Railway line emerges from Lissummon Tunnel and dives under a bridge

A forgotten engineering treasure hidden in the countryside between Armagh and Newry could be the centrepiece of an amazing new greenway. Exploring the Lissummon Tunnel above the Newry Canal with the Mourne Mountains as a backdrop offers a wonderful selling point on a 33km traffic-free pathway – repurposing an abandoned railway route steeped in a rich history, both tragic and inspirational.

The Newry and Armagh Railway

Originally intended as part of a 72 mile railway to Enniskillen, early financial woes and mismanagement led to the curtailed route of the Newry and Armagh Railway opening in 1864.

When you mention railways in Newry today you think of the Northern Ireland Railways station perched high on the hill on the Dublin-Belfast main line. Wind the clock back over a century that was called “Bessbrook Station” and Newry’s main railway station was in Edward Street.

By Railway Clearing House (Railway Junction Diagram) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

From here it was possible to travel south towards Greenore or Warrenpoint and north towards Belfast and Armagh. Edward Street Station was also the terminus for the Bessbrook and Newry Tramway which ran close to the railway for about half of its three-mile length before winding under the iconic Craigmore Viaduct towards Bessbrook.

The route of the railway, travelling north from Newry, rose up towards Goraghwood in parallel with the Dublin-Belfast main line. After Goraghwood Station (no longer in existence) the Newry and Armagh Line crossed over and continued climbing above Jerretspass.

Dublin to Belfast ‘Enterprise’ train seen from former Newry & Armagh Railway bridge

Turning away from the main line course along the Newry Canal, the line tunnelled under the nearby hills before heading north through Markethill, Hamiltownsbawn and turned west into Armagh itself.

The line operated until 1933 when the Armagh – Markethill section closed. Goods operations between Markethill and Newry until 1957 before the line closed completely in 1965.

In the years since the railway link was cut, Newry and Armagh have grown from county towns into cities – but the old railway, and the Lissummon Tunnel, have fallen out of memory.

The Lissummon Tunnel

The Lissummon Tunnel lies quietly in the countryside slowly decaying – a relic of an age of Irish engineering excellence drifting from memory. It’s dead straight and exactly one yard short of a mile at 1,759 yards, making it Ireland’s longest railway tunnel.

How are your nerves?

Standing at the (more easily accessed) southern entrance, the northern side appears as a pin prick of light through the murky darkness.

The recently opened Waterford Greenway included the conversion of the quarter-mile long Ballyvoyle Tunnel, including atmospheric lighting in the tunnel refuges which could be replicated in the Lissummon Tunnel.

The history of the railway and tunnel construction, as told by John Campbell of the Pontzpass and District Local History Club, is fascinating and worth a read – as this contemporary news report shows:

“Up to going to press we did not learn if any serious fighting had taken place today at the [Lissummon] tunnel. The report in town today was that a body of men numbering something about 300 strong, armed with guns, pikes, etc., had again today made their appearance in the vicinity of the works, determined, so says rumour, to be revenged on the men who had driven the English workmen from the place.”
The Newry and Armagh Railway and Lissummon Tunnel

Southern entrance to the tunnel, accessible (with difficulty and permission) today

The Lissummon Tunnel is a unique place that we should be inviting the world to explore as we continue towards our government’s 25 year goal of building a network of greenways across the country. The countryside as you emerge from the southern entrance is spectacular.

Mournes, Newry Canal, old railway bridge and the Lissummon Tunnel off to the right

Work would be required to assess the structural integrity and to alleviate the significant water seepage in the central section, but a fully functioning tunnel would be worth the effort.

Original railway sleepers visible near the northern entrance to the Lissummon Tunnel

There is actually a sister structure to the Lissummon Tunnel just 2.6km up the line towards Armagh. Across Loughgilly Bog the line hits the 600 yard long Loughgilly Tunnel with its haunting entrance.

Creepy creepers creeping at Loughgilly Tunnel

This gives the potential greenway plan an echo of the Bath Two Tunnels Greenway project.

Greenway plan overview

Armagh and Newry offers an axis of two cities with potential for both resident active travel and for welcoming significant numbers of visitors to stay and explore a greenway. The main population centres on the greenway route are:

  • Armagh (15,000)
  • Hamiltonsbawn (1,000)
  • Markethill (1,600)
  • Newry (27,000)


The Department for Infrastructure has put a basic per-mile estimate on a greenway project at £4.2million. Two fully refurbished tunnels at Lissummon and Loughgilly would likely push the total project over the £5m mark.

Between Newry and Jerretspass the old railway line runs in close proximity to today’s Newry Canal Towpath, meaning a link-up or alternative pathway is possible at some point, should land issues or cost become a major barrier.

Beyond Newry work is ongoing to link up with the Carlingford to Omeath Greenway which may even form part a future Great Eastern Greenway all the way to Dublin.

Hidden bridge at Tyrones Ditches just north of the Lissummon Tunnel

On the northern side of the two tunnels the old line passes the site of Loughgilly Station. Here another former tramway connected to an industrial hub three miles to the south at Glenanne. This line carried passengers, coal to the mill and finished linen products back up to the railway line for transport to market – the only surviving picture is fascinating.

Embankment stretching out across Loughgilly Bog on approach to the Loughgilly Tunnel

The lifting of the railway provided an excellent foundation for the A28 Gosford Road which follows the track bed for almost a mile and a half. The line becomes distinct again crossing the Bessbrook Road and on towards Markethill.

Line (middle distance) approaching Markethill

The station building in Markethill still stands, converted into a private dwelling. There is ample space to develop an excellent urban greenway through the town – something less functional than a rural greenway and perhaps more poetic?

Looking down towards the site of the old Markethill Station

On the north side of Markethill the line is visible however a diversion towards Gosford Forest Park could be beneficial. Having the strategic greenway network within touching distance of outdoor activities and camping would be attractive to locals and overseas travellers.

Track bed now used as an access road near Hamiltownsbawn

The line continues north rounding, but not quite entering, the settlement of Hamiltonsbawn. Finding a good access spur would be important to drive passing greenway users towards local businesses.

The line then turns west towards Armagh City. At the north-east edge of the city sprawl this potential greenway connection across to St Luke’s Hospital and the old railway station complex behind Armagh Cathedral would have serious benefits to local residents.

Line straight ahead towards St Luke’s Hospital, as seen from Drumman Heights

As with any greenway project, the exact route and priorities will be determined by the hard work of local councils – in this case a partnership between Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council – and the landowners and stakeholders along the route. The economic benefits are being shown time and again in other parts of the island.

If the Lissummon Greenway can find its way between the cities of Newry and Armagh, there is potential for an excellent triangle route including Portadown – utilising the existing Newry Canal Towpath and another expected greenway linking Armagh and Portadown.

