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Public bike hire scheme could transform Belfast

By Linda Stewart

It's perfect weather for breezing along on your bike. And if new plans announced by Transport Minister Conor Murphy come to fruition, we’ll be able to slash the cost of travelling into work without having to shell out for an expensive model.

The minister is setting up a project to to consider introducing a public bike hire scheme to Belfast along the lines of successful ventures already pioneered in Dublin, Blackpool and Paris.

Addressing 200 people at Belfast’s Black Box for the ‘Belfast Cycle City — Visions for the Future’ conference, he said his department would be joining forces with Belfast City Council and the Strategic Investment Board to examine the feasibility of introducing a scheme in Belfast.

Friends of the Earth and Sustrans suggested Belfast could be among the UK’s top cycling cities by 2020 — with 10% of journeys made by bike — if a small amount of spending was made in the right places. They outlined this vision in the ‘Belfast Cycle City — 2020 Vision’ report and called on the minister to instigate an annual spend on cycling of at least £15 per person in Belfast.

“I am greatly interested in the vision by Friends of the Earth, that Belfast could become one of the top 10 cycling cities in these isles,” Mr Murphy said.

Sustrans NI director Steven Patterson said a scheme in Dublin proved successful and introduced a lot of new people to cycling.

He said: “There are other measures such as improvements to infrastructure and working with workplaces and schools that need to be implemented to make Belfast a cycling friendly city and we would encourage the Government to get on with those now.”

Mr Patterson said cycling has risen in Belfast as a whole by 150% since 2000 and 220% in the Riverside area, where investments have been made in infrastructure.

The report proposes five main new cycle routes — linking the Titanic Quarter, both universities, east Belfast and west Belfast to the city centre. The east Belfast route would feature a new bridge at the Gasworks site allowing cyclists to travel across the River Lagan.

Cycling would also be encouraged by restricting speeds in the city centre and in residential areas and by creating continuous shared bus and cycle lanes on arterial routes into Belfast.

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