A quick whizz through the @nigreenways highlights of the year..

January

2013 began with a bang in Belfast – remember flegs? – and NI Greenways couldn’t resist getting in on the rush hour hysteria. Amid the rumours of roads being blocked and large roving protests popping up to cause maximum traffic disruption, canny commuter cyclists still had time to observe normal city life; and this commuter caused a mini panic among office workers at 5pm on a Friday night..

Continue reading “Review of the year 2013”

On 25th August 2013 I fulfilled a wee ambition and took part in my first cycling ‘sportive’ event, Lap The Lough. I had real worries that I would make a fool of myself, both with my gear and the real possibility of not finishing. So how did this amateur do?

As a diehard urban citizen cycling champion (or maybe because I don’t own a road bike?) I used my 8 year old commuter hybrid bike. I seriously began to question this choice as I queued to get off the motorway, it seemed as if EVERYONE rolling down to the Peatlands entrance was in lycra and on race-chiselled road bikes. Would I be ridiculed?

wrist
Setting trends with my duct-taped seat?

Continue reading “Could I Lap The Lough?”

In the first of a series of guest opinion pieces on cycling, Stephen McNally considers the difference between knowledge and action, rhetoric and actually road-mapping the end of car culture domination.

………………

“My cigarette is the mild cigarette, that’s why Chesterfield is my favourite”
Ronald Regan

I started smoking in 1986. I was 16. Everyone smoked. My Da smoked. All my teachers smoked – in class, constantly. At 16 you could bring a note from your parents giving you permission to smoke in school. Friends smoked, brother smoked, girlfriend smoked. I started work at 18 in a local newspaper, I smoked at my desk. I could smoke on the bus to work. I could smoke on a train. I could smoke in a plane. I could smoke in a hospital. I could smoke in a bar. I could smoke in a restaurant. I could smoke in McDonalds. The Embassy World Snooker Championship was on TV. Snooker players smoked. Darts players smoked. Footballers smoked in dugouts and managers smoked on the touchline. Marlboro hung over the gantries in F1 racing, JPS, Silk Cut and Benson & Hedges plastered the cars and the drivers.

Continue reading “Culture shift”

The rise of cycling in Belfast is a welcome sign of public understanding of the flexibility and reliability of the bicycle. But scratch beneath the surface and the classic signs of a poor city environment for cycling are clear. Riding a bike is a non-exclusive activity, open and beneficial to everyone. But Belfast commuter cycling appears to be male-dominated, judging by numbers seen riding each day. What is the reality?

Part one of Socio-economics of Belfast commuter cycling looked at deprivation indicators to trace the economic fault lines in Belfast cycling. The second part Socio-economics of Belfast commuter cycling // Gender gives a quick overview of a shocking imbalance in Belfast.

Gender split in Belfast commuter cycling

Just one out of every six commuter cyclists is female.

Continue reading “Socio-economics of Belfast commuter cycling // Gender”

Bike Week 2013 offers people in Northern Ireland a unique opportunity to hear from active travel experts and to quiz local politicians on cycling development.

Two free public events in Derry~Londonderry and Belfast on Wednesday 19th June entitled Politically Painless Active Travel will explore the steps to get more people cycling and walking in Northern Ireland. The events are being organised by CTC, Sustrans, Travelwise and Derry City Council.

Registration is free and both events are open to the public.

You can register now for either session on the CTC website.

Headline speakers

Dr Rachel Aldred

Rachel Aldred is a London-based cycling sociologist who teaches and researches transport.

A Senior Lecturer in Transport at Westminster University, blogger and commentator on cycling strategy, policy and culture, Dr Aldred will be speaking about how to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream, and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability.

You can follow Dr Aldred on Twitter at @RachelAldred.

Gordon Seabright

Gordon Seabright is the Chief Executive of the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC), the national cycling charity. CTC is an independent charity, with 70,000 members nationally. Gordon took up post in March 2012. He will be giving an overview of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s cycling inquiry, getting the fundamentals right and the economic benefits of cycling.

You can follow Gordon Seabright on Twitter at @GSeabright.

Lilli Matson

Lilli MatsonLilli Matson is Transport for London’s (TfL’s) Head of Delivery Planning. She leads TfL’s strategy and planning of surface transport priorities and projects – with a focus on managing freight and transport demand, planning for bus priority across London, promoting walking, cycling, accessible public transport and improving road safety. She will give insights into implementing active travel on crowded roadspace and the political leadership needed.