This important inter-urban greenway can drive employment, tourism an active travel in settlements which have been relatively quiet since the days of the permanent way – and the Lissummon Tunnel is the ace up the sleeve.


History – Armagh rail disaster

The section of railway between Armagh and Hamiltownsbawn is the site of a tragedy that changed railway safety forever. On 12th June 1889 a train packed with 940 people, on an excursion to Warrenpoint organised by the Armagh Methodist Church Sunday School, tried to negotiate a steep incline out of Armagh:

“The steam locomotive was unable to complete the climb and the train stalled. The train crew decided to divide the train and take forward the front portion, leaving the rear portion on the running line. The rear portion was inadequately braked and ran back down the gradient, colliding with a following train.

“Eighty people were killed and 260 injured, about a third of them children. It was the worst rail disaster in the UK in the nineteenth century, and remains Ireland’s worst railway disaster ever. To this day, it is the fourth worst railway accident in the United Kingdom.

“It led directly to various safety measures becoming legal requirements for railways in the United Kingdom.”

Armagh Rail Disaster, Wikipedia contributors

The position of the collision is on the high bank as the Portadown Road enters Armagh. Building a greenway through this point may therefore be a sensitive task. There is scope for an educational resource about this terrible and pivotal moment in local and national history, a worthy addition to the memorial in Armagh City.

History – footage of the former Newry and Armagh Railway

Armagh rail disaster, Goraghwood Station, through Newry Edward Street Station and beyond:

The Newry Canal and (last two minutes) looking at the Goraghwood line:

Trace the old railway with online mapping


Note: almost all of the land traversed by the former railways in Northern Ireland are now in private ownership – this article reflects on the factual position of the former route and potential reuse where possible, but does not imply landowner consent to these ideas.

View from railway bridge at Church Hill Road


As the UK is due to leave the European Union in March 2019, the future shape of agricultural support is being considered by the Department for Agriculture, Environmental and Rural Affairs (DAERA). Northern Ireland Greenways believes that any revised agricultural payments framework should encourage greenway development under access to the countryside aims and the greening of land opportunities.

The single biggest barrier to greenway development in Northern Ireland is land access. When our extensive railway network was closed and lifted in the mid 20th century, most of the land was sold or taken into private ownership. Subsequent development or agricultural use makes certain sections unlikely to be considered for greenway use as things stand. A range of options will need to be explored over the next quarter of a century between landowners and government to realise the 1,000km vision for a world-leading greenway network.

“A network of green corridors will contribute to delivering these benefits whilst building attractive environments and vibrant communities around the centres where we live and work. Greenways can make a huge difference to the daily lives of people by providing the opportunity to enjoy safe and easy access to fresh air and exercise, encouraging more people to commute to work by foot or bicycle, more children to walk or cycle to school, and provide a vital leisure resource for local people and visitors alike.”
Exercise Explore Enjoy: A Strategic Plan for Greenways, DfI

The land access negotiation process can be difficult, as has been seen in route development in parts of the UK and Ireland. Landowners and farmers can see potential greenway paths as problematic, with worries over routes slicing up land holdings, affecting productive potential, and fears of compulsory purchase meaning decisions being imposed upon them.

In Northern Ireland discussions are not that far advanced in most cases, and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has so far insisted on a system of landowner, neighbour and public consultation as part of early route exploration by local councils.

Consultation on a potential greenway route from Comber to Newtownards, March 2018
Consultation event on a potential greenway route from Comber to Newtownards, March 2018 ©nigreenways

The implications of Brexit on the future of agricultural payments creates an opportunity to reframe the debate on greenways and public access to the countryside.

Some of the criticisms of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payment system include it being too narrowly focused on certain agricultural uses of land, even if it’s not particularly productive or sustainable. Revising the subsidy framework to include the concept of ‘public money for public goods’ can prompt new uses of land to benefit the wider public.

“Active promotion of access to countryside, educational farm visits and biodiverse green space and ensuring the access is healthy, for example ensuring opportunities for beautiful and tranquil experiences, wildlife encounters and physical activity.”
Public health is a public good and should be supported in farming policy, Vicki Hird

This can start with creating a system of payments which reward the creation of new public pathways across private land. This would recognise the need for partnership working between landowners, the local community, councils and government to identify strategic route objectives, standards of design and ongoing operation.

This can not only support the routes identified through the Strategic Plan for Greenways but also be a spur to local communities working to seek new opportunities for active travel infrastructure in their area. Future payments for any greenways created would need to be dependent on the continued access to, and maintenance of, those routes.

There is an industrial heritage aspect of greenway development which can also be recognised in this type of payment framework. Landowners with remnants of our railway past – station platforms and buildings, bridges, tunnels, viaducts and so on – can be rewarded for the conservation and possible regeneration of certain features, protecting and preserving them for future generations.

Neill's Hill Station platform restored by local campaigners
Neill’s Hill Station platform restored by local campaigners along the Comber Greenway in Belfast ©nigreenways

Another way in which greenway development can benefit from a new approach to agricultural payments is in the repurposing of land away from arable and pastoral use to greening such as wild meadows and forestry. Concerns about greenway routes which may divide portions of land could be used as opportunities for landowners to create pockets of woodland, or wild areas which would give a much needed boost to biodiversity and wildlife habitats – and have that work reflected in support payments.

Access to the countryside isn’t just about linear pathways for walking and cycling, but also the quality of engagement with nature and agriculture. Again the future subsidy system should reflect ways in which the public are encouraged to visit and interact with the countryside, such as the creation of open farms, educational opportunities, cafes and visitor experiences, accommodation and outdoor activities. Greenways should be seen as key active travel corridors to enable the public to access these potential activities – and the local employment they will support – creating a beneficial feedback loop to society.

A framework of agricultural payments which recognises greenway development as a key aim of society over the next quarter century, and can reward landowners for work to realise this vision, isn’t a magic wand to wipe away the difficulties and concerns which greenway development can sometimes bring. But it could be an important incentive to work together to create special places and a dense web of easy access to our wonderful countryside, which can draw in visitors from far and wide, and benefit all.

Get involved by emailing your response to the DAERA consultation at NIFutureAgriPolicy@daera-ni.gov.uk by Wednesday 10 October 2018.

You can also use a pro-forma response email (and adapt the text as you need to) on the Nature Matters website.

Read more

DAERA: Northern Ireland Future Agricultural Policy Framework

DAERA: NI Future Agricultural Policy Framework – Stakeholder Engagement (PDF, 990K)

Cycling UK: Get on my land!

