Northern Ireland’s much heralded Cycling Revolution™ is going to need some great promotion to become a reality. Step forward our Department of the Environment (DOE), where local road safety promotion sits in isolation from the road builders (and revolutionary vanguard) over at the Department for Regional Development (DRD).

Recently DOE launched their first ever cycling safety video Respect everyone’s journey. It was a reasonable first effort, notwithstanding plenty of valid criticism. At least they wisely stayed away from the schlock-horror of their usual road safety adverts (see the international viral “hit” Shame on You).


A follow-up cycling video has been uploaded to YouTube, which shows how far DOE has slipped in just 3 months, and manages to perfectly capture how poor the cycling conditions and expectations are in Northern Ireland:


Comments on YouTube are (wisely) switched off, but the video has already attracted scorn and ridicule on social media.

Here’s 10 of the top reasons why it’s so bad, in no particular order:

#1 That target audience?

It’s difficult to see who the video is trying to patronise reach. But on closer inspection..

“Cycling’s a great way to get around .. but that doesn’t mean you can forget about hazards, or who you share the space with .. we all have to respect everyone’s journey, whether you’re on the road, or in a cycle lane”

So it’s those death-wish cyclists with no regard for the rules of the road, who put themselves and others in danger, and generally don’t give a damn about respect – they’re the target audience. I reckon DOE’s instinct that a twee instructional video will make them think again is spot on.

#2 Image quality

As with DOE’s previous video, I’m already struggling to see cycling as normal because of the awful music. Simple Minds behind the scenes – indeed. And Chris and Erin seem dressed and ready to appear in a James Bond opening title sequence rather than going for a cycle, because NO-ONE DRESSES FOR CYCLING LIKE THAT. EVER.

Hiya DOE, here’s a modern image of cycling in Belfast, ironically taken the same day your video was published:


#3 Cycle tracks

Using the Stranmillis Embankment is an interesting choice. It’s by far and away the best on-road cycling space in Belfast, and was only just beaten into 2nd place by Derry’s Peace Bridge as NI’s best cycling infrastructure in the 2013 Fréd Awards.

It’s also wholly unrepresentative of the typical cycling experience here. In fact, there are just 3 separate cycle tracks in Belfast, totally just 2.5km in length. Making a video to explain how to use a cycle track (and generally how to interact with other humans) is overkill.

The Giro d’Italia passed along here in May 2014, but just weeks before the event, DRD’s Roads Service introduced another user to compete with cyclists – a variable message sign (and they got mildly arsey when people complained). Share the road indeed!


#4 “A good tip is to try and avoid the busiest times on your route; it’ll make your journey quicker, and smoother.”

According to DOE, cycling is not something you should be doing during rush hour; grow up and get a car for that, kids. It’s not like anyone would want to cycle to work, or to the shops in the morning, or hop on the bike for a 9am appointment etc.

If you’re daft enough to try it, expect a slow, rough journey. Hmm. Now you mention it, that’s a scarily accurate representation of cycling in Belfast’s rush hour. Finally some feckin’ honesty and insight – chapeau!

#5 Promoting shambolic infrastructure

At 3.42 and 4.35 I became convinced that the video was a scalpel-sharp piece of satire – you got me DOE! It’s one thing that the Ormeau Road Bus Shelter and University contra-flow lane were voted in the top 5 worst pieces of infrastructure in the 2013 Fréd Awards (beaten only by a dinosaur tail – true story), but quite another for the government to then think it appropriate to use them in a cycling promotion video.

Plonking a bus shelter in the middle of a shared use path is a nightmare for everyone using the space, more so for families with children or elderly people walking around the back. Don’t tell us how to navigate crap design, tell DRD how to redesign it!

This is also NI’s first attempt on video to promote the contra-flow cycle lane concept, or at least DRD’s awfully executed attempt. If you need to use the phrases “But the danger is..” and “This is where you really need to be on high alert..” you’re admitting it’s dangerous crap, so just get rid of it!


