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New barriers on infamous ‘car park’ cycle lane vandalised, as councillor calls for “robust” protection “before someone gets seriously hurt”

Plastic bolt down barriers were introduced as a trial two weeks ago on the much-maligned city centre bike lane, which the government claimed would now be “inaccessible to cars”

Bolt down barriers recently introduced on a controversial city centre cycle lane, infamous for the number of parked cars and bins regularly strewn across it, have allegedly been vandalised, just two weeks after the Department for Infrastructure claimed that the new protective measures would make the lane “inaccessible to cars”.

The plastic barriers were installed at the end of August on Belfast’s Hardcastle Street, replacing the flimsy plastic bollards that were in place since the pop-up cycle lane was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic, but were pictured earlier this week dismantled and left abandoned on a piece of cycling infrastructure described by one local councillor as a “danger to those who try to use it”.

Following this week’s vandalism, Belfast City councillor Tara Brooks called on the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to make the cycle lane on Hardcastle Street permanent, installing “robust” segregation and clamping down on car parking in the process, “before someone gets seriously hurt”.

As we have reported on several occasions on the road.cc live blog, the lane – a key route for cyclists into the city centre – has become a lightning rod for growing criticism of the Northern Ireland government’s approach to active travel, thanks to the seemingly routine sight of parked cars and vans, as well as bins from local businesses, blocking (sometimes completely) the apparently ‘protected’ cycling infrastructure.

Cycle lane parking in Belfast (credit - Dominic Bryan, Twitter)

“This is the reality of cycling in Belfast”: Cyclists blast ‘protected’ bike lane packed with parked cars and bins

Reports have also emerged of cyclists being ‘doored’ by motorists emerging from their vehicles along the cycle lane, and of confrontations between drivers and cyclists.

After months of increasingly vocal frustration and complaints from local cyclists and campaign groups that one of Belfast’s only segregated cycle lanes was effectively a “car park”, two weeks ago the Department for Infrastructure decided – while the legislative process to make the pop-up lane permanent is still ongoing – to hastily trial new bolt down barriers, which the department claimed would curb “inconsiderate parking” and “make the cycle lane inaccessible to cars”.

> "Sad day for the humble motorist": Cyclists rejoice as barriers finally installed on 'car park' bike lane

However, less than a fortnight into the trial it appears that the new barriers have proved woefully ineffective when it comes to protecting cyclists using the lane or preventing it from resembling, as many locals have pointed out, the several car parks that surround it.

On Thursday evening, Belfast cyclist Steve Roy posted an image on X, formerly Twitter, of the Hardcastle Street cycle lane with the caption “Going backwards”, which showed a number of the newly installed plastic barriers removed from their bases and left in heaps on different parts of the lane, along with at least three vehicles parked on the lane and adjacent pavement.

Follow commuter Dominic Bryan, an anthropology professor at nearby Queen’s University Belfast, also described the image as “depressing” and added that “it beggars belief the way cyclists and cycle infrastructure are treated in Belfast”.

Earlier in the week, Bryan had posted another photo of the “improved” cycle lane, featuring what he said was one of the four cars parked along it:

“We need action,” the Belfast Cycling Campaign also tweeted. “Parking should not be free in a city centre, let alone parking in a cycle lane having no consequences.”

Tara Brooks, an Alliance Party councillor for Balmoral, told road.cc that the current situation on Hardcastle Street is a symptom of the failure to deliver protected cycling infrastructure in Belfast, and called on the Department for Infrastructure to “recognise their responsibility” to keep people on bikes safe.

“The cycling infrastructure in Belfast is clearly not a priority for the Department for Infrastructure, who have failed to deliver safe and accessible cycling infrastructure within the city,” Brooks told road.cc.

“The Hardcastle cycle lane is a good example of this. It was installed as a ‘pop up’ cycle lane during the pandemic, but there is no way to enforce the lane or punish those who park there.

“As it stands the cycle lane is a danger to those who try to use it – I have heard of people being accidentally hit by car doors, or ‘doored’, and verbally abused after asking drivers to move. DfI did promise to install better barriers, but these have recently been vandalised.”

> “If they can’t build cycle lanes, devolve bloody powers to us and we’ll do it”: Belfast Council slams Northern Ireland government’s “joke” delivery of cycling infrastructure – as just 2.8km of bike lanes installed in two years

She continued: “I wish that, as a councillor, I had the power to go in and sort this out but sadly this is not the case. I call on DfI to recognise their responsibility to keep the users of Belfast’s cycle infrastructure safe, and install a permanent, robust barrier between the cycle lane and the road that cannot be taken apart in a matter of minutes.