Cycling UK: Why post-Brexit agricultural policy is as important for you and your child as it is for farmers

Cycling UK: Agricultural subsidies and why countryside access is a public good

The Programme for Government outcomes which agricultural payment support for access to the countryside, greenways and re-greening can help to deliver:

Indicator 6: Improve mental health
Lead measure: % of population with GHQ12 scores ≥4 (signifying possible mental health problem)

Indicator 23: Improve transport connections for people, goods and services
Lead measure: Average journey time on key economic corridors

Indicator 25: Increase the use of public transport and active travel
Lead measure: % of all journeys which are made by walking/cycling/public transport

Indicator 27: Improve cultural participation
Lead measure: % engaging with arts/cultural activities in the past year

Indicator 29: Increase environmental sustainability
Lead measure: Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Indicator 30: Improve our attractiveness as a destination
Lead measure: Total spend by external visitors

Indicator 31: Increase shared space
Lead measure: % who think leisure centres, parks, libraries and shopping centres in their areas are ‘shared and open’ to both Protestants and Catholics

Indicator 34: Improve the regional balance of economic prosperity through increased employment
Lead measure: Employment rate by geographic area (areas to be defined)

Indicator 37: Improve air quality
Lead measure: Nitrogen dioxide concentration.

Indicator 40: Improve our international reputation
Lead measure: National Brand Index

Indicator 42: Increase quality of life for people with disabilities
Lead measure: Average life satisfaction score of people with disabilities

View from A2 down onto the Holywood Exchange access road


The Sydenham Greenway idea has hit the headlines in the last few months. A public petition was launched by Northern Ireland Greenways to raise awareness of the potential project which gained over 3,000 signatures in a matter of weeks over Easter.

Belfast City Council took notice of the petition and Councillors George Dorrian and John Kyle brought a motion on the greenway plan.

However the time has come to launch phase two of our efforts to ensure the project proceeds. The spark for the petition and latest campaign was the proposed Tillysburn Park and Ride scheme from the Department for Infrastructure (DfI).

Despite bordering the proposed Sydenham Greenway route, and two DfI strategies specifically adopting the Sydenham Greenway as a planned active travel corridor, they omitted this pathway from the Park and Ride scheme. A huge missed opportunity.


Tillysburn Park and RIde plan document ©DfI


However, as there is a public consultation on the Park and Ride scheme, this offers you the opportunity to comment. And in this case, object to the scheme proceeding further unless there is a greenway included in revised plans.

To do this you’ll need to send an email to the Department by 5pm on Wednesday 9th May 2018.

View the Tillysburn Park and Ride consultation documents on the Department for Infrastructure website.

Luckily for you we’ve prepared a handy email template for an objection. This states the main reasons why DfI should have included the Sydenham Greenway in this plan, and wording to make your objection to progress on the scheme unless changes are made. Just cut and paste, and then send to the address below before the deadline.


Feel free to alter and amend the text to suit your own views on the wider scheme. Many people will object to the Park and Ride scheme in itself, others may wish for it to proceed once a greenway route is integrated.



To Department for Infrastructure,

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the Tillysburn Park and Ride consultation.

I wish to formally object to the scheme in the form laid out in the documents published on 12 March 2018.

The Department for Infrastructure is tasked with increasing the levels of active travel in Northern Ireland. As many as nine Draft Progamme for Government Outcomes Framework indicators directly relate to getting more people travelling in an active way and to the creation of safe active travel space such as greenways:


2. Reduce health inequality
3. Increase healthy life expectancy
4. Reduce preventable deaths
6. Improve mental health
23. Improve transport connections for people, goods and services
25. Increase the use of public transport and active travel
29. Increase environmental sustainability
30. Improve our attractiveness as a destination
37. Improve air quality



The Tillysburn Park and Ride scheme borders on the route of the proposed Sydenham Greenway, a traffic-free pathway which would connect the greenways of Belfast to the North Down Coastal Path.

You should know this as the Sydenham Greenway route was adopted in two of your own strategies in the past year and a half:


Exercise Explore Enjoy: A Strategic Plan for Greenways (Nov 2016)

Draft Belfast Bicycle Network (Jan 2017)


That the Department omitted any reference to the greenway in the Tillysburn Park and Ride is of great concern to me. Since you launched your consultation, more than 3,000 people have signed a petition to demand the Sydenham Greenway project should go ahead.

The Sydenham Greenway would enable and support walking and cycling journeys for a vast range of purposes and users, including:


  • park and cycle customers
  • local residents in Sydenham and Knocknagoney
  • leisure users from the Greater Belfast area
  • commuters to the Harbour Estate and Airport
  • shoppers to Holywood Exchange


The bike shelter in your current scheme plan doesn’t tick the box.

You are the Department tasked with getting more people travelling without the need for a car. Instead of weaving that aim into scheme designs, you continue to ignore cycling and walking connections. Members of the public should not have to keep holding you to this basic responsibility on every scheme you design.

It is my considered view that the Tillysburn Park and Ride scheme must not proceed in the absence of a greenway link along this important transport corridor. This is your reminder that active travel is transport.

I look forward to receipt of your revised scheme plan by return email.





Remember, you need to email your response, no later than 5pm on Wednesday 9th May, to:

You can copy us in if you want, to help us gauge the level of response, at:


Thank you for your continued support. By concerted public action, we will get the Sydenham Greenway built!


Bridging the divide is a series of articles proposing three investments which can boost active travel by linking communities divided only by the cost of a bridge. As the River Bann flows into Lough Neagh, a former crossing point has fallen into memory – now a traffic-free bridge could link more than just two small settlements, it could complete a missing link in tourist trail surrounding Lough Neagh.

Bannfoot Bridge

Bannfoot is a small village situated by the point where the Upper Bann meets Lough Neagh. The sleepy scene which greets visitors today betrays the historic importance of this waterway to the economy of this part of Ireland.

Raymond Okonski [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Looking at the narrow gap across the Bann (photo by Raymond Okonski)
The Upper Bann was once a critical link from inland agriculture and production around Lough Neagh to the sea trade port at Newry. The Newry Canal which opened in 1742 supported barge traffic on the 30 mile trip.

“Before the modern improvements on roads and wheel carriages, this navigation was of more value than it appears at the present time.”
A Nimmo, Tidal Harbours Commission, Appendix, 1846

The canal (which has long fallen into disuse and disrepair, and is better known these days as a popular ‘greenway’ route) was for a time a key economic corridor in north-east Ireland.

