The introduction of the Belfast Bikes rental scheme throughout the Northern Ireland city has seen success in the move towards promoting sustainable transport.
The Belfast Bikes are available for rental to the public at specific pick up and drop off points throughout the city. There are similar schemes all around the world in cities such as Dublin and London.
Since the initiative was launched in May 2015, total rentals have reached almost 340,000, with 72% booked over the Belfast Bikes app.
However, issues remain regarding the safety of cycling in Belfast.
Professor of Green Political Economy at Queen’s University Belfast, John Barry said “Belfast is an eminently bikeable city, and yet cycling is not that prominent … because the infrastructure is not there and it is quite dangerous sometimes.”
“You tend not to find women, or young mums with kids cycling, for obvious reasons due to the safety issue” Barry said.
“The more you provide safe spaces for people to cycle, the more people will use it.”
Belfast does not have dedicated cycle lanes and there are few incentives available for cyclists and car owners to improve their attitudes towards utility cycling.
This attitude towards cycling varies dramatically from the Netherlands, a country famous for its bike culture. Following protests about road safety in the 1970s, a series of political choices turned the nation away from being car centric to focus on pedal power.
In 2015 – 16 only 2% of people in Northern Ireland cycled to work, according to the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure, compared to an estimated 63% of Amsterdam residents use their bikes on a daily basis.
“The reality is people will not get out of their cars unless there is a congestion charge like there is in London or there is cheap, reliable, clean, efficient public transportation which you would have in the likes of the Netherlands of Copenhagen” Professor Barry said.
“Unlike Holland, Germany and Denmark, here, most car drivers are not also cyclists, whereas the attitude of car drivers is they don’t understand and have no appreciation for what cyclists are doing” Barry said.
“There is quite a lot of bad blood between cyclists and car owners.”
Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen-Maas Geesteranus highlights that “it’s valuable to combine efforts with concerned parties to keep the Netherlands as a bicycle nation at the world top”.
“Cycling contributes directly to the accessibility of cities and yields health advantages, boosts innovation and employment and contributes to making our society climate neutral.”
The Belfast Bikes scheme is one aspect of a broader program called Travelwise NI which aims to encourage people to choose sustainable travel methods such as walking, cycling, public transport or car sharing.
Another program implemented to help combat this issue is the Queen’s University ‘cycle to work’ scheme which provides to staff a £1000 loan to buy a bike and other gear that is paid back to the university over time.
Car dependency is a major issue for Belfast, and Northern Ireland as a region.
Car use is increasing, with 72% of total journeys made between 2011 – 13 by car which is up from 69% from 2003 – 05, according to the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure.