Perhaps the Belfast Harbour Commissioners don’t yet realise the significance of what they’ve created on Sydenham Road.

In a sense their separate cycle path (arguably the best stretch in the city) is an interesting symbol of the changing nature of Belfast’s Harbour Estate. The area is moving further away from the days of heavy industry to a clever future mix of innovation, education, high skilled jobs with big inward investors, start-up hubs, urban sport parks, education campuses, signature tourism and leisure facilities. With a new resident population growing in hi-spec apartment space, and commuter traffic growing, the area needs a smart, modern transport mix to thrive.

SydSTB
Peloton travelling along Sydenham Road to the opening of the Sam Thompson Bridge

The path was constructed in spring 2013, part of better defined road space. Two extremely wide lanes were split into 4 with the additional space used to create a wide 2-way cycle path, fully kerb separated. Although general traffic capacity was technically doubled, this was still a remarkable example of taking road space away from motor vehicles for cycling – on private land as well.

Who better to get on with the relatively insignificant job of road space reallocation than the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. This organisation, and their forebears, moved heaven and (literally) earth to create and shape a great port city from the sandy shallows of a lough which used to be named after Carrickfergus, the former primary settlement.

Belfast Harbour sits at the junction of 4 great cycling routes – the Lagan Towpath, Loughshore Path, Comber Greenway and Connswater Greenway. With the new Sam Thompson Bridge sited within the Harbour Estate and the ongoing positive reception for the Connswater project, Belfast Harbour is now a key link in Belfast’s active travel chain.

Some clever touches at the points of greatest potential conflict on the Sydenham road cycle path (such as the car showroom access) show there has been real thought about safety and comfort of all road users:

Yet, the Sydenham Road cycle path is in danger of being the Harbour’s high-water mark, as current expansion work and outstanding issues mean the quality of the route is beginning to recede. So what are the problems and potential solutions to the Sydenham Road route?

New shared pavement at Dee Street roundabout

Rumours of works to the Sydenham Road route drew me down to the area in May, and it was disappointing to see a shared footpath solution being constructed at the Dee Street roundabout. From excellent separate #space4cycling to an awful compromise within metres. This is the classic approach to cycle design in Belfast; a cycle lane (and a magnificent one in this case) built where space is easy to take from general traffic, but at major junctions cycling space must disappear to meet the needs of motor vehicles.

Sydenham Road transition from cycle path to shared footway
From high quality separate cycle path to shared footway (with bus stop pole at transition)

More worrying is the lack of thought about the curve to access the new crossing to Airport Road. After passing a prominent electricity box, a high brick wall obscures the view on a turn which greater than 90 degrees. Faster bicycle traffic will mix with pedestrians here, and the potential for collisions at peak times is now very high.

Wall
A surprisingly busy (now shared-use) blind corner with a difficult mix of users

As nice as the brick wall is, Belfast Harbour could remove it to create more space for dedicated separated cycling and walking space on this roundabout. (Update 26 Jun 14 – reliably informed this wall belongs to a tenant company, so “..Belfast Harbour could approach them to remove it..”) Alternatively, a three-lane roundabout can afford to have enough space clipped off to provide a more continuous cycle route – plenty of examples of best practice exist in the Netherlands.

Smarter investment in altering the roundabout design would also go some way to solving the maddening problem of citybound access to the cycle path from Dee Street and the Sydenham Bypass. If you’re confident enough to have crossed a double roundabout (with very heavy traffic) you have to get from one side of a fast and noisy 4 lane carriageway to the other. It’s utterly impractical and quite dangerous (even when dismounting and trying to walk) for families or inexperience cyclists.

Sydenham
No controlled crossing at the start of the cycle path – a 4 lane nightmare to traverse

Belfast Harbour had a great chance to make a vast improvement on the Odyssey to Victoria Park route; instead the Dee Street roundabout area remains its weakest link.

Ramps

A big favourite with patrons of the Belfast Cycling Study Tour, the ramps on the cycle path made little sense, especially given the harsh angles which lead many people to use the road instead. Even at low speed, these provide a hefty jolt to bicycle and rider.

Ramps
Badly engineered ramps mean bicycles and riders take a thumping

Many people wondered why these traffic calming speed humps were missing from the main road.. 😉

Following complaints, Belfast Harbour (to their credit) have altered the approaches on the ‘bus stop ramp’ to allow a smooth transit.

Sydenham Road ramp after works
Belfast Harbour have now eased the angles on one ramp

Yet, strangely, the final ramp near the Dee Street roundabout remains in its original spoke-snapping shape. Unlike the central ramp, which serves a pedestrian crossing to Titanic Quarter train station, the purpose here seems only to access to a bin and post box. The balance of inconveniences seem badly skewed against dozens of everyday users.