By Albert Bridge (http://www.geograph.ie/photo/898688) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Geograph.ie
Cyclist passing under Steenson’s Bridge on the Newry Canal (photo by Albert Bridge)

“The Newry Canal, located in Northern Ireland, was built to link the Tyrone coalfields (via Lough Neagh and the River Bann) to the Irish Sea at Carlingford Lough near Newry. It was the first summit level canal to be built in Ireland or Great Britain, and pre-dated the more famous Bridgewater Canal by nearly thirty years and Sankey Brook by fifteen years.”
Inland Waterways Association of Ireland

The route from Lough Neagh through to Newry –  which links with the Ulster Canal through Coalisland into Armagh, and the Lagan Canal to Belfast – began at Bannfoot.

The Bannfoot Ferry jetties still visible, looking here from the western Maghery side shore

Bannfoot (originally called Charlestown) has been a crossing point for centuries. A ferry is mentioned at least as far back as 1760 and a ferry service operated up until 1979 – that’s more than 200 years of recorded daily crossings.

The NI Screen Digital Film Archive has a delightful 8mm colour film by John Stevenson, a businessman from Portadown, showing how the ferry moved passengers and (very brave) car drivers between the banks.

However, today the Bannfoot Ferry’s jetties stand silent, and point to the anomaly of the Upper Bann – it’s the only river anywhere on the shores of Lough Neagh which isn’t immediately spanned. The river meanders for a good 9 miles through the County Armagh countryside until it encounters a pedestrian-friendly bridge in Portadown.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov-wv5dkfQA&w=900&h=506]

The anomaly is stark when you look at the disconnection between neighbouring communities. Maghery and Bannfoot lie just three miles apart along the line of the Columbkille Road. But to get from A to B requires a shocking round trip of 18 miles by bicycle, or 16 miles by car using the motorway.


Public transport is an option between Maghery and Bannfoot, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Translink’s website gives only three journey options on a weekday, the quickest involving  an eye-watering four buses taking one hour and 58 minutes. That may be seven minutes shorter than the quickest Belfast to Dublin train service, but the Enterprise is travelling over 100 miles rather than our three miles in question.

A permanent Bannfoot crossing is unfinished business – the missing piece of the jigsaw in the (currently) 113 mile Loughshore Trail which uses mostly traffic-vacant country roads. A pointed reference is made on the Cycle NI website:

“This route does not follow along the Lough all the way, it veers off further away from the Lough passing through the town of Portadown, crosses the River Bann and back up again towards the Lough heading to Kinnego.”

A similar traffic-free bridge in Maghery was installed in 2007 which turned an eight mile diversion to Tamnamore and back into a joyous skip (or pedal) over the River Blackwater.

There is potential for modal shift – albeit very slight – but it does leave Lurgan, Lisburn, Belfast within striking distance from the south-west corner of Lough Neagh. The car trip from  Maghery to Lurgan using the motorway is about 20 minutes – the equivalent cycle over a Bannfoot Bridge would be just 50 minutes.

Stephen McNally, one of the organisers of the popular Lap the Lough event, thinks the bridge would be transformative for the area:

“It would be a much safer, quicker, quieter and picturesque crossing than navigating through Portadown town centre.

“There are over 20 cycle clubs within 20 miles of the Bannfoot area and probably a further 50 clubs within regular striking distance but none venture this way because crossing isn’t an option… cyclists like a loop. Potentially that’s 5,000+ regular cyclists of all ages, abilities, backgrounds, including youth & families who could be crossing at the Bannfoot producing no emissions, no noise and no impact to the roads or the local community.

“I understand there may be concerns from local residents but they can look toward the bridge at Maghery, operating now for 10 years. It’s been transformative for the area with walkers, cyclists and anglers crossing daily and no negative impact whatsoever.

“A footbridge at Bannfoot would make the Loughshore Trail a much better proposition for tourists too – like many local cyclists they’ve had to deal with the incredulity of cycling to the Bannfoot expecting a bridge – there’s permanent proof with one sorry fellow on Google Maps shown turning back in dismay.

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m0!3m2!1sen!2suk!4v1486137696759!6m8!1m7!1s3x7YVGlt5avZTj-i0CxGWQ!2m2!1d54.50502978798802!2d-6.516181506531012!3f255.14726252518457!4f-11.123631288254515!5f1.4451984386336232&w=900&h=450]

“It’s a time for building bridges and closing divisions both geographical and historical – I think the appetite is there.”

Enhancing a great local cycling network

While the Department for Infrastructure’s Greenway Network Plan only includes the main Coalisland – Dungannon – Portadown – Lurgan route (follow it in yellow in the picture below) the original NI Greenways vision map included consideration of opening up the historic canal routes closer to Lough Neagh.

The potential for cycling around this area is immense – linking quiet country roads to the existing Broad Water four mile path near Moira to the west, the existing Coalisland Canal Towpath to the east and perhaps a fully reopened Ulster Canal south towards the Fermanagh lakes and the island-wide inland waterway network.

Original NI Greenways map considered these routes close to Lough Neagh

It’s also within the orbit of the best urban cycling network in Ireland – the Black Paths which weave their way through Portadown, Craigavon and Lurgan, giving area residents virtually traffic-free access to the Rushmere Centre and back.


There may be another way to look at the current mad diversion though Portadown – it brings cyclists into contact with heavy traffic on the congested Bann bridge. Outside of Belfast and Derry, the Portadown / Craigavon / Lurgan area has the most reported cycling collisions in Northern Ireland.

Connecting local rivals

Two GAA clubs play on either side of the Bannfoot crossing – 2016 Armagh Senior Football Champions Maghery Sean MacDermott’s and High Moss Sarsfields GFC in Derrytrasna. The direct road with the addition of the Bannfoot Bridge would put exactly 5 miles between the two clubs. But it takes a 16 mile trip through Portadown by car for the several age groups from the senior teams to the under 14s to play the fixture at either ground.

The bridge would enable players and families from the whole area to cycle and walk between the grounds for matches – saving a lot of petrol and adding the possibility of group cycles from one ground to the other. The bicycle trip between the grounds would actually be quicker than the car trip through Portadown – another example of why the bridge is a no-brainer?

Charlie Monaghan, Chairman of the Lough Neagh Partnership said of the bridge concept:

“We would very much welcome the development of the Bannfoot Bridge as it would lead to the linking of communities along the southern shore of lough Neagh”.

The Bannfoot bridge is an opportunity to celebrate our industrial heritage with a permanent crossing at this point of historic significance. It would restitch and strengthen natural links between the communities of the Loughshore in two artificially and unnecessarily remote area. A cycling cafe could do roaring trade with the potential passing pelotons, and tourists would find even more reasons to visit this beautiful area.

What do you think of the Bannfoot Bridge idea? Please take the time to leave your comments below and share through your social networks. Election season is a great time to contact your local MLA candidates to ask for their support!

(Note – many thanks to the organisers of The Fréd Festival for highlighting this particular idea!)

