denise Gallanagh-Wood (An Taisce)
Getting the nation walking and cycling and the success of green schools in Ireland
The North Down Coastal Path, and the surrounding local economy, is one major project away from fulfilling its tourism and leisure potential. A new high quality traffic-free link is needed to address the current disconnection from Belfast. This will integrate with the growing urban greenway network, encourage Belfast residents to visit North Down more regularly, and open up a new seam of tourism opportunities. Considering the current options for route development, an intriguing new greenway project is proposed.
. The North Down Coastal Path begins at the north end of the George Best Belfast City Airport runway, with a gate to the road running past the Kinnegar Army base. From here, Belfast City Hall is 6.5km away with no direct traffic-free route. When the Connswater Community Greenway is completed as far as Victoria Park the shortest distance to this pathway network will be 4.5km, but accessible only by busy main roads.
This is a particular problem for leisure cycling; families with youngsters, inexperienced cyclists, tourists based in Belfast. These are already significant distances before the relaxed ‘leisure’ part begins, and poses a barrier to many people who would otherwise love to tootle along the coast for a day and spend in the local economy.
At present there are just two options available for travelling by road. Both routes are quite direct, but also have severe drawbacks for cycling and walking.
The A2 / Sydenham Bypass
The road ‘benefits’ from separate cycle tracks on both carriageways, but you’ll seldom see people choosing to take this route. This is quite a horrible place to be on a bicycle; a heavy traffic urban dual carriageway, with vehicles travelling above and below the 50mph speed limit.
An apparent lack of sweeping leaves the cycling surface strewn with road grit and glass. Not a happy start or end to a leisure trip, and not somewhere suitable for children or inexperienced riders to cycle. Great if you like cinematic thrills, but not fit for purpose as a modern cycle route.
Pedestrian access to the bypass is slightly easier with the footbridge at Sydenham Station and subway by Victoria Park, but the drawbacks of the traffic noise and fumes make this a less than appealing environment. Popular with joggers and power walkers, but lacking in great utility.
Future development of the road will include widening to three lanes each way. There will be just one 3.5m shared cycle/footway on the Victoria Park/Airport side – finally to include a physical barrier which should improve safety perception – but designing a mixed footpath on this fast cycling commuter route is a real backward step.
While it’s important to retain cycling and walking space in major road developments, this appears to be an ideal time to seek better accommodation for sustainable journeys on this corridor.
The Airport Road
Favoured by many cyclists at present, the Airport Road tracks the western side of George Best Belfast City Airport. By comparison with the Sydenham Bypass, the traffic flows are greatly reduced. Yet heavy goods vehicles and oil tankers dominate the road here, and again this poses a frightening dilemma for the novice cyclist. The pathways suffer from high kerbs and no dropped access at the many side roads; unsuitable for cycling, so the road is the only option at present.
Yet there is another issue which makes this route currently unattractive – the isolation. There is one way in and one way out, with some limited added value with the commuting link to the Bombardier site and businesses based in the Heron Road Complex. But workers here will tell you the dirt left by heavy construction traffic makes cycle commuting conditions less than ideal.
The Airport Road option also narrows the usefulness of the route to cyclists only. Very few ‘additional’ walking journeys would be generated along this stretch, being set so far away from residential areas.
But is there another way to accommodate sustainable transport in this part of the city, and link the greenway networks, away from the compromises of being tied to major roads?
A Sydenham Community Greenway?
Looking to the southeast side of the airport, across the A2 and railway line, there is another option worth exploring which ticks many more boxes:
space for full mode separation where needed
integration with rail network
greater number of access points
weaving through residential communities
integration with existing leisure facilities
new commuting and shopping access
Starting from the Connswater Community Greenway link to Victoria Park, this route would make use of Inverary Drive. This traffic-calmed and relaxed residential road is an ideal start, running for almost a full kilometre. There is an existing bridging pathway between Park Road and Inverary Drive which can be upgraded to greenway standard.
Inverary Drive is a wide and calm street environment with very little through traffic. It’s possible to accomodate cycling on the road (with a 20mph limit) but space exists to provide a fully separate track by the railway fence for a ‘continuous’ route feel, and providing the highest safety standard to separate pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles for this short stretch.
There is an important link with Sydenham railway station on this route, and a greenway route on the doorstep opens this station up as a jumping off point for journeys towards the Connswater/Comber corridor, and north where we’re headed.
