Taking it to the streets
It’s a new year and time to get back up on the saddle — of our bikes that is.
For, even as a fair-weather cyclist, I’m aware of the positive contribution cyclists make to Belfast. They reduce pollution and traffic congestion, promote good health, make our city more liveable and, invariably, are good civic citizens.
And with a bike hire scheme set to be introduced to Belfast in April, it’s time for the city to take a bold step up in its cycling revolution (to use the term popularised by Minister Danny Kennedy) by adopting the Ciclovía (literally bike way) projects embraced by cities worldwide.
Ciclovía, initiated in Bogota, Colombia, in 1974 and where today 120km of roads are closed every Sunday to car traffic and the city given back to bikes, is a great way of giving the streets and roads of Belfast back to the people.
In the US, where 70 cities now embrace Ciclovía — usually on a Sunday morning — there have been clear benefits for small businesses with Sunday Streets in San Francisco generating $9 for every $1 spent on organising costs. I particularly like the approach of Mayor George Ferguson of Bristol, England, who describes their Car Free Sundays scheme as “not closing roads but opening them to people”. The motto of CicLAvia Los Angeles isn’t bad either: CicLAvia engages with people to transform our relationship with our communities and with each other.
I will be bringing together political colleagues and cycling advocates, including the mould breaking Sustrans cycling ambassadors, on Friday of this week to discuss how best Belfast can introduce its own Ciclovía. And next week we will meet with Minister Kennedy to discuss how we can put a smile on the face of Belfast by making Ciclovía a reality. Bike boosters in the Assembly like Chris Lyttle MLA and Sammy Douglas MLA have already put the cycling agenda in the fast lane; I hope to pick up on their momentum.
Now wouldn’t a Ciclovía Belfast which saw us close down roads in a different part of the city for one Sunday each month be a real boost to community relations and tourism? It would also of course be a fitting legacy to the success of last year’s Giro d’Italia as well as the perfect precursor to the Gran Fondo in June when cyclists will be invited to relive the Giro route?
I was in Sandy Row, one of the proudest loyalist areas in Belfast this week at the invitation of the South Belfast Partnership Board to launch a new video made by local young film-makers and was inspired by the determination of the local community to build a brighter future. I was in premises which the community is set to buy in order to create a hub of endeavour which would also become an economic asset. Some red tape is holding up the delivery of this project. Let’s cut through it.