Bridging the divide is a series of articles proposing three investments which can boost active travel by linking communities divided only by the cost of a bridge. On the wild Atlantic north coast, the River Bann divides Castlerock and Portstewart – could a bridge invigorate the region’s tourism economy?

Atlantic Gateway

An iconic bridge across the River Bann barmouth as it meets the Atlantic Ocean would directly connect two important tourist destinations, reducing the reliance on vehicle travel on the North Coast.

Castlerock and Portstewart are separated by just over three miles as the crow flies. Looking east from Downhill House the towns appear to sit side-by-side, with a sandy strand linking the two settlements.

View from Downhill House to Castlerock and Portstewart

On closer inspection the River Bann poses a formidable barrier between the two. The Bann runs for 99 miles from Slieve Muck in the Mourne Mountains, through Lough Neagh and into the Atlantic here beside Castlerock.

A barmouth constructed in the 19th century keeps the Bann open to navigation.

Standing on the east side of the barmouth looking up the Bann

Due to this physical barrier, travel between Castlerock and Portstewart means a road journey through Coleraine of about 11 miles.

There are just two reasonable options – by car (taking roughly 25 minutes) or by public transport. Castlerock benefits from regular train and bus services, but getting to Portstewart requires a changing bus or train at Coleraine, both much slower options:

  • 39 minutes by train then bus (£5.40 discounted adult return, £8.90 before 9.30am)
  • 55 minutes by bus then bus (£2.70 discounted adult return, £4.10 before 9.30am)

For a family of four that’s anywhere from £8 return up to £22 for a day travel family card (depending on your mode of travel and time of day) with up to two hours total travelling time out of your day – for little more than three miles as the crow flies.

Seven extra miles of a diversion needed to travel between Castlerock and Portstewart

The alternative to this – highly attractive to local residents and the summer flood of tourists alike – would involve building a bridge across the barmouth. The shortest span at this point is about 190 metres, and a bridge would need to be high enough to maintain navigation through the Bann.

Proposed route edging Castlerock beach and through the dunes of Portstewart Strand

On the Castlerock side the bridge would be approximately 800 metres from Sea Road or 500 metres from the end of the private caravan park behind the golf course.

Across on the Portstewart side of the bridge, the 1.6 mile long strand is a challenging walk and an impractical (at times impossible) cycle or wheelchair journey.

Portstewart Strand stretching towards Castlerock (photo by Tourism Ireland)

Both sides of the bridge have extensive sand dunes between the Bann and the towns. An environmentally sympathetic option – to provide high quality and practical access all year round – would be to use a three metre wide elevated boardwalk, suitable everyday cycling, wheelchair and mobility scooter journeys.

By Clifton Cartwright (Desann) (http://art.gnome.org/backgrounds/nature/2524) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A possible boardwalk across the sand dunes? (photo by Clifton Cartwright)
Portstewart Strand is a National Trust managed property which currently allows vehicle access onto the beach, and is home to the world famous Harry’s Shack restaurant. The proposed 2.5 mile boardwalk route (including bridge) would put Downhill House and Mussenden Temple within a 4.5 mile cycle from Morelli’s on Portstewart promenade.

There are already cycle hire companies on the north coast such as Causeway Cycle Adventures, but this type of medium distance route grafted on to existing seaside towns, major tourist attractions, and the existing traffic-free cycle route on towards Portrush, would surely support more local employment opportunities.

View from east mole of barmouth, Castlerock and Mussenden Temple in touching distance

Further on past Portrush the Department for Infrastructure is proposing to run its Greenway Network all the way to Dunluce Castle, Bushmills and the Giant’s Causeway. To the west lies Downhill, Binevenagh, Limavady and on towards Derry City and its growing greenway network. An Atlantic Gateway would bypass the long diversion into Coleraine – while also creating an attractive 13 mile triangular route between Portstewart, Coleraine and Castlerock.

The north coast section of the Greenway Strategy for Northern Ireland

This bridge and route could bring immense benefits to local residents and visitors alike. It can actively displace a significant proportion of year-round resident and visitor journeys from cars to bicycles, given the potentially identical travel times. It also opens the possibility of creating a new architectural centrepiece for our tourism offering with the Atlantic Gateway bridge itself.

What do you think of the Atlantic Gateway idea? Please take the time to leave your comments below and share through your social networks. Election season is also a great time to contact your local MLA candidates to ask for their support! 😉

Minister for Infrastructure Chris Hazzard has set an ambitious £150 million plan to begin delivery of a 1,000km network of greenways across Northern Ireland over the next 10 years.


The Strategy was developed by the Department along with AECOM and Sustrans using a methodology to assess the relative benefits of individual schemes which led to the formation of a three-tiered approach. A Primary Network will provide the spine of the overall plan:

The Primary Network of around 400km includes many of the main areas of population and reaches some major tourist attractions. It provides the basis for a connected regional network. The East – West (Larne to Belcoo) route includes the east section of EuroVelo Route 1 (between Larne and Craigavon). The North – South (Derry to Newry) route includes the west section. The Causeway Coast is reached via a Central route.

There are seven individual sections to the Primary Network, estimated in the region of £60m to complete and the Strategy sets a target of 75% of this to be delivered within 10 years.


The Secondary Network encompasses most of the other schemes identified between the original NI Greenways vision, AECOM and Sustrans work and input from Councils:

“The Secondary Network of around 600km would extend the reach of the Greenway Network more widely. It includes some excellent routes and Councils may decide to develop these sections for more local reasons. It would not be the intention that all of the Primary Network must be completed before work begins on the Secondary Network. Some of these routes may be more easily designed.”

There are 20 individual sections to the Secondary Network, estimated in the region of £90m to complete and the target is for 25% of this to be delivered within 10 years.


The strategy allows for new schemes to be proposed and taken forward should they be identified:

“Future plans may provide for a third level network of community paths that would provide doorstep opportunities to connect local communities to their local green space and neighbouring communities.”

The Department is setting the overall vision for the greenway network, including design standards and grants schemes to aid delivery, but Northern Ireland’s 11 local councils will be expected to take the lead on delivery on the ground:

“Councils have a key role in the delivery of the Greenway Network. The purpose of this Strategic Plan is to provide a framework to assist Councils and other bodies to develop their own local schemes as part of a Greenway Network for the entire region.”


Minister Hazzard has made clear his vision to see this kind of active travel infrastructure extended throughout Ireland:

“As the first Minister for Infrastructure my focus is on sustainable transport. Greenways can make a huge difference to the daily lives of people by providing the opportunity to enjoy safe and easy access to fresh air and exercise, encouraging more people to commute to work by foot or bicycle, more children to walk or cycle to school, and provide a vital leisure resource for local people and visitors alike.

