Back in May the lights went off in Edgbaston Tunnel. Along with many other people I use this 100 metre tunnel frequently (indeed the Worcester and Birmingham canal tow path which passes through it is described by the city council as a commuter route). However, as much of my business in the city centre is in the evening, I often ride through it at night, and the image at the top of this article is a depiction of what it is like in the tunnel at that time. Fortunately I have powerful dynamo lights, but even so it is difficult to pass through the tunnel given that within centimetres of one arm there is a fence perfectly designed to snag a bar end, whilst within centimetres on the other side there is a brick wall that isn't straight, and point-source lighting makes it hard to judge spatial layout. At the weekends the tunnel is heavily used for leisure purposes. The last time the lights went out in the tunnel I saw a young girl on a bike emerge from the portal crying; she had clearly crashed into one or both sides. People get injured when infrastructure is of poor quality and badly maintained.
At the ends of the tunnel there are large signs that tell you what to do if the lights are out. On finding this to be the case I phoned the number, which turned out to be the same one for reporting problems with roads. The recorded message told me it was a Birmingham City Council number, but of course roads are maintained by Amey. Unfortunately there was no-one to take my call, and there was no answer-phone, so when I got home I reported the problem on FixMyStreet. Amey are supposed to make emergency repairs within 24 hours, but there is a strong suspicion in the Push Bikes campaigns group that faults that only affect cyclists are ignored. We have raised this with Graham Lennard, but he tells us this isn't the case. So when I found the lights were still out a week later, I contacted Graham, who told me the tunnel was maintained by Amey and the repair should be regarded as urgent, and he would raise the issue himself. Since no repairs were effected in the subsequent days, I first emailed Graham Lennard to ask him to escalate the problem, and when he refused I emailed Councillor Victoria Quinn, who chaired the scrutiny committee into cycling and who was highly critical of the council's lack of progress getting people cycling. She agreed the lights needed repairing urgently, and very quickly emailed Eddie Fellowes of Amey (and others). Eddie in turn emailed their lighting team, who a day later reported it was not their responsibility, and passed the buck to the Canals and Rivers Trust (CRT). Update: 18th June - Canals and Rivers Trust (CRT) have let us know that all canal lighting is currently owned and maintained by BCC, although not through the Amey contract, and have given us details of who in BCC might be able to help us. End of update. Update: 22nd June - Half the lights have been fixed. End of update.
If buck-passing and excuse-making were industries with paying customers, the UK would be a very rich country. Actually Britain is a rich country, but it's one that unlike other rich European countries avoids paying for infrastructure, which is why compared to those countries our infrastructure is hopelessly outdated and decrepit. Of course it doesn't help that what money we do spend is heavily biased in favour of motoring, which is simply unsustainable as private cars are spatially inefficient, but require expensive road construction and maintenance. Birmingham City Council cannot afford that maintenance, but it carries on with the construction, despite publishing Birmingham Connected, a document in which they state that private motoring in the city is unsustainable. On looking up the link to that document I couldn't help noticing that the photo at the top of the web page is a cyclist (albeit the weird British variety in protective clothing). The Dutch realised cycling was the answer over forty years ago (they publicly take the view that there is insufficient space in their towns and cities for private motor cars), and other countries around the world are copying them. Birmingham says it wants to do the same, but it still has its priorities wrong, which is why repairing the lights in Edgbaston tunnel has been kicked into touch.
We find excuses. Other countries get on with the job.
What You Can Do
- Email Cllr Tahir Ali (tahir.ali [at] birmingham.gov.uk) and ask him to get the lights fixed, as he is the councillor in charge of the department that maintains the lights.
- Email local councillors and ask them to get the lights fixed. They are:
- Deirdre Alden (deirdre.alden [at] birmingham.gov.uk)
- Matt Bennett (matt.s.bennett [at] birmingham.gov.uk)
- Fergus Robinson (fergus.robinson [at] birmingham.gov.uk)
- Email Victoria Quinn (victoria.quinn [at] birmingham.gov.uk) and ask her why the City of Birmingham is so slow to maintain the minimal sustainable infrastructure it has built, when it has a policy of moving away from private car use (Birmingham Connected).