Call for Belfast retailers to up their game on bicycle parking

— Lidl win best overall, Tesco win best location and CastleCourt get best shopping centre.

A survey of bicycle parking at supermarkets and shopping centres in Belfast has found that 45% of stores still have no parking facilities at all.

“A customer is a customer no matter how they arrive at a shop. The Shop By Bike Belfast survey shows that too many customers feel undervalued at their local supermarket by the unnecessary barrier of nowhere to safely park a bicycle,” said Jonathan Hobbs, editor of Bikefast.org and coordinator of the Shop By Bike Belfast survey.

He said: “Investing in good quality bicycle parking — as many supermarkets around the city have done — is a simple, cheap and cost effective way of attracting shoppers and developing customer loyalty. We want to make Belfast the best cycling city in these islands, and part of that aim requires supermarket store and brand management to aim to make Belfast’s supermarkets a great place for anyone to cycle to.”

The survey was conducted by 20 volunteer supermarket customers during various dates towards the end of last year and the start of this year.

The shops were ranked with a scoring criteria including extra points for the volume of racks, quality, shelter, CCTV, and proximity to store entrances.

Hobbs pointed out that the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure found that “no secure facilities to park bike at destination” is a barrier to short cycling journeys.

“The Shop By Bike 2018-19 survey of 74 supermarkets across Belfast has shown that while there are a total of 171 bicycle racks provided, a disappointing 45% of stores (33) have no bicycle parking facilities at all,” said Hobbs.

But according to the survey, there’s some improvement since the last survey in 2015.

Lidl, which is the 2018-19 winner of “Best overall brand” has improved its Shop By Bike Belfast rank from 6th place to 1st place. The retailer increased bicycle parking its 7 stores in Belfast by almost 300% since 2015.

Tesco Newtownbreda with 15 racks won “Best store location”, while CastleCourt with 19 racks split across 2 areas won “Best shopping centre” for 2018-19.

Overall there has been an 18% increase in bicycle parking at supermarkets since the last survey.

The survey found that there are a total of 171 racks, which can hold 296 bicycles at a time, at the 74 surveyed supermarkets in Belfast.

It also found that 33 or 45% of supermarkets in Belfast have no bicycle parking facilities at all and only 13 of the 74 surveyed stores have bicycle parking under shelter.

Bikefast.org said that ahead of the next survey in 2020 that they are calling action from supermarkets, including that every supermarket in Belfast to have at least one good quality bike rack and that supermarkets should work towards cycle parking levels of 10% of car parking.

It was also said that supermarkets should provide secure bicycle storage areas for staff and the largest ones should review safe routes for cycling across their car parks.

Conor Boyle, Regional Director for Lidl Northern Ireland, said: “As Northern Ireland’s fastest growing retailer we are always keen to ensure we not only offer customers the best prices in the market, but that we offer the best facilities also. With a growing number of shoppers who choose to shop with us availing of bike parking facilities, we have invested significantly since 2013 in this area.”

He added: “We’ve ensured all new property projects carry bike parking as standard and we have upgraded our portfolio right across Northern Ireland to meet this growing demand. We are delighted to have this commitment to excellent bike parking facilities recognised and we pledge to continue offering our growing customer base this high level of service.”

Nora Armour, manager at Tesco Newtownbreda, said: “At all our stores we work hard to make sure that facilities meet the needs of our customers and give them the best possible experience. That’s why it’s so rewarding to receive this award. We’re incredibly proud and hope that the effort we make to accommodate cyclists encourages more people to get on their bikes and have a positive impact on the environment.”

Paul McMahon, manager of CastleCourt Centre, said: “We actively encourage and promote our customers to use sustainable transport to visit the centre and for the fast-growing numbers of cyclists coming in to the city centre, we’re acutely aware of the need to provide appropriate, safe and secure facilities to ensure that this continues. From the positive feedback we’ve received, we’re delighted to be playing our part in encouraging more people to cycle which has benefits shared by everyone. A key part of a healthy lifestyle, pollution is reduced and there is less pressure on car parking.”

Chris Lyttle MLA, the chairperson of the All Party Assembly Group on Cycling said: “Liveable cities and sustainable shops must move people in smart, accessible and healthy ways. Providing people with the infrastructure, facilities and confidence to cycle is central to achieving this aim.”

He said: “As 1.8 million of the 6.7 million trips by bike in Belfast in the past year were made for shopping and other purposeful trips, it is not only socially responsible but sound business for shop owners to play their part in making it easier for people to access their shops and our city by bike.”

The Shop By Bike Belfast 2018-19 report can be downloaded in PDF format from Bikefast.org.

I am editor of IrishCycle.com and have reported on and commented on cycling in Ireland for over a decade. My background is in journalism -- I have a BA in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE. I wrote about cycling for national newspapers, and then started CyclingInDublin.com for overflow stories. Later the website was re-branded to reflect a more national focus.

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