Just five months after the launch of the 25-year Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland, work will start next week on the first dedicated cycle routes devised by Minister Michelle McIlveen’s DRD Cycling Unit. The initial sections of a cross-Belfast route and a major overhaul and extension of the infamous Bin Lane are expected to be completed by March 2016, costing up to £800,000.


Section 1 will connect three Belfast Bikes stations with a traffic-free protected cycle track, while obliterating the two most famous cycling infrastructure landmarks in Belfast, Cyclesaurus the idiosyncratic dinosaur tail cycle lane and the Bin Lane.

Sections 2 and 3 will create a new bicycle route servicing an area of the city with low cycling uptake. Sections 4 and 5 are due to follow by the end of 2016.

“These routes will provide greater protection for people who choose to make journeys across the city by bike. In addition to supporting the successful Belfast Bike Share Scheme they will also help more commuters gain confidence to use the bicycle as an alternative and sustainable mode of transport. My Department’s most recent figures show that 5% of Belfast commuters are already travelling to and from work by bicycle.”

Minister McIlveen

These are officially being treated as pilot routes, giving the Cycling Unit the ability to change elements which aren’t working or need improved. However, the high quality nature of the design shows a determination to set new standards, leaning on best practice from abroad, and the first application of London Cycling Design Standards in Northern Ireland.

Section 1 – Ormeau Avenue to Chichester Street

Alfred St to be made one-way northbound with a cycleway protected by bollards extending the 0.5km from Chichester St to Ormeau Ave. This will create a 1.1km traffic-free route between NCN Route 9 and the city centre, linking four Belfast Bikes stations and sending a reminder about the need to build the Gasworks Bridge. It will finally obliterate the mess of Cyclesaurus, and reboot the Bin Lane to prevent the daily incursion of delivery vehicles from embarrassing Belfast.

The Ormeau Ave entrance to Alfred St will be made into a continuous footway to prioritise pedestrian and cycling movements.

Redesigned one-way street entrance will feature a continuous footway across the junction

19 on-street parking bays will be removed to provide space for the new cycleway running past the entrance of the Premier Inn Hotel. Will this prove to be one of the more controversial elements of the plan? The popcorn is on standby..

19 car parking bays will disappear to accommodate cycling (pinch me)

The junction of Alfred St with Franklin St / Sussex Pl remains the busiest and riskiest junction for cycling on the route. Making Alfred St one-way reduces the total possible vehicle movements on the junction from nine to seven, and with continuous cycle priority across the mouth of Franklin St it may improve safety.

I suspect it won’t be long before Franklin St is stopped up to vehicles here, but that is a battle for another time and another (ongoing) consultation.

Cyclesaurus – the busiest, riskiest junction still problematic despite Alfred Street becoming one-way

The May St junction will now have a straight-ahead view (removing the traffic pole clutter and cycling slalom effect) with separate crossing for those on bicycles and pedestrians. Vehicles emerging from Alfred St will now be banned from making left turns towards the City Hall. Given the crossing phase is likely to coincide with this green light, it will be most interesting to see if this is observed.

A messy junction simplified – straight-ahead cycleway separated from pedestrians and no left turn for vehicles

And then to the Bin Lane – why is work necessary to this kerb-separated cycle track? Just take a look at the #BinLane hashtag over on Twitter to find out. The kerb will be removed in favour of a consistent design approach of bollards along the length of the scheme. More controversy (and popcorn) but this time from cycle campaigners? The comments are open..

New loading bays created in place of paid on-street parking on Upper Arthur St (directly below a 472-space multi-storey, for context) will accommodate commercial needs. The intention of bin owners is unclear at this stage.

These foolproof kerbs will be replaced by bollards and car parking bays to the left converted to loading-only bays

To misquote The Dark Knight, this protected cycleway is not the plan Alfred St and Belfast’s Linen Quarter deserves, but it is the one it needs right now. With more place-appropriate measures like side street blockages, removal of most on-street parking and cellularisation with area-wide one-way restrictions for motor vehicles, perhaps 90% of circulating and through-traffic could be removed from these streets.

That is the way to humanise the whole area – choked as it is by cars searching for on-street parking spaces – and would make separate space for cycling unnecessary. Any bollard v kerb debate should bear in mind that realistic end goal. But for now, until that plan can be argued for and achieved, mode separation will help to make cycling more attractive.

Sections 2 and 3 – Grosvenor Road to City Centre

This represents the first half of the cross-city route which will straddle the city centre from (almost) the Royal Victoria Hospital to Titanic Quarter Railway Station and the greenway network beyond.

