Will the One Path Initiative absolutely prevent conflict?​

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.

Width

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Narrow Width. Photo from SustransNI

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.
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Narrow Width. Photo from SustransNI

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.

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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.

lackOfMaintenance
Hedges overgrew in Comber Greenway. Photo by Richard Lyons

 

Cross Roads

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.

Future

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.

combergreenway usage
Comber Greenway marked in the green polygon on the right

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

Happy Cycling!

 

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9 thoughts on “Will the One Path Initiative absolutely prevent conflict?​

  1. No mention Street lighting on the Greenway? There is none on the vast majority of it, increasing the danger to pedestrians and cyclists. Black Dogs off the lead at Night is crazy but I encountered it last Winter. Also no lighting increases the risk of picking up a puncture from the all too frequent broken glass, not to mention the discarded bags of Dog excrement (or not even bagged!) because there are also no Bins along the Greenway.

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    1. The bins are a very valid point and should be easily reviewed and corrected by the council. It is ridiculous that people actually collect their dog’s service, but leave the bag just lying in the greenway.

      The street lighting is a very interesting subject and would also help to create a safer environment during dark hours in the greenway. There is an interesting project that just opened in Tilburg (Netherlands) that makes use of presence technology to active LEDs as a rider or person goes by – https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/new-bicycle-passage-in-tilburg/.
      Unfortunately, I think this is something difficult to be achieved, especially when the infrastructure has still major issues on the conflict between users that needs to improve.

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    1. Unfortunately, just expecting that people share the space nicely with each other does not prevent conflict and issues between them. As painted cycle lanes in roads don’t work, just paint in the greenway would be very unlikely to yield very positive results.
      Another example of failure to share the space is the most recent trend of urban planners to create “shared spaces” where motor vehicles, pedestrians and cycles go along the same place apparently fine and just respecting each other. What’s been proven though is that this “shared space” causes more injured and has already caused a death of a 3-year old in the UK.
      As drivers and pedestrians have different needs (so ones drive on road others stroll on the sidewalk), so cycling has different needs and should be physically separated to provide protection for all users involved. This makes me return to the Comber Greenway, where the “One Path Initiative” has the intention to solve the conflict between all path users that have been raised. This means that the current infrastructure is inadequate for all users and changing it would yield a better outcome than just asking for people to be aware of others.

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    1. Thanks for the input, that’s a very valid point. Though I thought of the greenway as a way to travel from A to B there is value in creating spaces to dwell in the middle of nice surroundings (away from motor vehicle traffic).

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