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"Bikeability" in Bangor: what is it and what are we doing about it?

This week's blog post is by one of our founding members, Keith D. Lilley (Professor of Historical Geography at Queen's University).

Mapping ‘Bikeability’ in Bangor

The Ards and North Down Cycle Campaign Group has a common vision to promote cycling in and around Bangor and North Down. But where to cycle? It’s a question we are often asked by those seeking to get out on their bikes more, whether to get to the shops, or explore more of our part of the world.

Early-on in the formation of the Campaign Group a smaller sub-group of ‘activists’ set out to address this task by mapping ‘bikeability’ in Bangor. The point of bikeability is to focus on what we have already in our existing networks of roads and paths to cycle safely as much as possible, and to think about how to develop this network and improve it. Mapping is ideal for this, as it shows up clearly the scope for connecting existing cycling provision as well as where more investment is needed.

Of course, Bangor is not unique. Other cities in the UK have been addressing exactly this same issue. For example, in the north-west of England, a series of cycle maps have been created for Chester, to promote greater bike usage and especially ‘active travel’, which is not just good for our individual health and well-being but benefits the environment too. The 2023 population of Chester is around 88,500, not much more than the 2021 North Down population of 81,171, so what has been achieved for Chester in mapping the city’s bikeability gives us something to aim for!

Population and its geography are important factors in thinking about cycling and its practicalities. Bangor’s population of late has increased, especially to the south on the outskirts around Conlig where official statistics reveal a 145% increase in population between 2001 and 2017. Indeed, Bangor and North Down is one of the five most densely populated parliamentary constituencies in NI according to 2017 figures. This increasing population puts demands on the roads, especially traffic. If we could cycle more, and more easily, about Bangor and the surrounds, it’d be a win-win.

So our campaign group mappers—Keith, Peter, Achim and Michael—together set about the task of creating a map, and addressing three main questions: where do we cycle, where could we, and what easy fixes are there to fill in the gaps?

1. Where to cycle?

The Campaign Group's web-site has a section of suggested routes, and these have arisen from the mapping exercise and by road-testing these. There is a mix of routes, for those of different cycling interests and experience, of varying lengths and locations around Bangor and North Down.

There are possibilities for leisure cycling: these are routes that offer a ride out for fun, perhaps a day out to one of our local attractions such as Ballycopeland Windmill and the new visitor centre and café there, or a mainly off-road route that would especially appeal to those cycling with youngsters or those who wish to minimise their cycling on roads.

There are lots of possibilities, and cycling is a great way to see the places we live at a more leisurely pace, stopping for a coffee or an ice-cream and adding to the economic vibrancy of our neighbourhoods.

Cycling is also a great way of just getting from A to B, especially local journeys of less than a mile, say to get to the shops or the local library, or to school. Again though, seeing the world through cyclist eyes means seeking out quieter roads and routes, or maximising the use of existing segregated cycle-paths, and knowing where these are is clearly important. Our mapping and the routes we’re looking at will get more people out on their bikes and seeing cycling as a natural way to get around.

There is the matter of cycle commuting, of cycling to and from work. Sometimes this might involve multimodal travel, cycling from home to the bus or railway station for onward travel. Translink has done a good job in putting in better secure cycle parking at its facilities, encouraging us to cycle as part of our journey to work.

Again, seeing the whole picture is important, and our mapping is beginning to show the potential here, something that can be developed. So the mapping sub-group’s work is by no means done, it’s a work in progress, as are the routes we’re putting on our website. Seeing Bangor as a cycling-city is an important first step and our mapping out of where we cycle and where we’d like to cycle is part of this process.

2. Improving Provision

So what exists and where? Cyclists are often accused by motorists (and others!) of not using the cycle path, but when some ‘paths’ are simply painted lines on a road, and can suddenly disappear, it is no wonder they’re often avoided.

Having said that, the mapping exercise has shown we do have some cycle infrastructure in place, including segregated cycle-paths. Good examples of this are to be found on the Bangor Bypass and A2 Bangor-Belfast road.

But equally, mapping these routes shows how fragmentary they are, just small sections that would benefit from being joined up to make a network.

Potential problems are many, then, and cycling safety is a key priority for ensuring more of us get out on our bikes. The geography of the cycle-paths is also important, they have to connect where we live, where we shop, where we work, if they are to form a meaningful ‘active travel’ strategy. This means ‘filling in the gaps’, obvious examples that emerge from the mapping exercise are the sections of segregated (and shared) paths along the Bangor Bypass. A ‘wheel and spoke’ (!) network is best, with radial routes out from the city centre, as well as connections across and between these. The mapping shows where there are ‘quick wins’ to achieve this, such as adding in new sections of segregated cycle-paths and filling in the gaps.

The aim has to be to build on what we have. This means looking at off-road routes too, including paths and tracks. Dual and shared use is about respecting each other, and as the Comber Greenway has shown it can and does work well. The extension of the greenways in the North Down area is welcome, but they must interconnect to form corridors, so cycling from say Bangor rail station, off-road, to Newtownards, becomes a reality. This requires not just joined up routes but joined up thinking and cooperation between different government bodies and agencies.

The result if we get this right will be a new cycle-friendly network that can be used by everyone. Our next steps for the mapping group is to consult and discuss our findings with decision-makers, with communities, with all those who share our vision to promote cycling in and around Bangor and North Down.

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