On your bike Birmingham

A report going to the City Council on 9 April, Changing Gear: Transforming Urban Movement through Cycling and Walking in Birmingham, offers an exciting opportunity for the city to build on it's many green and waterways' corridors (green and blue corridors) and encourage cycling and walking for both recreation and to improve connectivity.  The report of the Transport, Connectivity & Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee going to the City Council argues that the development of policies to promote cycling and walking are essential for creating future mobility, a more sustainable city and a city which is healthier, safer and more desirable place to live, http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/democracy/Pages/AgendaDetail.aspx?AgendaID%3d71917.

It follows the media reporting in August 2012 that Birmingham is 'one of the worst cities for cycling and pedestrians', noting that a fifth of car journeys are less than two miles and could be made by cycling or walking.

The researchers measured how accessible the city centre is by bike, levels of cycling and walking to school, the condition of pavements, the proportion of cyclists in the morning rush hour and the rate of pedestrian deaths and injuries in road accidents for each city. They found Birmingham “scores badly for both pedestrian safety and commuter journeys by cycle”.http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2012/08/30/birmingham-is-one-of-the-worst-cities-for-cyclists-and-pedestrians-65233-31723482/

The report notes that although there are restricted resources, relevant planning documents and the Birmingham Development Plan should reflect the commitment to continuous improvement of routes for pedestrians and cyclists.

The focus on cycling and walking came out of the work on urban mobility planning and a recognition that this might focus particularly on cars and public transport and that evidence gathering should be undertaken focussed on canals and cycling.

There are compelling reasons for improving cycling and walking in the city as the findings report:

  • Modal shift: the experience of other cities shows that significant modal shift to cycling can be achieved and that this helps reduce congestion;
  • Economic  advantage:  –  the  scope  for  increasing  tourism  and  enterprise  through cycling, bicycles and making better use of our canal network;
  • Transport Poverty and Social Inclusion: the opportunties to combat these through better mobility and connectivity through cycling in particular;
  • Health benefits - utility cycling (to work, school as well for quick trips) is one of the easiest  ways to build exercise into people’s daily routines, and the Committee heard forceful  arguments  as to why this needs to be addressed through our public health responsibilities, particularly in relation to concerning levels of childhood obesity in the city.

However there are key factors and concerns which the report notes as:

  • Physical Infrastructure: how to manage competing demands for space and safety;
  • Signage, mapping and wayfinding: to encourage people into cycling for more journeys of all kinds;
  • Cycle facilities: for improving the take up of cycling as both a commuter and leisure option;
  • How to encourage participation through changing culture and confidence: to address behaviour, attitudes and perceptions.

The compelling arguments and key factors have led to a clear ambition which should build on the increasing popularity of cycling, particularly seen following the London 2012 Olympics and Tour De France, of putting cycling and walking on a par with cars and public transport movement in the city. 

Birmingham has a fantastic framework, recognised in the report through the green and blue corridors, on which to build a cycling and walking friendly city.  Canals criss-cross the city and the network of parks and green open space, such as the river Rea, enable routes which avoid cars;  Birmingham has over 100 miles of Urban Greenways, http://www.birminghamcyclinggreenways.co.uk/blog---october-2012.html, which provide off road routes safe for cyclists.  The concerns however as noted are the competing demands for space and also establishing infrastructure and routes in built up areas that protect cyclists safely.  Although as a personal plea, it is very frustrating for pedestrians when cyclists use the footpath when they've got their own cycle path, as in the case of Cannon Hill Road near to Cannon Hill Park, to cycle down.

Birmingham also benefits from moves to display it's cycle and walking routes through maps with a walking and cycling map currently available from the council, Cycling and Walking Map of Birmingham.  The report however focuses the need to make a single, simplified and instantly recognisable map of cycle routes for the city.  This should tie in nicely with the Interconnect project and the city wayfinding in the city, Connecting the Transport dots, which should make it easier for pedestrians to find their way around the city and be part of the Big City Plan in encouraging the city to recognise it's assets as it regenerates further. 

