Diarmuid is a teacher at Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast, a father of 3 and a wheelchair user for nearly 30 years. He talks about how handcycling has revolutionised his daily routine to the point where he’s sold his own car. His unique experience of travelling around Belfast challenges many myths about cycling as a viable form of transport, for people of all abilities..

While in university in 1984 I suffered a spinal injury in a hill walking accident. I was at university preparing to go into teaching, so I was lucky that after taking a year out the adjustments I had to make in life didn’t throw me off my career path. I’ve been teaching in Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast for about 20 years now. It’s really encouraging to see Grosvenor trying to get a cycle to work scheme organised for the staff.

Diarmuid - Why I Cycle

Continue reading “Diarmuid: Why I Cycle”

Recently a group of 16 cyclists from Belfast showed that the city’s cycle ‘network’ is effectively a car park. Over 5 days they encountered 878 illegally parked vehicles blocking their commuting journeys. That was an illegally parked car blocking a cycle lane every 250m. This was raised with the Department for Regional Development, the Stormont Regional Development Committee and Belfast MLAs and Councillors.

Blocked lane

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.

DRD makes a big deal of it’s online and telephone contact points to report issues as they happen, but when faced with criticism of their system of enforcement, they’re unwilling to engage. Sitting 6 months down the line and very little has changed; night after night the same problems occur.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvqGnlhWHGs?rel=0]

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..

DRD / NSL Clamp and Tow Truck

The Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes team and a growing number of local cyclists are not championing on-road advisory cycle lanes – in fact they are increasingly recognised as outdated, unsafe, and do nothing to encourage more people to cycle. Indeed the urban clearways rules, as referenced in DRD’s letter, mean it’s perfectly fine to block a cycle lane for 2 minutes at a time to set down / pick up passengers. These may be cycle lanes by name, but they are crafted around the needs of motor vehicles and cyclists are not the most important users.

However, until DRD open their eyes to best practice from the Netherlands, Copenhagen and others, it’s practically all we have. If DRD want to crow about their £9 million investment in Belfast cycling infrastructure, then along with Roads Service and NSL they have a responsibility to keep the lanes clear when they’re meant to carry cyclists. No-one is prepared to admit the problem, so no-one is taking responsibility to sort it out.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

Illegal Parking in Cycle Lanes

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.

I trust this information is of assistance to you.

Parking Enforcement Manager (Acting)

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.

The separate cycle track on Belfast’s Arthur Street is meant to be 240m of sanctuary in an otherwise cruel city environment for cycling. Regular users find their way blocked on a near daily basis by a small band of bins. We’ve taken pictures to try to document the problem, and royally taken the piss as well, but still they stand in sharp defiance of the one piece of truly quality cycling space in Belfast City Centre.

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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd2xZaFDYk8]

.

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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8FhWrDKDD8]

.

The company was challenged on Twitter, and to DPD’s credit they were crystal clear in their response:

“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..

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwhRHM1Nxv0]

.

What are the rules?

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.

It’s not uncommon..

Truline delivery  22 February 2013

27 March 2013  TPN delivery

Nixons Removals  DPD and another van

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:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvqGnlhWHGs]

.

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:

  1. Shankill Road – 49
  2. Springfield Road – 27
  3. Castlereagh Road – 15
  4. Crumlin Road – 15
  5. 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.

Reclaim Belfast's Cycle Lanes growing coverage

The outcome of the first survey in July 2012 was largely ignored. DRD promises of reviewed parking enforcement making a difference have not borne fruit.

Belfast commuter cycling grew 60% in the decade to 2011; there are thousands of cyclists on the city’s roads every day. Belfast is in the top 10 UK cities for cycle commuting increases. The Department for Regional Development (DRD) say they have spent millions on Belfast cycling, but they are not providing a cycle network – they’ve created a network of parking lanes. This is against a backdrop of cycling casualties continuing to rise, which bucks the trend of safer roads in Northern Ireland.

Reclaiming our cycle network is important for many reasons:

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.

Our piecemeal cycle network lies useless, while at the same time DRD plans to flood Belfast’s bus lanes with over 2,000 taxis. DRD only pay lip service to sustainable transport. Belfast cyclists are determined to change this.

