Friday, 24 February 2012

Connecting Places Mini Series: Bicycling Belfast

In this series, Connecting Places, we explore the spaces, places and sustainable transport systems in Belfast and beyond, with an aim to generate critical debate on the design of our towns and cities.
Series curated by Aaron Coulter

Bicycling Belfast: Prelude

Cycling accounts for 0.6% of trips in NI
(Credit: Aaron Coulter)

In recent years there has been a renewed interest from major cities throughout the world in diversifying transportation choices in an effort to reduce dependancy on the private car and improve quality of life for their citizens. These initiatives are often characterised with a rebalancing of capital expenditure priorities in order to accommodate higher levels of spending on more sustainable forms of transport, including walking, cycling, and public transit schemes.

However, despite over a decade of policy initiatives aimed at reducing car dependency in Northern Ireland, transport budgets here are still overwhelmingly in favour of the private car. In 2010 the then Minister for Regional Development, Conor Murphy, not only dedicated 62% of the overall transport budget to the car, a total of £250,000,000, but also cut Belfast’s cycling budget by 98% to £8,000 (Belfast Telegraph). Given this, it is unsurprising that Belfast is currently rated the 3rd most congested city in the United Kingdom and ranks within the top ten most congested cities in Europe.

It is in within this context, and as part of an ongoing process of generating debate on sustainable transport in Northern Ireland through the Connecting Places series, that throughout next week a mini series titled ‘Bicycling Belfast’ will investigate the potential of increasing cycling’s modal share in the city.

Join us next week on the PLACE blog and follow the conversation with Aaron on Twitter #bicyclingbelfast


Daniel Smith said...

Glad you brought this up - I'm currently having talks with the DRD at the moment regarding their lack of funding to this issue. Many people in Belfast feel too unsafe to cycle, because of the congestion at peak times, parked cars and lack of cycle lanes or marked out areas. I myself cycle every day to work and every weekend leisurely. I love cycling, but I take a risk each time I leave the house. Many drivers are ignorant towards cyclists, don't look for us and are very aggressive. I've had many accidents at the fault of the drivers.

It's a vicious 'cycle' though, as without more people cycling, the government won't put in the investment, but without investment, people won't feel safe enough to get on their bikes and leave the car at home. Cycling in European cities is fantastic in comparison and Belfast really needs to learn from the endless advantages and put the money into improving our infrastructure now.

Aaron said...

Hi Daniel,

Thanks for your comment. Yes very much so, don't want to give away too much at this stage but all of those issues and a lot of others will be raised throughout next week.

Looking forward to hearing from you then!

(and good luck with DRD!)


arthur Acheson said...

Now, what's wrong with having another look at the software (how we use places)?

With good software, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with people walking and cycling together, sharing a surface. That can be a footway, a footpath or a cycle way.

I define good software as a code of behaviour which requires cyclists to slow down, give way and if necessary dismount briefly to be courteous and safe for children, pedestrians, wheelchair users and people pushing prams. There are often large areas of unused footway or footpath; some have been allocated status that allows cycling and walking together.

In my opinion, there should be no need for specific allocations of footways for different purposes - just a widely advertised and respected courtesy code. Much of the code is already stated in the Highway Code, Rule 62. The same code should apply everywhere, including the towpath, Lagan walkways (now officially available for cycling) and pedestrian streets in cities and towns.

Let's get rid of kerbed and bollarded "cycleways" in city and town centres, such as those in Arthur Street and Alfred Street in Belfast. These only clutter up the streets and make them inflexible. Rather than making the streets safer for cyclists, they make them less safe for people trying to cross the street. Both these narrow, short streets should be returned to two way traffic (give priority to one direction and introduce "give way" areas to slow traffic further in places if necessary)and just include bikes as part of the normal slow moving traffic in these side streets. The Highway Code Rule 62 (Cycle Tracks) says "Cyclists or pedestrians may be segregated or they may share the same space (unsegregated). When using segregated tracks you MUST keep to the side intended for cyclists as the pedestrian side remains a footway or footpath. Take care when passing pedestrians,
especially children, older or disabled people, and allow them plenty of room. Always be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary. Take care near road junctions as
you may have difficulty seeing other road users, who might not notice you." Highway Code Rule 64 states "You MUST NOT cycle on a footway or footpath unless on a cycle track where one has been provided."
The Home Office, in respect to fixed penalty notices for cycling on the footway, issued the following guidance: “The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of traffic and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.”

Naturally there should be a 20mph speed limit for both cycles and motor vehicles in town and city centres. Slowing and mixing different types of traffic, within a well respected courtesy code, gives everyone the best opportunity to use the streets and associated footways, courteously and safely.

The Highway Code already calls on private cars to give way (safely) to public transport. (Rule 223) In cities with trams, other traffic is STRICTLY required to give way. The Highway Code also requires vehicle drivers to respect other road users, specifically in Rules 204 to 217.

Shouldn't we have another look at our software, clarifying, advertising and enforcing the courtesy code and generating respect for appropriate behaviour?

Arthur Acheson