Blocked cycle lane

In May I posted a video on YouTube of the Castlereagh Road ‘Cycle Lane’. Cycling daily on this route home, I can count on one hand the number of evenings where I’ve had a clear run at the full length of the new cycle lane, which has been in operation since last year.


A lively response to the video included an invitation from the Ulster Unionist Party to put the concerns directly in writing to the Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy. Below you can read my letter, and the response received from the Roads Service Chief Executive Geoff Allister.

Hopefully I’ll get the time to follow up on this, but there are clear issues of concern which cut across the whole of Belfast. Cycling investment in Belfast is weighted heavily to the creation of advance stop lines and green cycle boxes, and ‘advisory’ cycle lanes. Advisory cycle lanes are notable by their broken lines, and differ from ‘mandatory’ lanes in that motor vehicles are not excluded from travel or parking within them. Legal enforcement is possible to prevent cars parking when an urban clearway is in effect.

Roads Service seem to feel advisory lanes provide a benefit to cyclists. Anecdotal evidence from commuter cyclists shows that if clearway parking enforcement does not go hand in hand, advisory cycle lanes are redundant at peak hours, leaving cyclists to mix with motor vehicles.

The Belfast Bike Lanes project is a great example of a crowd-sourced response to cycle lane blocking. A first step to making a difference is to record where Belfast cyclists cannot use these facilities due to illegal parking and a lack of enforcement.

The figures provided by the Roads Service below show that over the last year, just 11 Penalty Charge Notices were issued on the Castlereagh Road. This is less than the number of cars parked in the above video on one evening. This also represents a paltry 12.5 success rate. as 77 cars parked during clearway operation simply drove away before being issued with a PCN.

I’d be really interested in finding out more about the inflexibility of this process; for example bus lane enforcement for the new Belfast Rapid Transit system will possibly include on-board cameras to record vehicles travelling and blocking operational bus lanes for follow-up enforcement action.

Feel free to comment on this post and pick up any issues or concerns which the correspondence raises for you. As a Belfast commuter cyclist I’m left feeling that advisory cycle lanes are an utter waste of space and money. The necessary compromises built into this policy requires dedicated parking enforcement during the crucial urban clearway times, but this is not being properly resourced. If we are serious about encouraging greater numbers of car users onto their bikes, Belfast’s redundant advisory cycle lanes are not the answer.

Letter to Danny Kennedy, Minister for Regional Development, 29 May 2012

I am writing to highlight an issue of ongoing waste of DRD investment, and source of frustration and danger for Belfast road users.

As a commuter cyclist in East Belfast I use the Castlereagh Road each day. The citybound bus lane has an urban clearway restriction in the morning to 9.30am, which is nearly impeccably observed. The countrybound lane has an evening clearway restriction from 4.30 pm to 6.00pm. There is an advisory cycle lane running countrybound from the Beersbridge Road junction to Orby Park.

It is a rare occasion when the evening clearway is observed; usually dozens of cars park along the cycle lane. The following video shows a typical evening on this stretch, last Friday [25th May 2012] just before 5pm:

Castlereagh Road ‘Cycle Lane

Cyclists are being denied use of safer road space just as traffic flows reach their peak. The problem may be compounded and extended when the new Castlereagh Tesco superstore opens later this year, with higher volumes of traffic expected to use this road.

I raised this issue with DRD Parking Enforcement last week, but I was concerned by some issues arising from this discussion. Evening clearways in Belfast appear to be enforced by an NSL mobile unit, which has limited coverage. It was suggested areas are targeted as reports are made by the public, but only one area can be dealt with at any one time. Perhaps no reports have been received about the Castlereagh Road?

I enquired if data was available on how many tickets had been issued on the Castlereagh Road, or when NSL patrols have been made; it was suggested that this level of data was not captured. If this is the case, it seems strange that fundamental metrics are not being fed into a smart enforcement strategy.

The video shows how investment in cycling space is being squandered, and the situation does more to discourage active travel uptake in Belfast than encourage. There is a wider point here about the lack of investment in dedicated cycle lanes, and long term benefits that could be realised to the Northern Ireland economy e.g. through better health outcomes. Belfast has the potential to be a great cycling city, with the right investment, understanding by DRD planners, and a little change of mindsets. Yet while cycle commuters continue to be an afterthought to road planners, and put in daily danger by unnecessary obstruction, what hope is there to convince more car users to switch to bike?

Some solutions could be considered to complement better enforcement. The clearway signage can be improved to reinforce the message on restrictions. Adding a cycle lane sign at the start of an advisory lane would better indicate the purpose of the road markings; given the position of the parked cars I suspect many drivers think the line is some kind of parking advice. Also, an advisory cycle lane which is fully colour marked may also discourage parking.

