Danger being designed into Belfast roads

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.

New Albertbridge Road cycle lane
New cycle lane proposed for Albertbridge Road Belfast

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.

http://belfastbikelanes.tumblr.com/post/25580797400/who-designs-these-things-thats-an-advisory

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.

8 thoughts on “Danger being designed into Belfast roads

  1. The whole advisory cycle lane scheme seems a waste of time. I was completely unaware of the different types, a cycle lane’s a cycle lane. It seems the vast majority are also of this opinion, re-inforced by the authorities not enforcing the clearway times.

    As to the example above, it seems those in charge have targets to meet so shove bits of cycle lane in here, there and everywhere. Whether they are safe is beside the point, the target’s met.

    Is there an actual plan for Belfast’s cycle lanes that they are working towards or are they simply making it up as they go along?

  2. John Wright from Greenpeace invited the Roads Service Cycling officer down to the junction during a morning rush hour – I stopped during my commute to chat. They watched cyclists navigating the junction and noted the greatest risk was from the action of bus drivers. This short lane is to be done with the green road surface and is primarily to draw their attention to cyclists (in a good way…). I understand communication will be made to Translink as well. So in this case it’s nothing to do with targets but a direct response to concern.

    In the long term there is aspiration for a standalone cycling bridge parallel to the Albert Bridge. I really hope they can achieve this.

    In the meantime I think it’s hats off to John for actually getting the Roads Service down to watch the action!

    1. Firstly I think Roads Service should be commended for having such an engaged cycling section, willing to take on board the views of those using the roads every day. I had the pleasure of 3 long chats, 2 by call back, to dicuss this junction. Hopefully more engagement by commuter cyclists can be encouraged.

      Travelling this way for eight years, I’d suggest that the greatest danger is coming from the ‘middle’ lane traffic, which includes buses that regularly filter across early to avoid cyclists. It is at the point of convergence where traffic from the middle lane gives little regard, space or consideration to cyclists. This is despite road markings, and a road sign on the approach, clearly giving filtering priority to all traffic from the bus lane.

      Best practice for cycling on the road would suggest an assertive position in the lane, somewhere between a third in from the left to perhaps taking the middle of the lane. This is entirely appropriate for the Albertbridge Road bus lane. Two years ago I was knocked down by a private taxi (driving illegally) in this lane, approaching the bus shelter at the Ravenhill Road. My mistake here was riding too close to the kerb, making the taxi believe he could pass between me and stationary traffic to the right. Although completely his fault, if I had taken the middle position of the lane, as is a cyclist’s right, the accident probably would never have happened.

      The safest approach for any cyclist converging before the bridge is to merge with traffic as early as possible. Indicating an intention to pull right into the merging traffic lane, although not the correct maneouvre according to the road signs, at least strongly signals your presence to other road users and forces recognition that you are about to filter.

      The intention of the proposed new cycle lane is to alert other road users of the presence of cyclists; both buses using the lane and traffic emerging from the Ravenhill Road. But the real world effect would be to give a visual obligation for cyclists to hug the kerb on the approach to the bridge, encouraging a less assertive road postion, and making two points of convergence where now there is just one. The cycle lane would have no priority for convergence, surely increasing the risk of conflist and accidents. And cyclists who choose the safe option to merge early, risk the ire of motorists who expect you to be using the cycle lane (the differences between advisory and mandatory and the lack of obligation for cyclists to use either is not widely understood).

      This is all of course just one person’s opinion, and I may be wrong in my assessment of the danger of adding this stretch of cycle lane. Personally I would like to see the road signage priority better reflected in the road lines. If the solid bus lane line was to continue as a hatched line onto the bridge, meeting the middle line of the two citybound lanes, that would be the most powerful signal to motorists that they need to allow bus lane traffic full priority. The natural road layout unfortunately gives a misleading visual cue that the inside running lane on the bridge is the natural continuation of the ‘middle’ lane preceding it.

      I understand Roads Service may now be looking at some innovative alternatives here. I agree that extra training for Translink staff would probably help. Thanks for taking the time to comment, and I appreciate your views on this. Please let me know if you strongly disagree with any point of view in this response.

      1. No, I see all your points – all valid. It’s just a terrible layout in the first place. I notice there are some more temporary markings on the road this week, and a worrying development is that it looks as if the dotted line you mention may be in place, but ending up entirely in the wrong place, merely squeezing both lanes into the same space with equal priority. Take a look and see what you think.

  3. One reason motorists are not exactly kind to cyclists at this junction, is because they constantly see cyclists jumping the red light by taking to the pedestrian crossing across the Ravenhill, I’ve been told this by non cycling friends whom it annoys greatly.

  4. As a cyclist, motorist and motorcyclist this junction is one of my bugbears as well. The priorities are clearly indicated by the sign and road markings, but people need to look at them and understand what they mean rather than just assuming they have right of way (aimed at motorists mainly!). Technically cars should be indicating left to join the end of the bus lane, not buses indicating right to join the traffic (more training…). Perhaps a Give Way giving buslane priority directly after the lights and a hashed area at the leadup to the Ravenhill exit would be a better solution, this separates the lane changeovers into 2 locations reducing confusion.

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