A cycle route diversion in Belfast, put in place to allow for flood defences to be installed on a popular towpath, will put the lives of cyclists as risk, according to active travel charities Sustrans and Cycling UK.
Considered one of the most popular cycling and walking routes in Northern Ireland, the Lagan Towpath stretches for 11 miles between Lisburn and Belfast and caters for over one million active travellers each year, according to the Department for Infrastructure’s figures (a portion of the towpath also featured as part of the course for the 2008 U16 Ulster cyclocross championships, which saw this humble writer finish third – it was a poor turnout that year…).
However, part of the route will be closed for the next five months to allow for the “essential” construction of five miles of flood defences, which the DfI says will protect at least 1,500 homes.
But Sustrans and Cycling UK say the diversion that has been put in place for cyclists affected by the work – taking them along the Ormeau Embankment and into the city centre via the Ravenhill Road, which features a painted, advisory cycle lane often filled with parked cars – is not safe or fit for purpose.
> Government says Belfast bike lanes are “advisory” – after local cyclists claim they are “completely unusable” due to parked cars
“For the next six months people won’t be able to use one of the only safe cycle routes through Belfast,” Cycling UK said on Twitter, alongside an eye-opening video of the proposed diversion.
“This shows the suggested diversion is not fit for purpose. The failure to deliver any of the Belfast Bicycle Network means there is never a plan B for cycling.”
Sustrans have also called on the DfI to install safe cycling infrastructure along the route.
“The diversion put in place, particularly for cycling from east Belfast via the Lower Ravenhill Road and the Lagan Embankment is not safe,” a Sustrans spokesperson said.
“There is an ‘advisory’ cycle lane or painted line along this very busy road which is often filled with parked cars.”
A lecturer at Belfast’s Ulster University, Liam McComish, who cycles to work on the towpath, also told the BBC that the diversion is making him consider commuting by car for the next five months.
“It’s bad for me as a cyclist and it has increased the danger of my commute,” he said.
“It’s made me think twice about whether it’s safe to cycle and I might go back to driving more often because I do feel genuinely at risk.”
> Cyclists call on council to reconsider “unsafe” cycle route diversion
A DfI spokesperson, who noted that the Belfast Marathon will still be able to use a section of the towpath as part of its route on 30 April, after discussions with the contractors, said: “The diversionary route via the Ormeau Embankment/Ravenhill Road is the closest alternative designated cycle route. This route is signposted for pedestrians and cyclists.
“The existing cycle infrastructure on the Ravenhill Road is an advisory cycle lane and therefore parking enforcement is not permissible by law.”