On the 11th April, Birmingham City Council organised their bi-annual Cycle Forum, to give us updates about the Birmingham Cycle Revolution and also let us know about other cycling issues in and around Birmingham. This latest cycle forum had an update on the progress of BCR and the future direction of BCR, details about the national Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy consultation. We also had details about the new Bike West Midlands Network (with a talk from me) and we heard from the West Midlands police about some projects they are involved with on Birmingham's roads. I'm typing this from my memory and my notes, so the main focus will be on what caught my attention.
Councillor Lisa Trickett opened up the meeting by talking about the future of BCR. She acknowledged the set-backs in the first couple of years of BCR and suggested that the focus of BCR was going to shift to delivering the parallel routes around the city rather than the main corridors. She said that BCR needed to get people moving on their bikes and that the quickest wins may be with the parallel routes that take people to schools and local centres rather than delivering long routes on the main roads. Part of the issue here has been that the infrastructure that has been planned on some of the main routes under BCR1 were not meeting the aspirations that people had, but cost is an issue in achieving higher quality.
She also suggested that there would be a change in focus to bring the BCR programme into a wider debate about the role that transport plays in creating a city that we all want to live in. She talked about looking at Clean Air Zones, for example in the city centre, and how that is part of changing transport. Cycling, she said, may not be appearing at the fore-front of what Birmingham is doing on transport, but it won't have been forgotten.
In my opinion, some of the measures that are needed to build a more cyclable city are focused on the living space, rather than cycling. Recently we have had an article looking at 'playing out streets', which aim to take back residential streets for the people who live there. These have met with resistance when they end up blocking a rat-run, but if we are to get residential streets that are good for cycling, we need to prevent the rat-running that blights our city. So returning residential streets back to local people is positive for cycling, as long as the permeability for cycling and walking it maintained.
The parallel routes that have been delivered in BCR phase 1 do have issues with the streets they are on not being quiet back streets. If BCR is going to have a stronger focus on parallel routes, then the issue of the volume of motor traffic must be addressed, or we will have routes that are not welcoming. But this needs to be sold to local residents with a focus on what they get out of the deal, rather than the cycle users passing through.
Following this brief discussion of the way forward for BCR, we heard updates from the officers on the BCR programme. The next cycle forum, we were told, is going to be looking at the city centre as the last mile of many people's commute into work. In addition the next forum ought also to be looking at a couple of main corridor routes which will be delivered in the next phase of BCR. There is a change of focus to delivering high quality on main corridors rather than trying to get as many miles of the cycle network done as possible. Possibilities for these routes are Harborne Road, Bristol Road, Coventry Road, Birchfield / Kingstanding Road and Tyburn / Walmley Road. There was an acknowledgement that the initial BCR bid had focused on distance rather than quality - we need to remember, though, that the initial bid was put in when aspirations were lower than they are today as the step-change in expectations presented by the infrastructure in London had not yet happened.
BCR update details:
20mph areas - the three initial areas should be finished by September this year.
Canals - about 80% of the towpaths have been resurfaced, with the rest due to be finished by next year. The next phase of BCR will deliver improvements to access points to the canals, as well as looking at signage to help people to understand where the canals can take them.
Green routes - these are also well under way although there have been issues with the Highbury Park route needing drawing up again and Woodgate Valley Park has had some opposition too.
Brompton Docks - 5 have been installed and are operational, including the three major stations and Brindley Place. We were told that Birmingham is looking at the feasibility of a cycle hire scheme similar to that in London and Liverpool. These are becoming more commonplace in other cities. Personally, although I love my Brompton, I think that cycle hire schemes with non-folding cycles will reach a wider audience and get more people cycling in Birmingham.
Big Birmingham Bikes - Most of the 3,000+ BBBs have now been delivered, and 800 of the recipients have received training to national Level 2 standards. 200 of those have been trained by BBB volunteers who are donating their time after being trained themselves. Currently there about 40 volunteers across Birmingham who can help lead rides and there will be an extensive volunteer run Led Ride Programme from April through to October. At the moment they have 10 to 12 led rides planned each week across Birmingham, but they do have capacity to deliver more rides.
We were told that there are people who are using their BBB to reduce the impact of their diabetes, and that there are job-seekers who are using their BBB to increase the range of that they can look for work. For phase 2 of BBBs, as well as some more give-away bikes, there will be more short-term hire bikes which people with leisure cards can borrow for a day. They are hoping to have more help with volunteers at cycle hubs during the weekends to facilitate the use of these loan bicycles. In addition there will be a bank of recycled children's cycles, to help get families cycling together, and the adapted cycle programme will be developed and expanded. Contact the BBB team if you want to find out about led rides near you, or if you want to help volunteer with the BBB hubs.
