This article intends to take the points mentioned in the consultation that require other institutions to be part of the intervention apart from Belfast City Council.
So, you might have guessed this is an analysis of the current and proposed road layout in the consultation.
Current Road Layout
The current road layout is a car-centric one and puts people off the quarter due to the following:
- Every road is bi directional.
- Roads have an awful lot of on street parking, some of them on both sides of the road
- Road space is large compared to the pavement width
which allows the following:
- Through traffic
- Rat running
- Traffic looking for parking
All this makes for an hostile environment for vulnerable road users and forces them to be extra careful to arrive home in one piece, as they have to deal with all kinds of motor vehicles in large roads.
Consultation Proposed Road Layout
The proposed road layout includes multiple changes that are better than the current situation but not ambitious enough to create a real friendly environment for pedestrians. It suggests the idea of pedestrian priority street (east-west streets) and motor vehicles priority streets (north-south streets). How can this possibly improve pedestrian flow and movement across the entire quarter? People will still be cut off by the north-south vehicle roads.
Proposed Street Typologies
Let’s analyse the proposed typologies for the streets.
Pedestrian Priority Streets
The roads affected by this typology would be James St (9m wide), Franklin St (12.5m wide) and Clarence St (12m wide).
The space provided to cars even in pedestrian priority streets is still too much and will allow to much traffic through that space. Oddly enough, in a street where there is priority for pedestrians the space for motor vehicles is wider than for the vulnerable users. Talking about vulnerable users, where are the cyclists considered?
Even if the circumstances make the traffic slow, it won’t be an interesting environment to dwell.
There is another major limitation with the proposal of this pedestrian streets. They are shared spaces – and shared spaces do not have a good safety record for vulnerable road users. The Poynton scheme had a 10 times increase in pedestrian involved accidents (and 67% increase in all accidents) and Ashford had an extra 2 KSI (killed or serious injury) involving pedestrians after the deployment of shared spaces. Small numbers, but that show a tendency. More examples can be found at A View from the Cycle Path blog, Steve Melia’s personal website and additional researches by Steve Melia and Lord Holmes.
Vehicular Priority Streets
The roads affected by this typology would be Adelaide St (17m wide), Brusnwick St (18m wide), Linenhall St (20m wide) and Bedford St (22m wide).
On the vehicular priority streets pedestrians have more space than motor vehicles. Can you notice the inconsistency?
However, 8 meters to cross in such an area is still too much and a very small improvement on the current situation.
Other careless thinking was to occupy pedestrian area with trees. If we are to remain with some on street parking why not add the trees between each parking space. That will reduce the parking space, it will hide the parked cars better in pictures and provide a better environment even with cars parked.
A Better Solution
The solution that we should aim needs to be more ambitious than the proposed one. There are improvements, but not enough to make the quarter a better space for people to dwell, which won’t generate the amount of expected growth in economic and social terms.
Let’s start with Cargo Bike Dad proposal. It’s very good and would address all the issues that the quarter is currently suffering. It introduces
- Continuous foot way
- One way roads
- Delivery only streets
- Larger green spaces
which will improve the area by
- Protecting better vulnerable users
- Giving priority to the vulnerable users over car
- Increase the will to dwell in the area
- Provide an interesting are for ground floor shops to spread
- Reducing through traffic
- Reducing rat running
Access to Roads
We shall start from the beginning and that is the space where you enter the quarter. As Cargo Bike Dad showed perfectly the only non-access road is Bedford St. As such, all others can be united in a continuous foot way as shown in the picture in red.
The comparison below is how simple the UK planners think of junctions with the minor roads (left image) and how the Netherlands deal with them (right). (pictures shamefully taken from Alternative DfT).
The advantages that this brings is to provide the feeling to the drivers that the roads are not theirs and just by looking at the entrance motorists are aware that the street is for access only. If they want to go through it won’t be beneficial for them to enter it.
Other advantage is to give priority to the vulnerable users on these junctions. Pedestrians and cyclists do not need to stop and look if there is any car entering the street. It will be the other way around.
Most roads are currently two way and this is the main cause of such an hostile environment. Remove the two way in all roads but Bedford St, will still enable the through traffic as needed across the area, but it will prevent rat running from places where people can stay and dwell.
This will bring major benefits to the road usage space, as it wouldn’t be required between 7,5 and 8 meters of roads to cars, which could be easily used to provide for other more efficient, environmental and social friendly modes of transport like the bicycle.
