Bike hire scheme just one step in the right direction

Ann Doherty (Belfast City Council) and Andrew McMurray (Friends of the Earth) introduce Belfast’s new public bicyle hire scheme at PLACE.

Public bicycle hire schemes seem to be taking off across Europe and Belfast is somewhat belatedly joining the party.

Despite less than cyclist-friendly weather conditions, Belfast City Council’s Ann Doherty today gave an interesting insight into progress on a local answer to Vélib, the Boris Bike  and other similar projects at a lunchtime discussion hosted by Belfast Cycle City.

While plenty of the finer details are yet to be worked out, the scheme – backed with £700,000 of capital investment from the Active Travel programme – is due to be operational by March 2015, with 300 bikes and 30 docking stations around the city centre.

Although the public hire bicycles will cover a relatively small area and the service seems largely designed to help students make the trip from city centre bus and rail stations to the Titanic Quarter and Queen’s, Ann made a strong case for viewing the scheme as part of a package of measures to promote cycling more generally.

The challenge for policymakers is to ensure this happens. Despite this welcome investment, it represents less than one pound of public money per person per year in the city. Active Travel schemes in Great Britain typically involve investment of about £10 per person per year. Notably, the City Council’s second bid, for a further-reaching upgrade of cycling infrastructure, was not accepted by the Department for Regional Development.

Above all, a change in mindset is required so that DRD comes to view all road users as equals and not to lump buses, walking and cycling together as, in Minister Danny Kennedy’s words, “alternative means of transport” that are just about tolerated on roads built primarily for cars.

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About msimpsongpni

Mark Simpson is Environment spokesperson for the Green Party in Northern Ireland and Green Party coordinator in the Balmoral electoral area, Belfast.
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