A Ride Along the A38 Cycleway

A38 Corridor Cycleway

I would like to share with you some mental images of my ride back along the A38 corridor cycleway after the Let's Ride event. I rode back long after the event was over. There were lots of people of all ages out on the cycleway, travelling in both directions.

In Edgbaston I saw ahead of me a man with a young child, side-by-side, the latter making rather wobbly progress. It wasn't long before the inevitable happened and the bike fell over, leaving the child standing over it with one leg on either side. There is no way that child could have ridden along the A38 carriageway (as advocated by proponents of "vehicular cycling" for the past few decades); if he had done so he would surely now be dead. Instead he's alive and well, and happy. It turned out he was riding for the first time his birthday present from February. Until now it was simply too difficult for a busy father to take his son out for a bike ride. That child now has personal transport for life; he will be able to use that cycleway safely even when he is old and infirm. His father is a surgeon. He told me he would now be cycling to work at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Selly Oak, as it simply made more sense than driving. Until now he's been driving because he considered the short distance between his house on the Bristol Road and the hospital too dangerous to cycle. Being a doctor, he is of course all too aware of the benefits of exercise. He is really pleased to see the cycleway going past his front door, and said that many doctors lived in that area and would likely be equally pleased. He had not been to Let's Ride; he knew nothing about the event. He was simply someone taking the opportunity the cycleway presented.

The surgeon and his son are Asian, one of those groups of people who I've been told are resistant to cycling. After I had left them, another of those people who are supposed to be resistant to cycling came the other way. The smile on the face of the middle-aged oriental Asian woman's face was so big I could see it long before I reached her. Like most people on the cycleway that day, she wore no special clothing, because it's not needed on infrastructure that keeps cars away from bikes. It is simply nonsense to say that some people wont cycle because they come from a certain ethnic background, or because they are not young men. What stops people from cycling is being expected to dress up in special clothing and sprint down a busy carriageway dodging cars, trucks, and buses, or being expected to bump along the pavement dodging pedestrians and stopping at every side road (making their journey hopelessly slow). Is that really so surprising? Can you really imagine the man with a child in the photo above engaging in "vehicular cycling"? The idea is absurd.

What I saw confirms to me what Push Bikes have been saying in Birmingham Cycle Revolution (BCR) meetings for many years now. Build good quality cycling infrastructure, and it will get used by a wide range of people, even here in Birmingham. People who don't use cycling infrastructure say they never see anyone using it. People on bikes come and go in the blink of an eye, making little noise; it is an intrinsically unnoticeable form of transport unless mass cycling has been achieved, like in the Netherlands. And the way to achieve mass cycling is by building infrastructure such as this new cycleway. In the meantime, if you want to see people using cycling infrastructure, get on a bike and use it yourself. And remember, everyone who is cycling rather than driving is reducing the congestion on our roads.

I wish I could share that smile with you, because it alone was inspirational. There is absolutely no doubt that building the A38 cycleway was the right thing to do, and is money well spent. So hats off to all those who worked hard to make this happen. I hope that Birmingham City Council (BCC) will now ignore the nay-sayers, and build on this success by forging ahead with more high quality cycling infrastructure. It need not, indeed should not, be just corridor routes, but quality is paramount.

Although I am unable to share that smile with you, I can share a video I made a couple of weeks later. This was a real journey, returning from a language lesson with books in my pannier, not one made just to get a video. It was mid evening, so there was little traffic of any kind around, but I still came across a few people on bikes. The new cycleway runs out at Bournbrook, but cycling infrastructure continues on up Aston Webb Boulevard as far as Selly Oak, getting increasingly poor. That said, during one rush hour in my car (carrying a ladder), a man in a suit comfortably beat me up the hill, pedalling along the narrow cycleway. Anyhow, in the video I carry on all the way up to Selly Oak, so you can compare the new with the old. And when you have seen the difference, don't forget to make sure BCC don't slip back into the old ways.