Returning from holiday I noticed a new marking on my usual commuting route into Belfast City Centre. The bottleneck at the end of the Albertbridge Junction approaching the Lagan is notorious among commuter cyclists. The popular citybound bus lane provides safe space for cycling, but it terminates on the approach to the bridge itself, converging with the adjacent ‘inside’ traffic lane. This is already a scene of great conflict for cyclists, usually the slowest road user at this point.
Buses are filtering into the traffic, cars are filtering (technically, according to the arrows on the road) left into the converged lane, and two lanes of traffic are trying to emerge from the Ravenhill Road, usually having to encroach onto the Albertbridge Road for a better view. This is already a recipe for conflict, and one of the more fearful stretches of road for the inexperienced cyclist.
From the few road markings there are, filtering priority would seem to be with the bus lane, in turn according to which vehicle is farthest ahead. In reality, motorists give little regard to cyclists approaching the bridge. The safest approach is to indicate right early and filter into the traffic well ahead of the bridge.
The road marking spotted this morning seem to suggest that Roads Service are planning to create a new short cycle lane. This will extend from the end of the bus lane up to the start of the newly converged inside lane at the bridge.
This seems to be an unnecessary addition to an already confusing section of road. It would be understandable if a mandatory cycle lane was due to be created to span the bridge, but this is highly unlikely. This advisory cycle lane, with presumably no legal priority for filtering, will funnel cyclists right to the scene of potential accidents and conflict.
I support Roads Service in their efforts to try to provide cycle space within the limitations of budget and legislation. But Road Service efforts are suffering from a lack of clear vision and a strategic direction, informed by international best practice. Another example from the BelfastBikeLanes blog shows where good intentions are let down by bad planning, leading to a potentially dangerous cycle lane.
A Belfast focused cycling strategy is required from Stormont, with direction from Belfast City Council who should have greater influence on the roads within the city, and a fairer distribution of budget to cycling measures within the Department for Regional Development and Roads Service.
If you agree or disagree with the assessment of this proposed cycle lane, please comment below.
**Update 19th July**
I understand Roads Service are assessing a number of innovative options for this junction, and are taking on board the views of cycling users, some of who have been involved in incidents at the Ravenhill junction. I’m glad we have such a responsive cycling section of Roads Service, which puts the interests of our vulnerable road users first.