Continuing on, the road turns east into Inverary Avenue at the Inverary Community Centre, but this proposal would run a traffic-free path behind the centre and through Alderman Tommy Patton Memorial Park. This popular urban park has recently upgraded its play facilities, and is another lesser-known gem in Belfast. Passing by the football pitches, the new path would approach a patch of woodland. There is an existing looped forest pathway which runs along the boundary with the train line; this could be carefully and respectfully upgraded for the purposes of a continuous greenway route.
Viewed from the woodland path, the potential local benefits of the next section start to snowball – the main terminal of George Best Belfast City Airport is but a stone’s throw away. The greenway would continue to follow the line of the railway fence, across the back of Shorts Recreation Club and Blanchflower Park.
The roundabout at the airport tunnel leads off to an abandoned access road. Today this is used for fly tipping and is a favourite spot for taxis wanting to beat the waiting restrictions within the airport car parks. This is ripe for conversion to a walking and cycling-only route into the Harbour Estate at Holywood Exchange as part of the greenway. The proposed path would cut left alongside the airport boundary fence and into the retail complex at IKEA’s massive sign. There is already a natural land buffer between the airport boundary fence and Airport Road West, ripe for a separate cycle track all the way to the North Down Coastal Path.
Hundreds more local workers travel to the large businesses situated here: IKEA, Decathlon, B&Q, Sainsburys, Next, BHS, Harvey Norman. Commuting options are increased for locals, but also new options for shopping trips..
Cough cough .. stop right there! Shopping at IKEA? By bike?!
The separate cycle pathway would continue along the airport boundary fence until passing out of the Holywood Exchange complex, before turning under the flight path at the end of the runway. This is another one of those little treasures of Belfast – standing under a landing aircraft seemingly at touching distance.
Getting from the airport side to the Kinnegar gates requires a road crossing – the only one on this entire 4km route. The bulk of traffic on the road only goes as far as the retail park, so a pelican crossing beyond B&Q could be an appropriate solution. Once the confusing access issues with the Habour Tillysburn gates are ironed out, a continuous link to the North Down Coastal Path is now achieved.
Local value of a long-distance greenway
Running the connecting greenway through a residential community rather than the Airport Road must be carefully weighed. The main local benefit would be the potential displacement of some regular private car journeys to cycling and walking.
The 3 wards surrounding this proposed route, Sydenham, Island and Belmont, have just over 16,000 residents. Census figures bear out that these ‘greenway wards’ are not much different from the rest of Belfast; just shy of a quarter of all commuting journeys are under 2km (1.2 miles) and nearly two thirds within 5km (3 miles) range. Yet motorised trips are higher here at 56% (48% all Belfast) and walking journeys lower at 17% (22% all Belfast). One third of households in the greenway wards have no access to a car, which is a high figure in itself, but less than the Belfast average (40%), so the area is possibly more car dependant that it needs to be.
While the footprint of the proposed greenway is on the periphery of the residential area in these wards, it would still open up new linkages into the harbour estate and enhanced traffic-free sections for many parents and children on the school run to Victoria Park Primary School, Ashfield High Schools and Sandbrook Nursery School.
A potential new community greenway for Belfast, linking the city with the North Down Coastal Path, providing viable commuting, shopping and leisure alternatives to private car travel. On the face of it would seem a very cost-effective option should Belfast City Council, Northern Ireland Government departments, Sustrans or others wish to take it forward with a feasibility study. With just a few wrinkles to be ironed out on access, this would seem to provide excellent value for money – a 4km Sydenham Community Greenway as the final piece of a fully connected Belfast Metropolitan Area greenway network. Is it possible?
In a new twist to the ongoing Belfast bin lane saga, it has been claimed that the Ulster Bank is telling delivery drivers to park illegally on the mandatory cycle lane on Upper Arthur Street in Belfast.
But the bins are only half the story. The cycle lane is starting to become a popular spot for vans and trucks delivering to local businesses. For the majority of this cycle lane, it’s entirely illegal. Finding my way blocked by a van on the morning of 27th March 2013, I stopped for a chat with the DHL delivery driver blocking the cycle lane outside the Ulster Bank. Here’s what he said:
Can this be true? Is the Ulster Bank really telling delivery companies to block the mandatory cycle lane in Upper Arthur Street? Not the same Ulster Bank whose corporate sustainability blurb states:
“One of Ulster Bank’s founding principles is to run our business responsibly” including“giving something back to the community” and“taking steps to protect the environment.”
