By Stephen McCrory, Chariman, ANDCCG
The Ards and North Down Cycle Campaign is one year old! So how has it been?
In some ways we could compare it to a day out on the bike in County Down: there have been flat sections when it’s felt like we were making real progress and a few downhills when we sailed along with little effort. But some of it has been a slow grind uphill, knowing that around that corner ahead there is another hill waiting!
Our monthly meetings have been enjoyable with a great group of people coming together to talk about ways of promoting the mode of transport that we love. We have learned a lot, from each other and from outside speakers (including the PSNI and LaRoute E-bikes) and have begun to work out where we need to direct our efforts and where we will get the greatest results for those efforts.
One of our first objectives was to understand the place where we live and the current state of affairs regarding cycling. Amongst us we have a significant bank of knowledge about where it is good to cycle, where it’s not good to cycle and where it could be good to cycle if some changes were made. We started a mapping project to capture this information and produce a tangible resource that we could use. This resulted in a series of excellent maps which will continue to evolve and influence how we communicate the development of cycle routes that is required. While at this point this project is very ‘Bangor centric’, the principles we have learnt will facilitate the expansion of this project across the Borough as time and effort allow. In fact, our maps helped Ards and North Down Borough Council to identify gaps in the planned greenway network and some of the data gathered was used by Sustrans to provide information to the consultants working on the Department for Infrastructure's Eastern Transport Plan 2035.
A real joy has been our experience with BikeBus. We have supported the amazing work done by Jonny Hall at Kilcooley Primary School which has resulted in a series of BikeBuses running through the Kilcooley Estate on Friday mornings. This has allowed the children (ages 6-11) to cycle to school in a supervised group enjoying the exercise and open air, preparing them for the day of learning ahead. It has been marvellous to see the pleasure this event provides to the children and the chats with them as we progress have been poignant, insightful and, at times, hilarious.
Other highlights of the year have been a charity cycle with Rotary, a (very wet) picnic in Ward Park, visits to Stormont's All-Party Group on Cycling (working even when Stormont doesn’t) and our meetings with our affiliate body, Cycling UK. In August we launched our website (www.andccg.or). Much harder work was opening a bank account, but we got there in the end.
And we have met with local politicians, both Councillors and MLAs. Some of the meetings have been around the proposed Bangor Bike Park, which it is hoped will provide a national “State of the Art” cycling and cycle training facility on the Sportsplex site. This is an extraordinary opportunity for the Borough that would provide a fantastic facility where local young people can get involved in sport and exercise, a place to train for those of any age, drawing competitive cyclists to Bangor from all across the Province and across the border.
Finally, we’re getting to the slow, hilly part of the years journey. As a campaign group we have had a small amount of contact with the Department for Infrastructure and the Driver and Vehicle Agency. The former controls everything to do with our roads and footpaths (and any associated cycling infrastructure) and historically has been entirely focused on cars. Influencing the department is difficult - particularly in times when politicians are absent..
There are some tiny rays of light. The Eastern Transport Plan 2035 produced by DfI addresses many of the problems we see with the provision for cyclists and offers solutions that could revolutionise cycling in our cities. The difficulty is that DfI has been dreadfully slow to provide anything cycling-related up to this point and is easily pushed off-course.
As a campaign group we promise to continue to engage with politicians and civil servants, encouraging the provision of cycling infrastructure and to ensure that when it arrives, it is fit for purpose. It’s likely to be a long, slow slog. But, hey, we’re cyclists. We’ll just click down a couple of gears and get our heads down until we get to the top and can freewheel down the other side.
We are excited as we head into year Two. We’ve made a lot of friends and met some amazing encouraging people. We’ve got great ideas and a plan for progress.
In 2024 we will focus on the following:
Improve the relationship between drivers and cyclists
Liaise with political representatives to improve cycling infrastructure
Promote Active Travel and expand local Bike Bus initiatives
Collaborate with other cycling organisations
Stay tuned and ride safe!