Cyclists pedalling down to Stormont
Cycling UK and NI Greenways are teaming up again for Election Cycle 2017

Can we do it again in Northern Ireland?

On 2 March, Northern Ireland heads to the polls again as the populace votes for their new Members of the Legislative Assembly. As we did in April and May 2016, Cycling UK has teamed up with local campaigns Northern Ireland Greenways and Bikefast, to ask candidates whether they will back cycling again. Cycling UK's Sam Jones reports on the latest developments.

Last year we saw 74% of candidates responding, with 95% saying of them saying they'd support our call for funding of at least £10 per head. This year we're aiming even higher.

Until Northern Ireland's Department for Infrastructure decided to start conducting a social experiment involving the mixing of cyclists and taxis in Belfast's bus lanes this week, there was a lot to celebrate for cycling in Northern Ireland.

The new Minister for Infrastructure, Chris Hazzard MLA, had hardly put a foot wrong when it came to cycling since he stepped into the role in May 2016. As well as announcing a £150m Greenways Strategy for Northern Ireland, which would open up 1,000km network over the next 10 years,  he'd also set in a motion a dedicated cycle network for Belfast running to more than 130km over the next decade.

Perhaps just as crucially as these two policies, Minister Hazzard as NI Greenways put it had "Embedded [a culture] within the Department of people-focused transport, rather than vehicle-focused."

All of this has been in stark contrast to his counterparts in Westminster, Cardiff and Edinburgh, where vehicle-focused transport policy unfortunately is still largely king. Part of the reason for such success has been the cross party support for cycling, as evidenced by Election Cycle 2016. We now want to cement this support for 2017's administration.

With a Greenways strategy in place, we're able to bring our ask for the next wave of prospective politicians in Stormont to one ask:

  • Will you commit to invest at least £10 per head of population on cycling measures and pledge to support and build upon the urban and rural cycling strategies launched since August 2015?

It's a simple ask which will help deliver on the good work of the previous short administration.

Cycling UK's Chief Executive, Paul Tuohy, has already written to many of the candidates asking for their support and the responses will be going up on the Bikefast website from the end of the week ahead of polling day next Thursday, 2 March. 

Taxis in bus lanes - we need your help

In the meantime, if you're cycling in Belfast or a resident, as you may have realised with the introductions of taxis into the bus lanes, we need your help.

There was a complete lack of consultation or safety assessment about the introduction of taxis into Belfast's bus lanes. It's going to run for 12 weeks, and at the end there is no guarantee bus lanes will return to normal.

With a lack of dedicated cycling infrastructure in the city centre, bus lanes, while clearly shared with buses, motorcycles and some hackney cabs, were one of the few refuges for people just starting cycling to ride in calm, quiet lanes with minimal traffic. That's clearly not good enough as a long term strategy, and it will come as no surprise that Cycling UK would prefer to see the allocation of proper space for cycling, but to have this measure removed before this happens is a step too far, not just for cyclists but the buses and their passengers.

Cycling UK is supporting the Bikefast appeal to the cycling community to contact your representatives to express your worries, and make sure you report any incident in Belfast bus lane that might make you feel threatened or endangered. There's plenty of advice on the Bikefast website of what to look out for and what to do in the event of an incident.

In addition, if you're a bus passenger and you notice your journey being delayed by the new influx of traffic into the bus lanes, do make sure you let TransportNI Eastern Division know on the details below.

TransportNI Eastern Division

We'll be keeping an eye on further developments, but for up to date advice make sure to subscribe to the Bikefast website or Facebook page or follow @nigreenways on Twitter.

SamJones