© Copyright laurentka and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence

Politically Painless Active Travel seminar

Getting more safer walking and cycling
The Guildhall, Derry~Londonderry
10am Wednesday 19 June 2013

10.00 Registration and coffee

10.20 Jimmy Spratt MLA
Welcome from the Chair of Regional Development Committee

10.25 Dr Rachel Aldred
How to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability

10.50 Denise Gallanagh-Wood (An Taisce) and Michele Murphy (Sustrans)
Getting the nation walking and cycling and the success of green schools in Ireland and Bike It in Northern Ireland

11.15 Dr Willie Burke (Derry City Council) and Ross McGill (Sustrans)
Route Development and promotion in Derry~Londonderry

11.45 Break

12.00 Lilli Matson (Transport for London)
Implementing active travel on crowded roadspace and the political leadership needed

12.25 Gordon Seabright (CTC Chief Executive)
Overview of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry, getting the fundamentals right and the economic benefits of cycling

12.45 Questions

13.00 Finger buffet

13.30 Walk~Cycle to the Peace Bridge and Riverside Greenway to look at Derry~Londonderry’s active travel infrastructure

14.00 (back at The Guildhall) Sean Lynch MLA
The Deputy Chair of the Regional Development Committee chairs the afternoon session – a member from each of the 5 main Northern Ireland political parties gives the party view on walking and cycling, and then questions from the floor

15.15 Gordon Seabright (CTC Chief Executive)
Summing up

15.30 Close

**Anyone travelling from Belfast to The Guildhall/Peace Bridge event can take advantage of the superb rail link to the North West. Enjoy free WiFi and a relaxing trip along one of the most picturesque rail journeys in Europe. The 07.10 departure from Belfast Great Victoria Street will arrive at Derry~Londonderry at 9.25am. It’s a £17.50 day return from Belfast.

Whoever99 at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

Politically Painless Active Travel public meeting

Getting more safer walking and cycling
The MAC (The Factory space), Belfast
6pm Wednesday 19 June 2013

18.00 Arrival & registration

18.10 Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy
Welcome and Minister’s comment

18.15 Gordon Seabright (CTC Chief Executive)
Overview of the Westminster All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry, getting the fundamentals right and the economic benefits of cycling

18.40 Dr Rachel Aldred
How to reach a critical mass of cycling that flips cycling into the mainstream and behavioural changes needed for individual and political acceptability

19.05 Denise Gallanagh-Wood  (An Taisce)
Getting the nation walking and cycling and the success of green schools in Ireland

19.30 Tim Edgar (CTC)
CTC Bike Club and Belfast City Council

19.45 Beth Harding (Sustrans)
The results from working in schools

20.00 Gordon Clarke (Sustrans Director Ireland)
Summing up

20.10 Questions

20.25 Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy
The Minister’s closing comments

20.30 Close

You can register now for either session on the CTC website.

The green cycle box is arguably the most high profile cycling investment in Northern Ireland in the last decade. Roads Service have mercilessly slathered green paint over junctions across the province, in one of many half-hearted attempts to convince people to get cycling on our roads.

I cycle across 6 advanced stop lines (to give them their official title) every day, and I struggle to see the benefit. Their presence encourages some uniquely difficult road manoeuvres, if not actually putting cyclists at greater risk on some parts of our roads. This is bad enough, but when it turns it that vehicles are blocking cycle boxes at 58% of red lights in rush hour it’s time to ask some serious questions.

St George's Market - blocked just 25% of the time, but difficult to reach safely

Gathering evidence

Two years ago I got a mini video camera, which had a handy bike attachment. I started to take it out  in 2012 to show some of the dangerous aspects of Belfast cycling. I’ve posted a few videos of dangerous overtaking moves, Maseratis hogging the cycle lane and to demonstrate the problem of illegally parked cars rendering Belfast’s cycle lanes useless.

By forgetting to delete these files as I went, I accidently ended up with a large dataset ready for a personal mini survey of cycling around Belfast!

Albert Bridge - one complete block and another partial block to the far right

My main commuting journey involves 3 cycle boxes in the morning:

  • John Long’s Corner (2 lanes)
  • St George’s Market at East Bridge Street (3 lanes)
  • Cromac Street pedestrian crossing (3 lanes)

and another 3 in the evening:

  • Hamilton Street exit Cromac Square (3 lanes)
  • Albert Bridge (5 lanes)
  • The Mount (3 lanes)

© OpenStreetMap contributors

Reviewing footage from September 2012 to February 2013, I collected key data on cycle boxes from 185 mainly morning and evening rush hour journeys, on:

  • whether the light was red
  • if vehicles were present
  • if the cycle box was blocked by another vehicle (partially or completely)
  • if the junction was blocked on green

For balance, I also checked for the biggest problem on our roads, red light jumping cyclists.

