Belfast Telegraph

Belfast cyclists' safety fears following rush-hour accident

By Harriet Crawford

Concerns have been raised that Belfast isn't safe for cycling after a woman was badly injured after being hit by a car during the rushhour.

The cyclist, aged in her 40s, is recovering after she was hit at Stewart Street, close to East Bridge Street yesterday.

She was taken to hospital and was said to be in a stable condition last night.

The accident has highlighted the dangers for cyclists on Belfast's busy roads as the number of people choosing to cycle is increasing.

Two cyclists have already died on Northern Ireland roads this year, including a father-of-two outside Newry last week.

Four bike riders were killed last year.

Former Lord Mayor and keen cyclist, Tom Hartley, said riding a bicycle in Belfast was "hairy" and "dangerous".

He said: "There are bad conditions on our roads for cyclists."

A combination of improving road users' awareness and Belfast's cycling infrastructure will be needed to reduce the danger on the city's roads, according to experts.

But although Government initiatives exist, rapid progress cannot be expected.

Jonathan Hobbs of Northern Ireland Greenways said the cycling environment on the Albert Bridge near where yesterday's accident occurred was "intimidating".

He said the natural growth of "more people cycling, more often, and further" necessitated investment in cycling infrastructure for the city.

Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy has already established a dedicated cycle unit in his department and has recognised the limitations of existing infrastructure for cyclists. The effects of this have yet to be felt on Belfast's streets, but the DRD unit is hoping to build long-term, practical and cultural change.

Gordon Clarke, national director of Sustrans Northern Ireland, which campaigns for safer travelling routes, said: "Unfortunately, as the number of cyclists increases so do the number of collisions between vehicles and bikes.

"There is an urgent need to improve infrastructure, create 20mph speed limits, and provide adults and children with on-road cycle training."

Cyclists are around 10 times more likely to be killed than the average road user in Northern Ireland, according to Wesley Johnston of the Northern Ireland Roads campaign group.

And cyclists were over-represented in deaths on Northern Ireland roads last year, according to PSNI data.

Although cyclists comprised only 0.5% of distance travelled in Northern Ireland, they made up 5% of fatalities for 2012/13, Mr Johnston said.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Sinn Fein councillor and former Lord Mayor, said: "Putting up with bikes is not good enough – we need to welcome cyclists.

"For Belfast to be a truly great cycling city we need to get better at bike safety and we need to have more bike lanes and safe cycling areas."

Mr Ó Muilleoir and Mr Hartley both called for increased numbers of cycle lanes, unimpeded by parked cars.

The number of police-recorded cycling traffic casualties across Northern Ireland for January to July 2014 was 57 higher than the same period last year.

"It's horrifying and a real imperative upon us to do better.

"We were going in the right direction and I don't know why it's going back," Mr Ó Muilleoir added.

The Department of the Environment (DoE) launched a new safety campaign focusing on the vulnerability of cyclists and the mutual responsibility of cyclists and drivers to "engage with each other emotionally".

A DoE spokesperson said: "DoE is working closely with other agencies to support the vision of more cycling, done safely.

"We share the road with many different road users, some more vulnerable than others."

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