Belfast Telegraph

Keen cyclist Mairtin O Muilleoir in Belfast car-free Sundays call

By Linda Stewart

Picture Belfast without cars and vans. If former Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir has his way, car-free Sundays could be a reality.

The keen cyclist is proposing that when the new bike hire scheme is introduced in April, Belfast should take a "bold step up" and adopt the Ciclovía projects embraced by cities right across the world.

"Ciclovía, initiated in Bogota, Colombia, in 1974 and where today 120km of roads are closed every Sunday to car traffic and the city given back to bikes, is a great way of giving the streets and roads of Belfast back to the people," Mr O Muilleoir said.

"In the US, where 70 cities now embrace Ciclovía - usually on a Sunday morning - there have been clear benefits for small businesses with Sunday streets in San Francisco generating $9 for every $1 spent on organising costs."

One way might be to close down roads in a different part of the city for one Sunday each month.

And the MLA is meeting with politicians and cycling advocates this Friday to discuss how Belfast can introduce its own Ciclovía, before putting proposals to Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy.

Steven Patterson, Sustrans deputy director for NI, said: "It would certainly be a fantastic way to promote the new Belfast Bike Share scheme and a fitting legacy to the Giro d'Italia, which created such a great buzz throughout Northern Ireland last year. It needs to be properly resourced and managed by a range of organisations if the event is to be a success."

Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce president Paul McMahon said: "The introduction of such a scheme would help to promote our growing café culture, give tourists another means of seeing Belfast in a safe and environmentally friendly way, make our city more attractive and liveable and will help to reduce our carbon footprint whilst boosting the health and well-being of our own citizens and visitors alike."

Jonathan Hobbs, who writes for the NI Greenways Blog, said: "Ciclovías are celebrations of urban space reclaimed, whether you go by bicycle, on foot, by wheelchair, roller-skates, skateboard - it's up to you," he said.

"A regular mini-street festival could be a powerful tool to draw communities together.

"Our cafes, restaurants and independent retailers could extend onto pavements for a morning to serve a new customer base.

"Little pop-up street markets could fire some much needed entrepreneurial spirit.

"Establishing a regular Belfast Ciclovía would also be a first for the UK and Ireland - a really attractive selling point for weekend visits to our city."

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