The photo for this opinion piece shows a section of road where a cycle user was killed this week by a hit-and-run driver in the early hours of the morning. We are here again, and we should note that in the few weeks since Suzanna Bull's death, there have been several other deaths of vulnerable road users in the West Midlands. The photo of Midland Road clearly shows us the poor infrastructure that for too long local and national government in the UK thought adequate to give to people on bikes. It is narrow, disappears where it is most needed and offers no protection from bad driving. It is infrastructure that gives a false sense of security to anyone who trusts in it.
In this week's budget, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has announced a £1.7 billion 'Transforming Cities' fund, which is intended to focus on transport infrastructure where it holds back the economies of some of Britain's cities. The West Midlands is going to receive £250 million of this for our transport infrastructure. Putting aside the economic growth issue for a moment, let's be clear - protecting the lives of people living in the West Midlands should be top of all our priorities.
Andy Street and the West Midlands Combined Authority have committed to finding £283 million over the next ten years to start the creation of a West Midlands wide network of high quality cycle routes (see 11.3 on page 20 for the funding commitment). I think that at the very least, a minimum of 10% - £25 million - from the Transforming Cities fund should be earmarked for investing in on-road cycling infrastructure. The Bike Life 2017 reports have consistently found 70%+ of the British population (not just people who cycle) want more money to be spent on cycling infrastructure, even if that means taking a bit of space away from cars. This is a popular action to take, and will save lives.
Although the moral case for protecting lives is strong, the economic case for building cycle infrastructure is just as strong. The 2015 National Travel Survey found that 23% of car trips are under 2 miles and 56% under 5 miles. Short car journeys are clogging up the road network in the West Midlands, leading to congestion that was estimated back in 2008 to cost the West Midlands £2 billion each year (see pg 16 of the BMAP Green Paper). The Birmingham Bike Life 2017 report found that 65% of Birmingham residents would find on-street segregated cycle infrastructure would help them to cycle more - helping to cut down on the number of short car journeys, thus reducing congestion. The report found that Birmingham already has a benefit of £22 million from the trips that car owners choose to cycle rather than drive. Building more protected cycle infrastructure is an economic priority as well as a moral one.
Let's hope that we see a strong sign from Andy Street that he is committed to delivering on cycling, by making sure that cycling benefits from the Transforming Cities fund.