West Midlands Mayoral Elections and Cycling

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The West Midlands Mayoral elections in May are a big opportunity for people who cycle to get commitment from candidates to implementing the cycling environment we want to see across the West Midlands. This note is an update on what is being proposed so far by the national Space for Cycling Campaign (which brings together Cycling UK and Cycle Nation) working with Sustrans West Midlands. It would be great to get your comments and feedback.

Space for Cycling's Tom Guha is liaising across the Metropolitan Regions to give a national focus and we have had discussions with campaigners from Manchester, Bristol, the North East, Cambridgeshire, and Sheffield (where there is now not going to be a Mayor but there are some very active cyclists).

In the West Midlands, Gavin Passmore of Sustrans has been in touch with the main candidates and is proposing doing video interviews with each to get their views on supporting cycling and walking.

There are going to be big Space for Cycling Bike Rides on April 22nd in Manchester and Sheffield but it is not quite clear whether and how this might be organised across the West Midlands. It would be interesting to know if anyone is keen on organising such a ride.

While the "asks" will be similar across the Regions our feeling is that in the West Midlands we have the West Midlands Cycling Charter put together after much consultation  by the officers of Transport for West Midlands and agreed by their Board. This is ambitious and well thought out, and the main contribution of a Mayor should be to exercise leadership and work for a programme of funded implementation rather than starting to rewrite it or back-pedal. I would very much welcome your views on this and on what questions you would like to see being put to the candidates in a video interview.

Thus far we have written to each candidate asking them to put a commitment to the charter and a costed plan to implement it "so that all authorities in the WMCA can be reached safely and conveniently by cycling". We are aware of the funding challenges faced by the combined authorities but they will never be able to attract or find the money (e.g. from the Government's Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy) without a well thought out shovel-ready set of plans.

The next step following Gavin Passmore's contacts with the candidates and their policy teams is to get them to produce a short video response to no more than 5 questions that will be provided by Sustrans in collaboration with Cycling UK. These will be based on the key "asks" below and feedback from the wider cycling community in the West Midlands. We would like to hear your thoughts on what you think candidates should be commenting on and pledging to support if elected in May. This is a great opportunity to get some key sound bites from candidates and push them on the topics that matter.

Sustrans have a Manifesto which covers:

  • Invest in Cycling - make increasing cycling levels across the West Midlands a priority. The new Mayor must implement the Cycling Charter, aspiring to exceed the target of all trips to be made by bicycle by 2023. This must include a commitment to seek funding at the highest levels expressed by the Charter of ¬£20 per person to be spent on improving cycling facilities. The Mayor should also champion a user focussed and coherent cycle network across the West Midlands that integrates with other modes of transport.
  • Reduce road danger and design places for people to be active, developing designs in partnership with local communities. The recent Bike Life Report shows that only 27% of Birmingham residents rate cycle safety as good or very good. The new Mayor must commit to implementing infrastructure which prioritises, protects and encourages pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Reduce reliance on motorised traffic which is at the heart of all major impacts of transport on health: inactivity, road danger, severance, noise, air pollution. The Mayor should target policies aimed at reducing the use of cars for all but essential travel.

Two specific priorities:

  1. Connect Birmingham to UK Central (the Birmingham Airport / NEC / HS2 interchange / Birmingham Business Park area) with a safe and accessible cycle route. The journey from Birmingham to Solihull passes through some of the most deprived areas in the West Midlands, with barriers to employment for those on low incomes - a high quality cycle route through this area will connect people to areas of growth and employment, improving their health and well being.
  2. The Black Country is a lively and attractive place and walking and cycling need to be central to its future development. As a major area of growth for employment and investment, Wolverhampton has the highest potential for cycling in the Black Country. The Mayor should prioritise investment in key arterial routes than enable access to transport hubs and employment opportunities. Current health opportunities that exist in the Black Country would also be reduced through increasing walking and cycling in local communities.

But there are other ideas and opportunities. For example, Roy Watson (who produced the Birmingham Greenways map) has been talking to candidates about the potential of leisure routes linking up the West Midlands using natural corridors and many existing pathways that follow the river valleys. These often require limited investment to link existing paths or cross railways or major roads and can have great health and economic benefits with the tourism and visitor economy.

Tom, Gavin and myself would welcome feedback and comments. The Combined Authority and the new Mayor will be a powerful influence on the Region's transport, economic investment and health we need to show them that active travel is a vote winner and something that will make the Region a success and a great place to live and work. As our Scottish friends say We walk cycle vote!!!

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