Of course, the Ulster Bank has committed no parking violation here – it is for individual delivery drivers and companies to act according to the rules of the road and in line with their own corporate codes of conduct. But why is this such a problem in this one location?
Recently a DPD delivery van was caught in exactly the same spot delivering to (you’ve guessed it) the Ulster Bank, causing a clear danger to passing cyclists:
“This is not an appropriate place for our van to be parked. The van clearly impeded cyclists using the cycle way as it blocked their path, and the video shows a number of cyclists moving out onto the main road in order to avoid both the bin and the vehicle. I want to assure you that immediate corrective action will be taken with the driver involved to ensure that he/she clearly understands the dangerous position that the cyclists and potentially other road users were placed in.”
But DHL and DPD aren’t the only delivery drivers illegally blocking this same cycle lane. Here we see a TPN truck causing a cyclist to swerve off the cycle lane so that he can park up and deliver to a familiar building..
A mandatory cycle lane is intended to be fully separate from normal traffic, to the point where parking rules dictate that loading / unloading is not permitted, not even for delivery services, and no grace period applies. A penalty charge notice will be issued for a vehicle sitting in this cycle lane, contrary to what the DHL driver stated and claimed that Ulster Bank is instructing for deliveries.
The rules on double yellow lines depend on local conditions and signage. However it appears on Upper Arthur Street that loading / unloading is permitted for vehicles sitting on double yellows with the general exemption for postal services applying, and probably for longer than the 10 minutes I stated in the video. Either way, the cycle lane is for cycling, not parking.
If businesses on this street find on-street parking bays are restricting access for loading / unloading, they should be lobbying Road Service for dedicated bays to be introduced. Turning a blind eye, or worse, to illegally blocking the cycle lane is not the solution.
Over to the Ulster Bank
As the major business on the cycle lane side of Upper Arthur Street (this is the backside of their Northern Ireland HQ) the Ulster Bank needs to be unequivocal on this issue. The following is needed:
Does the Ulster Bank give instructions to delivery drivers and companies to block the Upper Arthur Street cycle lane?
Does the Ulster Bank recognise the damage being caused to sustainable transport in Belfast by deliveries to their premises?
Will the Ulster Bank broadcast clear instructions to all delivery partners NOT to park illegally here?
Will the Ulster Bank demonstrate their commitment by placing a sign at their Upper Arthur Street entrances to dissuade illegal parking?
Between bins sitting out all day and vehicles blocking the lane at will, it sometimes seems the only people barred from using the cycle lane are cyclists themselves. We’re hopefully about to enter another summer of cycling growth in Belfast. Where public money is spent on good quality dedicated cycling facilities, they need to be accessible to the public at all times.
Relying on enforcement to keep individual lanes clear isn’t working, and only tackles the symptoms. It’s time for Ulster Bank, delivery companies and bin owners to start acting responsibly, prevent these problems from occurring in the first place, and take the lead on promoting a better image for Belfast.
Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy is in the final stages of considering whether to allow all taxis into bus lanes in Northern Ireland. What appeared just weeks ago to be a done deal in favour of the taxi lobby, has been thrown into the mix again by vocal opposition from ordinary commuters in Belfast. But are Departmental officials giving enough weight to the perception of safety among current cyclists, and crucially the thousands of people Belfast needs to convince to switch to the bike?
Taxis want access to bus lanes simply to speed past rush hour traffic – this is clear and obvious. Yet this clashes with both the requirement for an efficient, reliable and attractive bus service (DRD admit bus journey times will be slowed) and the view among cyclists that 2,000+ taxis threatens the sense and reality of safety and security on their journey.
Foxes in the chicken coop
Cyclists launched a campaign against the plan with a City Hall protest and a petition, handed in to the Minister on 13th March. Among the 500+ signatories, many added personal comments to the petition – 76% quoted “safety of bus lanes” as their major concern, effectively a ‘subjective‘ view that private taxis will lessen safety. Views on this ranged from individuals reconsidering their own journey choice to the common belief that it will damage cycling across the city.
