Active travel progress a long time coming

Change to the cycling infrastructure in Belfast comes at a pace akin to the Ents in the Lord of the Rings books. Eons seem to pass before even straightforward decisions are made and implemented.

The Lagan Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge proposal has been kicking about for many years now. The feasibility report was published in 2014 and will not be completed before the feasibility study’s 10 year anniversary.

Wesley Johnston provides a useful timeline in relation to this project that shows that it was originally proposed by Laganside Corporation way back in 1987.

Last month the Department of Infrastructure published their major roads prioritisation programme and amongst the 9 to be prioritised are the Lagan bridge as well as Belfast Rapid Transit 2.

4 of the projects concern the A5 or A6. The remaining 3 are projects based in Newry, Enniskillen and Cookstown.

A useful FAQ on the prioritisation programme can be found here.

A new suite of Transport plans are to be set out in wake of the Climate Change Act :

  • Regional Transportation Strategy
  • Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan (BMTP)
  • North West Transport Plan (NWTP)
  • Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan (RSTNTP)
  • and a series of Sub-Regional Transport Plans (SRTPs)

These will outline infrastructure proposals that will take us up to 2035 and the department states, in keeping with the Climate Change Act, that

“The active travel element within the suite of Transport Plans will have a minimum of 10% of their combined budget directed to active travel projects.”

Consultations on these will take place in 2023 and 2024 and provides an opportunity to radically reshape how we do transport.

The Climate Change Act states that

“The Department for Infrastructure must develop sectoral plans for transport which set a minimum spend on active travel from the overall transport budgets of 10%.”

It remains to be seen how the department’s capital transport spend will break down in terms of that 10% spend on active travel but it is a huge opportunity to invest in the greenway network, deliver pedestrian and cycle bridges across the north where required and build effective cycling lanes to keep people safe in our towns and cities.

The Department anticipates a ‘design and build contract’ for the Lagan Bridge will be awarded next year and that it will take 2 years to complete. Completion by 2026 is hoped for.

The establishment of a Belfast Cycle Campaign group is great news indeed. It feels like the active travel can has been continuously kicked down the road since Danny Kennedy first mentioned the need for a cycling revolution way back in 2014. We need more supporters of active travel to get organised and hold the powers to be to account, we cannot afford another false dawn for active travel.

The Department for Infrastructure is making some positive soundings at the moment and hopefully conversations are already taking place across all councils to ensure that they are prepared to implement active travel on a greater scale than before.

Ensuring that the 10% active travel targets are met will require the Department to ensure vesting is carried out for major active travel projects in the same way that has been the norm for large road projects for many years. Without that approach difficulties will soon arise. It will also require councils to identify pipelines of works now to ensure that we don’t have a situation where active travel budgets are unable to be spent in forthcoming years. Finally it will require political leadership and vision at council level to deliver projects that will deliver better health outcomes for their communities.

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