Let your MPs, MLAs, Councillors, DRD and Roads Service know how your cycling journey is made more dangerous by illegal parking. Only through concerted action can we hope to see real change.

The people behind Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes are:

Download the Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes 2 data report

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.

Rising numbers of cyclists, most visible at major Belfast junctionsBut 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.

Continue reading “13 ideas to improve Northern Ireland cycling in 2013”

Safer roads were on the agenda at Stomont on Monday 19th November 2012. Questions to the Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy included the topics of Conall McDevitt’s forthcoming Private Members’ Bill on 20mph zones, and a subject currently close to the heart of the NI Greenways blog, illegal parking in cycle lanes.

Excerpts from the Official Report of Assembly Business:

Judith Cochrane, Alliance MLA for Belfast East - Parliamentary copyright: image is reproduced with the permission of Northern Ireland Assembly CommissionMrs Cochrane asked the Minister for Regional Development what action his Department is taking to address illegal parking in cycle lanes. (AQO 2876/11-15)

Mr Kennedy: I want to begin by saying that I fully appreciate the concerns and frustration of cyclists caused by vehicles that park in cycle lanes during their operational hours. Motorists should be mindful and considerate towards cyclists when using our roads and should not park illegally in cycle lanes.

Roads Service has advised that a traffic attendant can issue a penalty charge notice to a vehicle that is parked on a mandatory cycle lane. However, a penalty charge notice cannot be issued to a vehicle that is parked on an advisory cycle lane, unless other parking restrictions apply; for example, clearway restrictions or bus lanes. When a traffic attendant observes a vehicle parked in a cycle lane in contravention of a restriction, the appropriate enforcement action will be taken.

NI Greenways comment: While welcoming the question, this answer does little to address what Belfast cyclists see as a persistent problem which still isn’t being “tackled” with focus or priority. A July survey by commuter cyclists showed that for every km of restricted lane in Belfast there are 4.5 vehicles illegally parked during rush hour. Advisory cycle lanes with urban clearway restrictions are the dominant form of cycle space in Belfast, with mandatory lanes few and far between, with no recurring reports of illegal parking problems. Refusing to recognise a special problem in some areas of the city means the issue can continue to be largely ignored.

Mrs Cochrane: I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he also give us an update on the parking enforcement awareness programme that was due to commence on 30 October?

Mr Kennedy: I am grateful to the Member. Obviously, the Department encourages cycling. We are committed to providing safer roads for the growing number of cyclists and pedestrians. We have done that through a range of measures such as road safety engineering, traffic calming and the enhancement of the pedestrian and cycling network. All these initiatives, including those brought forward by Travelwise, are key elements of the sustainable travel options involving cycling and its promotion.

Conall McDevitt, SDLP MLA for Belfast South - Parliamentary copyright: image is reproduced with the permission of Northern Ireland Assembly CommissionMr McDevitt: I thank the Minister for his ongoing commitment to cycling. Given that it is the beginning of road safety week, will the Minister indicate to the House whether he is willing to strongly consider the merits of introducing 20 mph zones on a statutory basis or to support the private Member’s Bill due before the House in the coming months that will do so?

Mr Kennedy: I am grateful to the Member for his supplementary question. I know that he is a keen and very active cyclist. I am aware of the private Members’ Bill and of the representations made by those in favour of introducing 20 mph schemes. Although I am not opposed to such schemes, the issue seems to be one of enforcement: how such limits are to be enforced, whether the PSNI can commit the necessary resources and whether responsible motorists and vehicle users will be prepared to accept the restrictions that are placed upon them. That is an ongoing discussion that I am having with my officials, and we will see what emerges.

NI Greenways comment: The level of commitment from MLAs to seeing this important measure gaining passage through the Assembly remains uncertain. The issue of enforcement is one that pops up time and again in 20mph zones debates, and is dealt with along with other weak arguments against on the 20’s Plenty For Us website.

Fed up with your cycle route in Belfast being blocked by illegally parked cars? Is your daily commute is made much more dangerous than it should be? Take part in a unique survey to highlight the problem! Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes 2 hits the streets of Belfast on the week beginning Monday 5th November 2012!

Last time..