“The main issue that was brought up in the consultation was the adverse impact to safety of cyclists, and if I could elaborate a little bit on that … the information we have in the last 3 years up to March ’11, showed that there were very few collisions actually in bus lanes, and of the collisions that were caused in bus lanes were actually crossing manoeuvres; vehicles that were actually crossing from the main traffic flow across the bus lane, possibly into side streets. That was the main cause. In fact the information we have, no accidents that were actually caused between vehicles that were actually allowed to use the bus lane, that were permitted to be there. So from that point of view, we feel that the vehicles that actually use the bus lane and the causation of accidents in the bus lane obviously isn’t an issue … we feel that it will not, hopefully, have a detrimental effect to the safety of cyclists.”
In one sense DRD have done their job correctly here – measuring objective safety and declaring that bus lanes are demonstrably safe spaces for cyclists. But DRD have told us what we already know, and why we’re trying to retain this ‘safer’ network. Not particularly enlightening.
On the other hand, the flawed logic could be compared to a farmer who protects his hen house with a wire fence and strong lock at night. With no evidence or experience of attacks on hens, he takes it as proof that allowing foxes into the coop shouldn’t be detrimental to the safety of hens.
Perception of safety is valued by policy makers (elsewhere)
There are moves to add perception of risk and safety to transport planning in other areas, notably by the Department for Transport in Whitehall. But it seems policy makers in Northern Ireland have little to go on other than collision stats. The situation is quite different in countries where cycling as transport is valued.
Copenhagen is a city where 36% of all trips to work or places of education are made by bike, and they are aiming for 50% as their next milestone between 2015 and 2025 (Belfast has no targets). In their current bicycle strategy document, there is a clear distinction made between accidents (objective safety) and the “sense of security” (subjective safety):
Traffic safety has been greatly improved over the past few years. Statistically, the risk of being involved in a serious accident has fallen by 72% per cycled kilometre since 1996. Copenhageners’ sense of security in the traffic has also improved of late. If this sense of security is to rise even further among current cyclists and potential cyclists alike, the most important areas of focus are creating more space on the cycle tracks, making intersections safer and using behavioural campaigns to improve consideration in traffic – including on the cycle tracks. The general traffic safety efforts are also very important. For example, reducing speed limits for cars where necessary.
In the Netherlands, the principles of ‘sustainable safety’ would mean conflict between fast taxis and slower cyclists would be designed out of, not into, road policy. SWOV, the Institute for Road Safety Research, has also studied subjective safety in traffic (for all users), and points out the weak relationship between objective and subjective safety – which at the very least should lead DRD to question the role of accident statistics as the sole determining factor in the taxi decision. Recognising that at the extremes fear of traffic may affect individual travel choice, the question must be asked about the value of improving subjective safety:
If the objective is the reduction of the number of road casualties, then improving subjective safety in traffic is hardly important. If the objective is to use feelings of being unsafe as an indicator for possible dormant road safety hazards, it is important to assess the validity of these complaints and signals. If the objective is to make people feel at ease in their living environment, and to prevent them from feeling that their own mobility or that of others is impeded by feelings of being unsafe in traffic, then improving subjective safety is important.
Should DRD be using an ‘objective’ measure to dismiss a ‘subjective’ fear, especially one which has great potential to limit personal choices? If the third goal listed above extends to the desire for adding more cyclists to the transport mix in Belfast, then DRD are duty bound to research, evaluate and seek to improve subjective safety of cycling, something worryingly absent from the consultation and the rush to bow to taxi firms’ wishes.
Attractiveness: Routes must be attractive to cyclists on subjective as well as objective criteria. Lighting, personal safety, aesthetics, noise and integration with the surrounding area are important (my emphasis)
It’s fair to assume most people who signed the taxis in bus lanes petition cycle regularly on roads, and the message from those who added comments was clear. 76% of people specifically mentioned bus lanes as being valuable safe space for cycling. 25% believed taxis are a uniquely dangerous form of transport, 20% were convinced the plan runs contrary to DRD policies to promote sustainable transport, and interestingly 6% of people indicated that giving up cycling as a result of this plan was a serious option.
We’re making a clear point, but is anyone listening?
