Amelia Street: cycling woes in Belfast

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

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

Amelia Street sits opposite the famed Europa Hotel in Belfast, and across from one of the main transport hubs in Northern Ireland, Great Victoria Street Station. In recent years the street has been reworked to a one-way system, removing east-bound traffic to discourage cars turning right from Great Victoria Street.

Despite this, Roads Service recorded many cyclists continuing to use the street to access the office district behind the City Hall. In response, in January 2011 a contra flow cycle lane was created to meet this demand. Was this a high profile demonstration of Roads Service commitment to innovative cycling infrastructure in Belfast?

Amelia Street cycle lane as it should be at all times

Now 18 months on, and the cycle lane users are running into daily problems, if not actually running into cars, vans, trucks and taxis parked on the cycle lane. The issue appears to stem from the catch-all solution to providing cycle space in Belfast – the advisory cycle lane.

Amelia Street cycle lane Belfast, under those trucks, vans, cars..

More instances on the Belfast Bike Lanes blog

An advisory cycle lane is identified by a broken white line, and places no legal restrictions on other vehicles travelling or parking within its boundaries. This differs from a mandatory lane, with an unbroken white line, which prohibits other vehicles from entering. It is important to note that cyclists themselves are not legally obliged to cycle within either of these types of lane.

The first problem is that a contra flow advisory cycle lane is inherently dangerous – it is not illegal for oncoming vehicles to enter this lane. Second is the lack of restrictions on parking, waiting or loading on the cycle lane; an advisory lane requires the addition of a clearway restriction or yellow lines for this. In Amelia Street there is a double yellow line running the length of the cycle lane. So cyclists wonder why this daily problem isn’t being dealt with – surely any blockage is prohibited?

I stood with a friendly neighbourhood traffic warden and pointed out a cyclist having to round a parked truck. The cyclist was forced out into the oncoming traffic lane, blind to what was approaching. Apparently, traffic wardens operate a general 5 to 10 minute grace period for loading / unloading. Yet the Highway code states that: “Double yellow lines mean no waiting at any time, unless there are signs that specifically indicate seasonal restrictions.” There are no signs on Amelia Street to this effect. Keyland’s Place behind Robinsons would seem to be the obvious place for loading /unloading, so why are vans and trucks not directed there?

Road Markings information on the nidirect.gov.uk website (PDF)

Are Road Service traffic wardens actually applying the law correctly here? If not, why not? Or if they are correct, then why have Roads Service built a cycle lane which it is perfectly legal to block at any time?

One of the main gripes seems to be with taxi drivers using the cycle lane as an overflow. Challenging an individual driver blocking a cycle lane is usually counter-productive and misses the point. We are too quick to forget that taxi drivers were part of the glue that held this city together during The Troubles. Where policy is not strong, direction is not clear, and enforcement is confused, a vacuum exists. This is the fault of DRD Roads Service and no one driver or group.

Picture from a daily cycle commuter along Amelia Street

A change in culture required

What Amelia Street needs, as with many other areas in Belfast, is a stronger commitment to cycling infrastructure by Roads Service. Amelia Street is perfect for a mandatory cycle lane, bounded by a kerb rather than an unbroken line, to ensure cyclists have a safe journey at all times.

The current blanket approach to creating advisory cycle lanes in Belfast is an easy option, yet not effective in providing dedicated space for cyclists. Shiny new cycle lanes might lead politicians and road users to conclude that Roads Service is pro-cycling. While this may be true for the great work coming out of the cycling team, mainstream Roads Service appears to retains primacy for road layout decisions and there is significant cultural resistance.

Better enforcement by traffic wardens can make the most significant difference to the experience of cycling in Belfast, as this video shows. I’ve made a related argument that Belfast traffic wardens can be high visibility champions for cycling by taking to bikes themselves. This has added benefit in greater and faster area coverage, and naturally bringing cycle lane blocking into sharper focus and higher priority.

Cycling in Belfast leaves you with the impression that you are a minor annoyance, barely tolerated at certain times of the day. What Belfast really needs is more cycling space created ONLY for cyclists. Amelia Street is the starting point.

9 thoughts on “Amelia Street: cycling woes in Belfast

  1. Another conversation with a traffic warden this morning and further confusion on the issue. He repeated his colleagues view that cars are given a 5 minute grace period on a double yellow line, and a van or truck loading / unloading gets 10 minutes. This is built into their logging devices – once a potential infringement is noted, a countdown clock begins. On expiry, the traffic warden moves to issue a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN).

    On the other hand, he suggested that blocking an area of high importance – bus lane, cycle lane, bus stop – means an immediate PCN. If this is the case, then why is this not being applied (see first picture above) on Amelia Street? This contradicts the view of the last traffic warden I spoke to, who observed a truck parked on the Amelia Street cycle lane / double yellow. His opinion that “the cycle lane shouldn’t be there” was instructive.