Albert Bridge cycle boxes are blocked 56% of the time - where do I go here?

During these journeys I encountered 625 cycle boxes. Just 370 had a red light, meaning I’m caught at these junctions 59% of the time.

Discarding 44 red lights (12%) where I didn’t reach (nor have sight of) the cycle box leaves a group of 326 occasions where I could judge interactions with other vehicles.

Blocked cycle boxes

138 cycle boxes were empty, but a whopping 188 cycle boxes had at least one blocking vehicle. That’s a blockage 58% of the time. These blocks involved a total of 285 vehicles, or typically 1.5 vehicles on every blocked cycle box. Just over a third of all blockages involved 2 or more vehicles.

What counted as a blockage? A partial block is where a car had rolled over the stop line (car in the picture below), and a complete block was leaving no room for a cyclist to stop in the cycle box (motorcycle in the picture below). Of all the blocked cycle boxes, the split was:

  • one or more vehicles partially covering the cycle box – 84
  • one or more completely blocking the cycle box – 70
  • a mix of both partial and complete blockages – 34

Hamilton Street exit suffers from regularly blocked junction and cycle box (59%)

Each junction with a cycle box has different characteristics, but the stand-out junction for blocking is countrybound at The Mount (video below). This is a 3 lane junction with the outside right lane split to turn onto Castlereagh Street. The 2 ‘straight-on’ lanes benefit from cycle lane access all the way to the junction, but it’s useless for turning right.

Of 88 red lights I stopped at, 75 had at least one vehicle blocking the cycle box – the junction suffers from at least one blocking vehicle at 85% of red lights in rush hour. Added to this, cyclists filtering across 2 lanes to reach the split lane find an incredibly dangerous mix of a light which can’t be timed and a tight gap between traffic islands.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJui_rxg85Q]

Cycle boxes (on this particular route) are not providing safe space for cyclists. Knowing your odds of getting comfortably and safely into dedicated cycle space is less than 50/50 means they are practically useless.

Not all vehicles sitting on a cycle box have done it intentionally – many drivers will rightly stop on amber rather than try to speed through the junction, and this may mean coming to a safe halt beyond the first stop line. However the sheer levels of blockages recorded indicates more is at work than just being caught out by light phases.

Whether there is a design solution to this, or it’s all down to driver education is up for debate. But there is that pesky question of enforcement..

What are the police doing to tackle cycle box blocking?

It appears not a lot. An FOI request from last year shows that the PSNI do not differentiate between categories of stop lines offences:

“The offence of breaching an advanced stop line is not differentiated from breach of a normal stop line (at a set of traffic lights) in police issued fixed penalties. Therefore there is no way to determine what manner of breach has occurred.”

This is despite a clear difference in the intent of a stop line with a cycle box (to provide safe space for cyclists) and the effect that offences committed here have on road safety. This is a clear failure, and must be addressed by local politicians. If there’s no evidence of enforcement, it’s fair to suggest there is no enforcement.

Red light jumping cyclists

I shared a red light cycle box with 102 other cyclists. There were 33 recorded instances of rule breaking, although 8 of these were directly caused by vehicles blocking the cycle box, forcing cyclists to advance ahead of the second stop line (picture below).

Cyclist forced to position himself ahead of cycle box by blocking vehicles

What was the nature of the rule breaking? 20 cyclists positioned themselves slightly ahead of the cycle box (picture below),  which gets more dangerous if you continue to edge forward. Pavement cycling was recorded on 4 occasions, but just 1 true ‘red light jumping’ cyclist was recorded, continuing across The Mount junction while the pedestrian crossing lights were green. For the record then (small sample it may be) that’s less than 1% of cyclists observed jumping a red light on these journeys.

Crossed line is a crossed line - majority of rule breaking involves sitting ahead of the cycle box

Blocked junctions

Reviewing these junctions led to another clear conclusion, apparently resisted by Roads Service as unnecessary – Cromac Square needs a yellow box junction. Of all the 370 red light cycle box encounters where I could observe the junction ahead, the way was blocked on green 35 times. Not bad, until you realise 27 blockages occurred at the Hamilton Street Exit at Cromac Square. That’s a wildly inefficient junction with 40% blockage rate at rush hour – time to get the paint bucket out Roads Service!

