As part of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution most of the tow paths in Birmingham have been resurfaced. One of the most useful routes as far as cyclists are concerned is the Worcester and Birmingham canal tow path, as it is a close parallel route to the A38 between the city centre and Selly Oak, but it's more level, more direct, and free of motorised traffic. Since there are no road junctions to deal with, a good steady speed can be maintained. Unlike many other canals, there are no locks and only one tunnel between the city centre and the city limit. Alas many of the access points are via steps, and CRT has shown itself unwilling to change that. There will at least be a couple of wheeling ramps installed; perhaps we should challenge a CRT executive to negotiate them with a laden touring bike.
The tow path has been resurfaced between Lifford Lane and the city centre, which means the section south of Kings Norton Junction remains a mess. The material chosen for the resurfacing is spray and chip. Whilst the (rather uneven) bitmac base is vastly superior in wet weather to the old, worn out gravel, the path has not been swept so the grit is collecting on the less popular side of the path. This makes passing other tow path users tricky, and stopping challenging. The onset of Winter has meant that not all the path has received the spray and chip finish, and the bitmac sections are very much safer.
The contractors had the good sense to follow the desire lines at the Vale, but the usual mistake was made of making the path too narrow. There's insufficient width for two bikes to pass, and pedestrians are forced off the path altogether. Edgbaston Tunnel (pictured) remains a problem, especially for anyone with standard bars. Fortunately the rest of the tow path is wider, but it's still barely sufficient, and the rush-hour can be particularly frustrating.
At night most of the tow path is unlit, so it demands excellent lights. Thankfully social safety is pretty good on this canal, as it passes through some of the nicest parts of the city.
For me the positives outweigh the negatives, so all the while most people prefer to creep along the A38 in an oversized box, this will remain my favourite route in Birmingham.
The video below takes you on a ride along the tow path from Selly Oak to the city centre on a beautiful but cold Winter's day, and much more. Contrast the quiet tow path with the car-dominated city streets.