Recently, I discovered the York Street Interchange website with a very interesting video about the possible changes to improve traffic flow and decrease congestion at its centre in Belfast – York Street.
It is a very easy to navigate website and the video does give a quite detailed overview of the changes.
I also thought this was final and included the discussed in the Public Enquiry in last November. Quickly, I was alerted that it wasn’t and that the results of it are expected this Summer.
As such, many issues have already been identified by fellow citizens and I shall not dwell on the issues already analysed by them.
Unfortunately, there are still other issues and missed opportunities that can be addressed to improve the safety and convenience for people walking and cycling. The £165 million project needs now to address much better the needs of the vulnerable users with the new directives the recent draft, that has been launched by DSD, about Sailortown has brought to light.
The Sailortown draft is a document published last March that tackles the opportunities to improve the area around the docks, which is currently underdeveloped. It focus on multiple issues, from shopping opportunities to business development, but it also states that
the space for people walking and cycling needs to be significantly improved.
With the York St Interchange project fully under steam this should be carefully reviewed, in order to improve safety and convenience for vulnerable users, which is also proven to drive to economic growth for local businesses.
Cycle Lanes lack protection
The video shows clearly that cycles lanes are not protected by either bollards or kerbs, which has been proven dangerous to cycling. Drivers will go through them like butter, because that’s what history tell us (even when bollards and kerbs are there to prevent it).
Bus stop bypasses
The bypasses on bus stops are simple and part of the basic designs of implementing cycling infrastructure. Fortunately, DRD has acknowledge this for the public enquiry last November.
Advanced Stop Lines provide zero to little safety to cycling. Yet, we are still seeing this appearing in junction design like a spreading virus. With York St connecting north of Belfast with an improved university campus (students are part of the population that has higher probability of travelling by bicycle) it is difficult to understand that the design disregards cycling protection where most dangerous collisions happen – junctions.
ASLs is a problem against providing safe cycling and has already been addressed and explained by many people, at least since 2012:
- The Mind of a Helmet Camera Cyclist (2012)
- As Easy as Riding a Bike (2014)
- Cycling Embassy of Great Britain
Hanging Cycle Lanes
Cycle lanes in the middle of traffic should be criminalized. Put it simply, it is so dangerous that people will avoid cycling through these places after the first time they are scared away. It is also likely that it will be harmful on the number of people choosing to cycle, because their route stop stops being direct, convenient and safe.
Brougham St left turn
The first sample of preferred affection for motorists instead of the vulnerable users is this left turn from York St to Brougham St. Forcing cars to stop for 30-60 seconds to improve cycling and pedestrian safety is obviously not priority. A solution to this junction would be to never deploy the cycling provision middle of the traffic, which means change the cycle path and the traffic lane and force cars in that lane to stop in the same traffic lights as the remaining lanes.
M2 Entrance left turn
The M2 entrance is another place with a left hook that can easily knock-out people cycling into the worse of nightmares.
Issues with left turns are visible everyday in the new cycle path installed in Alfred St, where drivers disobey signage and turn left almost knocking people down.
— NI Greenways (@nigreenways) April 8, 2016
The solutions possible are likely to slow down the traffic, but that is definitely better than raising the risk of collisions to happen. A possible solution is described below with the left turning traffic in different traffic flow of buses and cycling. This would also reduce the number of crossings for pedestrians, but would increase waiting time for all road users.
Another chance wasted to include improvements to current cycling infrastructure is the NCN 93. The cycling and pedestrian space in this area is very diminished and it wouldn’t be provided with any improvement. However, DRD considered the dead zones spaces to be kept with massive buffer line occupying almost the same length as two traffic lanes.
Couldn’t this space be used to improve safe space for cycling?
Corporation St is a hotbed for cycling in Belfast. It provides convenient and direct access to East Belfast and County Down as well as Belfast City Centre. It is, according to Strava heat maps preferred over the official NCN 93 route.This is a result of the road to be much more subjectively safer outside peak times and to be much more convenient than the safe option at peak times.
So, what is the proposal for this street? Three traffic lanes for cars, which one of them is only for right turns. This together with the existing bus infrastructure in the other direction. Can that lane be removed and replaced by a cycle path?
The junctions in this proposal are hostile to vulnerable users and have much to improve if it needs to be cycling and pedestrian friendly. Currently, only the bravest (or the ones that need) venture through them. It is common sight to watch people cycling to stop after the ASLs, which should show how useless this infrastructure is and how badly the junctions are designed for the most vulnerable users.
But, what is a good junction design? From the country that has experienced more with designs and has long term statistics that speak for its current infrastructure, with fewer casualties among people cycling, comes the junction design cycle friendly-way.
You might took notice of two potential issues with the design in the video. It is actually illegal in the UK and it is a very small junction compared to the real ones with difficult flow of traffic. The first issue wouldn’t present a major issue as this can be controlled through traffic lights to avoid any legal issues and the second is surprisingly a non-issue, because the model is scalable.
The most important junctions for cycling corridors, which will link the city centre with North are the three below. Currently, none of them has a safe and convenient space for cycling and the proposal (images below) does not address it as it forces people cycling to share the road with cars. As such, they should be reviewed to make cycling and pedestrian crossings safe and convenient.
The Dunbar Av links York St and the future university campus with the Albert Clock area and the future East-West cycle paths. It is currently a very hostile place for cycling, by providing about 6 lanes for cars which, at one point, even reaches 9 lanes. This is clearly a “motorway” within the city boundaries as no businesses front facing the avenue thrive.
It also features one of the most absurd cycle infrastructure in the entire country with a 5 lane wide ASL.
Fortunately, the Sailortown draft has identified this road presents an issue and launches an interesting idea to develop it socially and economically. The draft calls for a readjustment of the width of the street to provide more to other road users and re-brand it as Dunbar Boulevard. This would make it significantly more interesting to generate new front facing business there.
The York St Interchange project focuses mainly on the York St, as the name indicates. However, I went a bit further by analysing the involving area to understand how this new development could improve and be improved by its surroundings. That is the reason the Sailortown draft is so important for this project. It provides additional vision in favour of economic and social growth that was missed by only trying to improve Belfast’s critical congestion point.
Walking and cycling had a few improvements, but when conflict areas might arise the protection disappears. The York St / Dunbar Av and York St / Brougham St junctions are not cycle or pedestrian friendly and need to be massively improved. If this can be achieved together with the other suggestions made in the public enquiry, then this project has the potential to be a reference to the next pedestrian and cycling improvements made forward.