Jonathan Hobbs from the Northern Ireland Greenways blog talks all things Grand Tour which comes to its shores this coming May.
Belfast is already buzzing for the arrival of the Giro d’Italia Grande Partenza next May. Having a Grand Tour in town is a source of immense pride.
That same week in May also marks the 125-year anniversary of local cyclist Willie Hume’s first race success on John Boyd Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres – Belfast’s unique past meets its exciting present.
We’re going to have some party that weekend, but minds are set on legacy and the future of everyday cycling. While commuter cycling has grown 60 per cent over the past decade, the city suffers from poor on-road cycling provision.
Politicians have started to pick up the causes, from MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) raising cycling questions in our devolved assembly, to a new all-party group on cycling. Our transport department has a new unit tasked with placing cycling at the heart of future road schemes.
We’ve good cause for optimism, with plans for new cycling bridges over the River Lagan. The Connswater Community Greenway, a new 9km traffic-free path, has started construction in the east of the city. Belfast remains a divided city in many ways, and the fantastic level of commitment to cycling facilities in south and east are lacking in the west and north. Cycling rates in more deprived areas suffer as a result.
Sustrans and CTC do impressive work, and a grass-roots cycling culture is beginning to develop, with The Fred Festival, a series of community-organised events. Even the Lord Mayor Mairtin O Muilleoir has been using his bicycle to ride to official events. The council is forging ahead with a bike hire scheme, too.
With the Giro in town and transport minister Danny Kennedy talking of a “cycling revolution”, 2014 will be a very interesting year for Belfast.
This article was first published in the December 19 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!