Plans to improve life for Belfast’s cyclists have been described by campaigners as the start of a “cycling revolution” for the city.
Work starts next week on the £800,000 trial scheme, which includes a new East-West route across the city, a new bicycle-only street, improvements to existing infrastructure and car parking spaces replaced by protected cycle tracks.
Three new routes will be completed by March, spelling the death of two of Belfast’s much maligned pieces of cycling infrastructure, dubbed ‘Cyclesaurus’ because of the cycle lane’s tapering shape, and the ‘Bin Lane’, which was often populated with wheelie bins and delivery vehicles.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) January 21, 2016
Northern Ireland Transport Minister, Michelle McIlveen, said: “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."
The plans have been described by the campaigner behind NI Greenways, Jonathan Hobbs, as “radical”.
He said there were major implications for the future of cycling in Belfast.
“These plans were produced by a dedicated Cycling Unit which is now working across government with a growing budget - they seem determined to seek and implement best practice and aren't afraid to amend their designs based on consultation feedback," he said.
“Finally we have a very short vertical between decision-makers and our own highly-engaged campaigners. 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."
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) January 22, 2016
The schemes now being built are three of five routes consulted on last summer. Section one will provide a 1.1km traffic free cycle route between three Belfast Bike stations with a protected cycle track, replacing Cyclesaurus (which was voted the worst piece of cycle infrastructure in Northern Ireland in 2014 and had its own merchandise at one stage).
The so-called bin lane will see kerbs replaced by bollards to prevent delivery vehicles using it to park in.
Proposed Belfast cycle routes
Hobbs said improvements to the Southern route, route one, will remove “strange” existing junction features which “muddle priorities”.
“The cycle track will now run all the way from the commercial heart of Belfast to meet NCN 9 at the River Lagan. It will feature a consistent design standard of bollard separation along its length, and will include several cycling priority features at junctions to make cycling journeys safer and more attractive," he said.
The other two routes are entirely new, and will form part of what will eventually be an East-West route across the city, designed to target areas of Belfast where few people currently cycle. College St North will become a bicycle street, One slightly disappointing bit, Hobbs points out, is a shared footway segment, but at the junction of College Sq North and College Avenue cyclists will be treated “like kings and queens” with their own traffic light phase. Sections four and five of the East-West route will follow by the end of 2016.
It was announced last week Belfast Bikes received their 150,000th journey, another sign, some say, of Belfast’s burgeoning cycling revolution. However, with among the lowest cycling rates in Northern Ireland parts of the city still have a way to go.