Slightly disappointing is the Grosvenor Rd section itself, which will be a shared footway. Once the route is established and seeing regular bicycle traffic (which the expansion of Belfast Bike Hire further up the Grosvenor Rd to the Royal Victoria Hospital guarantees) the Cycling Unit should be given the budget to create a cycleway ramp to Wilson Street. This would significantly cut the journey time and amount of shared used footway on the route, and liven up an otherwise silent street choked with ‘free’ parking.


Around the corner to Durham St and the beginning of the protected two-way cycle track, to be built utilising roadspace rather than footway.

A protected cycle track will be built using road space on this side of Durham Street

The mini roundabout at Barrack St (an earlier measure to reduce rat-running and to humanise these streets) will be replaced by signalled-controlled crossings, flipping bicycle users to a bollard-protected cycle track on the opposite side of the road.

Two-way cycleway to run on the right hand side (as pictured) of College Square North

At the junction of College Sq N and College Ave, a bold decision has been taken to rework traffic movements to create a bicycle priority junction. A low-level bicycle signal and dedicated crossing phase matching in with traffic turning left out of College Sq N will ensure bicycle users are treated like kings and queens of the road.

A dedicated cycle crossing will be placed here, and the right turn seen above will not be permitted

And over on College St, traffic mostly emerging from a surface car park will no longer have that option. The street is to be stopped up to vehicles, becoming  a “bicycle street” with minimal interactions with vehicles expected. This again is radical, should be applauded, and will provide evidence for similar options around the city.

Onto Queen St and there is another bollard-protected cycleway – it may feel like overkill on a street which has seen so much traffic removed over the years, but serves a key purpose as a contra-flow to the one-way system for vehicles.

Possible conflict point with a shared loading bay / cycleway at the mid point of Queen St will be keenly observed

The wider plan is for a traffic-free route all the way from Falls Park, traversing (if possible) Bog Meadows, meeting the cycleway beside the Westlink (and very likely a branch into the new Belfast Transport Hub) then across the city to meet the greenway network which is currently spreading over East Belfast, and the ‘spine’ of Belfast cycling, the traffic-free NCN route 9 from Lisburn to Newtownabbey.

Sections 4 and 5 – High Street to Titanic Station

These last sections are planned to begin sometime in the Autumn and expected to be finished by the end of the year. The High Street section is undergoing a major rework following consultation feedback, but the impressive removal of a lane of traffic on Middlepath St to create a new two-way cycle track will still set a high water mark for cycling development.

The shadow boxing ends – the Cycling Unit is two years old, the Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland is now operational and we arrive at the Delivery Phase. Hallelujah!

It is important to set these route announcements in context – the Belfast Bicycle Network Plan and Bicycle Strategy Delivery Plan have yet to be finalised and published by the Cycling Unit. The Minister and her team should be commended for pressing on despite the scant budget at their disposal to date.  If this project signals a Seville-like determination to just get on with building dedicated routes, the future for cycling in Northern Ireland looks bright.

*Note: the section drawing are not the final, final plans but an earlier version available here.

The Northern Ireland Assembly witnessed an unprecedented rise of the bicycle onto the political agenda in 2013-14. Even the expected boost from the Giro d’Italia couldn’t mask an emergence of everyday cycling issues being promoted by more politicians than ever before. But could anyone unseat the DUP’s Peter Weir as the 2-time reigning, defending Cycling MLA of the Year?

In September 2013 Stormont was hit by a barrage of cycling questions so fierce and unexpected that it was dubbed Cyclegeddon.

Events moved fast – already an All-party Group on Cycling had been formed; within 5 weeks of the new term more Assembly questions on cycling were asked than in the whole of the previous year; the Transport Minister Danny Kennedy announced the formation of a new Cycling Unit to lead his Cycling Revolution; by the end of the year a remarkable 324 Assembly Questions (Written, Oral, Topical and supplementary) had been asked; and one MLA rose through the ranks to focus minds on everyday cycling issues, almost single-handedly creating Cyclegeddon and in the process landing a knock-out blow to claim the title of..

Cycling MLA of the Year 2014: Daithí McKay (Sinn Féin)

Daithí McKay

Daithí spoke to @nigreenways about his win:

“It’s a great honour to receive this award especially given the fact that this has been the year that the Assembly really did wake up to cycling. I only took up cycling again in August 2013 when I bought a £180 Viking and I was immediately bitten by the bug. After a few weeks I noticed a reduction in stress, an increase in productivity, more energy, less weight and more money in my pocket!

NI_Assembly_cycling_Q_year“What I like most about cycling is that it represents a solution to so many of our problems – an ever worsening state of public health, transport and congestion, mental health and stress, increasing fuel overheads. We have so much potential to realise in terms of cycling and there is a huge demand for it that we can release if we deal with safety and the perception of safety.

