They’re Belfast’s answer to the ‘Boris bikes’ in London — and will be appearing on our streets within the next three years.
It will soon be possible to dander up to a bike dock and hire a bike for a couple of hours, a few days or even on an annual commuter subscription.
Transport Minister Danny Kennedy announced yesterday that Belfast City Council has been awarded £700,000 to fund a public bike hire scheme for residents and tourists.
The plans will see the city council invest in 300 bikes and 30 docking stations where they can be collected. The docking stations will be in public spaces no more than 300-500 metres apart.
The project will be the latest in more than 100 city bike hire schemes worldwide, including major ones in London and Dublin.
Mr Kennedy said the ‘Active Travel Demonstration Project’ would enhance access to the city centre commercial and retail centre from the surrounding neighbourhood and help create a better connected city for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.
Councillor Deirdre Hargey, who chairs the council’s strategic policy and research committee, said the scheme would initially focus on the city centre, with bikes at key locations such as the Titanic Quarter, the Gasworks, Queen’s University and York Street. Bikes would also be stationed at key city centre tourism destinations.
“If that is successful, we could roll that out further to places like the Gaeltacht Quarter and the Shankill,” she said.
The council is to consult interested parties such as the university, the Public Health Agency and tourism organisations over how it should be managed — whether by the council itself or by a private enterprise company.
“It would be similar to schemes
in other European countries where a tourist could rent a bike out for a few hours or up to three days. Commuters could also have a longer or annual subscription to the scheme,” councillor Hargey said.
The council will also look at ways to boost cycling in communities, such as cycle tracks in places like Falls Park, Ormeau Park, Woodvale Park and Dunville Park, and training in cycle safety and maintenance.
It will work with DRD to try to provide more cycle tracks in the city centre. The DRD has started remodelling road lanes around the city centre, reducing car lanes in a bid to discourage car use and prioritise cycling and public transport.
“Using the cycle scheme, people will be able to access the city at a cheaper rate and more effectively, and there will be positive impacts on the environment,” councillor Hargey said.
Alliance East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle welcomed the announcement, saying many people have been inspired to cycle more because of the Tour De France and Olympics coverage.
“Cycling is a great way to stay in shape and would help reduce traffic congestion. which has worsened in the past few years,” he said.
East Belfast Ulster Unionist MLA Michael Copeland said he was confident the development of a public bike hire scheme can assist in Belfast’s continuing transition to a modern European city, and that tourists and locals alike will benefit from it.
SDLP councillor Tim Attwood said the Dublin bike scheme is one of the most successful in Europe, attracting more than 70,000 subscribers since it began in September 2009, and is due to treble from 500 to 1,500 bikes.