The problem with collision statistics #1
DRD’s evidence showing “accidents in the bus lanes obviously isn’t an issue” is based on existingbus lane conditions, which of course doesn’t include the private hire taxis that so concern cyclists. Not only will bus lane traffic be doubled, it will be made more competitive, with new faster vehicles mixing with existing slower users. If you don’t think taxis will create more dangerous situations for cyclists in bus lanes, here’s what William McCausland from Fonacab stated after the City Hall cycling protest:
“The taxis aren’t nearly as large as the buses, so their ability to manoeuvre around the cyclists is going to be much simpler.” Source: UTV
This is exactly the type of reckless attitude that has brought us to this point of protest. Most Belfast bus lanes are at most 3 metres wide. There just isn’t the required safe clearance for a saloon car to pass a cyclist within the boundaries of a bus lane with traffic to the right. This is the type of impatient manoeuvre we so fear, and Fonacab are clearly chomping at the bit to let their drivers engage in. It’s so worrying that a ‘professional road user’ running a taxi firm would have so loose a grasp of Rule 163 of the Highway Code.
“give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”
The problem with collision statistics #2
There is also the troubling issue of relying on collision figures as a true measure of objective road safety. Our friends from Cyclist.ie pointed to a startling piece of research was commissioned in Ireland to attempt to inform road safety policy with an idea of the under-reporting of RTCs. The report showed that the Road Safety Authority’s collision figures were grossly out of step with the numbers of people actually admitted to and discharged from hospital as a result of a RTC – which was 3.5 times greater.
However, when it came to cyclists, over the five year period from 2005-09 the RSA reported 109 seriously injured cyclists on Ireland’s roads. The number of hospital discharges for cyclists involved in a RTC in the same period was 1,050: “The difference in numbers is almost ten-fold“. This is truly shocking.
This struck me on a personal level. I was knocked down just over two years ago, by a vehicle using an operational bus lane illegally. I didn’t require hospital treatment, but at the same time I didn’t report the issue to the PSNI either. Another unreported collision, among how many every year in Northern Ireland?
Cycling in Northern Ireland becoming more dangerous?
There’s little indication DRD have even recognised this as a particular developing problem, judging by the rush to place thousands of cyclists into conflict with thousands of taxis on tight bus lanes during the busiest periods on our roads.
Bus lanes = cycling network
How crucial are bus lanes to cycling in Belfast at present? DRD development of the Belfast arterial road network has produced a repeating pattern – citybound bus lanes for the morning commute, advisory cycle lanes mainly on the countrybound evening side, with some bus lanes substituting. According to DRD there is just 1.32 miles of segregated cycle tracks in Belfast, with many more areas shared with pedestrians, to varying degrees of usefulness/convenience/safety.
Ultimately this comes down to instinct. Those of us who currently use a bike on the road make our choice based on the balance of risk and reward for cycling in rush hour, and safer spaces have been demonstrated to make a difference even in Belfast, with rises of over 200% in a decade in some areas. Belfast is still in a period of cycling growth, but there’s no guarantee this will continue without investment in safer infrastructure and signalling to non-cyclists that safety concerns are being factored into transport planning. The gut feeling that roads are not a safe place to be on a bike clearly holds so many people back from cycling, male or female, young or old, rich or poor.
We are fighting to hold back the tide, with bus lanes rightly valued as some of the safest road space we have. Our low levels of cycling will tell you that bus lanes alone are not the answer, and many people simply will not cycle in traffic at all due to fear. But if we value the rises in cycling seen recently, how can we expect to build upon it when the little safe space we have is being taken away and turned into taxi expressways?
Belfast cyclists have again demonstrated that illegal parking on cycle lanes is creating danger on our roads and wasting public money.
16 volunteers – ordinary everyday people getting to work – logged 143 journeys over 5 days in November 2012, encountering 878 illegally parked vehicles along the way.
The Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes 2 survey shows that a typical cycling trip has an illegally parked vehicle blocking every 5 minutes or 3 times per journey. But what concerns cyclists most, and remains ignored by DRD, is that Belfast’s rush hour cycle lanes are blocked every 250 metres by an illegally parked vehicle.