    These grace period rules appear to be only guidelines – it would be interesting to get a full statement from DRD Roads Service on this. Giving a decent grace period to vehicles in deisgnated parking spaces is to be welcomed and encouraged. However double yellow lines must have meaning, especially when they are meant to protect the integrity of a cycle lane route.

  2. To be honest, as a driver and a cyclist, given the lack of parking space around the city centre I cannot blame workers unloading/loading in a cycle lane. It would be impossible for them to do there job.

    I believe some cyclist think they own the road when it is actually a shared space.

    As for traffic wardens I do not believe they are entitled to issue tickets for being parked in a cycle lane as it is not in their remit.

    1. Traffic wardens have responsibility for parking enforcement for double yellow lines (Amelia Street cycle lane) and for urban clearway areas (most countrybound cycle lanes in Belfast). Although the parking offence is not created by the cycle lane itself, the associated restrictions mean that traffic wardens do have a responsibility to keep these lanes clear during certain times of the day.

      It’s for Roads Service to provide loading areas or to sign allowances, but since there are none here, parking is illegal. It’s also creating danger. Bain Place and the street in front of Fibber Magees should be designated for this purpose. This would allow workers to do their job and not block the road.

      Roads are shared space, but I think the concentration on ‘uppity’ cyclists is a little strange – we’re about 3% of traffic, so there’s little doubt who ‘owns’ the roads here. Fear of traffic and little consideration for cyclists is what keeps numbers low.

      I’d be interested to know what your views are on what is to be done to encourage more cyclists onto the roads. More or less cycle lanes? Better education for cyclists and motorists? Segregation? As a cyclist and a motorist you are in a good position to suggest some positive changes.

      1. Well, being a delivery driver, it has been confirmed to myself, that comercial vehicles DO have a right to use single and double yellow lines for loading and unloading. No unloading means no shops, no shops means no city centre business. Taxis are not included in this, but blue badge holders can park on double yellows, although I don’t know for how long.

        Seriously, stop complaining about commercial vehicles loading or unloading. It has to be done. Taxis, blocking double yellows, while they have their lunch in Botanic Avenue, is a much bigger problem, as they force commercial traffic to double park, or block disabled pavement access.

  3. You also have to consider the personal safety of traffic wardens. If they ticketed too aggressively people would treat them aggressively in return. And, Skinny, delivery drivers do NOT have a right to park on yellow lines. It’s against the highway code and any grace period is purely down to the parking enforcers. They give this grace period because the roads infrastructure is not up to the job. While this is largely because of history, we should expect a higher standard for future planning decisions.

  4. I think we have to be careful blaming delivery drivers and taxis for this problem of advisory cycle lanes being blocked. I’m sure this parking took place before the cycle lane was introduced, so it’s more a case of ill thought through design.

    This has happened all over Belfast. For instance, the Beersbridge Road has advisory cycle lanes on a long section. However, there are a lot of houses on the same section which have no off-street parking, so they have nowhere else to park but on the road, which thus blocks the cycle lane. It should’ve been obvious that this would happen, and instead of ‘saving money’ by painting a few markings on the road to create a cycle lane, the money should’ve been used somewhere else to create a better, separate cycle lane.

    If you want a simple, quick solution to the Amelia Street problem, DRD could introduce double red lines, of the type you see in London etc. These prevent any stopping of any sort: a permanent clearway at all times.

    However, for the city to function it will always need space for lorries to load/unload next to their destination (which may not be where loading bays are marked!). Also, while pretty much everyone would agree that more people cycling in and out of Belfast would be a good thing, there will be a maximum number of people this will be practical for (eg. on the basis of travel time). The rest will continue to use public transport/cars.

    Solely on the issue of cars, Belfast is already a mess. It would be great if someone could collect the statistics on the number of cars that park on the street versus in purpose built car parks, but I would imagine compared to other places, we have relatively few purpose built spaces compared to the number that park on the street (whether official on-street parking or not). If car parking spaces are to go to make way for better quality cycling lanes, then a proportion will have to be replaced, and preferably this should be planned to reflect need!

    On a final note, I completely agree that contra-flow advisory cycle lanes are dangerous. One such lane exists on University Square. In addition to what you said, I would also add that as a pedestrian crossing that road, it can be dangerous trying to cross, given that bicycles are silent, and with parking bays along its length, its harder to see cyclists when crossing (and foreign students may not expect bicycles coming the ‘wrong’ way up a one way street). Hopefully, when Queen’s refurbishes the old library, they will introduce a zebra crossing opposite QFT, where the existing crossing point is, to try and make this safer for everyone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s