Change is difficult. People oppose naturally to change because it is difficult to lose current commodities. That prevents planning to move to the future. Future means looking for different transports that would help reduce traffic. Seeing is believing and to make changes they need to be proven valuable in that specific context.
The way to prove their worth is to introduce them as temporary measures. They should also have a predefined duration. To verify the benefits and drawbacks, specific measures need to be identified and established. before, during and after the temporary experiments are realised.
Ciclovia is an event that started in December 1974 in Bogotá, Colombia. This event runs every Sunday and public holidays between 7am until 2pm. During this time, the roads are only available for non-motorized vehicles.
Last year, this event arrived in Belfast and it proved to be a great success, by bringing a good amount of people. These people enjoyed a morning (in the sun) without conflicts with motor vehicles. This year, the event is back at 30th of October.
This event has the potential to present the benefits of cycling. As such, the Belfast Council and the Cycling Unit could push this idea to occur more often (at least once a month). It would also be good if it would occur in multiple places of the city centre. Finally, these small events should last the entire day.
This would allow everyone to identify car-free roads benefits. It would also permit people to get used to that possible idea to become permanent.
A recent example of a similar event was the FreeCycle in London on the 30th July. People cycling were so carefree that many removed their own helmets and high-viz clothing. This shows that cycling can be similar to the Netherlands if the conditions are there.
Repurpose Car Parks
Belfast has a car park problem. It is filled with car parks on every road, from major to access only roads. The event Park(ing) Day aims to show how these infrastructures can be used for different possibilities other than car parking. Two cities, Cambridge (USA) and Montreal, used parking spaces as protected cycle paths. This presented how much safer people are cycling on protected paths instead of painted cycle lanes.
I see these urban revampings easily working on three roads:
- Ormeau Avenue/Bedford Street
- High Street
- North Steet
The first road combination would provide a protected cycle infrastructure. It would connect the Lagan towpath with the City Hall.
The High Street is under the plan for the next cycle network. Yet, the first plan presented (cycle infrastructure through the middle of the road) was highly criticised. There is no information on new plans, but temporary infrastructure would be useful to assess real usage and usability.
North Street is filled with cars, some illegally parked, and many potential stores closed. Maybe a change of the urban environment would make the road more attractive for shops?
Filter Access Roads
The last idea is to identify access roads that are working as rat-runs a the moment in Belfast and filter their access, in order to remove the through traffic.
Two major ones already identified are the Short Stand and the Linen Quarter. These have already been investigated and conclusions are drawn, which should help the Department of Infrastructure to act on it.
The Short Strand has been analysed by NI Greenways, which showed a very interesting way to discourage rat-running that would actually improve the environment for people living there (i.e. no speed bumps and more space safely to play outside).
The Linen Quarter has been analysed by Cargo Bike Dad, which presented a system of one-way streets that would remove the benefit of rat-running through it.
Another road that could be improved is the Botanic Avenue. This is a street that has plenty of busy shops. However, it could be transformed into a place that would be great to dwell. The big number of cars passing by and car parking makes it less desirable than what it could be. The major Malone and Ormeau roads at either side make this one nothing more than an access road, shaping it perfect for an urban repurpose.
Simple ideas associated with easy and quick execution that will bring valuable insight. Then, it is possible what can work and how it can work.
It is important to not let the events like Ciclovia be a one-off that just happens once a year.
It is important to bring the valuable outcomes of the events to the everyday life of the people.
Temporary measures bring possibilities to experiment, analyse and register conclusions. With positive outcomes, it will be easier to transform them into permanent changes.