The original running of Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes was in July this year. Nine volunteers found that a typical rush hour cycling journey in Belfast was blocked five times by illegally parked vehicles, or 4.5 blocks for every kilometre of restricted lanes. One journey even had 36 cars blocking a single cycle lane! The evidence shows right across Belfast, people cycling during rush hour are facing dangerous road conditions.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QyUXs3YkDGw]

This was a unique effort of independent civic action between private individuals – people who choose to travel between work and home on a bike – and researchers at the Centre of Excellence for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast.

The report made it into the press, and following engagement with Belfast councillors, MLAs, Roads Service, the DRD Minister and the Regional Development Committee, the issue got….absolutely nowhere. If you weren’t sure how Northern Ireland’s politicians felt about the problems of cycling as transport, the indifference is very clear to see.

In response to the first survey report, Roads Service maintain that cycle lanes mean rush hour “cyclists effectively have their own road space. This makes cycling safer, and at times of congestion, allows cyclists to make time savings.” Does this match your experience of Belfast’s cycle lanes?

So we must keep the pressure on! It’s November, it’s cold, it may be wet, but many hundreds of commuter cyclists will still be on our roads at rush hour. This time we need to expand the number of volunteers, and the route coverage to see what the problem is like across the whole of Belfast.

More and more people in Belfast are choosing a bicycle as their main form of commuting, and are encountering problems on our roads. Cycling in Northern Ireland is becoming more dangerous. Parked cars on cycle and bus lanes may be just an inconvenience to most road users, but they pose real dangers to cyclists. Let’s pile up the evidence again, and start to shame the authorities into meaningful action.

How to get involved

Join a growing community of Belfast commuter cyclists in this unique research project, and participate in some constructive public action. Send an email to nigreenways AT gmail.com with your name and usual commuting route. You can download the information pack here, with more detailed instructions and survey sheet:

Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes survey sheet and information

You can help the effort by mentioning to friends or work colleagues who cycle at rush hour, and encourage them to join, Why not print off some copies of the information pack for others? You don’t have to cover every single day of the week, you don’t even have to be on a bike to help out – let’s all do what we can!

Let’s really get Belfast on the move, and help to put an end to illegal parking in cycle lanes!

In July 2012 Belfast cyclists joined together to highlight the problem of the city’s blocked cycle lanes. QUB researchers analysed the data from 69 journeys, with a typical commuter trip blocked 5 times, or 4.5 illegal blockages per km of supposedly parking-restricted lanes. The issue was highlighted in the media, to politicians, the Regional Development Committee at the NI Assembly and DRD / Roads Service. Now that Roads Service have provided their response it’s time to review a busy month for the Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes report.

Blocked cycle lane

The media response

The story was picked up by two big fish in the local newspaper market, the Belfast Telegraph under the headline Cyclists demand action on illegally parked car chaos  and also in the Irish News with their story Cycle lane investment ‘wasted public money’. In particular the Belfast Telegraph’s comments sections provided a great opportunity for feedback and discussion, and 40 comments here showed the depth of feeling – worth a read!

The lovely people at View TV Belfast ran with a report Cycle lanes a waste of public money including some actual survey footage from the Springfield Road, coincidently the worst performing road in the survey.

NI Greenways  somehow managed to blag its way on on to Radio Ulster’s Talkback show, where even black taxi drivers were phoning in to support cyclists!

Fortunate timing allowed the report this media space on its own merits, ahead of the two big roads issues of the past month, the taxis in bus lanes consultation and the growing pains of the Belfast on the move project.

The Twitter response

Debate on Twitter was lively as always, with generally positive comments on the survey and the potential of making a real difference to all road users. Some of the comments:

https://twitter.com/SteveLimmer/status/240468998544818176


https://twitter.com/ctokelly/status/239810163345870848

The political response

So far so good, but this report was designed with the sole purpose of making a real difference to the experience of commuter cyclists in Belfast. So the press releases were simultaneously sent to all Belfast City councillors (those with an email address), all MLAs from Belfast constituencies, the members of the Regional Development Committee at Stormont and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy.

The response, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been sluggish. Belfast councillors expressed the greatest interest in the report, with follow up questions and suggestions of a meeting – clearly with an eye on the Belfast Bike Hire announcement just days before. But just seven councillors from 45 contacted felt moved to respond.