It may be difficult to grasp the scale and difficulties caused by this problem if you don’t cycle in rush hour. Participants took video footage of some journeys during the survey week so that you can share the experience:
The survey has grown to be city-wide, but some areas have regular and stubborn clusters of illegal parking on cycle lanes. Here were the worst 5 roads by average number of blocks per trip:
Shankill Road – 49
Springfield Road – 27
Castlereagh Road – 15
Crumlin Road – 15
Cregagh Road – 7
A new Belfast record was set on the Shankill Road with 53 illegally parked cars blocking the cycle lane on one trip. The survey shows once more the useless nature of advisory cycle lanes, legally unenforceable except during urban clearway times. DRD compromise this ‘cycling’ infrastructure from the start to allow parking outside rush hour, but fail to make them available to cyclists during rush hour.
Pressure must be brought on DRD and Minister Danny Kennedy to stop ignoring the problems which hold down sustainable transport in Belfast . Lack of DRD enforcement is putting some of the most vulnerable road users in harm’s way every day.
The green cycle box is arguably the most high profile cycling investment in Northern Ireland in the last decade. Roads Service have mercilessly slathered green paint over junctions across the province, in one of many half-hearted attempts to convince people to get cycling on our roads.
I cycle across 6 advanced stop lines (to give them their official title) every day, and I struggle to see the benefit. Their presence encourages some uniquely difficult road manoeuvres, if not actually putting cyclists at greater risk on some parts of our roads. This is bad enough, but when it turns it that vehicles are blocking cycle boxes at 58% of red lights in rush hour it’s time to ask some serious questions.
By forgetting to delete these files as I went, I accidently ended up with a large dataset ready for a personal mini survey of cycling around Belfast!
My main commuting journey involves 3 cycle boxes in the morning:
John Long’s Corner (2 lanes)
St George’s Market at East Bridge Street (3 lanes)
Cromac Street pedestrian crossing (3 lanes)
and another 3 in the evening:
Hamilton Street exit Cromac Square (3 lanes)
Albert Bridge (5 lanes)
The Mount (3 lanes)
Reviewing footage from September 2012 to February 2013, I collected key data on cycle boxes from 185 mainly morning and evening rush hour journeys, on:
whether the light was red
if vehicles were present
if the cycle box was blocked by another vehicle (partially or completely)
if the junction was blocked on green
For balance, I also checked for the biggest problem on our roads, red light jumping cyclists.
During these journeys I encountered 625 cycle boxes. Just 370 had a red light, meaning I’m caught at these junctions 59% of the time.
Discarding 44 red lights (12%) where I didn’t reach (nor have sight of) the cycle box leaves a group of 326 occasions where I could judge interactions with other vehicles.
Blocked cycle boxes
138 cycle boxes were empty, but a whopping 188 cycle boxes had at least one blocking vehicle. That’s a blockage 58% of the time. These blocks involved a total of 285 vehicles, or typically 1.5 vehicles on every blocked cycle box. Just over a third of all blockages involved 2 or more vehicles.
What counted as a blockage? A partial block is where a car had rolled over the stop line (car in the picture below), and a complete block was leaving no room for a cyclist to stop in the cycle box (motorcycle in the picture below). Of all the blocked cycle boxes, the split was:
one or more vehicles partially covering the cycle box – 84
one or more completely blocking the cycle box – 70
a mix of both partial and complete blockages – 34
Each junction with a cycle box has different characteristics, but the stand-out junction for blocking is countrybound at The Mount (video below). This is a 3 lane junction with the outside right lane split to turn onto Castlereagh Street. The 2 ‘straight-on’ lanes benefit from cycle lane access all the way to the junction, but it’s useless for turning right.
Of 88 red lights I stopped at, 75 had at least one vehicle blocking the cycle box – the junction suffers from at least one blocking vehicle at 85% of red lights in rush hour. Added to this, cyclists filtering across 2 lanes to reach the split lane find an incredibly dangerous mix of a light which can’t be timed and a tight gap between traffic islands.
Cycle boxes (on this particular route) are not providing safe space for cyclists. Knowing your odds of getting comfortably and safely into dedicated cycle space is less than 50/50 means they are practically useless.
Not all vehicles sitting on a cycle box have done it intentionally – many drivers will rightly stop on amber rather than try to speed through the junction, and this may mean coming to a safe halt beyond the first stop line. However the sheer levels of blockages recorded indicates more is at work than just being caught out by light phases.
Whether there is a design solution to this, or it’s all down to driver education is up for debate. But there is that pesky question of enforcement..
What are the police doing to tackle cycle box blocking?