Sydenham Road ramp for post box and bin
Remaining ramp with poor angles, serving just a post box and bin

This final problem ramp needs to either be removed completely or the approaches flattened as above.

Route inconsistency

While the main separate cycle path is (bar a few minor bumps) a joy, the Odyssey to Victoria Park route is neither consistent nor continuous – the mark of great cycling infrastructure around the world. If you have to think too much about where you can or can’t be; if signage isn’t clear; if you have to take difficult and seemingly unnecessary diversions; if you inconvenience people, you are not encouraging the use of bicycles.

From the Odyssey, you either start on the footway or on the road – there is no dedicated cycling space. At the Queens Road junction you’ll meet this generously wide cycle lane.

Sydenham Road yellow line cycle lane
Possibly the worst cycle lane in Belfast, just metres from the best

Held for an eternity at the traffic lights (sustainable transport journeys really need to have some advantage over motor traffic) you move across an advisory cycle lane and up a ramp onto a shared footway. Not too bad, except coming back the other way the visual queue is to cycle against the traffic – lethal if not illegal?

PermaPuddle2
Ramp invites you to cycle onto the road against the traffic

At the next junction is a similar ramp, with more confusion – cycling down the ramp onto the road doesn’t seem to be affected by the adjacent signal-controlled junction. While many would feel it’s prudent to wait, there’s nothing to caution users that cycling down into the junction is potentially dangerous – leaving a real threat of collision. Where would the responsibility lie?

Ramp1
Do you stop at a red light? Who has priority if you proceed?

The right hand side of the picture above says it all. If you’ve designed a dedicated route for cycling, and you feel that the road beside still needs an advanced stop line for bicycles, your design has failed.

Drainage

Not only do users have to contend with several transitions between shared and dedicated space, but those transitions themselves suffer from poor implementation. A lack of drainage is causing ‘perma-puddles’ to build up. As an occasional inconvenience perhaps not too bad, but the water sits for weeks at a time (even through dry spells, as in the picture) leading to murky, muddy pools gathering dirt and moss. People commuting to work risk getting clothes dirty, and chances of slips and falls are increased.

PermaPuddle1
Slippy perma-puddle on a transition ramp from road to shared footpath

Bad enough that one perma-puddle exists, but given that a new transition has just been created, lessons clearly haven’t been learnt.

PermaPuddle3
Second perma-puddle – transition has a treacherous raised kerb, and a bus stop sign

Updated 17th June 2014

Remarkably (planned) work has been carried out to attempt to fix the drainage issues, as seen on the way to Stormont during Tuesday rush hour:

Works

Hopefully this solves the drainage problems, and shows that Belfast Harbour are sensitive to the issues on this cycle route.

Belfast Harbour’s legacy wasn’t build on cheap solutions

Belfast Harbour is now firmly in the business of cycle route planning and design. If they deliver cycle space of a poor standard, it reflects badly on the neighbouring routes at Laganside and the Connswater Greenway, dragging down their potential too.

Over the long decades, generations of Harbour Commissioners and the industries and trade they’ve fostered have done things on a grand scale – city building, airplane manufacture, Hollywood film production, launching the most famous ocean liners in the world.

While NI hopes that DRD’s new Cycling Unit is learning from cycling infrastructure best practice around the world, the industry and output from Belfast Harbour has always sought to be world-leading. Why should the Harbour’s cycle space be any different?

That Sydenham Road chatter..

Fat Bloke On A Pushbike Blog: The Sydenham Road Cycle Lane – My View

https://twitter.com/individualjs/status/444838843062419456

Recently, the Belfast bin lane (cycle lane on Upper Arthur Street) has seen the return of the red Biffa bin. Following contact with the company last September, partial success has been observed – it’s mostly been the Aisling award winning Wastebeater bins blocking the cycle lane of late.

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..

– May 7 – (same morning)
Biffa

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.

>>Bullshit alert!<<

– 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?

Good, Bad or wee trap?

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.

You can see a few examples here, no doubt all caused by some third party:
http://www.flickr.com/groups/2191227@N22/pool/

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.

The entry only being 30 yards long isn’t quite the chore it’s made out to be (and yes, even Google Maps Streetview loves a bit of bin lane blocking #facepalm). It’s also a daft suggestion that a bin set against a wall on a footpath would be moved by a car driver trying to get down the alleyway, but then the bin lane does have it’s own special rules and perhaps laws of physics, so anything’s possible.

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..

– 3 June –

3 June 2013

Untitled

More bin lane love:

Report an obstruction on a footpath, cycle lane or road on the NI Direct site

Follow the latest blockages on the Belfast Bin Lane Flickr group (sad as it is)

Is it still the bin lane or is it the Ulster Bank delivery lane?

