Belfast’s 7 large grocery retailers are not doing enough to support customers who want to shop and cycle, a survey of supermarket cycling facilities has found. The survey reports that there are just 100 bicycle racks outside Belfast’s 40 supermarkets, and almost half of Belfast’s supermarkets have no bicycle racks at all. This poses a significant barrier to the success of ongoing efforts to encourage more people to cycle in the city.

In November and December 2015, NI Greenways travelled to all 40 of Belfast’s main chain supermarkets – Asda, Dunnes Stores, Iceland, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Sainbury’s and Tesco – to check how easy it is to pop in when riding past on a bicycle. This was inspired by a long, frustrating (and still ongoing) Twitter exchange with Lidl NI over their lack of bicycle parking at Castlereagh.

But what was the situation elsewhere in Belfast? And why focus on supermarkets – surely they’re only for doing the ‘big shop’ which needs a car? I dread to think how many small convenience stores I’d have to visit – so for this study I’ve left out Centra, Mace, Spar, Supervalu, Russells etc and smaller versions of supermarkets such as Tesco Express. Strangely, Forestside sits outside Belfast City Council but is definitely a ‘Belfast’ shopping centre so makes it into the survey – stores in Abbey Centre and Dundonald don’t.

One of the great benefits of cycling (and this has been shown in studies around the world) is the ability to stop at small independent stores and do more shopping, more often, in smaller batches. ‘Cyclists’ are great local shoppers. As well as independent retailers, most supermarkets in Belfast are on the main arterial routes, and whether through larger products ranges or competitive pricing, they’re occasionally on my list of stores to visit.

However, trying to find somewhere safe, secure, well-lit and sheltered to lock a bicycle can be a challenge at many supermarkets. Sub-standard bicycle racks – or being expected to lock up to a lighting column, fence or trolley rack – feels a little bit insulting in clear sight of vast, beautifully-manicured car parking, or trolleys insulated from the elements.

So I devised a scoring system, based in part on Planning Service recommended standards for bicycle parking from 2005 (after which some of these stores were built or redeveloped), to benchmark the city’s supermarkets.


This system means supermarkets can be independently rated against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers arriving by bicycle. A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities, not necessarily exceptional. It also allows for an average score across each brand’s stores to be worked out, to determine which chain offers the best facilities overall.

Survey facts and figures

  • 17 out of 40 Belfast supermarkets have no cycling facilities whatsoever.
  • Tesco provides around half of all the supermarket bicycle racks in Belfast.



  • Just 5 of the 23 cycle parking areas in Belfast supermarkets have direct and visible CCTV coverage.
  • A reasonable 17 of the 23 cycle parking areas are close to supermarket entrances.
  • Just 9 of the 23 cycle parking areas have some shelter, although this covers 48 of the 100 racks.
  • While the best individual supermarket is located in South Belfast, the area with the best overall ranking for supermarket cycling provision is North Belfast – this runs counter to cycling commuter patterns in the city.
  • Out of a total possible score of 280 across all supermarkets, Belfast scored just 69 points – this means Belfast supermarkets are doing less than a quarter of what’s needed to provide adequate cycling facilities.
  • Just 1 out of the 22 stores with bicycle parking offers any additional services to customers arriving by bicycle.

Belfast’s best supermarket chain for cycling facilities

With an average score of 4.5 out of 7, Sainbury’s is the clear leader in cycling provision.



Sainsbury’s 3 stores at Forestside, Kennedy Centre and Knocknagoney have just 14 racks between them, but the quality, security, proximity to store entrances were a cut above the rest. Sainsburys and Dunnes Stores are the only supermarket chains with bicycle parking outside all of their stores in Belfast.


Although Tesco provides half of all the supermarket cycling racks in Belfast, the quality of their bicycle areas was not as consistent as Sainsbury’s.

Iceland is the only supermarket in Belfast with more stores than bicycle racks and, along with Dunnes, may not have been directly responsible for installing any of the cycling facilities which happen to be outside their stores.

Lidl’s only bicycle racks are designed to lock front wheels, rather than the recommended Sheffield-style stands.

Belfast’s best individual supermarket for cycling facilities

Tesco Newtownbreda just pips Sainsbury’s Forestside to this title. Both stores scored 6 out of the maximum 7 points, but Tesco’s 15 racks and CCTV coverage tip the balance towards this superstore in south Belfast.


Belfast supermarkets that go the extra mile

Just one, Sainsbury’s Forestside – offering a rent-a-lock service in case you’ve forgotten to bring yours.


How does my local store rate?

You can find a rating for each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast, including comment from the brands themselves on the survey, on the following pages:

What next?

Supermarkets position themselves as key social nodes in our urban life, and they do play an important role in the fabric of communities. While it’s desperately important to use and support our smaller independent retailers, supermarkets can influence wider travel habits by taking a lead and making the bicycle a more attractive option. The investment required is tiny compared to some of the big supermarkets’ trading profits posted in recent years, and the space needed doesn’t seem to be lacking either. Re-purposing just 2 car parking spaces gets you into double figures of bicycle racks.