Indeed the city council could find inspiration from an existing map, developed by TopTube and reported in the Birmingham Post, Birmingham cycle map adopts Tube style to show best routes around city, in April 2012 which shows 21 different routes across Birmingham using canal towpaths, unsurfaced paths and paths to encourage more people into the saddle.  The map inspired by an earlier mapping idea in Edinburgh, http://innertubemap.com, provides a useful guide to cyclists and those considering jumping on the saddle.

Reproduced from http://toptubemap.com/pdf/Top-Tube-Map-Traffic-Free-Cycle-Routes-Birmingham-A4-print-v1-04.pdf

While, Birmingham Cycling Greenways, have produced an adventure map showing the cycle routes around the West Midlands and focussing on the greenways routes that avoid the cars and which provide a significant number of cycling links around the West Midlands. 


Birmingham can also benefit by examples through current regeneration projects such as the New Street Station Gateway Project.  The redeveloped New Street Station will provide more space for cycles and the focus on cycle storage facilities with other new developments should encourage more users to be able to commute on their bike and find storage for it at the station.  Visitors to London on the Chiltern line will see the huge number of cycle racks at London Marylebone station which show the promise that encouraging more users and providing more storage facilities should encourage.

The plans for the re-developed New Street station appear similarly unambitious in terms of the volume of travelling public and potential for forging inter-operability of transport modes. Proposals include provision of 160 cycle parking spaces with improved lighting, security and accessibility. 40 of these spaces will open in April 2013 in the area off the Moor St bridge link and the remaining 120 will be provided in 2015 in the area off Stephenson St. The possibility of setting up a 'Cycle Point Hub' is being considered.


There is also an historic link to the focus on cycling and a tool to encourage economic regeneration and continuing specialist skill development and specialist manufacturing.  Birmingham was a key home of cycle manufacturing with the Pashley Cycle founded 80 years ago in Birmingham but it continues to be linked with their manufacture with Brooks, manufacturer of saddles, based in Smethwick and Brompton bike wheels assembled in the West Midlands.

The Netherlands is often seen as the exemplar of cycling infrastructure and Birmingham has a long way to go before it might challenge the Dutch for cycling supremacy.  As Birmingham Friends of the Earth action briefing 99/00 noted, http://www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/newslet/news1299/story14.htm, there isn't a need for a cycle path on every road but make cycling safer by providing a link between important places and people will start using their bikes.  As they also note from the German experience, improving cycling is also one of the cheapest measures to decrease congestion and as a side effect makes the city more attractive for living.

As for the cycle-friendliness of the city, it is true that there are loads and loads of cyclists and cycle parking often reminds one of Holland, but the provision for cyclists lags way behind the Netherlands. However, it still just goes to show that you don't need to provide cycle paths down every little street to get people to cycle - if you make travel between important places in and around the city easy, safe and fast, people will start using their bikeshttp://www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/newslet/news1299/story14.htm

Professor David Cox in his submission to the inquiry notes when we talk of Going Dutch, we should instead be better than the Dutch and this is an opportunity Birmingham can seize in using it's green and blue corridor assets.  With the Dutch Mecanoo designed Library of Birmingham opening in 150 days time perhaps we should seize the Dutch inspiration and help make Birmingham a truly interconnected city for all transport modes.  

A cycle round the city by our councillors would be a great encouragement and could open their eyes to the opportunities but also the current challenges and make sure they cycle in the direction of the city's motto, Forward.


Anonymous said…
" i would love to help to make an integrated cycle masterplan for Birmingham. not just parking... it needs more." https://twitter.com/FrancineHouben Feb 13 2013
Anonymous said…
Councillors bike ride - http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/cs/Satellite?c=Page&childpagename=Sustainable-Travel%2FPageLayout&cid=1223402335056&pagename=BCC%2FCommon%2FWrapper%2FWrapper

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