University Canal Access Diversion

The flight of steps that is the canal tow-path access at University station are being replaced. I would like to be able to tell you they are being replaced with a wheelchair-friendly, cycle-friendly ramp, like that at Bournville, but of course this being Birmingham, plenty of spurious reasons were found for not doing this. My personal favourite is that this is the site of a Roman fort. The fort has long-since disappeared under a canal, a railway, roads, a car park, and buildings, but this is sufficient to render doing a proper job "completely impossible". Whilst the bridges over the Selly Oak New Road appeared more or less overnight, the new steps (which will at least have a pair of wheeling ramps and a shallower angle), require the tow-path to be closed for many weeks. Let's just remind ourselves the the city council call the narrow tow-path a strategic cycle route. Now if the A38 had to be closed for several weeks, I can guarantee you there would be arrangements for motor vehicles to continue using it. If that required the building of a temporary section of bitmac carriageway, it would be done. But of course we're talking cycling here, and whilst continental countries would keep a strategic cycle route open, here we just close it and leave people to sort it out for themselves. A bike is perfectly usable by someone with learning disabilities in the Netherlands, but here, encountering an unexpected closure of a route you've been using for months, Birmingham City Council will be offering you no help whatsoever. I have given the council the opportunity to say "yes, we'll signpost an alternative" (and preferably ensure provision is made for cyclists at any point where the diversion would be hostile), but apparently creating a diversion route for cyclists is "completely impossible".

The longest closure will be for a month (31st August to 28th September), and will be between Selly Oak and Somerset Road in Edgbaston. Since I use the canal to get to and from the city centre (including, ironically, for getting to Birmingham Cycle Revolution stakeholder meetings), I thought I would spend a bit of time coming up with my own detour. I thought others might like to use it, though it will not be the same experience as cycling along the canal. I've assessed the detour on a Sunday afternoon to check for "road blocks", but not during the rush-hour (as I will be working then). However, I did pick a heavy "mountain bike", as I knew there would be hills and a flight of steps to climb. Overall I found the route easy to follow, though I did manage to miss the turn into Mason Way on Section 4 (I was too preoccupied with trying to engage in "vehicular cycling" using a heavy bike with unfamiliar gears).

I've divided the route into four sections.

Section one takes you along the Bristol Road a short way. The Selly Oak New Road having been built, this should be pretty quiet and an easy win for cycling, but it isn't because Birmingham City Council has yet to discover modern road network design. So it remains a busy four lane through-route that acts as a shorter alternative to the New Road (and I will own up to being one of the drivers who uses it that way). However, I've arranged things so the right turns on to it are at traffic lights (albeit a pedestrian crossing at The Dingle), so it shouldn't be too stressful, even in the rush hour. The climb up to The Dingle on the Bristol Road is hard work, but the most challenging section is not very long. The canal access is at the other end of The Dingle.

Section 2 is on access-only roads, but thanks to a one-way system that has no contraflow, the route going South is different from the route going North.

Section 3 largely passes through the university campus, so hopefully the motor traffic will be tolerable. That said, I was overtaken by a driver who ignored a solid white centre line and written instructions to KEEP LEFT, and who then proceeded to wreck the underside of his car using every speed hump, in a vain attempt to keep ahead of me as I freewheeled down the hill. I was directly behind the car at the final speed hump, and had to wait whilst the driver gingerly drove over it, presumably having decided that destroying his car wasn't such a good idea. I guess there's no hope for people with plenty of horsepower but no brain power. Off the campus the most dangerous part is probably the bridge across the canal, as drivers like to barge through the narrow gap. I would imagine Pritchatts Road is used as a rat-run. In more modern countries this would have had some sort of motor traffic reduction measure applied to it. Perhaps a temporary TRO could be implemented for the duration of the canal works, but I'm sure that's "completely impossible". The canal access is at Somerset Road, and it's stepped. However, there are not too many steps to negotiate and I had no problems lifting the heavy bike I used to check this route. If you are physically unable to lift your bike up the steps, then carry on to Section 4.

Section 4 relies on Edgbaston Park Road, which has recently had the bike symbol treatment. It wasn't long before someone in a BMW started honking at me and shouting abuse through the open window. That's what you get when you waste money on the utterly useless rubbish that is Birmingham City Council's idea of an on-road cycle route. If you're using this section, it's unlikely you're on a fast road bike, so I would suggest using the pavement (showing consideration for pedestrians). Mason Way is an access road for The Vale and is one way with no contraflow. In practice I've used it before to get around tow-path closures, and found it quiet enough that I can get away with cycling contraflow when heading North; just be prepared to stop at the side if there are oncoming motor vehicles.

Checking out the route took a lot longer than I expected, because I spotted some signs for The Lapworth Museum of Geology near the bottom of Ring Road South on the university campus. This has only just opened, and I was completely unaware of it. Overcoming my initial resistance at taking a look at "a load of old rocks" when I had other things to do, I went in, and discovered it is excellent. Dare I say it's a hidden gem? I ended up spending a couple of hours in there, and I don't have any special interest in geology. There are usable if not brilliant cycle stands adjacent to the building opposite the entrance.



I just love the complexity of this slab of fossil-containing rock found not far from Birmingham, at Wenlock Edge. My phone just doesn't have the resolution to do it justice. It's on display at the Lapworth Museum of Geology on the Birmingham University campus.

A Load of Old Rocks

a Load of old rocks
A load of old rocks at the Lapworth Museum of Geology on the Birmingham University Campus.