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Biking in Belfast – The Road to a Sustainable City

Cycling is one of the healthiest ways to get around our cities, providing valuable physical activity for people on a daily basis. This form of active transport can generate indirect public health benefits by reducing the use of vehicles, consequently reducing air, water, and noise pollution. Belfast, the leading city in Northern Ireland is on the cusp of implementing a bike culture, and this had led to claims of "What can the city do to make this venture successful?"


Presently, Belfast lags far behind other European cities in terms of the usage of greener modes of transport. High levels of car dependence has not only overseen increasing levels of carbon emissions also huge amounts of land used have been constructed to support the movement and parking of cars. This needs to change to ensure Belfast can become anyway sustainable.

The growth in cycling is being hampered though inadequate quantity and quality of a cycle network. There is insufficient promotion to the public, particularly in educational centres and businesses, and a lack of an agreed strategic vision.  On the contrary, theBelfast Cycle City Vision for 2020 is to bring cycle use in Belfast on par with the top ten cycling cities in the UK and Ireland. Implementing a scheme similar to the Londonpublic bike sharing scheme would advantageous.  There are more than 8,000 bikes at 570 locations across Londonand more than 17 million journeys have been made on the bikes since the scheme's launch in 2010

An example of a City that has revelled in the success of a cycling culture is that of Amsterdam. Amsterdam is almost synonymous with cycling, for example in 2005, cycling accounted for 37% of all vehicle trips. The integration of numerous policies and plans has resulted in high bike ownership levels, restrictive policies on car use, compact and mixed-use development patterns that has made the usage of the bicycle become second nature to the local inhabitants from all backgrounds.

Belfast has a long way to come to meet the standards of healthy living that Amsterdam has set. In order for Belfast to grow sustainably it needs to incorporate measures relating to the promotion of greener modes of transport such as bikes. Measures could range to the simplest of schemes like increased marketing of the benefits of biking to more complex issues like improving bike routes connectedness to all areas of the city.

Does your city have a successful biking policy? If so, what are the areas that make it successful? If not, what do you believe could and should be done in order to make it prosper.

Credit: Images by Finbar Gillen. Data linked to sources.