Thursday, 18 April 2013

Cycle Forum discussion of Birmingham Cycling Revolutions

Birmingham Critical Mass Ride
On 16th April, I attended a Birmingham Cycle Forum hosted by the city council to discuss Birmingham Cycle Revolutions.  Representatives from Pushbikes and Sustrans were there to lend their input as well.

The meeting was held in order to consult on the council’s application for £20m from the Cycle City Ambition Fund to fund the Birmingham Cycling Revolutions. The application involves submitting plans for how the city will improve cycling infrastructure over 20 years. It’s exciting but also daunting. Birmingham is traditionally motor city having been the home of the car industry; the car is king and has been for years. That’s changing with the price of fuel being so high and the cost of insurance for young drivers pricing out some of the under 25s. There are however more cyclists out there and there is an opportunity to change things for the better.

At the meeting, representatives of the council outlined their plans for the bid of which the results should be known in the next couple of months. There is no doubt that the council have worked hard on this in the short time available, but the detail of exactly what infrastructure will be put in place was sketchy and no indication that road space will be taken from motor vehicles. In fact, although the council’s plans have cross party support there was some indication that if, as someone  suggested, you start reducing major A roads to one lane for motor vehicles and another lane for cyclists, there would be no chance of that cross party support continuing.

There was a lot said about the canal tow paths the surface of which can be improved. There are to be some cycle hubs where you can leave your bike parked in the city and the introduction of a cycle hire scheme, though this does not sound like anything on a par with Boris Bikes. That would be putting the cart before the horse. You need the infrastructure before you can have the cyclists.

There was a lot said about “parallel routes” which are to be quieter routes running on existing roads parallel to existing arterial routes. What was not clear about these “quiet routes” is whether this “quietness” will be secured by a 20mph speed limit. Because these “quiet routes” are still going to be open to cars. So no segregation, its still integration. That being said, there is some indication that things will be done to stop cars using these routes as rat runs whilst allowing cyclists to uses them as their main routes.

Spring Hill Island
There is no sign of the council having yet worked on some of the engineering detail, though we were assured that all departments of the council are on board with this. There was much heated debate on Spring Hill island. The obvious solution to such an island is a Dutch approach but whilst there was some support for a Dutch style approach, I think the hardened cyclists of Birmingham are a long way from coming over to the “Love London Go Dutch” approach taken by LCC.

I do feel in a way that the reflective jacket wearing forum attendees are not necessarily the right people to ask how to improve infrastructure to get more people cycling. They are already confident and assertive cyclists. They can certainly tell the council where they feel the road system needs improving but the fact that they are cycling in Birmingham just proves what a special breed they are. They are prepared to cycle in spite of the problems.  I wonder if the real target of this consultation should be the families who own bikes which they strap to the back of their people carriers on a Sunday in order to drive out of town to do some riding in country parks. We need to ask them why they do not cycle to work or allow their kids to cycle to school.

I hope that the plan, if it comes to fruition, will be a little bit more than some signage and some paint on the road. But I worry that the money will not go very far. At least the council are asking themselves what are the barriers to cycling and how can we get more people doing it.
One thing is for sure, Birmingham is embarrassingly behind other towns and cities in the development of infrastructure. Which means, (putting a positive spin on it), the only way is up.

written by Levenes Cycling Solicitor, Tim Beasley

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