Delivery Only Roads
We can also introduce delivery only roads, which prohibit additional traffic through a specific road. This is another measure to protect vulnerable road users and to promote traffic free roads.
On Street Parking
Reduce the number of on street parking spaces to a maximum of 50 and position them in strategic places to assist blue badge users. For the remaining of the motorist, there are plenty of car parking areas and this should be something addressed by the council together with Transport NI and the public at a different stage.
20 mph Limit
Limit the entire quarter to 20 mph speed. This will reduce the fatality greatly in case of a collision (from 45% to 5%). The benefits with this new limit outcome largely the disadvantages and much of them have tackled and described by the 20’s plenty campaign.
The green spaces can and should affect the current road layout, which will help drivers to understand that the areas around are priority for vulnerable users. The two green spaces that can influence greatly the road layout are Blackstaff Sq and Linenhall St West.
Closing Amelia St and increase the area of the Blackstaff Sq can create a better place to dwell, especially at night with all the pubs nearby. This would also create a great link with the Transport Hub and a very good welcoming for our visitors.
The Linenhall Street West can be increased to cut off the vehicular movement in the Linenhall St before and after the junction with Clarence St. The usage of the rear of the BBC building as a green space could help hugely as one tiny lung in the building crowded city centre. It would also help to take advantage of the views of City Hall and St Malachy’s Church.
Close Amelia Street
The prospect of improving the social growth of the Blackstaff Sq area can only be achieved by the removal of traffic from the area. This means close Amelia St to traffic and return it to pedestrians as a way in and out of the quarter. The logistics for cab drivers should be re-thought and taking into account that even with the hostile environment in Belfast there are almost the same miles travelled per person by bicycle as by taxi during a year.
New Typologies Proposal
To improve protection for the vulnerable user I would suggest the following street designs for each street.
The changes described in the following sub sections have the following foundations:
- Protect vulnerable users, namely people with disabilities and children.
- Make the streets more interesting to dwell
- People walking and cycling spend more in shops than people driving  
- Improve social and economical growth of the area
Bedford Street is the only road in the quarter that requires a two way for motor vehicles, due to the amount of traffic that goes by it. The space for pedestrians is not good enough and can be greatly improve. The diagram below shows a potential road design that would include suitable space for the most vulnerable as well as follow the current cycling revolution in Belfast by starting to provide a direct and safe rout from the city centre to Queen’s university.
Between each parking bay note for the existence of trees. This will help reduce the number of on street parking and reduce the visibility of the cars parked in the road.
The Linenhall street would be cut off on the junction with Clarence Street by a possible green space. This would reduce greatly the traffic usage in the road and could help soar the vulnerable user usage and shop development.
Due to the width of this street it would also be possible to introduce a safe cycle space to protect both pedestrians and cyclists from one other, as both modes of transport have different needs.
Adelaide Street / Brusnwick Street
Adelaide Street would be very similar to the current changes that are happening in Alfred Street, with the advantage of more buildings with first floor that can be converted into inviting shops to boost its social and economic usage.
Brusnwick Street is around the same width as Adelaide and can serve similar purposes, as to help the pedestrian improvement in the Blackstaff Sq. The parking spaces shown in the image could be reserved for taxis parking bays, moving therefore the space that is currently being occupied in Amelia St.
Franklin Street / Clarence Street
For both these streets the space is not enough to provide the best space for pedestrians, while having a dedicated cycle space. As such, there are two proposals below, the first with cycle space and the second without. With a good filtration of the traffic and the removal of HGV of these streets, the cycle space wouldn’t be much needed in these streets as they would be quieter and with less traffic.
James Street is a very narrow road for the quarter standards and, as such the amount of traffic in this street should be filtered to a minimum. The purpose of the road is most for access to garages and office spaces, with a couple of ground floor shops and restaurants. However, this does not mean the road space should be mostly for cars as it is now (~4,5 meters) and it can be reduced to improve pedestrian safety, which is represented in the diagram below.
This is the second to last article about the current Linen Quarter series, whose public consultation was my main drive to start this blog.
All the proposals and opinions will be sent to the Belfast City Council before the deadline date for feedback at the 11th of March.
Remember, if you have opinions about how to improve the Linen Quarter please write to the council. All feedback is useful and it is up to us to build our city. All the necessary information is available here.