Lame attempt at bin lane humour

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

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.

Business owners using Belfast’s only mandatory bin lane are calling for action to combat problem cyclists.

The bin lane on Upper Arthur Street is used every day by many commercial bins from retailers and pubs. But bin owners say the level of illegal cycling, by people mistaking it for a mandatory cycle lane, is getting out of hand.

Another reckless cyclist in the bin lane

.

One local business owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said “It’s just getting ridiculous, every day we have people flagrantly cycling up the bin lane, with no regard for the safety of our bins.”

The local council have promised to get tough. A spokesperson said “These cyclists need to wise the bap and respect the bin lane rules. What message is it sending out to shoppers, tourists and binmen if these bins can’t be left in peace in the middle of the street, 24/7?

“We’ve had almost three reports of bins very nearly being hit by cyclists in the last month. A lot of money has been spent on this bin lane, and it’s a stain on the city that these yobbo cyclists are ruining it for everyone.”

How a busy bin lane should look – but cyclists are forcing users to block the pavement

.

Business owners are so frightened of cyclist collisions, and potential scrapes and minor dents, that some bins are being moved to the relative safety of the pavement. The anonymous business owner said “Blocking the pavement for pedestrians, including vision-impaired and restricted-mobility users, is a small price to pay for bin safety. Blame the friggin’ cyclists.”

During 20 minutes spent interviewing locals, I counted five cyclists speeding down the bin lane. The council are promising harsh new measures such as clamping and towing errant cyclists. “We’re proud of the increase in bin usage of this lane over the last year – just go down any day and you’ll see bins there all day long. The sooner we get cyclists off the streets of Belfast the better.”

NEXT WEEK: Amelia Street – cyclists must understand it’s a taxi lane

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!

Bicycle Parking sign at Tesco Castlereagh Road

New Tesco Superstore on the Castlereagh Road

The new Tesco Superstore on the Castlereagh Road opens on Thursday 4th October, but it’s hoping to attract more than the traditional supermarket customers. At the north entrance a sign has been erected to target passing cyclists. A lot of local supermarkets have developed facilities such as disabled parking, parent and child parking, but it’s the first time I’ve seen such a prominent advert for bicycle parking.

Bicycle Parking sign at Tesco Castlereagh Road

There are a number of reasons why this is a good move by Tesco. Beyond the anecdotal evidence of increasing numbers of cyclists on Belfast streets, the Castlereagh Road benefits from half decent cycling provision. There is a long city-bound bus lane for the morning rush hour, and an equally long advisory cycle lane with urban clearway restrictions running countrybound. Even if the cycle lane is usually just one long car park during rush hour, it’s a start.

Cycle lane by Tesco on Castlereagh Road

The cycle lane was first obstructed then removed during the construction phase, but has now been reinstated on the new widened road section – a huge improvement on the former bone-shaking surface. Although only an advisory lane, it has been afforded the rare position of a continual marking across the Tesco access and at Orby Link, hopefully improving driver awareness and caution when exiting these two junctions.

How many cyclists will stop by for groceries? Let’s be honest, not a great many, as Belfast doesn’t have more than 3% of journeys on bike at present. But this move sends out an important message to both local residents with bikes, and a challenge to independent retailers in Belfast – a short trip to the shops doesn’t always need to be by car. And Tesco will be more than aware of the unique position of the site, bordered as it is by the Loop River. The Connswater Community Greenway project will see East Belfast linked by a 9km linear park, running right past Tesco.

Connswater Community Greenway will run near Tesco

What’s slightly disappointing here is the continued use of an advisory cycle lane, the default position for Roads Service in Belfast. Roads Service doesn’t favour mandatory lanes as their “introduction…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.” This doesn’t apply to this section as roadside parking is unnecessary given the large car park, and anyone parking here would create a danger for passing motorists, cyclists and crossing pedestrians. A bit of foresight, creativity and bravery from Roads Service could have seen some sections made mandatory, even kerb separated here to provide extra safety for all road users, and completely discouraging countrybound roadside parking.

Bus stop outside Castlereagh Road Tesco

To be fair, observing traffic movements since the cycle lane reopened, it seems to be working well enough. The new surface makes the road marking stand out, and the addition of a new pedestrian crossing just north of the bus stop will help to slow traffic flows around the usually fast bend.

Opening a large superstore in this relatively quiet arterial route will cause some increase in traffic levels and disruption, not to mention difficulties it will cause to local independent retailers. But by actively seeking out a new market, and encouraging local shoppers to go for ‘less car, more bike’, Tesco have to be commended.

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”