“This plan sets out my vision and framework for a more strategic and ambitious programme to develop greenway routes right across the whole of the north. I believe that greenways and similar community paths will ultimately create public spaces that will enhance our quality of life and leave an enduring legacy to be enjoyed by future generations.”


Welcoming the Minister’s announcement, Sustrans Northern Ireland Director Gordon Clarke said:

“Supporting rural regeneration through the development of traffic-free greenways was a priority policy area in our Manifesto ahead of last May’s Assembly elections.

“Across the UK we recognise the huge benefits these greenways have for local people. Greenways help to get people walking and cycling for leisure, commuting and school journeys. They also boost local businesses and have a wider tourism potential.

“The delivery of this vision, however, will require a commitment to substantial long-term capital investment from the Northern Ireland Executive.”

Small Grants Programme

So where is the money coming from? There’s no point in setting a vision without backing it up with the means to deliver. Luckily the Minister has already pushed the Strategy forward by inviting local councils to compete for grants to establish the initial stages of Greenways projects.

Remarkably, all 11 local councils responded at Stage 1 with 27 individual project proposals. The competition ran over summer 2016 and 20 greenway projects were successful and will now receive £8,000 funding.


This total £160,000 in grants will enable successful councils to develop concept design options through a feasibility study for their proposed greenway schemes in Stage 2.

For Stage 3 a number of the highest quality of these feasibility studies will be selected to each receive £25,000 to develop a full business case and detailed design for their proposal.

The councils and projects to receive the funding are:

Ards and North Down – three grants (£24,000 in total. £8,000 to each greenway scheme)

  • Comber to Newtownards greenway
  • Orlock Point to Donaghadee greenway
  • Orlock Point to Holywood greenway


Fermanagh and Omagh – two grants (£16,000 in total. £8,000 to each greenway scheme)

  • Enniskillen to Clones greenway
  • Omagh to Carrickmore greenway

Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon – Four grants (£32,000 in total, £8,000 to each greenway scheme)

  • Craigavon to Aghagallon greenway
  • Portadown – (North of) Moy greenway
  • Banbridge to Scarva greenway
  • Portadown – Caledon (via Armagh) greenway

Newry, Mourne and Down – four grants (£32,000 in total. £8,000 to each greenway scheme)

Antrim and Newtownabbey – one grant (£8,000)

  • Doagh to Larne greenway

Lisburn and Castlereagh – one grant (£8,000)

  • Carryduff greenway

Causeway Coast and Glens – one grant (£8,000)

Derry and Strabane – one grant (£8,000)

  • North West Greenway

Mid and East Antrim – one grant (£8,000)

Mid Ulster – two grants (£16,000 in total. £8,000 to each greenway scheme)

  • Clogher Valley Greenway
  • Ulster Canal Greenway

The plans for major capital investment to deliver shovel-ready projects after Stage 3 will be worked on in the coming months.

Download: Exercise, Explore, Enjoy – A Strategic Plan for Greenways (PDF)



It’s an exciting day capping four and a half years of voluntary campaigning to raise awareness of the Northern Ireland Greenways vision.

We now have central and local government working together on a plan to create a 1,000km network extending across the country and across the border. If delivered, this will be a welcome mat to the world, placing a traffic-free path network at the centre of our tourism offering, and regenerating communities all over the country – rural and urban, west and east of the Bann, north and south of the border.


We should also be able to count on a smooth ride to delivery over the current Northern Ireland Assembly term, given that 77 of 108 returned MLAs pledged their support to development of a greenway network as party of the Election Cycle campaign – a tough promise to go back on, even in these heady days of opposition politics at Stormont.

Personally I’d like to thank Chris Hazzard, his ministerial predecessors Michelle McIlveen and Danny Kennedy for driving this Strategy; Sustrans NI and Cycling UK for their support in the campaign; all the good heads in the GB Cycling Embassy, Cyclist.IE and various campaign groups I’ve been lucky to interact with; some excellent local politicians and the amazing Cycling Unit staff within the Department for Infrastructure.

The first flourish of railway development in Ireland 150 years ago helped to establish towns like Newcastle into prime seaside tourist locations. While Bangor and Portrush still benefit from active railway links, Newcastle lost its rail connection in the 1950s. The time is right to build a 37 mile greenway sweeping from Belfast to the Mourne Mountains, to reimagine this once thriving tourist route.


The Comber Greenway, our most well-known traffic-free pathway, is almost a decade old in its current form. Stretching the seven miles from the centre of Belfast to Comber it provides wonderful access to the countryside for urban dwellers and commuting options for rural and suburban dwellers.

Snowy greenways
Snowy Comber Greenway in East Belfast

It was built on the track bed of the former Belfast and County Down Railway (BCDR) thankfully instead of a motorway. But the BCDR had operated 80 miles of railway, with five branches and the ‘mainline’ which stretched from Belfast all the way to Newcastle. It’s this mainline which fires the imagination for development of a greenway from the big city to the big mountains.

A Mountains of Mourne Greenway could stretch fully 37 miles from Belfast centre to Newcastle, passing through the towns of Comber, Ballygowan, Saintfield and Downpatrick. Two further branch lines to Ballynahinch and Ardglass takes this vision to a 50 mile network for leisure, tourism and utility cycling and walking.

Map of the proposed Mountains of Mourne Greenway and branches

The relatively short distances between the main population centres (Comber, Ballygowan, Saintfield and Ballynahinch are in a line 13 miles long, while Downpatrick is just under 10 miles from both Newcastle and Ballynahich) creates strong potential for commuting to workplaces, short leisure trips and a practical alternative to using a private car for town-to-town travel.

Railway line passes under the old Ravara Road bridge (Ballygowan)

The track bed along the majority of the route is relatively intact, with the occasional section taken over for farmland over the last half century. Ballygowan and Saintfield, in the outer orbit of Belfast, stand to gain the kind of direct benefit to the local economy experienced in Comber as a result of a direct traffic-free link to the city.

BCDR at Rowallane
BCDR line passes near to Rowallane Garden outside Saintfield

The beautiful Rowallane Garden on the southern edge of Saintfield is roughly 14 miles from Belfast by the proposed greenway route, making it well within reach for family outings by bicycle.

Cargagh Road snakes under a derelict railway bridge near Crossgar

The line continues south through Crossgar providing more town-to-town cycling options for locals. From Crossgar to Downpatrick several sections of the old line have been retained as dirt roads and private pathways which have the potential to be repurposed into high-quality greenway.

The Rann Road north of Downpatrick runs on the BCDR trackbed for roughly 2km

The route enters Downpatrick across the Quoile river, joining Northern Ireland’s only working heritage railway, the Downpatrick and County Down Railway.  A link up with the heritage railway project is a fantastic opportunity to highlight a major tourist attraction, which can provide education on the history of the route of the new greenway.