“When I wrote to DfI about this, suggesting a double yellow line the length of the cycle lane, they replied to say that ‘Resources would be better directed to the development of a permanent solution, which would have separate legislation to enable parking enforcement to be undertaken’.

“I am asking DfI now to do this, to commit the resources to sorting out this cycle lane in terms of physical infrastructure and enforcement legislation, before someone gets seriously hurt.”

Belfast cycle lane parked car (Twitter, North Belfast Cycle Campaign)

Credit: North Belfast Cycle Campaign

When approached by road.cc for comment, a DfI spokesperson said that the government department “is committed to improving our active travel and public transport infrastructure as a crucial way of reducing car dependency”, and that further measures will be introduced to prevent motorists from parking on Hardcastle Street.

“The Department has for many years worked with partners across all sectors to deliver better active travel infrastructure and a range of measures are being implemented. This included a number of pop-up cycle lanes in Belfast City centre such as the one at Hardcastle Street, which were introduced during the Covid pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

“The Traffic Management (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 only gives the department the power to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) when a vehicle is detected parked on a legislated Mandatory Cycle Lane.

“However, it is the department’s intention to carry out a consultation for a permanent cycle lane along this pop-up route which would bring forward legislation to enforce the current inconsiderate parking taking place.

“The department recognises the frustration caused by inconsiderate parking on cycle lanes across the city. While the legislative process to make the pop-up cycle permanent is ongoing, the department undertook a trial of new bolt down barriers at Hardcastle Street as a method of making the cycle lanes inaccessible to cars, however drivers have continued to access and obstruct the lanes. “We are now taking steps to implement further measures to avoid this happening again and continue to appeal to drivers to respect everyone’s journey and think before you park.”

> “It’s such an obvious solution but now they are only considering it”: Government decides to – finally – trial new bolt down barriers on cycle lane littered for years with parked cars and bins

Despite the DfI’s latest commitment to introducing more protection for cyclists on Hardcastle Street, the ongoing failure to prevent motorists from using one of Belfast’s relatively few ‘segregated’ bike lanes will do little to quell the belief that the Northern Ireland government’s stance on active travel is rooted in inaction.

In February we reported that active travel charity Sustrans had described the situation on Hardcastle Street as “disgraceful – every single day, no action”.

“This is one of Belfast's ONLY ‘separated’ cycle lanes,” the North Belfast Cycle Campaign also noted. “This is the ONLY safe route across town. How is this acceptable?”

The introduction of the plastic bollards on Hardcastle Street in August also came in the same week Northern Ireland’s All Party Cycling Group outlined its vision for a “better cycling future”, and just days after councillors in Belfast launched a scathing attack on the currently mothballed Stormont executive and what they describe as its “joke” approach to cycling infrastructure.

> No change in cycling casualties over 10 years in Northern Ireland called “shameful” by Cycling UK and should be “wake-up call” for decision makers

At the All Party Cycling Group meeting, calls were made for the DfI “to step up and build infrastructure and maintain the paltry infrastructure that does exist” to make active travel safer and more accessible, while Cycling UK emphasised the business case for installing more cycle lanes.

Cycling UK’s Andrew McClean also proposed painting double yellow lines on cycle lanes in a bid to stop motorists from parking in them.

“The DfI said that’s not a bad idea... it’s such an obvious solution but now they are only considering it,” McClean said, before adding that the group agreed that “one of the most important things we can do is enforce existing laws”.

At a meeting of Belfast City Council’s Growth and Regeneration Committee, Brooks’ fellow Alliance Party councillor Micky Murray said: “There is quite a lot going to DfI but not a lot coming back from DfI, especially with cycling network plans.

“As a major stakeholder/deliverer of cycling infrastructure, we are doing our bit in terms of cycling enabling infrastructure. But the information DfI is coming back with on their plan is a bit of a joke. The information just isn’t adequate.”

> Cycling UK slams Northern Ireland's "baffling" Tour de France bid when active travel strategy puts cyclists "at risk"

Green councillor Anthony Flynn was equally scathing about the lack of delivery stemming from the government’s cycle network plans, which he described as “incredibly frustrating” and “ridiculous”.

