Opinion piece from Chris Lyttle on cycling

Cycling in Northern Ireland has grown in popularity in recent years, both as a means of commuting to work and for recreation. However, the Executive must do more to improve the cycle network and to make cycling safer.

The recent successes of cyclists like Sir Chris Hoy at the Olympics, Chris Froome in the Tour de France and local rider Martyn Irvine in the Cycling World Championships, has inspired more people to take up cycling. I am sure that this interest will further increase after Northern Ireland has hosted the first three stages of the Giro d’Italia next May.

However, we have not seen enough investment in the cycle network. While there has been an increase in the amount of cycle lanes and green advance boxes for cyclists at traffic lights, they tend to be sporadic and poorly connected.

When you compare our provision with other countries, you realise just how much more could be done. Currently, we only spend 58 pence per person on promoting cycling and improving the cycle network. However, in Scotland this figure is £3.80, showing just how little support our Executive is giving to cycling. In the Netherlands, they physically separate cyclists from traffic at appropriate locations, something that we must also consider.

There is however some positive news on the horizon in Northern Ireland such as a bicycle hire scheme based in Belfast that is similar to the ‘Boris bikes’ version in London.

There are clear benefits to be gained by increasing the number of cyclists on our roads such as the reduction in congestion in our towns and cities. It will also improve people’s health and reduce our harmful carbon emissions that will be good for the environment.

However, if we are to do this then we must see a change in attitude towards cyclists from other road users.

While there has been a growth in interest in cycling, there has also been an increase in the number of cyclists that have been killed or seriously injured on our roads. While the number of motor vehicle drivers that have been seriously injured in road traffic collisions has decreased by 30% over the past five years, this figure has actually increased by 90% for cyclists.

As the recent advertisement campaign says – we must all share the road to zero. We all use the road, whether we are pedestrians, cyclists or drivers, so we should all show a greater level of respect to each other.

The Assembly has shown how important we view this issue by setting up a new group on cycling. As chairperson of this new group, I hope that it will help give a more joined up approach to cycling.

With several Departments having different responsibilities for cycling and a number of third sector groups also involved, I believe that by having regular open meetings with all those involved, we can deliver more for current cyclists as well as encouraging more people to take it up.

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