“The offence of breaching an advanced stop line is not differentiated from breach of a normal stop line (at a set of traffic lights) in police issued fixed penalties. Therefore there is no way to determine what manner of breach has occurred.”
This is despite a clear difference in the intent of a stop line with a cycle box (to provide safe space for cyclists) and the effect that offences committed here have on road safety. This is a clear failure, and must be addressed by local politicians. If there’s no evidence of enforcement, it’s fair to suggest there is no enforcement.
Red light jumping cyclists
I shared a red light cycle box with 102 other cyclists. There were 33 recorded instances of rule breaking, although 8 of these were directly caused by vehicles blocking the cycle box, forcing cyclists to advance ahead of the second stop line (picture below).
What was the nature of the rule breaking? 20 cyclists positioned themselves slightly ahead of the cycle box (picture below), which gets more dangerous if you continue to edge forward. Pavement cycling was recorded on 4 occasions, but just 1 true ‘red light jumping’ cyclist was recorded, continuing across The Mount junction while the pedestrian crossing lights were green. For the record then (small sample it may be) that’s less than 1% of cyclists observed jumping a red light on these journeys.
Reviewing these junctions led to another clear conclusion, apparently resisted by Roads Service as unnecessary – Cromac Square needs a yellow box junction. Of all the 370 red light cycle box encounters where I could observe the junction ahead, the way was blocked on green 35 times. Not bad, until you realise 27 blockages occurred at the Hamilton Street Exit at Cromac Square. That’s a wildly inefficient junction with 40% blockage rate at rush hour – time to get the paint bucket out Roads Service!
Cycle boxes that are dangerous to reach
The 6 boxes highlighted in this survey have very different characteristics. Just 2 have a cycle lane which protects a separate route for cyclists to reach the box, Hamilton Street Exit and The Mount (for straight-on cycling only). The others leave cyclists to filter through sitting traffic, with little physical space to do so, and perhaps most dangerous from a road safety design perspective, no idea if the light ahead will change before you reach the box.
By far the worst cycle box for this is St George’s Market on East Bridge Street. A with-flow bus and cycle lane (which successfully excludes taxis) leads over the train bridge, followed by a bus gate (not triggered by cyclists) and then a short run to the junction with Oxford Street, notorious for vehicles quickly and sometimes recklessly changing lanes. In sitting traffic, it is virtually impossible to time the lights at the junction. With no separate cycle lane leading up to the cycle box (as with the Hamilton Street Exit), cyclists have a difficult choice – chance filtering down between traffic, or sit back and lose the benefit of the cycle box.
The numbers bear this out, even for an experienced cyclist like me – at 42 red lights I only made it to the cycle box on 22 occasions (52%). Twice I stopped short of the box as it wasn’t worth passing 1 or 2 cars, but 18 times (43%) I was unable to judge the lights and so stayed back in the traffic queue.
Recent census figures showed the concentration of commuter cyclists in South and East Belfast. This means the 2 major cycling gateways to the city are Ormeau Bridge and Albert Bridge (and by extension East Bridge Street) and this is a heavily used junction for cyclists. If nothing else, this mini survey shows attention is needed to provide better and safer access to this cycle box in rush hour.
Finally “the worst drivers are..”
Grumbling motorists cite red light jumping cyclists as a menace; grumbling cyclists cite flashy car drivers or taxis as major dangers. Everyone seems to have a clichéd grudge against someone on the roads.
So let’s not labour the point, but here’s a breakdown of the types of vehicles (out of 240 identified marques) which blocked these cycle boxes, by car make and vehicle category – and what percentage of each are actually on the roads in NI. It’s a small sample with plenty of variables, so it’s just for fun – make of it what you will!
An announcement is due soon from Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy on allowing taxis full access to bus lanes in Northern Ireland. With Department for Regional Development (DRD) officials recommending go ahead over clear, vocal and overwhelming objections, it’s time to take quick a step back and ask how we got to this point, and why DRD’s priorities are so muddled? Here are five key issues:
Apologies to the rest of NI for another Belfast-centric post, but the vast majority of bus lanes are situated in the greater Belfast area, and one fifth of taxis currently operate here, which could rise under the new licensing regime.
How much will this damage cycling uptake?
Belfast has an ‘aspiration’ to raise the level of cycling in the city to 10% modal share by 2020. Not an official target mind you, which might bind a government department to actually delivering it. This why we fail – we still have one of the lowest modal shares in the whole of Europe.