“With £700,000 they have delivered 2.8 kilometres in the last two years,” he said. “I am exasperated with that, to be honest. We had the Belfast Cycling Network Delivery Plan two years ago – there was an £11 million budget, and again we are left with little to no delivery, which is incredibly frustrating.

“Where are the roadblocks? What are the roadblocks? And if they cannot do it, devolve bloody powers to us and we will do it.

“We are talking about an active travel spend per capita in Northern Ireland of £7.20, while in Scotland it is £20 per head. We are a significant outlier in the United Kingdom. DfI is the department that should be coming up with results when it comes to active travel spend per head, and they are not doing it. 2.8 kilometres in the last two years – ridiculous.

“We need answers from them because there is an underspend here also. And most of the budget was spent on the signalling upgrade. So, where are the cycling lanes?”

> Sinn Féin minister “neglecting Northern Ireland’s future” and “locking us all into a fossil-fuelled dark age”, says Cycling UK

Responding to road.cc’s questions concerning the widespread criticism of the department’s active travel delivery, the DfI spokesperson said: “On wider improvements for cyclists the department is working closely with councils to better understand their five-year Active Travel programme and developing an appropriate grant and support framework for the delivery of Greenways.

“We have commissioned a Northern Ireland-wide Active Travel Network Delivery plan which, when complete, will provide a firm basis for the prioritisation of the delivery of high quality active travel infrastructure within and connecting our towns and cities, this is due for consultation in 2024. 

“The plan will complement and take account of the Belfast Cycle Network Delivery Plan and the greenways network. Other developments in the current year include the opening of Strathfoyle Greenway which the department co-funded, engagement on the development of the West Belfast Greenway, opening of the Coleraine Ring Road enhancing provisions for active travel, and a major upgrade to Jane’s Shore co-funded by the department.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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26 comments

Avatar
mitsky | 5 months ago
1 like

Haven't heard much from the Tyre Extinguishers for a while.
Anyone got their number?

Avatar
EraserBike | 5 months ago
0 likes

"the Northern Ireland government’s stance on active travel is rooted in inaction.

This is the crux of the matter. It's not even an important or long road, but the fact they can't even enforce a 100m cycle lane is a joke. Just fine everyone who parks there for a couple of weeks. Money in the bank and it'll solve the issue faster than any bollards.

Avatar
peted76 | 5 months ago
5 likes

Hardcastle Street is becoming quite the analogy for Northern Ireland governing bodies.

What a shower of shite, peak bureaucracy. 

Common sense would be they'd just have extended the double yellow's along the length of the road aka the cycle lane and they sent a traffic warden down there twice a day, up until the legislation catches up and it becomes a mandatory cycle lane. 

 

Avatar
mattw | 5 months ago
3 likes

>“The Hardcastle cycle lane is a good example of this. It was installed as a ‘pop up’ cycle lane during the pandemic, but there is no way to enforce the lane or punish those who park there.

What does he mean by this?

Those vehicles are obstructing the highway; of course enforcement can be done.

Avatar
cmedred | 5 months ago
3 likes

Have any cyclists taken direction action here? It isn't hard to remove a valve core, and that would seem justified as a safety measure to keep these cars from pulling into the lane when a cyclist is coming. Especially so given the behavior of the owners has already displayed a total lack of regard for the rules of the road. 

Valve core removal doesn't damage anything; it just disables a potentially dangerous vehicle parked where it shouldn't be parked. 

Avatar
Oldfatgit replied to cmedred | 5 months ago
3 likes

How does disabling "a potentially dangerous vehicle parked where it shouldn't be parked" make it safer?

It doesn't.

What are you going to do if the owner of the vehicle appears while you are bent over removing the valve cores?
Bearing in mind that people tend to behave irrationally when it comes to their cars.

Personally, not an action I would support from both a road and personal safety perspective.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to cmedred | 5 months ago
0 likes

Didn't think car tyre valves had removable cores.

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hawkinspeter replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
2 likes
Sriracha wrote:

Didn't think car tyre valves had removable cores.

Time to snack on some dried lentils

Avatar
ktache replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
2 likes

I had a problem with my Michelin latex tube on the Getting to Work bike (Ultimate Commuter's Rohloff getting serviced and rim being replaced) losing pressure far too quickly, day or day and a half rather than the 2-3 for normal latex, had one do this previously too, found that I could use the other end of my Park valve core tool so swapped the Schrader valves with some on dead tubes I have lying about (make very strong elastic bands and shit...). Never changed internals of Schraders before, surprisingly easy.

