Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Cycling Solicitor Tim Beasley's Take on Last Night's Birmingham Cycle Forum

by Tim Beasley - Partner Levenes Solicitors

I went to the Birmingham Cycle Forum meeting last night. It was well attended by around 60 or so people.

There were presentations from Birmingham City Council about their Cycling Strategy and Bike North Birmingham. Also in attendance was Dawn Rahman of British Cycling who spoke about the establishment of 7 “hubs” which will hold cycles to be used by community groups completely free of charge. Rounding out the panel of speakers was PC Hand of West Midlands Police who spoke about the Cycle Passport project, which is a way of recording details of your cycle so that if it is stolen you have a chance of getting it back.

What's Being Done?
There is a lot going on to try to improve conditions for cycling in Birmingham. Many initiatives are underway as part of the overall strategy to try to remove the barriers to cycling and I could not do justice to them all in this blog. One example is the effort to give a sort of Cycling charter mark “Top Cycle Location” status to employers and other organisations. This is a measure of how cycle friendly they are in terms of facilities (somewhere to lock your bike, shower facilities etc when you arrive at work or college) and the likes of Aston Villa FC, the Botanical Gardens and Bournville College are apparently signed up to this scheme.

There are a lot of initiatives to get would be cyclists cycling with efforts being made to such as led rides and training. There as a general consensus that we need to get youngsters cycling with some confidence and then get them accustomed to conditions on the roads. There are schemes out there to help people get that confidence and progress.

Sadly, the Bike North Birmingham project only covers part of Birmingham – and as a few people pointed out – it’s really Birmingham North West (Sutton, Erdington etc), with places north of the city centre such as Handsworth and Winson Green not included. However, the project could, it is hoped turn into a blue print for other parts of the city.

What Problems Are We Facing?
After the speakers had done their bit, the forum broke in to 3 separate groups so that those attending could exchange their views with the representatives of the various groups, which I felt worked well. I joined the Bike North Birmingham project discussion and there were some very good contributions from ordinary cyclists

One common thread was the need for better education amongst the transport engineers. It seems to be the case that different branches of government are talking to each other more, but what we really need is the transport planners and engineers to think about the needs of cyclists. It’s not much good having officers to promote cycling and a budget to support if if their colleagues on another floor are undermining those efforts. Perhaps as a start we might invite the engineers and planners to try out those free cycles I mentioned earlier so that they can see some of the issues that cyclists face. The council say that they are working with Sustrans to better educate their own engineers and the independent consultants they work with to ensure that planning and engineering decisions they take and implement are good for cycling. I certainly hope we will see the fruits of that better education.

The council are certainly to be commended for the efforts they are making. There was one voice of frustration which I heard from the floor asking how the politicians can be influenced to make Birmingham a true cycling city. I understand that frustration but I think we have to be realistic. Birmingham was the home of the car industry and the love of the car is deeply engrained for decades and it still is - some years after the demise of Rover.  Planning decisions made 40-50 years ago still cast their shadow on the city. It’s going to take time to bring about change in Birmingham. It is up to us, the cycling community, to support those efforts but also influence them by making sure that our views are taken into account so that we can make Birmingham a true cycling city.

by Tim Beasley - Partner Levenes Solicitors

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