Major European funding backs Belfast's bike commuter revolution

Jonathon Harker
Major European funding backs Belfast's bike commuter revolution

Sizeable funding from Europe is set to make cycle commuting more attractive in Belfast, promoting cycling as a mode of transport in the city.

The major European investment was won by cycling and walking charity Sustrans, through Interreg North-West Europe, to take forward a project worth €720,000 focusing on the Comber Greenway in east Belfast. Locals will be surveyed to identify barriers to cycling, cycle storage units using modern tech like security swipe cards will be installed, bike service points will too and an e-bike pilot programme are among the iniatives planned. An 'Active Travel hub' will be established at the Holywood Arches in East Belfast to provide a public base for the project. 

The CHIPS project (Cycle Highways Innovation for Smarter People Transport and Spatial Planning) will see Belfast collaborate with leading cycling nations the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as Transport for London, Germany and the Republic of Ireland over the next three years.

The €4.4m programme aims to tackle high levels of air pollution caused by car traffic in North-West Europe by building better infrastructure for cyclists. It fosters transnational cooperation to make North Western Europe a key economic player and an attractive place to work and live, we are told.

The CHIPS’ partners forecast a 150 to 300 percent increase in the number of cyclists as a result of the project.

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Each partner is considering a specific aspect of cycle highway development. There are six programmes in the scheme across the various countries, including behaviour change initiatives and improving links between cycling and public transport. A Cycle Highway Academy will be developed to hold a series of sessions for all the countries involved to share their learning.

The Sustrans project will involve coordinating a survey across the nine partners to identify the barriers preventing people commuting by bike. In Belfast this survey will focus on people using the Comber Greenway for their commute. Specifically Sustrans will work with key employers close to the Comber Greenway to encourage and support people to cycle. Programmes which Sustrans develop in Belfast will be shared and implemented by partners across Europe.

Sustrans Northern Ireland Director, Gordon Clarke said the investment is exciting news for Belfast and cycling: “We are delighted to have won this major investment for cycling in Northern Ireland. There was a lot of competition for this European funding but our consortium of partners from across North-West Europe made our application hard to refuse.

“This is a brilliant boost for cycling on the Comber to Belfast corridor but we will also benefit immensely from the innovations being developed by our partners in Brussels, Frankfurt and the Netherlands.”

Gina McIntyre CEO at the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), said: “We were delighted to support Sustrans in their successful bid for funding from the EU Programme ‘North-West Europe’. The promotion of more sustainable transport initiatives, such as cycling, is essential in contributing to a reduction in carbon emissions, and will complement the transport initiatives planned for the region.

“This is also a key priority of the new INTERREG VA Programme, which is managed directly by the SEUPB. Under the Programme approximately €47m will be made available to projects which can support cross-border sustainable mobility. We also look forward to working with other organisations in the region to help them access funds from the suite of transnational Interreg VB/C Programmes for 2014-2020.”

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