#6 Those reflectors

While being thoroughly patronised by this video, I knew I’d have to admit that DOE had all their facts sewn up, that their advice was legally watertight and all information presented would be factually correct. Every scene shows someone cycling in daylight hours, not between sunset and sunrise. So it’s safe to assume when Erin says ‘by law, you must have a red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors” that means not just when the sun’s gone down, right?

#7 “Bus lanes are there .. to make your journey smoother and faster, but because they’re shared with buses, permitted taxis and motorbikes, they can be extremely busy”

Damn right bus lanes are busy – by January 2015 DOE will create a single tier taxi system which will force the number of taxis in Belfast bus lanes up from 500 to around 4,000. Good idea to gloss over the destruction of cycling subjective safety at rush hour (hiya point #4).


#8 “Before you make any move .. always look around you, especially behind, and give a signal if necessary”


..says Erin at 4.20. Meanwhile, back in the mists of time at 4.10, the girl in the video makes a ridiculous move without signalling her intent to the Renault Clio. All happy smiles and waves in the video; try that in the real world, and there’s more chance she’d end up in A+E.


#9 “By the way, footpaths (as the name suggests) are for feet”

Can you say ‘Equality Impact Assessment’? Wheelchair users and those on mobility scooters might have a few things to say about your interpretation here, DOE. While riding on many footways is illegal (footway or footpath – check those legals again) and generally frowned upon (never mind slower, bumpier and probably more dangerous) it’s a symptom of poor infrastructure – people are scared away from traffic, and want to cycle in what seems like a safer place. Build better routes and more protected cycling space, then people will simply choose the better alternative.

#10 “Respect other road users, because we all share the same space”

This is exactly the problem. The whole video is one long excuse for bad infrastructure, glossing over decades of under-investment in cycling. Countries with the highest cycling levels separate cycling as a transport mode distinct from motor vehicles and pedestrians, or unravels (high quality) cycling routes from the the busiest roads altogether.

DOE admits (whether knowingly or not) that trying to ride a bike around Belfast is made difficult and dangerous because cycling is not properly catered for, because we have to compete with cars, lorries, buses, taxis – and then offers up some random methods for coping, to varying degrees of usefulness.

* * * * *

Really, this only scratches the surface of the things which are obviously wrong with this video, and the swathes of underlying assumptions and daft language which other ‘road users’ are not subject to, like:

It’s a truly ill-advised piece of nonsense which does nothing to advance cycling promotion in Northern Ireland. Perhaps it’s time for DOE to fully hand over the reigns on this function to DRD’s Cycling Unit, who (from personal experience) actually know a thing or two about urban cycling.


A dangerous overtake by a Metro bus on Wednesday 23rd October 2013 left me shaken and angry. Metro have now responded to a complaint about the incident, which is as much a factor of poor road design as unusually impatient driving.

For many people cycling in from East Belfast, the Albert Bridge is one of the major hazard points. Roads Service engineers accept that as many as 50% of people cycling across the bridge take to the footway rather than face the horrible road conditions.


Continue reading “Dodgy overtake: Metro responds”

The Department for Regional Development are about to deliver another quiet kick in the teeth to cyclists in Belfast, by rolling back a new bus lane in order to reward bad driving.

East Bridge Street is one of the top two roads for cycling traffic in Northern Ireland, with the Albert Bridge acting as a funnel for most citybound journeys from East Belfast. It already suffers from the dangerous Albert Bridge itself dissuading cyclists, illegal taxi parking in a bus lane, and a dangerous junction caused by drivers queue-jumping and fancying a late swerve onto Cromac Street.

Now Road Service are about to reward this behaviour by redesigning the junction opposite St George’s Market to enable two full lanes of traffic to continue towards Cromac Street. This will be accomplished by shortening the new Belfast on the Move bus lane.

How does this impact cycling? The majority of cyclists using East Bridge Street are attempting to get to the city centre via either Hamilton Street or May Street. Both of these manoeuvres require a cyclist to get from the left hand lane (funnelled there by the bus lane and gate) across to the adjacent lane.

