It was only a week ago that we published the October update, but we are intending to have regular updates, and this week we attended the BCR stakeholders' meeting, so here's the November update. This update covers the main road schemes, the 20 mph area in central south-west Birmingham, Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan progress, the Bike Life 2017 report, Paradise construction works and diversions, and the BCR cycle parking consultation.
In October's update we discussed the situation with the A34 and A38 main road cycle schemes. In brief, the A34 route towards Perry Barr has been fully approved and construction will start by December, but the A38 route has been held up by a challenge from residents of Wellington Road. They are unhappy that a right turn onto Wellington Road from Bristol Road will be opened up, as they think that it will create a significant increase in motor traffic volumes. We are also unhappy about this solution, as we do not think that extra car rat-runs should be opened up when Birmingham City Council (BCC) is trying to encourage more people to use active travel options.
The air pollution impact analysis for the A38 route has been carried out, and a new Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) consultation has been prepared. That should start by 24th of November, and following that consultation, a business case will need to be prepared to go for approval by BCC cabinet. If that all goes smoothly, then hopefully work will start in February 2018. Push Bikes will be preparing a response to the TRO consultation in which we will object to the opening of the new turning into Wellington Road, but supportive of the rest of the A38 scheme. We do not believe that the A38 scheme requires the new turning to be opened up and that the scheme should go ahead without it.
This area covers parts of Edgbaston, Harborne, Selly Oak and Bournville, and is being delayed by the need to carry out an air quality assessment. We've been told that this is a more complex assessment that was needed for the A34 or A38 routes, but we are hopeful that it will be completed soon and the business case report ready for BCC cabinet soon. We were told that the current start date for work on site was hoped to be January 2018.
The Department for Transport (DfT) launched the LCWIP system this year to encourage local councils to take a more strategic approach to developing cycling and walking networks. Having an LCWIP will be essential for councils that want to access funding for cycling and walking, and we are hopeful that this system will result in better implemented cycle routes.
In Birmingham, the consultants WSP have been commissioned to do a study looking at developing a cycling route network. BCC with WSP have been testing out the route mapping software, comparing the routes suggested by the software with the routes that regular cycle users say they take. This work has helped them to identify some bugs in the software which was preventing it from mapping out the best routes, and they are hopeful that they can iron out those bugs.
TfWM has been successful in getting DfT funding for technical support in drawing up the West Midlands regional cycling and walking plan, and we hope that TfWM will support other West Midlands councils that haven't received as much funding for cycling as BCC has in recent years. We were told that West Midlands councils are looking to see what sort of step-change in cycling the A34 and A38 routes in Birmingham can bring and learn the lessons from those routes. The West Midlands cycling charter clearly states that we need high-quality routes that meet European best practice - let's hope that TfWM follows through on that.
The first Bike Life report was released in 2015, and is intended to be updated every two years. Birmingham's 2017 and 2015 reports can be downloaded from the Sustrans website. Sustrans have funding agreed to produce reports for 10 cities in 2019 and 2021, up from the 7 cities that they covered in 2015 and 2017. Birmingham should be one of those 10 cities, so we should be able to see the progress (or lack of) year on year. We'll do a fuller analysis of this year's report in another article, but it is interesting to note that 81% of Birmingham's residents (not just cycle users) want to see more investment in cycling, and 65% of residents would find on road physically separated cycle infrastructure very useful for starting to cycle or cycling more. We were told that Edinburgh used their 2015 Bike Life report to show strong public support for on-road cycle infrastructure, in order to push ahead on building their George Street segregated cycle route in the middle of the city. The contrast with the slow pace of on-road infrastructure in Birmingham is telling, and Birmingham councillors need to read the Bike Life report and realise how much support there is for making Birmingham a better place to cycle.
There have been recent complaints that the construction work on Paradise, Centenary Square and Arena Central have made it difficult to follow the NCN5 route as it goes up to the ICC, and difficult to cycle from the Broad Street area to New Street. While the plans for the completed Paradise development is to have a wide shared use street from Centenary Square to Victoria Square, currently the temporary route opened up has been restricted to people walking only, with cycle users told to get off and push. There is a strong desire line for cycle users along Broad Street, through Victoria Square and into the city centre, running along the top of the ridge, rather than dropping down to Navigation Street or the canal and back up again. However although Birmingham city centre has been made more friendly for people walking in recent years, the attitude towards people cycling seems to be that we don't need easy direct routes through the city centre.
At the stakeholders' meeting we were told that because of the German Christmas Market, it was impractical to have people cycling through the Paradise development. We agree with that - the German Market makes walking, let alone cycling, through the core of the city impossible every year. However, that will be gone in January, but the restrictions on people cycling through the Paradise development will remain. We queried this, and were told that the developers would need to shift around the walkway over time, so they could not promise that the walkway would always be 4 or 5 meters wide. This is not a wholly convincing answer, as many BCC councillors seem to think that cycle users should be happy sharing space on the canal towpaths which are often less than 2 meters wide, rather than asking for space on the roads. There are a lot of people walking between Centenary Square and Victoria Square at peak rush hour, but we believe that 'share with care' or 'pedestrian priority' signs would be better than 'cyclists dismount' signs.
We have also raised the issue of people who use cycles as mobility aids due to disabilities, to which we were told that they could cycle through Paradise on a case-by-case basis. We wonder who will be policing this policy, and what certification process they intend to follow. There are Push Bikes members who do benefit greatly from using their bicycle as a mobility aid, but who either don't qualify for a blue badge or have not applied for one - we wonder if they would have to get a letter of permission to be able to cycle through the Paradise development. A ban on cycling on the new walkway will be as ineffective as the ban on cycling through Fletcher's Walk was, and will only result in fueling bad feelings towards anyone cycling through the area. It is disappointing that parts of BCC still do not seem to understand how to accommodate cycling rather than trying to ignore it.
The situation with the NCN5 route, although recently improved, is still far from ideal. Bridge Street has been closed to through motor traffic except buses and access to the building site, which has improved the traffic situation greatly. But there are still long queues of cars on Holliday Street. We asked about temporarily suspending parking along part of Holliday Street, to provide a temporary cycle lane, but were told that the developers would have to pay for the suspended parking spaces and would not want to do that. City centre on-street parking is not needed in Birmingham as there are large quantities of parking in numerous multi-storey car parks, but the on-street parking spaces bring in more money per space which is an important source of revenue to the cash-strapped BCC.
We have already reported on this recently, so please go to our news story to get more details and the links. We were told that the consultation represents an increase of 522 new cycle parking spaces inside the middle ring road - a substantial number considering that the Bike Life report found there were only 3,227 public bike parking spaces across the whole of Birmingham in 2017. The BCR team are keen to receive as many responses as possible to this consultation, to show a strong level of support for installing more cycle parking. If you think that they have missed anywhere out, they would like you to include that in your response too, so that they can collect suggestions for future cycle parking spaces. Please do respond to the consultation, even if it is just to say 'yes!', but do give suggestions for more locations if you can think of any.