Sidings at Downpatrick Station on the heritage railway

Downpatrick itself boasts Inch Abbey, Down Cathedral, regarded as Saint Patrick’s burial place, as well as the Saint Patrick Centre and the Down County Museum.

Leaving Downpatrick the line passes through Ballydugan with the award-winning Lakeside Inn and The Mill at  Ballydugan hotel, in prime position to be boosted by greenway users.

The old railway line skims Ballydugan Lake

Through Tullymurry lies an area of more recent historical significance with World War I training trenches dug into the Down countryside at Ballykinlar, as featured in Barra Best’s BBC NI series Walk The Line.

Approaching Dundrum the tourism value of the greenway project begins to unfold in a big way. The Dundrum Coastal Path is an existing National Trust trail which utilises the old railway line as part of the wider 47 mile Lecale Way.

Dundrum Bay lies at the edge of the Murlough Bay Nature reserve. The railway line cuts across the bay as a couple of points, and one of bridges constructed to carry the constant flow of ramblers even includes original sleepers and rails. This spectacular section would need a sympathetic upgrade to greenway standard.

A welcome mat to the world to adorn our tourism advertising

The route passes into Dundrum town, a wonderful stop-off for lunch on a day-trip down the greenway, including the internationally renowned Mourne Seafood Bar. Leaving the village, the line crosses the bay by bridge, with beautiful scenery as the Mourne Mountains begin to loom large.

Continuing its winding path south west, the landscape changes to grassy dunes as it approaches the outskirts of Newcastle. Murlough Nature Reserve is the site of a popular sand dune beach for locals and tourists alike, and the nearby caravan park would benefit from direct traffic-free access to Newcastle town centre.

The line skites between Royal County Down Golf Club (originally developed with BCDR assistance) and residential streets before ending at the Slieve Donard Resort and Spa and the old train station which still stands today.

Newcastle and the surrounding area is a wonderful leisure location for short breaks by tourists and staycationers alike. Short stay accommodation availability lends itself well to a stop-off on a cycling tour holiday of the type Northern Ireland could successfully promote with a fully traffic-free greenway network. The outdoor activity market is rich in the area, with the Mourne Mountains providing hiking and mountain biking trails and the excellent Tollymore National Outdoor Centre nearby.

Beautiful scenery, thrilling leisure activities, great restaurants, welcoming cafes, cosy pubs and world-class accommodation – building a greenway from Belfast to Newcastle is a signature tourism project which will promote the best we have to offer to the world and drive significant economic redevelopment in this part of the country.


Ballynahinch Branch

The town of Ballynahinch lies on the man road between Belfast and Newcastle and is notorious for traffic congestion. Running a greenway spur from the mainline at Ballynahinch Junction would offer some options for modal shift towards Saintfield and Comber to the north and Downpatrick to the south.

untitled_map_16_by_ni_greenways_10_27_2016_10_40_37 (1).jpg

A proposed road bypass of the town could cause issues for the preservation of a potential greenway route. A grade-separated junction slated for the exact spot where the railway line passes under the Crossgar Road (picture above) and should the bypass go ahead, a greenway underpass should be designed in to ensure future development.

Ardglass Branch

The former branch line to the fishing town of Ardglass is eight miles from Downpatrick. This section has been taken over by farming and development to a greater extent than the mainline, but local benefit could be derived from extending the greenway network to the coast.

View from just outside Ardglass Railway Station

There is an opportunity for renovation and renewal of a coastal bridge on the outskirts of the village, a direct path to the Coney Island Caravan Park, and a chance to further promote the area to users of the marina.

Ardglass Railway Station and platforms still standing today

The old railway station still exists, standing beside a fish processing plant and crying out for some tender love and care – or a nice cafe at the end of a long cycle from the big smoke.

Please leave your thoughts on the potential for a Mountains of Mourne Greenway in the comments section below and share using the social media buttons 🙂

Transport Minister Michelle McIlveen has announced a small grants programme for the development of greenway projects across Northern Ireland.


This competitive scheme is aimed at providing support for councils to work up projects that will be able to deliver a step change in greenway provision.

“I am delighted to be able to announce this new initiative. As a user of the Comber Greenway I recognise the value of greenways. They are an excellent way to enable people to incorporate activity into their everyday routine – whether as a means of travelling or for recreation and leisure. These off-road traffic-free routes provide a safe environment to give people the freedom and confidence to use the bicycle for everyday journeys.

“A number of councils have already undertaken work on greenways in their areas and I believe there is great potential to do much more. Providing support to councils in the development of greenways is one of the objectives set out in the Bicycle Strategy and this small grants programme is aimed at doing just that.”


The small grants programme will be a three stage competition to encourage councils to develop detailed designs and feasibility studies for local greenway projects:

Stage 1

Councils will be invited to express interest in the programme with a brief outline of the project or projects they would like to develop.

Stage 2

Up to eight of those projects will be selected and provided with a small grant of up to £8,000 to enable them to develop concept design options, a feasibility study and a business case.

Stage 3

Up to four of those projects will be selected and provided with a small grant of up to £25,000 to develop their designs in more detail and to provide a fully worked up project bid for assessment.


The Minister added:

“Work is continuing on a Strategic Plan for Greenways for Northern Ireland and I expect it to be available around the end of April. This plan will provide a framework to assist Councils in developing their proposals for this competition and I will be writing to them with details of the small grants programme for greenways after Easter.”



Excellent news as the greenways vision for Northern Ireland gathers momentum towards the 2016 Assembly elections.

There are at least four of 11 local councils already actively engaged in feasibility studies or with project plans at advanced stages, so this competition can help to encourage more areas to consider the economic possibilities of greenway development.

I understand the Department will look to ‘devolve’ the creation of greenways to councils, while retaining an overarching role in standardisation of route quality, signage and so on. Exciting times for Northern Ireland.

Just five months after the launch of the 25-year Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland, work will start next week on the first dedicated cycle routes devised by Minister Michelle McIlveen’s DRD Cycling Unit. The initial sections of a cross-Belfast route and a major overhaul and extension of the infamous Bin Lane are expected to be completed by March 2016, costing up to £800,000.


Section 1 will connect three Belfast Bikes stations with a traffic-free protected cycle track, while obliterating the two most famous cycling infrastructure landmarks in Belfast, Cyclesaurus the idiosyncratic dinosaur tail cycle lane and the Bin Lane.

Sections 2 and 3 will create a new bicycle route servicing an area of the city with low cycling uptake. Sections 4 and 5 are due to follow by the end of 2016.