Buses from East Bridge Street blocking Cromac Square in the evening rush hour

Cycle boxes that are dangerous to reach

The 6 boxes highlighted in this survey have very different characteristics. Just 2 have a cycle lane which protects a separate route for cyclists to reach the box, Hamilton Street Exit and The Mount (for straight-on cycling only). The others leave cyclists to filter through sitting traffic, with little physical space to do so, and perhaps most dangerous from a road safety design perspective, no idea if the light ahead will change before you reach the box.

By far the worst cycle box for this is St George’s Market on East Bridge Street. A with-flow bus and cycle lane (which successfully excludes taxis) leads over the train bridge, followed by a bus gate (not triggered by cyclists) and then a short run to the junction with Oxford Street, notorious for vehicles quickly and sometimes recklessly changing lanes. In sitting traffic, it is virtually impossible to time the lights at the junction. With no separate cycle lane leading up to the cycle box (as with the Hamilton Street Exit), cyclists have a difficult choice – chance filtering down between traffic, or sit back and lose the benefit of the cycle box.

Should I stay or should I go?

The numbers bear this out, even for an experienced cyclist like me – at 42 red lights I only made it to the cycle box on 22 occasions (52%). Twice I stopped short of the box as it wasn’t worth passing 1 or 2 cars, but 18 times (43%) I was unable to judge the lights and so stayed back in the traffic queue.

Recent census figures showed the concentration of commuter cyclists in South and East Belfast. This means the 2 major cycling gateways to the city are Ormeau Bridge and Albert Bridge (and by extension East Bridge Street) and this is a heavily used junction for cyclists. If nothing else, this mini survey shows attention is needed to provide better and safer access to this cycle box in rush hour.

Finally “the worst drivers are..”

Grumbling motorists cite red light jumping cyclists as a menace; grumbling cyclists cite flashy car drivers or taxis as major dangers. Everyone seems to have a clichéd grudge against someone on the roads.

So let’s not labour the point, but here’s a breakdown of the types of vehicles (out of 240 identified marques) which blocked these cycle boxes, by car make and vehicle category – and what percentage of each are actually on the roads in NI. It’s a small sample with plenty of variables, so it’s just for fun – make of it what you will!

Those 'professional drivers' of taxis showing their road knowledge once again

With numbers of regular cyclists in Northern Ireland rising, especially in Belfast, 2013 should be a year of steady progress on cycling issues. However ongoing government spending cuts, alongside the natural disinterest of the authorities to transport and utility cycling, mean radical ‘big ticket’ cycling projects are unlikely to be pedalling up the agenda.

Rising numbers of cyclists, most visible at major Belfast junctionsBut instead of being deterred, we need to organise and innovate! Since I started blogging about Belfast cycling I’ve seen amazing resourcefulness and passion among local people who choose to get around by bike. New community connections are being built every day, and spawning innovative action such as Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes 1 and 2. It is among the people who ride our streets every day that we will find creative solutions to change the experience and perception of cycling here.

Continue reading “13 ideas to improve Northern Ireland cycling in 2013”

LanyonBikePark

Census figures have given a boost to active travel in Belfast, showing a strong rise in the level of cycling in the city. In the ten years up to the 2011 Census, there has been a 60% rise in the number of Belfast residents using a bike as their main form of transport between their home and place of work.

Broad modal share for commuter cycling in Belfast has also jumped up by just over 50%, with cyclists now accounting for 2.1% of travel to work share, up from 1.4% in 2001.

The tables below show the method of travel to work for the employed working age population. I’ve compared the Northern Ireland headline figures with a split between Belfast Council area and the rest of NI excluding Belfast.

Method of travel to work (resident population) 2011
All persons (16-74 years) in employment and currently working

ShareTravelToWorkNI

Belfast has a much lower reliance on private motorised travel (Motorcycle, scooter, moped, car or van driver or passenger, can or van pool or taxi) than the rest of Northern Ireland, with greater usage of public transport (train, bus or minibus), walking, and now significantly over three times the rate of cycle commuting than the rest of Northern Ireland.

Change in method of travel to work (resident population) between 2001 and 2011
All persons (16-74 years) in employment and currently working

ChangeTravelToWorkNI

The headline Northern Ireland figure shows a rise in bicycle commuters of 5% between 2001 and 2011, but delving deeper shows that Belfast is starting to leave the rest of Northern Ireland behind in modal shift terms. Belfast has seen a massive 60% increase in cycle commuters, while the rest of NI has seen a fall of 12%. While this poses some difficult questions of NI-wide policies, there is a clear challenge to allow Belfast to forge ahead with a wholly separate strategy for urban utility and commuter cycling.