Only six MLAs from 35 contacted have responded, with just one MLA following up with any real action – it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which MLA that was. Assembly questions have already been raised on the report, and answered (sort by Regional Development). The Regional Development Committee noted our correspondence on 12th September, and on the same day even began to question DRD’s Ciarán de Búrca on illegally parked cars! There is yet hope!

The Roads Service response

The private office at DRD deferred to Roads Service Eastern Division for comment, and the full text is attached below. To summarise the main points:

  • Roads Service appreciates cyclists’ concerns
  • A new contract with NSL for parking enforcement will see changes
  • An awareness campaign on parking “Dos” and “Dont’s” will be launched to support a new protocol
  • Enforcement will move to ‘tow and clamp’ from early 2013

While these are interesting developments, the response itself is very disappointing. It reads like a stock response to a complaint from a member of the public. Despite five long paragraphs on the finer points of Belfast’s cycle infrastructure, the strange emphasis on mandatory lanes leaves the impression that Roads Service didn’t fully understand (or perhaps even read) the survey report. The vast majority of illegally parked cars recorded in the survey were on advisory cycle lanes during urban clearway operational hours, and clearly these rules are the most confusing for all categories of road users.

The report drew a clear conclusion that Roads Service failure lies in “inadequate parking enforcement coverage”. Roads Service and their NSL contractors have all the necessary legal instruments in place to enforce parking restrictions – it’s just that the resources to cover all of the city’s main roads during rush hour are not being made available. As this video comparison from the survey week shows, mere visibility of traffic wardens is enough to clear arterial routes of illegal parking. Roads Service completely ignores this criticism.

Indeed, while new measures are being brought in, to what extent will they cover the whole of the city? A tow truck risks adding to the impression of motorists being beaten with another ‘stick’, as seen with the current city centre bus lane controversy. But is it one truck or two, or more? If the new towing policy can only cover the same number of routes as are presently patrolled by wardens, the situation on cycle lanes may not materially improve.

So no acceptance that illegal parking is a major problem for cyclists, or that Roads Service bears some responsibility for ineffective enforcement. Just a very bland corporate line that Roads Service’s advisory cycle lanes mean rush hour “cyclists effectively have their own road space. This makes cycling safer, and at times of congestion, allows cyclists to make time savings” – a stunningly absurd statement given the report which prompted the response.

What the traffic wardens say

You learn more about the actual situation in Belfast by talking to traffic wardens. They report that perhaps five teams at most work the rush hours on arterial routes, with one or two “mobile” units with access to a car. Look at the map and make your own judgement on how many Belfast roads count as ‘arterial’, but somewhere between 14 to 22 urban roads carry clearway restrictions, many with advisory cycle lanes. To ensure a ‘spread’ of traffic wardens, priorities for coverage are assigned on a week-to-week basis. Lisburn Road is always priority #1 (which goes some way to explaining why 27% of all parking tickets in Northern Ireland are issued here) with the Newtownards Road usually a close second in importance.

If your commuter route is elsewhere, good luck to you – coverage is patchy or in some cases almost non-existent. This explains why some roads are blocked every day – many drivers are either unaware there are restrictions or have never encountered a traffic warden who might tell them otherwise.

Traffic wardens are also having fun with some new training being rolled out to volunteers – on how to use a moped. Yes, apparently 12 moped-riding red coats will form part of the new NSL arrangements in 2013, which leads me to wonder if this is evidence of people actually reading my blog?

From here to where?

While there has been a small yet significant response to the report, it highlights the problem of so many previous cycling awareness or campaign initiatives in Belfast. Alone it’s an interesting piece of work, which quickly fades from the view of a disinterested body politic. Only by keeping the pressure on at the relevant levels can Belfast commuter cyclists hope to effect real change to an issue that causes increased physical danger, greater general traffic congestion, and discourages cycling uptake.

With that in mind, the most effective way to keep the issue high on the agenda is to run the survey again – bigger and better. If you’re interested in becoming a participant, and helping us the achieve the goal of 100% coverage of Belfast sometime in the next few months, contact NI Greenways by email or on Twitter @nigreenways.