Top Cycle Locations - 60 organisations have received funding under the Top Cycle Location programme so far. 25 schools and 35 businesses. This funding assists the organisations in installing facilities for cycle users, such as secure parking and lockers. There will be another 0.5 million invested in this for the next phase of BCR.
Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS)
This is a national strategy to guide investment in cycling and walking. I suggest that you have a look at these links to get a better idea what CWIS is, to save space here. There is currently a consultation on this going on, which closes on the 23rd May, with the final strategy due to be launched this summer.
CWIS is important to Birmingham because future investment in cycling will come through meeting the guidelines laid out in this document. Part of that will require councils to carry out network planning, to show where there is the biggest potential for increasing cycle use and how the money will be spent wisely to build that network. The tools to do that planning are being developed at the moment, and some of them will be open access for the public as well as councils. This can be a game-changer, enabling cycle campaigners to push councils to show clearly that the money is targeted in the places. However at the moment CWIS is looking under-funded, with the national government seemingly more concerned about building new roads for motor vehicles.
The answer to funding may be that local councils will have to apply to Local Economic Partnerships for transport funding for cycle improvements. Birmingham City Council has already done this successfully, but it is one of the few. Another solution for the West Midlands may be the devolved transport budget that a Metro Mayor would have control of - which makes the Bike West Midlands Network all the more important.
West Midlands Traffic Police - Mark Hodson and Mark Hudson.
Firstly, they were unable to say what the situation with the policing of 20mph would be as there is consultation going on between BCC and the WM Police on this issue at the moment. But they will go out and take enforcement actions once they know what actions it has been decided that they will take.
Secondly, they talked about a project to target cycle users at night who ride without lights. One area was University of Birmingham, where they have stopped cycle users without lights. They are not fining them though, but instead have sets of lights that have to be fitted immediately, and also offer the cycle user a fluorescent vest with reflective strips. The purpose is to provide some brief education about the importance of lights and make sure that the cycle user is road-legal. The officers asked for suggestions about locations where many people were cycling without lights. They would also like to know about any locations that have a particular problem with conflicts between cycle users and motor vehicles.
They told us of a complaint that they had about pavement cycling near the Perry Barr One Stop centre. Having looked at the area, the officers had concluded that they would prefer to cycle on the pavement in that location themselves, and so they have not taken any actions against people cycling on the pavements there. The message on pavement cycling enforcement is that where the road conditions are considered hazardous, they are not interested in ticketing people cycling on pavements.
They then told us about a planned forth-coming project on target close passes. Although statistically, the overwhelming majority of injuries to cycle users occur at junctions, close passes do more to put off people from cycling for everyday journeys. They are cited most often in survey responses as the reason why someone is no longer cycling. The West Midlands police are looking at pro-actively changing driver behaviour to change this.
In order to do this, one of the police officers, in plain clothes, will cycle in an area identified as a problem. They will have cameras fitted front and back, and when they are passed too closely by a motor vehicle, they will contact their colleagues up-ahead to pull in the driver. Most of the time the drivers will be given a demonstration of the dangers that cycle users face at the road-side, to raise their awareness of why cycle users need a 1.5 meter passing distance. Some of the days, however, the drivers will be charged with driving without due care and attention, so that drivers do not know which days they will be fined and which days they will receive an educational talk. The police will also be targeting people driving while using mobile phones, and driving without seat belts. Often people commit offences because they think they will get away with it - so it is important that people start to feel that they might be caught.
One way in which this will happen is through better use of the photos and video footage taken by dashboard cameras in motor vehicles and cameras carried by cycle users. We were shown some stills from a video that resulted in the driver admitting his own guilt and undertaking an educational course. The officers said that many of the drivers who have done the education course are changed by what they learn. But there is an issue with prosecutions for bad driving being withdrawn after cycle users decide that they do not want their video footage used in court. This is often because it is necessary to show the footage in the run-up to the event and some cycle users have not wanted to show their own behaviour. It is better for prosecutions that the video footage does not give the defence the possibility of arguing that the driver was provoked.
The officers did say that close passes can be a subjective matter, as in different conditions, different distances are appropriate. There needs to be no element of doubt in a magistrate's mind that the driver did not driver with due care. Other offences, such as using a phone while driving, are much easier to prosecute as the quality of modern cameras is so good that the evidence is incontrovertible.
Another project that they will be working on is an 'exchanging places' style scheme for school children and newly arrived communities. These people may not currently be cycling, but the hope is that by making them aware of the blind spots of HGVs, they will be safer in the future. There is also an issue with many transit vans on Birmingham's roads being used for deliveries, with time-sheets that have an impossible schedule for the drivers to stick to. It is hoped that more can be done on this.
We were also told about a RoSPA project that is launching this month, focused on educating drivers about sharing the road with cycle users. This is delivered through a series of videos, which cover real life driving situations from both the camera of the car and the camera on the bicycle. These videos are free to access and can be used by organisations and companies for training purposes.