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Our cycle lanes are on the road to nowhere


Stormont Parliament Buildings

Stormont Parliament Buildings

Stormont Parliament Buildings

Monday saw the launch of Bike Week in Northern Ireland with MLAs gearing up for an event that had everything our Assembly loves - cameras, lights, action and the sustainable transportation message hitched to a healthy living and cost cutting double whammy.

But two-wheeling up at Stormont amounts to tootling around the peaceful avenues of the estate - and therein lies the gulf between Executive class cycling and the reality on the streets.

One is fun with a photo call.

The other, tragically, can be a killer. There are roughly three strands in the debate.

There's the motorist who says: "Cyclists - they're a nightmare. They think they own the road. They make my journey hell. And I'm always terrified I might hit one and cause physical harm."

There's the cyclist who says: "Motorists - they're a nightmare. They think they own the road. They make my journey hell. And I'm always terrified one of them might hit me and cause me physical harm."

And then there's the road user (i.e me) who sees both sides and believes the fault lies with some motorists, some cyclists, true, but above all with a system which merges both forms of traffic in a hotchpotch of lane provision, that fails everybody and seriously endangers many. Who's to blame?

I'd say the pedal pushers up at Stormont who, when they aren't posing for Bike Week photos, don't seem to be doing all that much about sorting the problem.

Not that they seem to think there is a problem. The Press release that accompanied news of the Stormont Bike Week launch gushed like a North Korean newsreader delivering updates on a Pyongyang five-year plan.

We have cycle lanes! Tens of thousands of miles of cycling utopia! No mention that some of these lanes end abruptly, inexplicably, on the side of busy dual carriageways leaving the hapless cyclists and motorists battling for road space. No mention of lanes that switch from pavement to road and back again without rhyme or reason.

Or miles of flowing cycle track marked on the pavements of roads where you hardly ever see a biker.

In contrast to the absence of any obvious system amid the cycle lane, bus lane, traffic free-for-all that is rush hour on the city's major arterial routes.

Like so much that Stormont does these days, it's a triumph on paper, a fiasco on tarmac. Provision of skinny bicycle lanes on routes that bear the bulk of rush hour is about as daft and dangerous as creating pram lanes in the road where mothers are encouraged to wheel their baby buggies. Cyclists are as vulnerable as those buggies would be.

Mixing two such ill-matched forms of transport in such close proximity is, in the memorable word of Peter Andre, insania.

The planners need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better strategy. One where the priority isn't on sustainable this or eco friendly that. But on the safety of all concerned. What we have now is chaotic.

Encouraging people to get on their bikes is all very well in a city where there is well-planned and safe provision for the cyclist.

Can we really say that about this place? We're not Beijing, we're Northern Ireland.