Thanks again to all the commuter cyclists who participated in Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes, whether cycling the routes and recording data or helping to spread the message in the media or on social networks – and huge thanks to Mark Tully and his team at QUB for the main analysis.

That Roads Service response in full

I appreciate your concerns regarding the frustration caused to cyclists by vehicles that park within bus and cycle lanes during their operational hours. Perhaps it would be useful if I first outlined the type of facilities and the restrictions that apply to them.

Bus lane restrictions derive from specific legislation and prohibit the use of lanes by private cars, vans, lorries etc, during their hours of operation. Any infringements involving prohibited vehicles parking in those lanes are enforceable by Roads Service, through its contractor, NSL. Infringements involving moving vehicles within these lanes are enforceable by the PSNI.

Cycle lanes may be either advisory (which do not have supporting legislation and are not therefore enforceable) or mandatory (which have supporting legislation and are enforceable, similar to bus lanes as above). Advisory cycle lanes may be on roads that are subject to other restrictions, such as urban clearway restrictions, in which case those restrictions also apply to the cycle lanes.

We would normally use advisory lanes on roads with urban clearway regulations, so that when traffic levels and the number of cyclists are at their highest, cyclists effectively have their own road space. This makes cycling safer, and at times of congestion, allows cyclists to make time savings over those using vehicular modes.

During times when traffic levels are at their lowest, and the urban clearway restrictions do not apply, it is legally permissible to park on/across advisory cycle lanes. During these off-peak times, the levels of traffic and cyclists are at their lowest and it is therefore considered that cyclists can successfully share the remaining roads space. This arrangement is intended to provide the best balance between the needs of cyclists and the adjoining businesses/properties.

Mandatory cycle lanes (which would be marked by solid white lines) would provide a clear route for cyclists and would also restrict vehicles, subject to certain exceptions, from pairing along the road. However, the introduction of waiting restrictions, or mandatory cycle lanes, can be a contentious issue and would generally lead to a displacement of parking, often to other locations that are less able to accommodate it, such as residential streets in the general vicinity. Therefore, Roads Service does not generally use mandatory cycle lanes on roads with a mixed business/commercial/residential frontage.

Roads Service’s new parking enforcement and car park management contract with NSL Ltd will commence on 30 October 2012. In advance of this we plan to run a parking enforcement awareness campaign.

This will include the distribution of information leaflets to drivers to remind them of the importance of parking restrictions and the benefits of effective parking enforcement. The leaflet will include a number of “Dos” and “Don’ts” for drivers, advising them of where they should and should not park and it will clearly inform drivers not to park in mandatory cycle lanes.

Roads Service will also be publishing a parking enforcement protocol to provide the public with detailed information on the various parking contraventions that can be enforced by traffic attendants. This will also include information specific to mandatory cycle lanes.

Additionally, Roads Service has decided to change its enforcement policy in relation to illegally parked vehicles on bus lanes and urban clearways. Currently any vehicles parked in a bus lane or on an urban clearway will only receive a parking penalty, meaning the lane is still blocked to traffic. Following the introduction of the new contract Roads Service will also remove vehicles that are illegally in these lanes so freeing up the lane. It is hoped this change will be introduced in early 2013.

Survey by cyclists in Belfast shows typical commuter journey is blocked 5 times by illegally parked vehicles

Belfast commuter cyclists are finding their dedicated safe space is unusable and causing additional danger for all road users at rush hour. Investment in cycle lanes by Roads Service is failing to provide a credible alternative to private vehicle journeys or public transport when many cycle lanes are treated as car parks.

Continue reading “Belfast commuter cyclists call for action on illegal parking”

As with so many of Roads Service cycle lane schemes in Belfast, Amelia Street shows all the hallmarks of compromised good intention. Cyclists are finding the lane blocked every day, leaving the lane useless and cyclists to dangerously negotiate a one-way street. The cycle lane itself is only 100m long, but this microcosm explains the problems Belfast faces in getting a quality cycling infrastructure.

Traffic warden doesn’t seem too bothered by the car blocking a cycle lane while on a double yellow line

Continue reading “Amelia Street: cycling woes in Belfast”