“These routes will provide greater protection for people who choose to make journeys across the city by bike. In addition to supporting the successful Belfast Bike Share Scheme they will also help more commuters gain confidence to use the bicycle as an alternative and sustainable mode of transport. My Department’s most recent figures show that 5% of Belfast commuters are already travelling to and from work by bicycle.”

Minister McIlveen

These are officially being treated as pilot routes, giving the Cycling Unit the ability to change elements which aren’t working or need improved. However, the high quality nature of the design shows a determination to set new standards, leaning on best practice from abroad, and the first application of London Cycling Design Standards in Northern Ireland.

Section 1 – Ormeau Avenue to Chichester Street

Alfred St to be made one-way northbound with a cycleway protected by bollards extending the 0.5km from Chichester St to Ormeau Ave. This will create a 1.1km traffic-free route between NCN Route 9 and the city centre, linking four Belfast Bikes stations and sending a reminder about the need to build the Gasworks Bridge. It will finally obliterate the mess of Cyclesaurus, and reboot the Bin Lane to prevent the daily incursion of delivery vehicles from embarrassing Belfast.

The Ormeau Ave entrance to Alfred St will be made into a continuous footway to prioritise pedestrian and cycling movements.

Redesigned one-way street entrance will feature a continuous footway across the junction

19 on-street parking bays will be removed to provide space for the new cycleway running past the entrance of the Premier Inn Hotel. Will this prove to be one of the more controversial elements of the plan? The popcorn is on standby..

19 car parking bays will disappear to accommodate cycling (pinch me)

The junction of Alfred St with Franklin St / Sussex Pl remains the busiest and riskiest junction for cycling on the route. Making Alfred St one-way reduces the total possible vehicle movements on the junction from nine to seven, and with continuous cycle priority across the mouth of Franklin St it may improve safety.

I suspect it won’t be long before Franklin St is stopped up to vehicles here, but that is a battle for another time and another (ongoing) consultation.

Cyclesaurus – the busiest, riskiest junction still problematic despite Alfred Street becoming one-way

The May St junction will now have a straight-ahead view (removing the traffic pole clutter and cycling slalom effect) with separate crossing for those on bicycles and pedestrians. Vehicles emerging from Alfred St will now be banned from making left turns towards the City Hall. Given the crossing phase is likely to coincide with this green light, it will be most interesting to see if this is observed.

A messy junction simplified – straight-ahead cycleway separated from pedestrians and no left turn for vehicles

And then to the Bin Lane – why is work necessary to this kerb-separated cycle track? Just take a look at the #BinLane hashtag over on Twitter to find out. The kerb will be removed in favour of a consistent design approach of bollards along the length of the scheme. More controversy (and popcorn) but this time from cycle campaigners? The comments are open..

New loading bays created in place of paid on-street parking on Upper Arthur St (directly below a 472-space multi-storey, for context) will accommodate commercial needs. The intention of bin owners is unclear at this stage.

These foolproof kerbs will be replaced by bollards and car parking bays to the left converted to loading-only bays

To misquote The Dark Knight, this protected cycleway is not the plan Alfred St and Belfast’s Linen Quarter deserves, but it is the one it needs right now. With more place-appropriate measures like side street blockages, removal of most on-street parking and cellularisation with area-wide one-way restrictions for motor vehicles, perhaps 90% of circulating and through-traffic could be removed from these streets.

That is the way to humanise the whole area – choked as it is by cars searching for on-street parking spaces – and would make separate space for cycling unnecessary. Any bollard v kerb debate should bear in mind that realistic end goal. But for now, until that plan can be argued for and achieved, mode separation will help to make cycling more attractive.

Sections 2 and 3 – Grosvenor Road to City Centre

This represents the first half of the cross-city route which will straddle the city centre from (almost) the Royal Victoria Hospital to Titanic Quarter Railway Station and the greenway network beyond.

Slightly disappointing is the Grosvenor Rd section itself, which will be a shared footway. Once the route is established and seeing regular bicycle traffic (which the expansion of Belfast Bike Hire further up the Grosvenor Rd to the Royal Victoria Hospital guarantees) the Cycling Unit should be given the budget to create a cycleway ramp to Wilson Street. This would significantly cut the journey time and amount of shared used footway on the route, and liven up an otherwise silent street choked with ‘free’ parking.


Around the corner to Durham St and the beginning of the protected two-way cycle track, to be built utilising roadspace rather than footway.

A protected cycle track will be built using road space on this side of Durham Street

The mini roundabout at Barrack St (an earlier measure to reduce rat-running and to humanise these streets) will be replaced by signalled-controlled crossings, flipping bicycle users to a bollard-protected cycle track on the opposite side of the road.

Two-way cycleway to run on the right hand side (as pictured) of College Square North

At the junction of College Sq N and College Ave, a bold decision has been taken to rework traffic movements to create a bicycle priority junction. A low-level bicycle signal and dedicated crossing phase matching in with traffic turning left out of College Sq N will ensure bicycle users are treated like kings and queens of the road.

A dedicated cycle crossing will be placed here, and the right turn seen above will not be permitted

And over on College St, traffic mostly emerging from a surface car park will no longer have that option. The street is to be stopped up to vehicles, becoming  a “bicycle street” with minimal interactions with vehicles expected. This again is radical, should be applauded, and will provide evidence for similar options around the city.

Onto Queen St and there is another bollard-protected cycleway – it may feel like overkill on a street which has seen so much traffic removed over the years, but serves a key purpose as a contra-flow to the one-way system for vehicles.

Possible conflict point with a shared loading bay / cycleway at the mid point of Queen St will be keenly observed

The wider plan is for a traffic-free route all the way from Falls Park, traversing (if possible) Bog Meadows, meeting the cycleway beside the Westlink (and very likely a branch into the new Belfast Transport Hub) then across the city to meet the greenway network which is currently spreading over East Belfast, and the ‘spine’ of Belfast cycling, the traffic-free NCN route 9 from Lisburn to Newtownabbey.

Sections 4 and 5 – High Street to Titanic Station

These last sections are planned to begin sometime in the Autumn and expected to be finished by the end of the year. The High Street section is undergoing a major rework following consultation feedback, but the impressive removal of a lane of traffic on Middlepath St to create a new two-way cycle track will still set a high water mark for cycling development.

The shadow boxing ends – the Cycling Unit is two years old, the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland is now operational and we arrive at the Delivery Phase. Hallelujah!

It is important to set these route announcements in context – the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan and Bicycle Strategy Delivery Plan have yet to be finalised and published by the Cycling Unit. The Minister and her team should be commended for pressing on despite the scant budget at their disposal to date.  If this project signals a Seville-like determination to just get on with building dedicated routes, the future for cycling in Northern Ireland looks bright.

*Note: the section drawing are not the final, final plans but an earlier version available here.