Private motorised travel to work, while on the rise in Northern Ireland as a whole, has stagnated in Belfast in the last decade. Yet interestingly, car or van pooling showed the biggest increase of any transport method in Belfast (80%) in part pointing to good work and outcomes from the Travelwise NI campaign.

Public transport has also seen a dip in numbers of commuters, mostly due to a reduction in bus passengers. The number of Belfast residents travelling to work by train has risen by 72%, but interestingly more than twice as many people living in Belfast cycle to work than take the train. Similarly train commuters have risen by 63% across NI, obscured in the public transport category by a 15% drop in bus commuters, a much larger group.

For more detailed information you can access the supporting data tables through the Census 2011: Key Statistics for Northern Ireland Statistics Bulletin on the NISRA website (PDF).

Belfast cycling on a different path

One of the main points for future policy is the growing divergence between cycling levels in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland. Data gathered by Roads Service from cycle counters in Belfast has shown a quiet groundswell of cycling uptake over ten years from 2000 to 2010. Over this period, cycle usage at key locations in Belfast has risen by a staggering 152%, with some of the most popular areas (Stranmillis Embankment, Albertbridge Road) showing increases well above 200%. The early indications are pointing to real year on year progress in Belfast cycling levels.

The census figures show, perhaps surprisingly, overall numbers of commuter cyclists have decreased in 19 of 26 district council areas in Northern Ireland since 2001. Of the top ten council areas by number of cycling workers, six have seen a decrease.

Top 10 councils by number of persons using a bicycle as main method of travel to work 2011
All persons  (16-74 years) in employment and currently working (resident population)

BikeToWorkCouncils

The Belfast Metropolitan Area (Belfast, Castlereagh, Carrickfergus, Lisburn, Newtownabbey and North Down councils) has seen a 30% rise in cycling as the main form of transport, but this is mostly due to Belfast adding 853 new cycle commuters against just 47 in the other five council areas combined.

Antrim, which had the fourth highest number of commuter cyclists in 2001, has seen a significant reduction of 42% in the last decade.

Taxis in bus lanes – the twist?

Recently DRD have signalled their intention to allow all taxis the use of bus lanes. A consultation received an overwhelmingly negative response, but DRD plan to press ahead. The majority of bus lanes in Northern Ireland are in Belfast. It is interesting to note that in the ten years to 2011, the number of people using taxis as a main mode of travel to work has decreased by 8% across Northern Ireland and by 24% in Belfast. This is compared to commuter cyclists rising by 5% across Northern Ireland and by 60% in Belfast. Comparing the absolute numbers, Belfast taxi commuters have dropped from 4,000 to 3,000, while commuter cyclists have increased from 1,400 to 2,300. This goes a little way to exposing the flawed reasoning as DRD move to prioritise taxi movements in bus lanes, to the expressed detriment of cyclists.

Belfast – a cycling city on the rise

The census figures released this week are broad headline travel to work statistics. As a previous blog post shows, we wait for a more detailed analysis of methods of travel to work by distance. For example in the South Belfast Parliamentary Constituency Area in 2001, cycling modal share for commuting journeys between 2-5km was already above 3%.

The rise to 2.1% for cycling as a method of travel to work is just the beginning for Belfast. The question we must ask of government departments, politicians and Belfast City Council is: do you want to build upon this, and how far will you commit to seeing it happen? These rises are set against soft policies of advisory cycle lanes, advanced stop line cycle boxes, education and awareness campaigns and a nascent cycle to work tax relief scheme. We even have a city bike hire scheme in the pipeline.

Supercharging these already impressive rises over the next ten years is possible with the right commitment to budget and priority. More hard measures such as quality cycle corridors instead of piecemeal unenforced/unenforceable cycle lanes, the Gasworks Bridge, junction priority and redesign can start to send a message to reluctant possible cyclists. Most importantly, better engagement and consultation with the daily cycle commuters can only help to identify the areas of greatest weakness, and boost the chances of working together to improve the city. DRD and Roads Service must recognise the growing importance of cycling as a form of urban transport in Belfast, and give much needed weight to our issues within the city’s network planning.

Notes to census figures

There are some comparability issues with the 2001 Census – more information can be downloaded from the NISRA website (PDF).

More detailed Travel to Work data will be released over the next 18 months. This will allow a more detailed look at cycling modal share increases over typical commuting journey ranges. 

Cycling KSI rates are rising in Northern Ireland

Official statistics in Northern Ireland appear to show a worrying trend in road danger. Headline figures show overall rates of people killed, seriously or slightly injured on Northern Ireland’s roads continue to drop. But one group of road users is facing rising casualty rates – cyclists.

