Alfred St – Upper Arthur St Cycle Path

Cycling revolution has officially begun!

Last week ago the ribbon was cut on the first protected cycle path of the new planned developments to improve cycling in/out the city centre. Hours of work, development, consultation, appraisals and construction led to the deployment and opening of the long-awaited first step to the cycling revolution in Belfast.

Words can be spoken but only delivering makes a real difference in people’s lives

Finally, last Saturday I had the chance to observe with my own eyes and (phone) lens what has been deployed – unfortunately, I am yet to have the chance to ride it. So, I went to Alfred St with some ideas of what I would be encountering, thanks to:

Upper Arthur St – Chichester St junction

I entered the cycle path through the city centre. As expected, no provision is supplied for cycling. Once arrived to the junction a person cycling is expected to share the pavement and crossing with other pedestrians.

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Space for cycling ends near junctions

This could have been easily solved by removing car traffic from the street. I am unaware of the reasons for it to remain, but without it, the Upper Arthur St could have been transformed to an extension of Arthur St, making it a pedestrianized/cycle area which should help to bring more people to shop on those businesses. This would of course have an impact on Alfred St road design, and the best way to resolve any conflict between cars and bicycles would be to move the cycle path to the other side of the road.

This would be possible with a different design of the cycle path, more similar to one in the image below.

upper arthur street
Possible design of the cycle path that would remove make cycling journeys easier

Wands

The protection for cycling is in the form of soft bollards, know as wands, which are indicative and reflective to be seen in darker hours. However, there are currently a few issues with (lack of) them. Right in the first intersection, you can see the huge amount of radius cars have to do left turns through the cycle path. This needs to be fixed as soon as possible, as it is one of the issue that can have more serious consequences for people cycling. Giving large radius for cars to turn it will provide them with an opportunity to not reduce speed for the bend – as already proven drivers won’t respect continuous lines. This is an issue that is recurrent throughout this deployment.

 

Next issue with wands is the distance between them. I measured 4m The distance between them is 6m, which is wide enough for a car to enter the cycle path. This is said to be an experience (no official statement by DRD released) that has obviously floundered, with plenty of drivers failing to obey the law by parking and driving in the cycle path.

Another cause for seeing drivers in the cycle path is the lack of a wand blocking their entrance at junctions, similar to what is done in Ormeau Avenue and Chichester Street junctions.

The issues presented above are of easy correction and not very expensive, so I can’t see a reason why they are not adopted.

Upper Arthur St – May St – Alfred St junction

This junction has now installed the first ever Belfast bicycle-only traffic light. Taking into account what has been designed this is a decent solution for both cycling and traffic flow. It would have been a bit better for cycling if the cycle path was on the other side of the road, as it would reduce the waiting time for them.

To be reviewed is the pedestrian traffic signal in the image, as if both bicycles and cars are obligated to go straight ahead why should the pedestrian signal be red? As shown in the picture, it will definitely not prevent pedestrians from crossing the road.

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First Belfast Bicycle Traffic Signal – Good or Bad? Necessary.

Alfred St – Franklin St

The junction between Alfred and Franklin St does little to protect cyclists. As with other intersections the wands stop early and reappear later than when they are required.

Alfred St

Alfred St is generally good (except for the junctions, with the same issues mentioned above for wands), but there is a run of 44m without wands. Why DRD? This was a great occasion to improve pedestrian facilities along the road as well as cycling.

The 44m almost 60m gap runs from just before the Clarence St intersection to just after the Russell St junction. The images speak for themselves as lines on the road don’t protect the most vulnerable users (sometimes not even kerbs) and the lack of improvement on the pavement around the garages entrance is a missed opportunity to improve safety for pedestrians.

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Alfred St – Ormeau Avenue junction

This junction is probably the least well achieved part of the scheme. There is a sense that the protection of the vulnerable users of the road was less of a priority than little conveniences for drivers.

Starting by the easiest correction, are the high angle radius of the bends. The street is already large in itself and the with such large radius it invites drivers to keep the speed while turning instead of reducing it.

The next issue is that this junction is just a raised table and not a continuous footway. Priority remains for motor vehicles, while pedestrians and other vulnerable users need to wait to cross (which is reduced due to the one way only direction of Alfred St). The surface of the raised table is also similar to the surface of the remaining roads, which gives the visual subjective priority to motor vehicles. An example below of how this was achieved in London.

Finally, the lack of protection to cycling on the junction. As the image shows clearly the space for cycling ends when the raised table starts and it forces people cycling and walking share the footway. Though this is not statistically dangerous it can contribute to the less subjective safety of pedestrians.

For cycling, one of the issues is when travelling in the Ormeau Avenue, direction to the Gasworks, and the person cycling wants to enter the cycle path, it will almost miss the entrance, because it is forced to do a very tight bend.

The worse comes for people choosing to cycle from Alfred St when they arrive to the junction with Ormeau Avenue and want to either turn left or right. To avoid the kerb they are forced to go against the way and wait on the road for the time necessary to move safely.

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Width

The width of the cycle path is about 2m 3m. This is the recommended width for a one The recommended width for a two way cycle path in the Netherlands is 4m, which shows how much we need to that there is still room to improve in this area and hopefully set standards that allow cycling to a be a mean of transportation, a physical exercise and a social activity at the same time and in every space designed for cycling.

Number of people Cycling

In the 15 minutes I was walking up and down the new cycle path I counted 5 people cycling (unfortunately, didn’t get any on camera) on a Saturday early morning, which would amount to 20 people an hour. This looks like a good start and with the roll-out of the remaining infrastructure the numbers will be expected to rise.

Mistakes

The time I was in the street was enough to see a driver to break the law by driving against the right way. After asked him to stop and let him know that the street orientation had changed the driver amended its direction, driving as safely as possible.

This initial mistakes are understandable and common, but is there anything that can be done better? The prohibited signs are in the right place, but maybe additional road paint (No entry) and additional signs in adjacent streets (if they not exist) might be an idea to reduce these occurrences.

Conclusion

First step of cycling revolution is here and we all welcome it. So let’s work together to identify, propose and build the small improvements to make it even better.

The easy wins are:

  • Deploy the missing wands – its clear that drivers are not going to respect the 4m gap and will park/drive on the cycle path.
  • Deploy wands at intersections, similar to the ones at the beginning and end of the cycle path – which should also prevent drivers to drive through the cycle path.
  • Improve pavement on the 44 m gap. If there is no reason to reduce the size of the side-walk let’s return that space to the most vulnerable users.

Other big wins are:

  • Improve junctions at Chichester St and Ormeau Avenue to protect better people cycling
  • Set a better infrastructure standard for the width of the cycle path by increasing it to Dutch levels.

Concluding, we are on the right track. Belfast is improving its roads to make cycling safer and people are adhering to it. Hopefully, this is the first laid stone that will increase cycling’s modal share, reduce city’s congestion, improve air quality and the health of general population.

 

Happy cycling!

P.S. – All the measures were made by steps and I assumed each step is equivalent to 0,5 meters. If any of the measures are incorrect feel free to let me know in the comments so it can be corrected.

Update 04/04/2016: After tweets it was realized the measure of my steps was over-judged and the article is updated accordingly.

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