I have been having a nightmare with inner tubes for the past couple of weeks, the hastle of tubeless is worth it...

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to cmedred | 5 months ago
1 like

I was thinking more in terms of a D-lock through the window as you ride past: they'll soon get the message.

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quiff replied to cmedred | 5 months ago
0 likes

As satisfying as it would be, in England & Wales (not sure about NI), that may still amount to criminal damage, even if only temporary: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/criminal-damage 

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Sriracha replied to quiff | 5 months ago
0 likes

Yes, but on the evidence, there is no penalty for criminal damage, so why not?

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brooksby | 5 months ago
4 likes

You know this doesn't surprise me; not at all.

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Oldfatgit replied to brooksby | 5 months ago
6 likes

If they put in Armco, it'll only get unbolted and sold for scrap.

Tow and impound the cars, first offence.
Tow and crush the cars, any subsequent offence by a vehicle registered to that address. And don't give them time to get their belongings out either .

Downside is though ... it'll *still* be the cyclists fault, so spithead who is now light in pocket or light in the car department, will just turn to physical abuse of *any* cyclist.

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mattw replied to Oldfatgit | 5 months ago
0 likes

What NI Laws can that practically be done under?

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Oldfatgit replied to mattw | 5 months ago
1 like

Laws can be written and amended.

Thats what governments do.

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mattw replied to Oldfatgit | 5 months ago
2 likes

A suggestion for the Government that won't enforce existing laws?

Hmm.

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VIPcyclist | 5 months ago
8 likes

When you hear "the government claims [says]" you know that what in fact you're hearing is lies [propaganda]. Apply that one rule to everything you read or hear and you won't go so far wrong.

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Sriracha | 5 months ago
15 likes

Maybe the answer is a period of more robust consequences. If offending motorists discover they now have to collect their vehicle from the pound (Mon - Fri 10:00-16:00), word might get around. The scheme could also benefit from being self-funding.

Avatar
Grahamd replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
10 likes
Sriracha wrote:

Maybe the answer is a period of more robust consequences. If offending motorists discover they now have to collect their vehicle from the pound (Mon - Fri 10:00-16:00), word might get around. The scheme could also benefit from being self-funding.

Better still they could recycle offending vehicles into more robust bollards.

Avatar
BalladOfStruth replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
12 likes

I don't think there is aything other than this that will solve this problem. There need to be genuine consequences for the arrogant and selfish behaviour or it will never stop.

If someone needs to arrange transport to collect their car from a pound 50 miles away after paying a £250 penalty, they sure as fuck won't park there again.

Avatar
qwerty360 replied to BalladOfStruth | 5 months ago
0 likes
BalladOfStruth wrote:

If someone needs to arrange transport to collect their car from a pound 50 miles away after paying a £250 penalty, they sure as fuck won't park there again.

You missed being also charged the tow costs (and what, £100/day storage charges)...

Given towing them here should require a (big) truck with crane to lift them over the cycle lane barrier without causing further damage I expect this wouldn't be cheap.

Avatar
quiff replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
1 like

I believe the problem is that they simply can't enforce against parkers while it remains a temporary measure.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to quiff | 5 months ago
2 likes

I'm sure there's a legal reason each party can give but from afar it just looks like the councillors, DfI etc. pointing at each other and saying "someone else's problem". (And presumably police have washed their hands of this long ago).

I've often wondered about the fact that the more visual noise there is, or "magic" we apply (painted sigils like double yellows, signs with incantations, armadillos, wands - ha) the more users seem to grasp that these have no meaning as authorities are toothless. Places like NL, the street clutter seems to be minimised. So where it's used people seem to understand it's important.

Either that or enforcement is *much* more thorough elsewhere (not hard mind...) and likely PLAC is much less socially accepted?

Avatar
Sriracha replied to quiff | 5 months ago
2 likes
quiff wrote:

I believe the problem is that they simply can't enforce against parkers while it remains a temporary measure.

That seems like a cop-out. They have no trouble enforcing temporary measures during road works etc. What's the difference here?

Avatar
eburtthebike replied to Sriracha | 5 months ago
2 likes
Sriracha wrote:
quiff wrote:

I believe the problem is that they simply can't enforce against parkers while it remains a temporary measure.

That seems like a cop-out. They have no trouble enforcing temporary measures during road works etc. What's the difference here?

The difference, of course, is that the DfI want to enforce temporary measures at road works.

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