“Cycling is now firmly on the political agenda and there is an onus on all elected representatives to ensure that we firstly ‘understand’ cycling and secondly deliver proper infrastructure. A proper cycling strategy with proper funding will deliver better health outcomes and we all need to contribute to a greater public understanding of that fact.”

The sustained level of badgering Ministers is worth repeating. Daithí’s total of 127 cycling questions is an average of 3 per week during the Assembly term; it’s more questions than the rest of the top 10 Cycling MLAs of the Year combined. It’s also a 3-figure increase on Peter Weir’s winning totals in the last 2 years (23 and 27).


That long tail is also impressive – 2 years ago just 28 of our 108 MLAs asked a question about cycling. This year’s total of 53 MLAs means almost half of our political representatives have joined the swelling peloton.

Daithí McKay’s efforts pushed Sinn Féin into top spot among the political parties, rising from the oblivion of just a single question 2 years ago. Steven Agnew continues to ensure the Green Party punches well above its weight, while there were notably no questions about cycling from NI21, TUV, UKIP or Independent MLAs. Read more about NI parties’ cycling policies in Election Cycle.


DRD naturally took the brunt of Cyclegeddon as the Department which leads on road infrastructure, but each of the 12 Northern Ireland Government Departments featured in the list, with even the Assembly Commission being pestered about implementing the Cycle to Work Scheme at Stormont.

A little less cycle promotion, a little more action please..

Cycling promotion has arguably been the primary focus in NI over the last decade, save for some fantastic focused government investment in facilities like the Comber Greenway. But with increasing recognition that physical changes will be needed to deliver the cycling revolution, questions on infrastructure nudged into the lead in 2013-14. Pat Ramsey’s 20mph Bill provoked a series of questions and the forthcoming Belfast Bike Hire scheme kept MLAs interested through the year.


The split between questions on sport cycling and everyday cycling was encouraging, especially in the year when the Giro d’Italia rolled through Northern Ireland – MLAs had plenty of questions to ask on the Giro, from criticism of the route to seeking detailed plans for the legacy.


More than just questions

A full Assembly debate on the Giro d’Italia and legacy in April naturally hovered around future sporting opportunities and tourism benefits, but a series of MLAs brought the focus back to everyday cycling and #space4cycling in their contributions.

“That this Assembly recognises that the Giro d’Italia is one of the biggest events in the international sporting calendar; warmly welcomes it to Northern Ireland; acknowledges the significance and magnitude of being chosen to host the Grande Partenza; understands the benefits to be obtained in terms of the economy, tourism, cultural exchange and education, promotion of a healthy lifestyle, and worldwide publicity for Northern Ireland; and calls on the Executive to take all necessary steps to maximise the potential to be gained through such a prestigious event, and to allocate adequate resources for the delivery of a suitable Giro legacy plan to include improved provision and infrastructure for schools, commuting, leisure, tourist and sporting cycling in Northern Ireland.”
Read the full text of the debate on the NI Assembly website.

The Regional Development Committee even got in on the cycling surge by visiting the Great Western Greenway in Mayo and launching its own Inquiry into the benefits of cycling to the economy.

A review of the last year must finish by mentioning the one MLA most responsible for this swirling vortex of cycling issues, the Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy. From creating the Cycling Unit (which has recently launched a draft Bicycle Strategy for Northern Ireland) to visiting Copenhagen and Malmö on cycling study tours, to hosting cycling events and even taking part on Ride on Belfast – the Minister has continued to take the early steps to fulfil his pledge to create a cycling revolution in Northern Ireland.

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Yes, but what were they all asking?

Over 300 questions were asked, but Ministers’ answers are not usually a font of great insight or shocking revelation – that’s the nature of how the system works. But a few nuggets of interesting information could be unearthed. If you want more detail, you can download the full ‘2013-14 Assembly Questions on Cycling’ dataset (XLSX, 166K).

On the restriction of bicycles on trains before 9.30am..

“On very early trains and on contra-commute trains, i.e. trains operating out of Belfast in the mornings, Translink do already regularly carry passengers with bicycles. This is done at the Conductor’s discretion and Conductors have been briefed to accept cycles where capacity permits, i.e. no expectation of standing passengers in the cycle area. However the majority of trains to Belfast operating before 08:00 are already carrying significant numbers of passengers. For information there are no travel restrictions placed on the number of folding bicycles which may be carried on trains. These may be carried at any time, including prior to the normal 09.30 restriction.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 25264/11-15 Daithí McKay (also AQW 26579/11-15 Steven Agnew and AQW 34587/11-15 Daithi McKay)

On cycle-specific lights at junctions..