Lidl Castlereagh car park

Good quality and attractive bicycle parking facilities should be an obvious choice for a responsible retailer interested in building good links with the local community. And the more people we can encourage to shop here and there, safe in the knowledge their bicycle is safe outside while their custom is valued inside, the more footfall we can drive to our smaller local shops too.

We’ll return to the same stores next year to see what’s changed and aim to give a 2016 Fréd Award to the Most Improved Supermarket. Whether succeeding or failing right now, individual benchmarks have been set – who can be the shining light in Belfast next year?

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.
*This post was updated on 9/12/15 to amend the score of M&S Boucher as that store’s 2 racks were missed on the initial visit. This changes the overall M&S score from 1 out of 7 to 1.4 out of 7. This did not affect the original overall 4th place rank of M&S on the league table.

Over November and December 2015, Northern Ireland Greenways surveyed cycling facilities at the 40 chain supermarkets in Belfast. Tesco’s 8 major supermarkets were included, along with the flagship city centre Metro store at Castle Place. For consistency across the survey, smaller Tesco Express stores were excluded.


This system means we can independently rate any supermarket against a consistent benchmark out of 7 points for the quality of facilities laid on for customers choosing to arrive by bicycle.  A score of 6-7 would identify a store offering adequate to good facilities. So how does each Tesco store in Belfast rate for cycling facilities?

Tesco Antrim Road


2 points for Tesco Antrim Road, for 5 racks and proximity to the entrance. However there are big problems here. For a start, there are only 2 usable racks here due to their position (park your bike one way, you render the racks on the other side redundant).

Tesco Antrim Road

Then there’s the strange decision to place the red racks in direct conflict with a blue badge car parking space.

Tesco Antrim Road

So no marks for quality, and despite the position near the entrance, CCTV coverage would go a long way to improving the feeling of security, with the racks being needlessly tucked away in a dark corner.

Tesco Ballygomartin


Just 3 racks but an impressive 5 stars for Tesco Ballygomartin – what gives? There is plenty to praise here – although there is a small walk to the entrance, it’s close enough for a point, especially given the double-whammy of safety. There’s a CCTV camera in clear sight of the racks as well as the large windows looking into the till points – you would need a real brass neck to attempt to steal a bicycle here.

Tesco Ballysillan

Add in good shelter, half-decent quality of racks and you’re a few additional racks away from challenging the very best in Belfast.

Tesco Castle Place


2 points for Tesco Metro Castle Place – are these racks owned and installed by Tesco or government agencies in Northern Ireland? For this survey it’s not so important – the ability to lock your bike outside the store is – but Tesco loses out on the extra point for rack quality as a result, even though these Sheffield stands are excellent.

Tesco Castle Place

The location already benefits from a Belfast Bikes station directly across the road, but there’s plenty of space to work with at the front of the store. No shelter and no CCTV coverage keeps the score low.

Tesco Castlereagh


On first view, compared with Ballysillan above, you might wonder what’s wrong with the scoring system that would rate a store with 12 racks lower than one with just 3.

Indeed, Tesco Castlereagh’s attempt to make a high-profile dent in the bicycle traffic passing by its front door moved me to write an article in 2012. But things didn’t work out as I or Tesco hoped here.Tesco Castlereagh

The 3 points for Tesco Castlereagh are for double figures of bicycle racks (2 points) and quality of racks (1 point) but that’s it. While the sign located at the side entrance is great, positioning the racks here around 60 metres away from the store entrance is a mistake. Most days you’ll see more bicycles latched to the trolley cages than the bicycle racks.

Tesco Castlereagh

The bicycle area is very exposed, both lacking shelter (while all the trolleys on site benefit from a roof) and no CCTV coverage adding to the worry that thieves will be off in a flash out onto the road and away.

Its an unfortunate score for the store with second most bicycle racks in Belfast, but Tesco should swallow pride on this experimental location and put the racks where customers clearly want them – right beside the front door.

Tesco Dunmurry


Racks there were none.

Tesco Dunmurry

Tesco Knocknagoney


A disappointing 3 points for Tesco Knocknagoney given the sheer scale of the superstore on the eastern edge of Belfast. There are 6 good quality racks which are nicely sheltered, but the pillars obscure a clear sight of the CCTV camera.

Tesco Knocknagoney

The walk to the front door is one of the longest in Belfast unfortunately, and it’s not for want of space elsewhere. A tame effort at a flagship store.

Tesco Lisburn Road


It would be fair to say this is the most surprising omission in the whole of the city. South Belfast being the heartland of cycling in Belfast, and this store being within an easy cycle (but not walk) of student accommodation as far away as Malone Road, and… nothing.

Tesco Lisburn Road

Frustrated customers (understandably) take to locking bicycles on the barrier outside, which is there to stop kids running across the busy pedestrian crossing – not for bicycle parking. The streetscape is clogged due to Tesco inaction.

Tesco Lisburn Road

There’s plenty of space in the nice underground car park here, but again no bicycle racks. Just a strange decision which needs urgently revised.

