Each month, Push Bikes campaigners attend the Birmingham Cycle Revolution stakeholders' advisory group meeting, where we find out about progress on the Birmingham Cycle Revolution and other cycling related schemes across Birmingham. This month the main topics we discussed were the progress (or lack of) on the A34 and A38 main road schemes, the work on the canals and green routes, the new roll out of Big Birmingham Bikes, a new bike hire scheme and progress on drawing up a Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan.
Since the meeting in October, the plan for the A34 route were approved by BCC at the start of November, and construction will start shortly. The A34 should have been approved over the summer, but a challenge to the A38 route put both proposals back. These two schemes were consulted on back in the spring of 2017, and the plans put forward were good quality segregated routes with safe space for cycling at junctions, however the A38 (Bristol Road) scheme included an option of opening up a right turn from Bristol Road onto Wellington Road and the residents of Wellington Road contacted the BCR team to say that there were issues in the data collected and the way that the results of the consultation were presented to the Birmingham City Council cabinet member, and that they were considering a judicial review of the report. As a result, the BCR team have gone back to do an analysis of the impact the scheme will have on air pollution, and after that information has been collected, they will be carrying out a statutory Traffic Regulation Order consultation again.
We opposed the option of opening up the turn into Wellington Road in the BCR meetings when it was put forward, and we opposed it in our submission to the consultation. From the final report presented to Birmingham City Council's cabinet, we saw that most (but not all) of those who registered their opposition to the Wellington Road option lived in and around the Wellington Road area, while those who supported the option were spread across the wider area. At the BCR meeting in October, we asked which destinations the Wellington Road option was intended to serve - whether it was for destinations immediately adjacent to Wellington Road, or as a through-route to destinations such as the University of Birmingham and the hospitals. The BCR officers at the meeting didn't have that information immediately to hand (understandably), but we hope to receive it soon.
The danger of opening up the right turn into Wellington Road is that it will become more of a rat-run for non-local motor traffic, and this will increase the volume of motor traffic in the area. Extra road capacity for motor traffic induces extra motor traffic, and Birmingham should be pushing through motor traffic off local roads onto main roads, and making walking and cycling the better option for short journeys. Birmingham City Council is meeting with local residents on Wellington Road to look at 'traffic calming' measures - but if those only focus on speed control, they will do nothing to discourage rat-running.
In summary, the current situation for the Bristol Road (A38) scheme is that it is going back to statutory consultation and the hope is that building work can start in January. Push Bikes will be responding to the statutory consultation to object to the opening up of Wellington Road to more motor traffic.
2,000 more Big Birmingham Bikes have been ordered, and the lottery to allocate them has been running for over a month. There has been a good response to that, and it is hoped that the bikes will be distributed by late spring 2018. Rather than install GPS units in the bikes, recipients will be asked to either keep a paper record and give periodic updates to the BBB team, or download an app on their smartphone which will track their routes. There were issues with the reliability of the GPS units in the original bikes and it will be cheaper to not install the GPS units, but when they work, the GPS units don't rely on the user's memory to send data back to the BBB team and have been useful in recovering some lost bikes. There will also be 1,000 recycled children's bikes available through a bike bank for families to borrow and get larger bikes as their kids grow up.
Most of the towpaths in Birmingham have now been resurfaced, and the focus is on several access points to the canals. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) have been developing designs for these access points, but costs have increased, and looks to be over budget. It is possible that the proposed ramp in Selly Oak next to the new Sense building may be cut, as the cost estimates for that have increased substantially. The existing access point there has been damaged during the construction of the Sense building, and ownership of land the access point covers is not clear. There are 4 or 5 access points that are relatively simple, and then an access point at Northbrook Street and the widening of the towpath in Edgbaston Tunnel that are more complex, as well as at Selly Oak. With Edgbaston Tunnel, there have been issues over the design because CRT want a design that could be removed later without damage to the heritage features, but it also needs to be a strong and secure solution that doesn't become tatty quickly.
Of the green routes, Woodgate Valley Country Park and Hatchford Brook are being built now, with completion projected by the end of winter. There are a few schemes still in development - Castle Bromwich Hall & Gardens, Lyndon Playing Fields & Yardley Cemetery and Bournbrook - which should be mainly completed by the end of spring 2018. These schemes are quite uncontroversial and should proceed relatively smoothly.
Transport for the West Midlands (TfWM) is taking the lead on delivering a West Midlands wide cycle hire scheme. Bike-share providers have given TfWM a demonstration of the systems they can deliver, and a final decision will be made by the end of winter, with the hope of getting bikes on the ground by mid-2018 - intended to coincide with the opening of the two main corridor routes along the A34 and A38. We have been told that there is substantial interest from sponsors, and the intention is to deliver a hire scheme that is revenue neutral for local government.
The cycle hire company with have an exclusive contract - so although the scheme will initially be based in a few town centres and along major routes, it will not be possible for other dockless cycle hire schemes to be set up in other parts of the West Midlands. On the one hand, this reduces choice for people wanting to hire bikes and means people outside of the initial areas will have to wait a long time before they will benefit from a local cycle hire scheme.
Birmingham City Council officers are working on a city-wide aspirational network plan, so that in the future when developers put in planning applications, or when transport funding is available, BCC will have a list of sections in the network that the money can go towards building. The network plan will be based on analysis of data about trip generators and origins - initially from travel-to-work data, but hopefully from other sources in the future. The officers are currently testing out some design tools to plan out routes to see if they give routes that local cycle users think are sensible. This aspirational network planning has not happened before, and we hope that it will mean that BCC will be more proactive in seeking funding for cycling infrastructure in the future. A similar project at the West Midlands level is in the pipeline, with TfWM having put in a bid to the DfT for technical support for this. TfWM will need to support some of the other West Midlands councils, such as Walsall and Dudley, who haven't done much in the way of cycle network planning before.