The Comber Greenway has been at the centre of people’s everyday life since 2008 with a multitude of different users using it. People stroll, jog, cycle and walk dogs in this traffic free environment since its start. Yet, the total number of users of the path is increasing to the point where conflicts are unavoidable. These generated many complaints, leading Sustrans to tackle it through the One Path Initiative.
The One Path Initiative is a series of meetings joining opinions from different stakeholders. On the 26th of July, there was a meeting for people cycling to expose their problems. Most of the issues presented relate more to communication and care with other users:
- Bell – Good or bad? Annoying or not?
- Be grateful to other users
- Dogs on/off leads – Is it better off or with extension lead?
Sustrans’ motto of “Share, Respect, Enjoy” seems difficult to reach. Especially by only trying to address how people should behave, instead of forcing them to behave the desired way.
This is similar to reducing the speed of a road from 30 to 20 mph without changing the road design. It will not force drivers to drive at slower speed and many will break the speed limit.
Another issue point is the low attendance to the meeting. Roughly, I would estimate that at least 100 users cycle daily through the Comber Greenway. Yet the number of people present in the meeting was around 10, which amounts up to a most of 10% of total users.
Problems & Solutions
The best way to enforce the users’ behaviour is to provide the infrastructure that prevents undesired conduct.
Sustrans NI has received a grant of about €720k to improve the Comber Greenway. This project will allow foreign experts to identify the current limitations of the path. Nonetheless, below are a few of the issues that currently exist in the greenway.
The width is one of the Achilles heel of the greenway. It can barely fit four people in a row and it amounts to an average of 3 m.
As a former railway line, there should be enough space for protected path for both people cycling and people walking. This measure could be very beneficial by
- Reducing the amount of conflict
- Increasing perceived safety of all users towards cycles.
Chicane behind Police Station
There is a dangerous part of the greenway, mainly because there is almost no visibility. The chicane has tight bends which reduce the visibility and increases the chance for an accident to happen.
Lack of maintenance
This is one of the biggest complaints that I hear from people who cycle on this path. There are many reports of broken glass that take too long to be cleared and many hedges overgrown.
One of the most dangerous features of the greenway is the road crossing. The path crosses many roads with different amount of traffic and different width, but it treats all the same way. A possible solution would be to provide an underpass, like Lagan tow path at Stranmillis.
One of the roads that would do well with an underpass is the A55 (also know as Ring Road), which carries a great volume of traffic all day long. To force people to cross it, with traffic lights assistance, is creating more inconvenience.
Another crossing worth mentioning is the one at Abbey Road. It is a local access road with diminished traffic, of which, there is no priority for greenway users. Even with side roads, the path priority is diminished.
Lately, there was also another issue that lasted for way too long. The traffic lights at the crossing of King’s Road were down, due to roadworks on the street. This added inconvenience and danger as people had to put themselves in front of cars to cross the road.
The response from the Department of Infrastructure is comical. After putting the path users in danger by not providing a safe alternative only says ‘sorry’. From this incident, there is no assessment to identify problems caused by this outage. This results in zero improvements on future outages for greenway users.
Comber Greenway is one of the most used paths by people cycling in Northern Ireland. The tendency should see a steady grow, especially with the current cycling developments around the area.
Future improvements and developments to the path should take into consideration the following aspects
- Current and future developments around the area
- Needs of the users
- Synergy between local public places and local companies around the greenway
A proper study to put together all the facts and identify all the potential would be valuable.
A study would also be able to yield extra guidance on what needs to be done for the future. A few ideas that I gather from speaking with users of the greenway were
- New links and extensions to the greenway. Improve traffic free reach for all path users.
- A proper maintenance system. Agree and enforce with councils that maintenance is budgeted for and provided seamlessly.
- Create synergies with local companies to promote cycling, through actions that have measurable targets.
- Works and events (like the annual bonfire) that block the normal use of the greenway should provide users with safe alternatives.
There is nothing that can prevent conflict completely but some options are better than others.
The One Path Initiative is an initiative that is unlikely to yield much improvement. The core of the issues are the infrastructure and corrections to it should reap more benefits.
To improve its ambience and environment, there needs to be a more ambitious plan. The plan needs to be based on facts and with measurable goals, from which actions can be evaluated upon.
This plan should be seen as a part of the bigger NI Greenways, which has been supported widely for the new MLA’s elected for the next term. This means that any improvement would also set the bar for the future quality of the NI Greenways project.