Safer cycling with Belfast On The Move?

Belfast On The Move, a series of road design measures to promote sustainable transport, has been causing controversy since the introduction of new bus lanes. Drivers have been experiencing some delays, while Translink report Metro services are running a more reliable service. The project has yet to complete, and there will be a natural bedding-in period while road users get used to the new system.

The project itself is mainly aimed at making the public transport network more efficient, allowing faster and more reliable bus services to permeate the city centre with greater ease. One of the ultimate goals is allowing a smooth introduction of Bus Rapid Transit sometime in the next few years.

But the project also claims to make improvements for cyclists and pedestrians. Certainly there are visible signs of the latter, with many new and improved pedestrian crossings springing up around the centre. As for cycling infrastructure, there is little sign of a vast improvement so far. There are rumours of a section of dedicated, separated cycle pathway to be added to the Linenhall Street one-way system – even if only it’s only a 50 metre contraflow. The project promises 3.6km of new cycle lanes, but looking beyond this headline, 2.6km of that is actually bus lane, which cyclists can share during operating hours.

May Street Belfast bus lane
New 4.5m wide bus lane on May Street Belfast

For my own commuting journey, I miss out May Street and the new stretch of 4.5m wide bus lane, which is apparently of benefit to cyclists hoping to overtake stationary buses. But I do pass beside a new bus lane which has been added to East Bridge Street, on the south side of St. George’s Market. The Google map below shows the configuration of the junction before the bus lane was added.

Coming off the bridge, two traffic lanes run outside a bus lane, which passes through a signal controlled bus gate, and then three traffic lanes continue on to the junction with Oxford Street. Past this junction, three lanes quickly split into six, with two turning south onto Cromac Street, one crossing into Hamilton Street, and three turning north towards the city centre – the inside of these three is now a bus lane.

What is confusing to many road users is the correct way to filter – there is no sign on the approach to the bus gate to advise how to ‘get in lane’ for the junction ahead. But the road markings are a little more instructive – the left lane after the bus gate appears to be for all southbound traffic, and the two right lanes are for northbound traffic.

This would be fine if not for two problems at work here – driver confusion over the layout, and the natural inclination for some people to ‘queue jump’. Quite often the traffic will be at a standstill around the bus gate, with many southbound vehicles trying to filter left. Many impatient drivers fly on past the stationary traffic, and then attempt to filter across at the last minute. This is where cyclists are experiencing  increased road danger.

As a cyclist trying to get to Hamilton Street, I pass through the bus gate, hold the centre of the ‘southbound’ lane, and then gradually edge right after Oxford Street. But when impatient traffic is queue jumping, and cutting across the bus lane and the Hamilton Street filter lane, the danger of collision is highest.

Here are just a few examples of the problems on this stretch of road:

Some thought needs to go in to the best way to manage this issue, before we start to see collisions happening. Prior signs to alert road users of the correct lanes may stop those who get themselves in the wrong position for the Cromac Street junction. But from the speed and traffic conditions shown in some incidents in the video, it’s clear that many drivers are choosing to filter at the wrong point. One solution may be to add soft bollards to the inside of the bus lane, to prevent vehicles making this dangerous move.

This is just a little stretch of my commuting journey which only grazes the Belfast On The Move changes. But when the project is being sold as ‘better for cyclists’, I can’t say it’s been my experience so far. How are you finding safety on the new bus lane system?

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