Anger as major Belfast city centre cycle route closes till 2016
Angry cyclists say their safety is being put at risk as one of their key commuter routes into Belfast city centre is closed off for the next two years.
As Northern Ireland gears up for the Giro d'Italia, cyclists warn that they are being forced into a dangerous diversion along busy roads with no cycle lanes because the Lagan Walkway is being blocked off from next week.
The section of National Cycle Network Nine that runs along the side of the Waterfront Hall will close to walkers and cyclists for two years while Belfast City Council's £29.5m extension to the hall is built.
Instead, cycling commuters will have to cross the footbridge beside the railway line, travel along the opposite bank of the River Lagan and loop back across the river on Bridge End.
Anyone returning from work will have to divert around the front of the Waterfront Hall, along Lanyon Place and rejoin the riverside route behind BT Tower.
One cyclist said most people who use the key route into town have no idea it is about to close.
"It's going to be quite a shock next week. It's such a busy path.
"You wouldn't close a motorway for two years – you would work around the users," he said.
Another regular cycling commuter said the alternative routes are simply unsafe for both cyclists and pedestrians.
"When you hit the Queen's Bridge at the other side where the Newtownards Road comes in, there is no pedestrian crossing there.
"It is not viable – there is no pedestrian crossing across that four-lane carriageway," he said. "They haven't put in anything that provides a safe route for cyclists – it's a really mad plan.
"Why aren't they making every effort to get people along that route?
"This is a central superhighway for people who cycle into town."
He questioned why a temporary boardwalk couldn't be put in place for the next two years, adding: "This will deter a lot of people from cycling to work."
Kerry Hackett, who regularly cycles to work from south and east Belfast, said she used the riverside route to avoid busy, dangerous roads.
"They are basically putting cyclists onto narrow pavements and busy roads and taking away part of the National Cycle Network, which I think is unfair," she said.
One cyclist said the footbridge is unsafe at night; others said it was crazy to expect cyclists to repeatedly cross the river.
Belfast City Council said a temporary diversion to a portion of the Lagan Walkway/National Cycle Network Nine will be in place for the duration of work to develop additional conference and exhibition space at Belfast Waterfront on lands licensed to the council from the Department of Social Development.
"The possibility of building a boardwalk was not considered a safe alternative, due to the proximity of the construction site," a council spokesman said.
"The £29.5m extension of Belfast Waterfront, part of our investment programme, will bring major benefits to the city, helping Belfast compete for more national and international conferences and contributing up to £39m towards the local economy each year."