Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Will this Giro saddle us with a traffic problem?

The cycle lane system works better on paper than on tarmac

On your bike: the Giro d'Italia

The only giros round here used to be your dole money. But now there's a bigger, more lucrative Giro headed our way promising us all a real economic leg-up next summer.

The Giro d'Italia, one of cycling's most prestigious global events, is freewheeling our way, bringing with it the promise of visitors, major international tourism promotion and fun for all concerned. Bring it on.

What happens though, when the show leaves town? The health lobby will argue that any upsurge in local uptake of the bike has to be positive spin-off.

My question – can the local traffic system even cope with the cyclists it's already got now never mind post-Giro?

Last week on the Ormeau Road I spotted a cyclist in the cycle lane – a sighting as rare as than that pod of dolphins somebody recently snapped lepping out of the sea off Portrush.

Why is it that cyclists don't use cycle lanes?

OK, some do. But often as not, especially in rush hour traffic you'll find them scorching along the road seemingly oblivious to the fact that the DRD (bill picked up by you and me the tax paying public) has spent considerable sums on marking out pavement provision for them. Accessorised with bollard signposts, coloured pavement edging and even traffic light signalling.

The short answer has to be the obvious one. Cyclists don't like cycle lanes.

Cycle lanes are, to use that horrible phrase officialdom loves to trot out, not fit for purpose. Cyclists would rather take their chances weaving in and out around tons of moving metal than tackle the ups and downs of pavement transit. Speed trumps safety concerns.

I'm not having a pop here at the cycling community itself. I am related to a couple of bikers.

But driving around Belfast you have to wonder at the amount of money which has been splashed out on cycle lanes which are being more or less spurned by the two-wheeled fraternity.

Take the Belvoir dual carriageway from Shaw's bridge. A couple of years back great stretches of pavement here were fetchingly edged in red paint presumably to denote shared use between cyclists and pedestrians.

Do you ever see a bike on it? The red stuff in some patches is now wearing off. How cost-effective was that operation?

And can you blame the bikers anyway that they don't always use the lanes marked for their use? On the roads cycle lanes will run for a bit then stop suddenly without any warning or obvious alternative option. Cars park randomly on cycle lanes. They are dangerously narrow. And often potholed.

Pavement cycle lanes are all up and down and not always free to pass. That's because pavements were designed for pedestrians now expected to share mini makeshift velodromes.

Belfast has a few excellent cycle lanes but mostly the system is little more than a box ticking exercise which claims to offer proper provision for all comers but actually short-changes everybody. Like the bus lanes it's a system which works better in paper than on Tarmac.

The reasonable cycling majority wear protective gear, fluorescent jackets and, as the evenings close in, have kitted their bikes with good visible lighting.

But there are always the exceptions who make the current system more dangerous still. They come from two extremes...

There's the arrogant boy racer (and they're not always that young either) kitted out in full Tour de France who thinks he's untouchable both by the traffic and the law as he speeds up the inside of slow moving vehicles and on through the red light.

At the other end of the scale is the wing-nut with no cycling safety gear whatsoever. No lights, no helmet, no sense.

How many more of these, do you think, will the Giro inspire on to our streets next year?

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