During the past week, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council have erected gates and signs near Hazelbank, on the National Cycle Route 93, in the name of safety for all path users.
This is even more controversial, as the draft community plan launched for public consultation last January presents an intention to improve conditions for all modes of sustainable transport.
With such political will, does this really look like the right solution that will enable all allowed users to move on the path safely and conveniently?
The limitations of this method of speed reduction is that it is just inconvenient for people who choose to cycle (and some with disabilities – more vulnerable than most pedestrians) forcing them to reduce speed at the place of the gates, but doing nothing after to prevent them from reaching speeds that pedestrians are not comfortable to share with.
This is a sign that the infrastructure is not adequate to the volume and number of users that currently pass on it, much like the Comber Greenway.
The Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council members of the operation committee have noticed the problem and discussed it in May 2016, reaching the following conclusions:
- Apply the One Path Initiative promoted by Sustrans NI for the Comber Greenway shared path problems.
- Analyse the possibility for separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists.
We are unaware of the change in the proposition from May 2016. Installation of barriers was certainly not the outcome of the meeting at the time. On the other hand, no report as been made available about the possibility of separate paths as the committee agreed to. As such, NI Cycles filed a Freedom of Information request to access those reports.
It is important to provide feedback on the current sub-standard arrangement of barriers at Hazelbank. This will allow everyone at the council to be aware that the current solution is not adequate to the situation. The council also seems keen to receive comments, as it provided an email and telephone number for contact.
Unfortunately, the feedback is not possible via email. The email provided in the poster at the gates is not known within the borough’s domain network. As such, it would be important to ring the council on the number also on the poster.
There has been some uprising in Twitter about the installation of these barriers. The council reacted, unfortunately, in a very defensive manner to their (unconsulted) decision. No one questioned if the path is shared or not (reinforced in capital letter in the twitter reaction below), just that the barriers didn’t provide any benefit for the most of the path users.
Borough Public Consultation
This is the year where councils are drafting their goals and proposals for next few years. The Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council is no exception and has made available their Love Living Here consultation (which ends at 12th April).
The consultation scope goes through multiple areas, but the one relevant to the topic above is transportation. In the booklet, the council acknowledges the over-reliance on private motor vehicles for moving people and the limitations of the current provision for sustainable modes of transport. The council intends to change that, by providing better and easier access to sustainable transports.
The council claims, in the report, that there are almost 200 miles of cycle paths.
However, how many of these miles are just shared use paths mixing people cycling and walking?
As it could be seen by the required intervention done by the council, shared used paths do not work very well, especially with the great volume of people using it.
A good opportunity, along with the new NI Greenways project, was to analyse and consult on the improvement of the current sub-standard quality Loughshore Path, instead of applying measures that fail to address any problem and create accessibility issues.
The lack of proper safe and attractive infrastructure for sustainable transport led to worrying figures in the 2011 Census and a lack of connectivity between areas within the council are practically impossible to be done via sustainable transport.
The numbers show the very low uptake of walking and cycling on commuting journeys. Also, as only 13% of people who have access to private motor vehicle choose to use public transport, it shows how unattractive public transport is within the council.
To change the state of sustainable transport the council proposes in the draft to assume responsibility for improving the conditions for sustainable transport.
This is a good commitment. However, there’s more that can be done. To greatly improve the usage of sustainable transport the council needs to:
- Analyse the current infrastructure
- Analyse people’s movements to identify the best way to connect neighbourhoods/villages via sustainable transport
- After analysis, it is easier to understand where the major gains can be achieved with the smallest resources
- Assume construction where possible
However, the council must be prepared for some challenges. The best options for cycling routes might be alongside roads, which is generally Department of Infrastructure responsibility. Additionally, it is likely that some local businesses and residents voice their opposition. The first, mostly, because it is incorrectly assumed that most costumers arrive by car and the second ones because providing better conditions for sustainable transport might reduce convenience for private motor vehicles.
Wildly Important Goals
One of the wildly important goals in the consultation is to enable elder people to live independently, increase their mobility and provide social inclusion. It is very surprising that a way so simple to achieve all this is not even mentioned in this part of the proposal. Cycling provides mobility to all ages and is also a great social activity. Coupled with the health benefits it must be a priority in order to fulfil and improve the lives of older citizens.
If the ideas come to good fruition it is reasonable to think that people would enjoy living in the borough. The proposal lays some proposals that need to be backed up with projects that will actually enable better provisions and better access to public transport as well as consider cycling as a viable alternative to empower older people.
It is also a good time to learn from mistakes and prevent any rushed decisions that can affect negatively all the users, but, most importantly, the most vulnerable.
“Enabling cycling is all about removing barriers.” – Mark Wagenbuur
At NI Cycles, we expect the council will act on the what’s written and start to build infrastructure that provides better and safer conditions for sustainable transport.