This kind of massive surge hasn’t happened to date, so why would busier, more intimidating bus lanes make it more likely to happen?
And what do we lose by denying taxis the use of bus lanes? 24% less people travel to work by taxi than in 2001, down to just over 3,000 people, or a 2.9% share. If these two trends continue, cycle commuters will reach parity with taxi commuters by 2015, and by the next census, the current levels will be reversed in cycling’s favour. That would be just 3,000 cyclists by the way – if we want a total of 10,000 cyclists on our rush hour bus lanes by 2020, why threaten that aspiration for the sake of dwindling numbers of taxi users? Madness.
86% of the rubber stamp exercise consultation responses were negative, yet how did DRD choose to handle this? With a real slap in the face to those who responded with the ‘wrong’ view – lumping everyone together with one phrase, “mostly from cyclists“, and dismissing all fears as unfounded.
I’m guessing there’s a warped logic at work – if you can distill 60 objections in to one incorrect opinion, and weigh that against fully 7 (seven) responses welcoming the proposed changes, then we have a majority in favour! That’s how government works! The logic doesn’t work both ways though – just ignore the fact that the 7 (seven) positive responses were mainly from private taxi hire firms. Shhh!
Given the overwhelming negative view on the issue, how will DRD address cyclists’ safety concerns? See if you can hear it..
If you sent an objection in to DRD, why not follow it up with a complaint that your objection has been effectively disregarded?
Northern Ireland taxis are now…sustainable? Really?!
The whole world will shortly be coming to Northern Ireland to learn how we’ve solved that pesky problem of motor vehicles wrecking the environment. A saloon car taxi (typical of the roughly 1,500 Belfast private hire vehicles) might carry an average of 1-2 passengers per fare, and yet DRD are claiming sustainability is no longer an issue! Listen to this:
In a public policy exercise as intellectually bankrupt and dishonest as taxis in bus lanes, this marks a new low.
All those saloon cars driving around with 1-2 passengers are perfectly sustainable, as long as they are designated so by government.
DRD should pass this trick on to the Department for Finance and Personnel. Northern Ireland can dump Air Passenger Duty for short haul flights too by simply designating all aircraft as ‘sustainable’. I think Sammy Wilson might actually be game enough to try it..
Why damage journey times for 13.5% of commuters, for the sake of 2.9% of commuters?
There are no government targets to increase taxi usage – why would there be? Yet this entire policy seems entirely designed for that one purpose. Meanwhile, by the hard numbers from Census 2011 again, 13.5% of people use buses to get to work. In terms of sustainable objectives, reducing rush hour traffic and increasing revenue take for Translink, more bus passengers is a big goal for Belfast.
Just 2.9% of people used a taxi as their main form of transport to work in 2011, down from 4% in 2001.
Metro and Bus Rapid Transit efficiency of service will be one of the big factors which determine success of public transport in Belfast. The consultation itself recognised that taxis in bus lanes would have a negative impact on buses. A report from Amey in 2008 stated “bus lanes are currently underperforming against targets…additional vehicles in the bus lane … would probably contribute to further reduced bus journey speeds”.
Taxi firms must have some truly amazing lobbying powers. Northern Ireland’s wonderfully transparent political system doesn’t allow us the luxury of seeing donations to political parties. So we’re left to wonder why such a poorly designed policy is being railroaded through a hostile consultation exercise, and if the policy wonks have given any weight to the potential damage it could cause?
Is Minister Kennedy running the risk of fatally undermining both Belfast Rapid Transit andthe city’s blossoming cycling potential? Two birds, one stone – well it’s more efficient than a Belfast bus lane.
With numbers of regular cyclists in Northern Ireland rising, especially in Belfast, 2013 should be a year of steady progress on cycling issues. However ongoing government spending cuts, alongside the natural disinterest of the authorities to transport and utility cycling, mean radical ‘big ticket’ cycling projects are unlikely to be pedalling up the agenda.
But instead of being deterred, we need to organise and innovate! Since I started blogging about Belfast cycling I’ve seen amazing resourcefulness and passion among local people who choose to get around by bike. New community connections are being built every day, and spawning innovative action such as Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes 1 and 2. It is among the people who ride our streets every day that we will find creative solutions to change the experience and perception of cycling here.