East Bridge Street Bus Gate
Cyclists funnelled into the left hand lane approaching Oxford St junction green box

What the Belfast on the Move redesign did well was to give the left hand lane continuous priority towards Cromac, allowing cyclists to position themselves into the start of the right hand Cromac lane (picture below) to filter into the Hamilton St turning box or even to nip safely into the big red bus lane continuing round to May Street.

East Bridge Street new divergent markings
New markings, the middle lane at Oxford St junction will have priority down to Cromac Street

Road Service have now marked out a lane divider from the Oxford St junction, meaning left hand lane traffic (and most cyclists) will now have to indicate and give way to traffic on their right to make an attempt to reach the city centre; traffic in the ‘outside’ lane which is generally faster and less patient than the left hand lane (see videos). Cyclists will have to negotiate two lanes instead of one.

The green advanced stop line cycling box at the Oxford St junction is notoriously difficult to reach (just half of all red lights), so relying on this to get cyclists safely out of the left hand lane is a red herring.

East Bridge Street new markings
Most cyclists trying to reach city centre will still be in the left hand lane trying to cross right

Experienced cyclists may be prepared to handle this extra hassle, but for the large group of people who’ve recently taken up cycling and those we want to encourage to swap out of the car, this is a major backward step in the feeling of safety and confidence. Bad junctions simply stop people from choosing to cycle.

East Bridge Street bus lane reduced
The bus lane will be reduced to accommodate general traffic – so much for Belfast on the Move

Instead of attempting to better design the junction and approach (“Get in lane” sign, soft bollard separation, anyone?) Roads Service are holding their hands up and designing to the needs of general traffic at the expense of cyclists (and buses to a lesser extent). Very un-Belfast on the Move.

Without targets, why should Roads Service care?

I asked a local active travel organisation a very stupid question about this plan, “Has Roads Service consulted cycling groups about the change?” Once the laughter dies down, you’re left with the realisation that Roads Service is a fundamentally conservative organisation incapable of catering for the fastest growing personal transport form in Belfast.

Never mind that the Northern Ireland Executive doesn’t have targets to grow cycling (outside of a woolly target for school children based mainly on walking); without the whip-crack of a DRD internal target and ownership of the intent to grow cycling as a part of modern Belfast, Roads Service will continue to design our roads for vehicles at the expense of cycling.

The woeful cycle lane featured in the picture above shows the limit of Roads Service ambition and thinking:

  • we’ve found a piece of road space we don’t really need
  • throw it to the cycling team for a cycle lane, it looks good on the annual council report
  • make sure it stops before vehicles need space again! (130m long, ending on a bad bend)
  • it must be an advisory lane for no good reason (also known as “not a cycle lane”)
  • it might look like it goes nowhere, but it actually gets cyclists into the city centre..
  • ..just stop, dismount on a busy road and walk over the pedestrian crossings (this is true)
  • most of us have never cycled a day in our lives, but this is all probably fine

This is also going to be one of the main routes (Central Station to City Centre) for Belfast Bike Hire, the flagship policy for DRD and Belfast City Council when it comes to cycling. How many people want their first experience of city cycling to be a cutthroat exchange with impatient vehicles?

You can have all the dreams you want of Dutch-style separation on major routes, a perfectly feasible and realistic goal for Belfast. But leave one major junction where cyclists are left to dice with danger or forced to dismount, it’s no longer a viable option for most people.

Roads Service have to do better than this – they must stay the course on Belfast on the Move measures, they must consult cycling groups on these seemingly small but fundamental changes, and they must be set on a challenging path by our politicians. Or they continue to fail, as they do.

Cycling is becoming more popular in Northern Ireland, and is also becoming more dangerous. The numbers of road users killed or seriously injured continues to fall across Northern Ireland, except for those travelling by bicycle.

The good news

The noticeable (yet anecdotal) recent rise in cycling numbers in areas of Northern Ireland is starting to show in official figures. The Northern Ireland Travel Survey 2010-12 shows that approximately 82 million total miles were cycled across Northern Ireland, a jump of 18 million miles (28%) from the previous year’s report. This represents a doubling of journey miles by bicycle in a decade in Northern Ireland.


Continue reading “Cycling safety deteriorating in Northern Ireland”