Any death on our roads is one too many, and behind the headline grabbing figures, many more people suffer minor or serious injuries each year travelling in Northern Ireland. Government bodies such as Department for Regional Development (DRD), Roads Service, the Department of the Environment (DOE) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) work hard to create safer road conditions and awareness of road user behaviour which causes accidents.

Recently released figures from PSNI showed that in 2011 there was a slight reduction in road casualties, a 2% annual drop to 8,760. There were 59 fatalities in 2011, a slight rise from 55 in 2010 which was the fewest number since records began in 1931. Wesley Johnston analyses why, despite great reductions over the last few decades, people are still dying on our roads.

What grabbed the attention was a sharp increase in cyclists casualties, an annual rise of 19% to 255 in 2011. The only other group to show a significant annual increase was pedestrians, up 13% to 834.

Looking at two years in isolation doesn’t give an accurate reflection of road safety, so to find some more general trends, I took the Police Recorded Injury Road Traffic Collisions and Casualties figures for ten years from 2002 to 2011 for pedestrians, drivers, passengers, cyclists and motorcyclists. To give some context to the figures – factoring in changing travel patterns – I added data from the DRD Northern Ireland Travel Survey for the same modes, showing miles and journeys per person per year from 1999-2002 to 2008-2011. The travel survey is based on a rolling 3 year average – I matched the latest year to the same year for the PSNI figures eg 2011 road casualties against 2009-2011 travel levels and so on.

The figures appear to show a worrying trend in Northern Ireland – while overall safety continues to improve, the situation for cyclists seems to be deteriorating.

Cyclists

Cyclists in Northern Ireland appear to be the only group with a strong upward trend in casualties over the last ten years. This is coupled with a rise in the average miles cycled per person per year, yet it is difficult to draw a conclusion that the two are directly linked, especially when the opposite appears true for drivers.

Pedestrians

Pedestrian casualties have fluctuated over the last decade, with an upward trend from 2005, but overall the figures remain generally constant. What is perhaps more concerning is the steady decrease in the number of walking journeys people are taking.

Motorcyclists

The figures for motorcyclists throw up some interesting points. From 2006 there has been a marked decrease in miles per person per year, coupled with a reduction in number of journeys. Someone with more insight into motorcycling may have an explanation for this, but it may be that the downward trend in casualty rates is more to do with less motorcyclists on the road than anything else.

Drivers

The bigger success stories in road safety are accounted for by drivers and passengers. We see that driver casualties remain in a downward trend over the decade, despite miles travelled per person per year increasing over the same period. Naturally much of the focus of DOE Road Safety campaigns has been on drivers, and the causes of accidents, and it appears some progress is being made.

Passengers

Passenger casualties, like that of drivers, continues a downward trend over the decade. But both indicators for travel show a decrease as well – what is most interesting here is the suggestion that there may be a shift away from shared travel to individual travel, but this is only speculation at this level of detail.

Why is cycling bucking Northern Ireland road safety trends?

This is the worrying question which needs better analysis than I can provide. The two strongest upward trends for miles and journeys are for drivers and cyclists, yet the casualty figures are sharply divergent for these two groups. If it is true that cycling is becoming a more popular form of travel in Northern Ireland, then this may explain some of the rise – more cyclists = more accidents.

There is also the question of whether government is investing enough to match rising cycling rates. In 2010-11, Roads Service expenditure on cycling measures as a proportion of the total roads budget was just 0.16%, against a general modal share of about 1% (NI) or 3% (Belfast). If the figures and commentary presented above pass scrutiny, it raises difficult questions on Northern Ireland’s commitment to cycling as a form of transport, and the understanding of the dangers faced by cyclists on our roads.

The forthcoming Active Travel Strategy for Northern Ireland contains an ‘aspiration’ to increase cycling levels to 1.5% by 2020 (I know), but to achieve this may require a large urban centre such as Belfast to double its cycling levels. It is not unrealistic to suggest that Belfast may come close to a 10% modal share by 2020, but do our road planners and politicians have any idea what a 10% share would look like on our streets, especially if the current poor infrastructure provision is not addressed?

Arguments about road space reallocation are fraught with controversy, as we have seen with Belfast On The Move, and it may be unrealistic to call for sweeping changes at present, given the tiny proportion of modal share. But if cycling rates continue to rise in line with expectations, aspirations and the upturn we see every day, and government has no plan or inclination to invest in cycling-focused infrastructural safety improvements, cycling casualties may continue to rise.

