As part of Bike Week, local people who cycle our streets share their stories, fears and hopes. Tony, originally for Omagh but a long-time resident in Glengormley, is one of the Pro Vice-Chancellors at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), looking after planning, staffing and external affairs for the University. He explains his passion for cycling for transport and leisure..
I’ve been cycling for about a decade, and own a touring bike, a mountain bike and a road bike. I use the road bike most of the time, but occasionally take the mountain bike for a spin around Cavehill. I have 4 daughters, 2 of whom cycle fairly regularly, though one has been curtailed since her bike was stolen. Apart from the bicycle I use a motorbike – I’ve never driven a car and have no plans to start.
I use the bike to commute as often as I can, and for longer runs at the weekend, mainly using the network of B roads that thread over the hills of County Antrim. The shortest home to work route is straight down the Antrim Road and through the centre of town, though I hardly ever use this, despite having access to bus lanes.
Extended commute on good quality cycle path
Normally going to work I cycle by Abbeycentre and join the Loughshore path which takes me through the Docks area, round the back of the Waterfront, along the Lagan towpath to the Ormeau bridge, then through the Holylands to work – 18k in total. Coming home I normally extend the run by climbing back to Glengormley using the brilliant new Newtownabbey Way, which takes me from the Loughshore to Corrs Corner. The extended run is 22k, and the whole route but for 3k is on good quality cycle path.
I have a whole series of weekend runs I use, ranging from 30k to 90k, depending on my mood and fitness. Cycling the back roads provides an amazing experience of the countryside and there are plenty of hills to provide a challenge. I almost always ride alone, except for the Lap The Lough sportive which I have completed for the past 4 years – this is my one chance to enjoy the speed and thrills of riding in groups.
QUB is pretty good in the support it provides for cyclists: we operate a cycle to work scheme; there are plenty of secure parking sheds and CCTV coverage; showers and changing facilities are available for staff; and we support and encourage students in the Elms Village to cycle. It would be great if Belfast’s cycle-hire scheme had a couple of stations in the University area as I think the students would be regular users.
The main problems I have largely relate to danger on the road from cars. Ironically, despite doing regular distance-runs on roads at the weekends, I have hardly ever had any problems with cars or lorries. Commuting is a different matter altogether.
Last November I abandoned cycling to work until the Spring after nearly being hit by cars two mornings in a row at a small roundabout near where I live, despite being lit up like a belisha beacon. And it is not uncommon for cars to pull out in front of me in the Holylands on the last leg of my commute, whatever the light conditions!
A more extensive network of genuinely safe cycle lanes
Cycling through the city centre during the working week is dangerous and I hardly ever do it anymore – in the mornings and evenings I see cyclists on some of the main arterial routes into the city and, quite frankly, I think they are taking their lives in their hands. I’m lucky, I guess, that unlike most cyclists in the Belfast area I have access to good quality cycle lanes that make my commute longer, but much safer, and much, much more enjoyable.
I have no doubt that with a more extensive network of genuinely safe cycle lanes – and I don’t just mean painting a bike symbol on a footpath and starting problems between cyclists and pedestrians – a lot more people in the city would use bikes more regularly, and we’d all be better off.
You can follow Tony on Twitter @tgeducation