I want to ride my bicycle

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Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cycle_lane,_Belfast,_May_2010_(01).JPG#filelinks


If you live or work in the city of Belfast, you may have noticed the green-painted safe havens for cyclists that have begun to appear at traffic lights. Or you may not, since usually they are obscured by stationary cars whose drivers don’t appear to notice them either. But being denied the one place at a junction that you don’t run a mortal risk of either asphyxiation, or being crushed by an articulated lorry which is turning left but not indicating so, is the least of a cyclist’s worries in the city.

It must be confusing to visitors to discover that unlike most other cities in the Developed World, cycle lanes in Belfast end just where you need them most. You can almost hear the cogs of the city planner’s mental machinery grinding to a halt as he stands at the spot where he instructs the painters to terminate the markings. “It’s going to take money, thought and commitment to find a way to make this bit safe for cyclists. I’m away for a cup of tea. I’m in a Russian submarine underneath the Arctic Circle if anyone is looking for me.”

I do wonder if some of the signage used could also be confusing for visitors. For instance, if you are lucky enough to see the white bicycles painted on the tarmac of Springfield Road All-Day Linear Car Park, it would be an understandable mistake to suppose it was a cycle lane.

But it’s not all bad. It really isn’t. A few weeks back, after heading through Belfast city centre in the early morning, I was dismayed to discover that my bag had fallen off the pannier rack of my bike. I headed back towards town, vainly scanning the gutter with a sick feeling in my stomach (and not just because my lunch was in my bag – it contained a couple of items even more valuable than that). Of all the ancient enmities of the animal kingdom – cat and dog, snake and mongoose, baby elephant and crocodile – it is perhaps bus driver and cyclist that is the bitterest battle of all. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when a bus driver pulled over and said, “looking for yer bag, mate? The council street sweeper lifted it in Castle Street”. Am I glad that we have that sort of bus driver in Belfast and not this sort: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-17063165

Of course, the Nor’n Ir’n solution to bitter enmity is state-funded separation, and the construction of cycle paths throughout the north is doing much for the prospects of cyclists living to see their grandchildren. Belfast Lord Mayor Niall Ó Donnghaile has recently announced a new cycle route which will enable the citizens of East Belfast to reach Titanic Quarter without competing for road space with two-ton steel projectiles. Good for you, Niall, the citizens of East Belfast (of whom I am one) are doing very nicely for cycle routes – any chance of something in the West or North of the city? From disaffected youths looking an alternative target for missile practice now that Ireland’s call to recreational rioting is muted, to broken glass, to drivers who act like it’s the Dublin free-for-all, to death drivers, to ferocious animals that should be on a lead, to dogs that should be on a lead too – it doesn’t make for happy cycling in some quarters of the city.

You would like to think that former Lord Mayor Tom Hartley, a regular cyclist in the Wild West, would have a word in young Niall’s ear. (In acknowledgement of our new Shared Society, at this point I had hoped to also mention a DUP politician who was a keen cyclist, but when I asked around I was told there aren’t any because Massey-Ferguson don’t make bicycles).

But the greatest peril on the Falls Road is a minority of delinquent Black Taxi drivers. A colleague of mine was nearly sliced in two the other week when a Black Hack that was overtaking him spied a fare on the pavement. It seems the driver didn’t see a precious and vulnerable child of God between him and his next pick-up, he only saw £1.30. My colleague bravely (very bravely) tried to remonstrate with the driver, only to be told it was his fault for existing. The driver indicated the matter was closed by doing the same with his window, and sped off, no doubt to spend the day wrestling with the dilemma of a human life versus five Silk Cut.

Myopic Black Taxi drivers are not the only ones who think cyclists shouldn’t be on the road at all, a sentiment often backed by the argument that “they don’t pay road tax”. Quite apart from the fact that the road tax paid by car drivers doesn’t come anywhere near paying for the roads anyway, just because I ride a bike doesn’t mean I don’t also own and tax a car. If the only exercise you get in a typical week is turning the steering wheel, your health is likely to be a bigger burden on the tax payer than any cyclist’s – you should try taxing your thighs instead.

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About Author

Dave Maley is yet another blow-in from across the water. He spent his first year in Belfast working at a community centre in North Belfast, and has continued to be involved in community work in a voluntary capacity for the intervening 25 years; most recently, with Alan McBride, he was General Instigator and Dogsbody for Codswallop Young Men's Group. In his spare time he has done a PhD in Computer Science, been Irish coach at the World University Cross Country, and earned a crust working in Higher Education.


  1. On the subject of road tax, apparently a greater proportion of cyclists own cars than in the general population.  Who says we don’t pay road tax?

    (bus, cycle, drive, lift, train – depends where I’m going and what I’m doing!)

  2.  too true   some cycle lanes you’ll never see   cregagh road ( utilised for car parking) Ravenhill Road  buried under parked vans even outside Bike Dock cycle shop,  Antrim Road I( no cycle lanes but all day parking permitted  in bus laanes except rush hours and apparently approved of outside the Police Station opposite Tesco where cr park empty but road congested with shoppers Shore Road  none I can find  and the downhill side of Fortwilliam Park raceway reserved for school pick up parking, Boucher road and surroundings, Donegal Rd, Newtownards Rd Ormeau Rd….. no bloody wonder cyclists are being slaughtered on behalf of the Road Service murderers *(by proxy) and their masters in  Stormont nary a bike among them! and it does nt help that the road sweepers are designed to sweep debris= glass nails etc etc into the cycle paths never to clean them

  3. ‘Road tax’ is a misnomer: what motorists pay is Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), sometimes referred to as car tax. VED is what you pay to get a tax disc for your vehicle. The amount a motorist is taxed is based on the vehicle’s fuel type and CO2 emissions, so it is essentially a tax on the amount the car pollutes – not on the right to use the roads. Like a low emission car, a bicycle (being zero emission) is exempt. The money from VED doesn’t even pay for the roads: it goes into the general taxation pot.

    There is a wealth of information available to planners for example,

    Cyclists may find Cyclecraft to be a useful book http://www.cyclecraft.co.uk/

    Advisory cycle lanes are perhaps useless in some areas.

    In fairness though I’ve been told by some Spanish cyclists that in places there it is more dangerous to cycle than it is here.

    More secure parking places would be good too.