There are no cycle filter lights currently installed on my Department’s road network. [However..] I am aware the Department for Transport has issued a site-specific authorisation for the use of eye-level cycle traffic lights at Bow Roundabout in London for a trial period. My officials will review the outcome of the trial before making recommendations on their use here.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 28890/11-15 and AQW 29558/11-15 Daithí McKay

On missing the point of why 50% of people cycling over Belfast’s Albert Bridge use the footway (objective v subjective safety)..

“The bus lane / cycle facility on the Albertbridge Road, approaching the Albert Bridge, was provided in 1996 to accommodate buses, cyclists and taxis approaching the city centre. The merge arrangement, provided at the end of the bus lane, where the road narrows for the Albert Bridge, is a common layout which operates at other locations in Belfast and elsewhere. Collision records, provided by the PSNI, for this location are monitored, as part of the normal collision data gathering exercise. Over the last five years records show there have been no reported injury collisions at this merge location, involving cyclists.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 27035/11-15 Daithí McKay

On the budget allocated to cycling over the last 10 years..


“The recently established Cycling Unit, will seek to coordinate and promote the work being taken forward in relation to cycling and as such, spend on this activity is expected to increase in future years.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 26785/11-15 Steven Agnew

On the world famous #BinLane..

“Traffic Attendants patrol Upper Arthur Street several times each day and during the twelve month period to 30 September 2013, six Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) were issued for contraventions in the cycle lane. However, I understand a further 631 vehicles were recorded but drove away before a PCN could be issued. It is also not clear whether these offences can be attributed to parking in the cycle lane as this information is not recorded.
With regard to bins blocking cycle lanes, this has been reported to Roads Service on a number of occasions. Where a bin has been presented for collection and has obstructed the cycle lane, any complaint will be investigated to establish ownership. My officials have, in the past, spoken to the relevant owners and advised them of their responsibility to ensure that the bin is not placed in the cycle lane, and that once it have been emptied by the collection service, it should be removed from the street immediately after. Where ownership has not been established or where owners have failed to cooperate with my officials, these bins have, with the assistance of Belfast City Council, been removed.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 26728/11-15 Daithí McKay

On cycling levels in deprived areas [good idea for a blog post that]..

“[By awesomely mashing up the NI Travel Survey with Deprivation Measures..] It was found that respondents living in the 20% most deprived areas were less likely to have cycled in the last 12 months than the NI population as a whole. Conversely, respondents living in the 20% least deprived areas were more likely to have cycled in the last 12 months compared to the overall NI population. Looking at the respondents living in the remaining areas, there was no real difference in the proportion of those who had cycled in the last 12 months compared to the NI total.
It must be remembered that levels of cycling in specific areas cannot simply be attributed to the level of deprivation, for example the geography of a location can be a contributory factor as to whether people cycle or not. Levels of cycling may also be impacted where low cost, widely available modes of transport such as black taxi ‘bus’ routes are available.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 34855/11-15 Daithí McKay

On the total length of cycle lanes in Northern Ireland..

My Department has currently provided approximately 235 miles of cycle lanes across Northern Ireland.
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 30598/11-15 Alex Easton

On cutting a Belfast city centre residential rat run to motor vehicles..

The closure of Barrack Street, Belfast to through traffic derived from the ‘Belfast On The Move’ strategic review of traffic within Belfast City Centre. Roads Service had previously been aware of local residents’ concerns over the volume and nature of through traffic in this street and took the opportunity to address those concerns within the overall scheme proposal.
Whilst there has been no formal assessment carried out on the specific benefits of the closure of Barrack Street, it is considered the stopping-up has returned the area to being a residential street for the benefit of all those who live there.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 29509/11-15 Daithí McKay

On recognising the value of investing in cycling/walking at tourism hubs..

“[DRD has] a very extensive scheme proposal that will provide a footpath/cycle path extending for approximately 3.5km from Bushmills to The Aird. However, given the potentially high costs involved, any scheme delivery will need to be carried out in stages.
My officials are currently developing the stage proposal from The Aird to The Causeway, which is significant stretching for approximately 1.5km. The scheme will require the acquisition of a large tract of land. My officials have already met with one of the principal landowners, The National Trust, and will be arranging to meet with other landowners over the coming months.
Subject to the availability of funding and successful acquisition of the necessary land, I am hopeful this scheme will be able to be considered for inclusion in a works programme in the near future.”
DRD Minister Danny Kennedy answering AQW 34316/11-15 Robin Swann

All Assembly questions data sourced from the excellent Northern Ireland Assembly AIMS Portal. See the Open Northern Ireland Assembly Licence.