On a wider policy issue, if enforcement resource is a major problem, redeploying NSL wardens from Belfast City Centre could be considered. Removing paid restrictions at 4pm could both encourage evening shoppers into the city and free up wardens to walk the arterial routes during clearway times. Anecdotal observation suggests city centre parking thins out considerably by 5pm, on the south side of the City Hall at least. Are these final two hours of city centre parking restrictions a strategic priority for DRD?

To summarise, my enquiry has three main questions:

1. How many NSL employees / resources are deployed across Belfast specifically for enforcement of evening urban clearways on arterial roads?

2. Is data available, by each main arterial road in Belfast, for number of NSL patrols and enforcement actions during evening clearway operation times? What enforcement data is available for the Castlereagh Road since April 2011?

3. Typically how many NSL employees are deployed in Belfast City Centre between 4pm and 6pm?

I look forward to your reply.

Response from Geoff Allister, Chief Executive Roads Service, 19 May 2012

Thank you for your email dated 29 May 2012 to Danny Kennedy MLA, regarding advisory cycle lanes and urban clearways in Belfast. As this issue falls within Roads Service’s remit, it has been passed to me for reply.

In the first instance, I would stress that Roads Service is committed to providing safer roads for the growing number of vulnerable road users, including cyclists and pedestrians, by utilising a range of measures, such as road safety engineering, traffic calming and enhancement of the pedestrian and cycling network. You may be aware that the greater Belfast area has benefited from several years of investment and the cycling infrastructure is well established. In fact, in the 10-year period 2002-2012, Roads Service will have invested around £9 million in the provision of 230km of cycle lanes in the greater Belfast area and it remains our intention to continue to implement, in so far as available resources permit, the cycling infrastructure as set out in the Belfast Metropolitan Transport plan. This will complement the existing National Cycle Network in Northern Ireland.

I also fully recognise the benefits to be obtained from infrastructure investment, in the short term through construction employment, and in the longer term as a catalyst for wider economic growth, combined with the obvious environmental and health benefits of incorporating cycling into a fully integrated transport system.

With regard to the Castlereagh Road, as you have stated, it is subject to Clearway restrictions, which prohibit parking during the morning and afternoon peak periods of traffic flow. Advisory cycle lanes are usually installed on roads with Clearway regulations, so that when the traffic levels and the number of cyclists are at their highest, cyclists effectively have their own road space. This makes cycling safer, and at times of congestion, allows cyclists to make time savings over those using vehicular modes of transport.

During times when traffic levels are at their lowest and the Clearway regulations do not apply, it is legally permissible to park across these advisory cycle lanes. During these off-peak times, it is considered that cyclists and vehicles can successfully share the remaining road space. This arrangement is intended to provide the optimum balance between the needs of cyclists and the adjoining business/properties.

Cycle lane signs are advisory, have no legal basis and my officials have advised me that their use does not deter vehicles from parking across cycle lanes. Therefore for this reason, they are not widely used. A more effective measure is the use of road markings and, as a matter of course, Roads Service normally provides cycle motifs and sections of green surfacing along cycle lands to highlight the start of lanes and any area which could give rise to cycle/vehicle conflict, such as at intersecting side roads. Where possible, Roads Service also provides advanced stop lines at signal controlled junctions. To provide green surfacing, along the whole length of a cycle lane, would be a prohibitively expensive measure to keep the lane clear for the limited number of hours specified in the clearway regulations. It may also lead to confusion amongst drivers who may think they cannot park along the road outside of the clearway times, which, in turn, may lead to a displacement of parking, often to other locations that are less able to accommodate it, such as residential side streets in the general vicinity.

As a result of your concerns and taking into account my comments above, I have instructed my staff to inspect the cycle lane on the Castlereagh Road, to see if there are any additional measures which could be implemented to further highlight its presence.

My response to your specific question in relation to parking enforcement are as follows:

1. How many NSL employees / resources are deployed across Belfast specifically for enforcement of evening urban clearways on arterial routes?

There are normally 11 Traffic Attendants and 2 cars deployed on a daily basis, Monday to Friday.

2.a Is data available, by each arterial road in Belfast, for number of NSL patrols and enforcement actions during evening clearway operation times?

There is no report available which provides the level of detail requested, however, the numbers of PCNs issued for contravention of clearway restriction for specified streets is available upon request.

2.b What enforcement data is available for the Castlereagh Road since April 2011?

In the period 1/4/2011 – 31/3/2012, there were 88 Vehicle Registration Marks recorded as being parked in contravention of the regulations. 11 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were issued on the Castlereagh Road, however, the remainder of the vehicles drove away before a PCN could be issued.

4. Typically how many NSL employees are deployed in Belfast City Centre between 4pm and 6pm?

Monday – Friday, there are normally 3 Traffic Attendants deployed on the Urban Clearway from 16:30 – 18:00 in the city centre.

I trust you will find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely

G W Allister

Chief Executive