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Working towards a Common Goal

This week I had a coffee with a friend who is a member of another Facebook group. He told me that one of my recent blogs had caused a bit of disquiet on account of a word I had used to describe "difficult" users of the Coastal Path.


I explained to my friend that I had used that particular term because the people I referred to choose to ignore my bell and my greeting of "Good Morning!" when I try to pass them on my bicycle.


My friend replied that was probably because the North Down Coastal Path is not a cycle path. That's when we both commenced to experience a light bulb moment: he, a long-time (40 years plus) user of the Coastal Path, was completely unaware that for the last twenty-five years or so the path has been classified as a Shared Use path and forms part of the National Cycle Network while I realised that many of those "difficult" people most likely have no idea that it's OK to cycle on the Coastal Path and are displaying a form of non-violent resistance in protest of someone daring to cycle there.


A successful and conflict-free Shared Use path needs both pedestrians and cyclists to accommodate each other. The purpose of this blog post is three-fold: I want to raise awareness of the fact that the Coastal Path is shared use and I want to reiterate the message, preached continuously in this blog, that consideration for and tolerance of each other is required not only on the roads but also on the Coastal Path for a peaceful coexistence. I also want to highlight that by working together we can improve everybody's enjoyment of it.


As I get started I want to make it explicitly clear that on a Shared Use path the Hierarchy of Road Users as outlined in the 2020 Changes to the Highway Code is in effect. In short, pedestrians are the most vulnerable of road users and cyclists have to look out for pedestrians on a shared use path. Conversely, pedestrians should accommodate cyclists who are trying to pass.


It is unsurprising that there seems to be little local public awareness of the actual status of the Coastal Path: there are only a few faded signs on it telling users that it not only is a Shared Use path, that cycling on it is perfectly OK and that it is part of the National Cycle Network. The sign to the left is near the McKee clock in Bangor.


Ordinance Survey Maps depict how National Cycle Route 93 meanders through Northern Ireland from Londonderry along the north coast to Belfast, via the Coastal Path to Bangor and continuing to Newtownards and the Ards peninsula.


We need to get the word out: if you're a walker, let your companions know that cyclists are not breaking any law by cycling on the Coastal Path. If you're a cyclist, let your fellow riders know that if they misbehave on the path they put every other cyclist using the path in a bad light. Let's be nice to each other: slow down, use your bell, move aside when you can, don't create a splash when riding through puddles while passing a pedestrian, control your dogs and mind your leash etc. Don't rush and relax: it only takes a few seconds and a smile to be pleasant.


We should remind ourselves that it is a privilege, not a right to use the Coastal Path - in the past large sections of one of the most beautiful stretches of Northern Ireland coastline were privately owned and inaccessible to the public.


The Coastal Path must be preserved, which is why our group is campaigning for a viable alternative route for a cycling greenway from Bangor into Belfast. Greenways mostly grew out of disused railways and by its geographical nature the North Down Coastal Path does not lend itself to being turned into a greenway. I personally do get a fair amount of resistance from some members of our campaign group for this stance: we are a broad church with many different views...


I do believe that the most appropriate route for a greenway/cycle route from Bangor into Belfast would utilise sections of the Bangor to Belfast train line between Crawfordsburn Country Park and Cultra, where the route could join up with the Coastal Path again.


Here we need Translink's assistance. We previously have asked Translink to rethink its policy of not allowing bicycles on trains before 0930 to facilitate Active Travel. However, there is a significant number of commuters who would rather cycle all the way from Bangor to Belfast. They need a safe, dedicated cycle path between Bangor and Holywood. While the A2 has a section of cycle path between Bangor and Ballyrobert, that section has fallen into disrepair and currently is not fit for purpose. Repairing it would not take a lot of money.


After Ballyrobert there is a big gap and cyclists either would have to cycle on the Bangor-bound pavement while having to slow down at every driveway and intersection they pass, or they would have to ride into Belfast on the outside lane of the four-lane A-road with the largest traffic volume in the province, risking their lives. When I first came to Bangor in 2011, there were three ghost bikes attached to lamp posts on the section between the Culloden Hotel and Seahill. Over the years those sad reminders of cyclists' lives lost have disappeared.


While it is possible to ride along the Coastal Path into Belfast, that route is scenic but not particularly easy as it is very steep, rocky and wet in certain places (like around Royal Belfast GC),. Having said that, it is a great opportunity to decompress on the way home after a long day at work. Turning those sections into a greenway would destroy a stunning part of Northern Irish landscape. What's next: will we build a ski lift up Mount Everest?

 

The obvious solution for filling the current gap between Bangor and Cultra and avoiding the A2 altogether would be a cycle path that follows the train tracks of the Belfast-Bangor line. From Carnalea to Helen’s Bay it would be possible to route through Crawfordsburn Country Park to Bridge Road along the train tracks until Seahill Road is reached. The tricky (read: tight) bit is from the Seahill Road/Rockport Road intersection to Glen Road. Once on Glen Road one can dip down to the shore and Seafront Road. From there past the back of the Kinnegar Barracks and through the Harbour Estate it would be an easy ride into Belfast city centre. Another option would be to route the cycle path along the back of the IKEA compound to Victoria Park.


Translink's Health and Safety team might argue that this proposed route would be much too dangerous for cyclists because of its proximity to the train tracks. Here's a thought: trains do not tap away on a 17" tablet stuck to their dashboard trying to adjust the cabin temperature. They do not close-pass or side-swipe cyclists. Their trajectory is quite predictable and cyclists are intelligent enough not to cycle on a train track. Cycle paths next to train tracks are quite popular on the Continent as they tend to be flat. The two photos here are from Dortmund and outside of Munich.


We have suggested this concept to several MLAs and local councillors, all of whom have welcomed the idea. Regrettably, Translink still refuses to engage with any of us to discuss the notion in more detail.


It would be a huge help if anyone using the Coastal Path could support this idea and contact their local political representatives with a request for Translink to meet and collaborate with Coastal Path user groups to discuss how the company could contribute to developing a North Down greenway that does not require the destruction of a lovely landscape.

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A good blog article. Perhaps a few more signs displaying the joint use between pedestrians and cyclists would help. As for Translink, unless there is a total change of mind within the management of that organisation it's a beaten docket.

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