In July 2012 Belfast cyclists joined together to highlight the problem of the city’s blocked cycle lanes. QUB researchers analysed the data from 69 journeys, with a typical commuter trip blocked 5 times, or 4.5 illegal blockages per km of supposedly parking-restricted lanes. The issue was highlighted in the media, to politicians, the Regional Development Committee at the NI Assembly and DRD / Roads Service. Now that Roads Service have provided their response it’s time to review a busy month for the Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes report.

Blocked cycle lane

The media response

The story was picked up by two big fish in the local newspaper market, the Belfast Telegraph under the headline Cyclists demand action on illegally parked car chaos  and also in the Irish News with their story Cycle lane investment ‘wasted public money’. In particular the Belfast Telegraph’s comments sections provided a great opportunity for feedback and discussion, and 40 comments here showed the depth of feeling – worth a read!

The lovely people at View TV Belfast ran with a report Cycle lanes a waste of public money including some actual survey footage from the Springfield Road, coincidently the worst performing road in the survey.

NI Greenways  somehow managed to blag its way on on to Radio Ulster’s Talkback show, where even black taxi drivers were phoning in to support cyclists!

Fortunate timing allowed the report this media space on its own merits, ahead of the two big roads issues of the past month, the taxis in bus lanes consultation and the growing pains of the Belfast on the move project.

The Twitter response

Debate on Twitter was lively as always, with generally positive comments on the survey and the potential of making a real difference to all road users. Some of the comments:

https://twitter.com/SteveLimmer/status/240468998544818176


https://twitter.com/ctokelly/status/239810163345870848

The political response

So far so good, but this report was designed with the sole purpose of making a real difference to the experience of commuter cyclists in Belfast. So the press releases were simultaneously sent to all Belfast City councillors (those with an email address), all MLAs from Belfast constituencies, the members of the Regional Development Committee at Stormont and DRD Minister Danny Kennedy.

The response, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been sluggish. Belfast councillors expressed the greatest interest in the report, with follow up questions and suggestions of a meeting – clearly with an eye on the Belfast Bike Hire announcement just days before. But just seven councillors from 45 contacted felt moved to respond.

Only six MLAs from 35 contacted have responded, with just one MLA following up with any real action – it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which MLA that was. Assembly questions have already been raised on the report, and answered (sort by Regional Development). The Regional Development Committee noted our correspondence on 12th September, and on the same day even began to question DRD’s Ciarán de Búrca on illegally parked cars! There is yet hope!

The Roads Service response

The private office at DRD deferred to Roads Service Eastern Division for comment, and the full text is attached below. To summarise the main points:

  • Roads Service appreciates cyclists’ concerns
  • A new contract with NSL for parking enforcement will see changes
  • An awareness campaign on parking “Dos” and “Dont’s” will be launched to support a new protocol
  • Enforcement will move to ‘tow and clamp’ from early 2013

While these are interesting developments, the response itself is very disappointing. It reads like a stock response to a complaint from a member of the public. Despite five long paragraphs on the finer points of Belfast’s cycle infrastructure, the strange emphasis on mandatory lanes leaves the impression that Roads Service didn’t fully understand (or perhaps even read) the survey report. The vast majority of illegally parked cars recorded in the survey were on advisory cycle lanes during urban clearway operational hours, and clearly these rules are the most confusing for all categories of road users.

The report drew a clear conclusion that Roads Service failure lies in “inadequate parking enforcement coverage”. Roads Service and their NSL contractors have all the necessary legal instruments in place to enforce parking restrictions – it’s just that the resources to cover all of the city’s main roads during rush hour are not being made available. As this video comparison from the survey week shows, mere visibility of traffic wardens is enough to clear arterial routes of illegal parking. Roads Service completely ignores this criticism.

Indeed, while new measures are being brought in, to what extent will they cover the whole of the city? A tow truck risks adding to the impression of motorists being beaten with another ‘stick’, as seen with the current city centre bus lane controversy. But is it one truck or two, or more? If the new towing policy can only cover the same number of routes as are presently patrolled by wardens, the situation on cycle lanes may not materially improve.

So no acceptance that illegal parking is a major problem for cyclists, or that Roads Service bears some responsibility for ineffective enforcement. Just a very bland corporate line that Roads Service’s advisory cycle lanes mean rush hour “cyclists effectively have their own road space. This makes cycling safer, and at times of congestion, allows cyclists to make time savings” – a stunningly absurd statement given the report which prompted the response.

