Kent Street

Motor City grinds to a halt again

For the October cycling infrastructure documented in other articles, those on the safari had to get across the city centre between the A38 and the A34 Blue Routes. Birmingham City Council has made this harder with every passing year. There is an official, difficult to follow route on the carriageway, but you had better enjoy cycling surounded by buses. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get to it from the A38.

At the Wretham Street end of of Kent Street we were met with the scene in the photo. We opted to cycle on the pavement, following someone else on a bike. When people choose to do that, it is indicative of a failed approach to designing for cycling. There used to be part of the A38 Blue Route here, a bidirectional protected cycleway. Shortly after it was built, the builders moved in and dug it up. Space has been found for parked cars and cars that might as well be parked given how slowly they move, but people on bikes have to take the long way round along ordinary carriageways, for ... reasons. Push Bikes has raised the issues in Kent Street both with the officers concerned and with Cllr Liz Clements (Cabinet Member for Transport). Despite asking for the specific reasons, all we have been given by officers is vague, general information that amounts to "we've prioritised private motoring and kicked cycling into the long grass":

"All traffic management measures, such as temporary lane closures, traffic lights etc, are continually reviewed to ensure that only measures that are necessary to ensure safety for all is kept in place. In some instances, works do require some overlapping on the network, however, we do avoid this when possible."

It should be obvious that if you want to address all the problems caused by private motoring, reverting to the failed motor city paradigm is not the answer. What you can see in the photo is what you get if you design cities around private motoring. It makes no difference to congestion whether the cars are fossil fuel-powered or electric (which at the time of writing means "largely fossil-fueled"). Whatever the fuel, roads rammed with cars discourage people from walking and cycling. Better alternative approaches would have been to close the road to through traffic, which would make the road quieter without impacting residents or the construction workers, or suspending the parking for the duration and erecting barriers down the middle of the remaining carriageway so that people on bikes continued to have protected space on BCC's flagship cycleway. However, the approach taken is like standing in front of an unguarded goal, and opting to turn around and pass the ball to a member of the opposing team so they can kick it into your own goal instead.

Cycles are an existing, cheap technology providing personal transport that addresses the problems this city faces with congestion, sedentary lifestyles, and a catastrophic climate breakdown that is now very much upon us here in Europe. This summer the Push Bikes air quality sensor in leafy Bournville hit 35°C, whilst its sister in Selly Oak nudged 40°C, a sign that climate change has reached Birmingham. Note in the graph below how the average maximum temperature in the UK has increased sharply since 1980, meaning it is much higher now than in 1976, a year that is singled out by climate change deniers as a sign that nothing out of the ordinary is happening.

Mean Maximum Temperature in the UK
Source: UK Met Office

In opting to prioritise motor traffic in Kent Street rather than active travel, the city council is encouraging people to get in cars to propel us as hard and fast as possible towards that catastrophic climate breakdown, creating massive problems for the next generation. Yes, it is true we have good practice in the form of the two Blue Routes, but even those were compromised to avoid causing any inconvenience to motorists. In general, whilst the glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, progress by the city council towards enabling active travel has been glacially slow, and in the case of Kent Street, negative.

If you care about the next generation and don't mind wasting your time, please do contact your councillor and, and ask them to correct the mistakes that have been made in Kent Street. Ask them to facilitate active travel on the cycle route, not private motoring.