Tesco Newtownbreda


Is this the current gold standard in Belfast? A very respectable 6 points for Tesco Newtownbreda out of 7 as it ticks every box except for offering additional services for bicycle users – close to being perfect.

Tesco Newtownbreda

15 racks are placed right at the entrance to the store, under the shelter of the store itself (which is on the first floor) and a wonderfully outsized CCTV camera points right down on the scene – probably more for the adjacent ATM machines, but the message sounds loud and clear.

Tesco Newtownbreda

There’s even a big sign saying Bicycle parking which is almost non-existent apart from in Tesco supermarkets in Belfast – a small but important sign of pride.

More of this please.

Tesco Yorkgate


A creditable 4 points for Tesco Yorkgate which gets off to a difficult start with the quality of the racks. We give a point as at least you can lock the frame to the stand and rest your bicycle safely, but we’d like to see Sheffield-style stands (and many more of them) by this time next year.

Tesco Yorkgate

Otherwise the area is under cover and right beside the store entrance so 4 easy points.

This store will become student central very soon with the opening of the Ulster University Belfast Campus, while the developing plans for the York Street Interchange now have excellent dedicated cycling links from Belfast city centre. This is one store that must be prioritised for improvements to match coming demand.

What Tesco says..

“We actively encourage colleagues and customers to cycle. Locally we work with planning authorities to ensure our stores can be accessed by bikes and cycles can be securely parked.

“Our colleagues actively participate in the ‘Cycle to Work’ scheme, offering discounted bikes and incentivising cycling locally.

“Finally cycling forms part of our community initiatives, with colleagues cycling and being active while raising funds for great local causes.



We’d expect to see the mighty Tesco challenging at the top of the table, but an overall average of just 2.78 out of 7 is a cause for concern. There’s good work going on in some stores, but it feels like a bout of consistency has tried but failed to break out. From rack design to signage to placement you can see the seed of a push towards the top spot in 2016, but Tesco really shouldn’t have stores which ignore some customers’ needs entirely.

How does Tesco rank for bicycle facilities against other supermarkets in Belfast in 2015? Find out in Store Wars VII: The Cycling Revolution Awakens..

Note: Visits to each of the 40 supermarkets in Belfast were made in November and December 2015 and facilities (or lack of) were recorded as observed at the time – NI Greenways is happy to correct any errors identified in this survey.
Bicycle Parking sign at Tesco Castlereagh Road

New Tesco Superstore on the Castlereagh Road

The new Tesco Superstore on the Castlereagh Road opens on Thursday 4th October, but it’s hoping to attract more than the traditional supermarket customers. At the north entrance a sign has been erected to target passing cyclists. A lot of local supermarkets have developed facilities such as disabled parking, parent and child parking, but it’s the first time I’ve seen such a prominent advert for bicycle parking.

Bicycle Parking sign at Tesco Castlereagh Road

There are a number of reasons why this is a good move by Tesco. Beyond the anecdotal evidence of increasing numbers of cyclists on Belfast streets, the Castlereagh Road benefits from half decent cycling provision. There is a long city-bound bus lane for the morning rush hour, and an equally long advisory cycle lane with urban clearway restrictions running countrybound. Even if the cycle lane is usually just one long car park during rush hour, it’s a start.

Cycle lane by Tesco on Castlereagh Road

The cycle lane was first obstructed then removed during the construction phase, but has now been reinstated on the new widened road section – a huge improvement on the former bone-shaking surface. Although only an advisory lane, it has been afforded the rare position of a continual marking across the Tesco access and at Orby Link, hopefully improving driver awareness and caution when exiting these two junctions.

How many cyclists will stop by for groceries? Let’s be honest, not a great many, as Belfast doesn’t have more than 3% of journeys on bike at present. But this move sends out an important message to both local residents with bikes, and a challenge to independent retailers in Belfast – a short trip to the shops doesn’t always need to be by car. And Tesco will be more than aware of the unique position of the site, bordered as it is by the Loop River. The Connswater Community Greenway project will see East Belfast linked by a 9km linear park, running right past Tesco.

Connswater Community Greenway will run near Tesco

What’s slightly disappointing here is the continued use of an advisory cycle lane, the default position for Roads Service in Belfast. Roads Service doesn’t favour mandatory lanes as their “introduction…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.” This doesn’t apply to this section as roadside parking is unnecessary given the large car park, and anyone parking here would create a danger for passing motorists, cyclists and crossing pedestrians. A bit of foresight, creativity and bravery from Roads Service could have seen some sections made mandatory, even kerb separated here to provide extra safety for all road users, and completely discouraging countrybound roadside parking.

Bus stop outside Castlereagh Road Tesco

To be fair, observing traffic movements since the cycle lane reopened, it seems to be working well enough. The new surface makes the road marking stand out, and the addition of a new pedestrian crossing just north of the bus stop will help to slow traffic flows around the usually fast bend.

Opening a large superstore in this relatively quiet arterial route will cause some increase in traffic levels and disruption, not to mention difficulties it will cause to local independent retailers. But by actively seeking out a new market, and encouraging local shoppers to go for ‘less car, more bike’, Tesco have to be commended.