What the traffic wardens say

You learn more about the actual situation in Belfast by talking to traffic wardens. They report that perhaps five teams at most work the rush hours on arterial routes, with one or two “mobile” units with access to a car. Look at the map and make your own judgement on how many Belfast roads count as ‘arterial’, but somewhere between 14 to 22 urban roads carry clearway restrictions, many with advisory cycle lanes. To ensure a ‘spread’ of traffic wardens, priorities for coverage are assigned on a week-to-week basis. Lisburn Road is always priority #1 (which goes some way to explaining why 27% of all parking tickets in Northern Ireland are issued here) with the Newtownards Road usually a close second in importance.

If your commuter route is elsewhere, good luck to you – coverage is patchy or in some cases almost non-existent. This explains why some roads are blocked every day – many drivers are either unaware there are restrictions or have never encountered a traffic warden who might tell them otherwise.

Traffic wardens are also having fun with some new training being rolled out to volunteers – on how to use a moped. Yes, apparently 12 moped-riding red coats will form part of the new NSL arrangements in 2013, which leads me to wonder if this is evidence of people actually reading my blog?

From here to where?

While there has been a small yet significant response to the report, it highlights the problem of so many previous cycling awareness or campaign initiatives in Belfast. Alone it’s an interesting piece of work, which quickly fades from the view of a disinterested body politic. Only by keeping the pressure on at the relevant levels can Belfast commuter cyclists hope to effect real change to an issue that causes increased physical danger, greater general traffic congestion, and discourages cycling uptake.

With that in mind, the most effective way to keep the issue high on the agenda is to run the survey again – bigger and better. If you’re interested in becoming a participant, and helping us the achieve the goal of 100% coverage of Belfast sometime in the next few months, contact NI Greenways by email or on Twitter @nigreenways.

Thanks again to all the commuter cyclists who participated in Reclaim Belfast’s Cycle Lanes, whether cycling the routes and recording data or helping to spread the message in the media or on social networks – and huge thanks to Mark Tully and his team at QUB for the main analysis.

That Roads Service response in full

I appreciate your concerns regarding the frustration caused to cyclists by vehicles that park within bus and cycle lanes during their operational hours. Perhaps it would be useful if I first outlined the type of facilities and the restrictions that apply to them.

Bus lane restrictions derive from specific legislation and prohibit the use of lanes by private cars, vans, lorries etc, during their hours of operation. Any infringements involving prohibited vehicles parking in those lanes are enforceable by Roads Service, through its contractor, NSL. Infringements involving moving vehicles within these lanes are enforceable by the PSNI.

Cycle lanes may be either advisory (which do not have supporting legislation and are not therefore enforceable) or mandatory (which have supporting legislation and are enforceable, similar to bus lanes as above). Advisory cycle lanes may be on roads that are subject to other restrictions, such as urban clearway restrictions, in which case those restrictions also apply to the cycle lanes.

We would normally use advisory lanes on roads with urban clearway regulations, so that when 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.

During times when traffic levels are at their lowest, and the urban clearway restrictions do not apply, it is legally permissible to park on/across advisory cycle lanes. During these off-peak times, the levels of traffic and cyclists are at their lowest and it is therefore considered that cyclists can successfully share the remaining roads space. This arrangement is intended to provide the best balance between the needs of cyclists and the adjoining businesses/properties.

Mandatory cycle lanes (which would be marked by solid white lines) would provide a clear route for cyclists and would also restrict vehicles, subject to certain exceptions, from pairing along the road. However, the introduction of waiting restrictions, or mandatory cycle lanes, can be a contentious issue and would generally lead to a displacement of parking, often to other locations that are less able to accommodate it, such as residential streets in the general vicinity. Therefore, Roads Service does not generally use mandatory cycle lanes on roads with a mixed business/commercial/residential frontage.

Roads Service’s new parking enforcement and car park management contract with NSL Ltd will commence on 30 October 2012. In advance of this we plan to run a parking enforcement awareness campaign.

This will include the distribution of information leaflets to drivers to remind them of the importance of parking restrictions and the benefits of effective parking enforcement. The leaflet will include a number of “Dos” and “Don’ts” for drivers, advising them of where they should and should not park and it will clearly inform drivers not to park in mandatory cycle lanes.

Roads Service will also be publishing a parking enforcement protocol to provide the public with detailed information on the various parking contraventions that can be enforced by traffic attendants. This will also include information specific to mandatory cycle lanes.

Additionally, Roads Service has decided to change its enforcement policy in relation to illegally parked vehicles on bus lanes and urban clearways. Currently any vehicles parked in a bus lane or on an urban clearway will only receive a parking penalty, meaning the lane is still blocked to traffic. Following the introduction of the new contract Roads Service will also remove vehicles that are illegally in these lanes so freeing up the lane. It is hoped this change will be introduced in early 2013.