To assess the LSTF improvements along Bristol Road between Bournbrook Road and the Ring Road at Belgrave Road, Push Bikes conducted a survey of users and organised a ride to test the route.
54 responses were received, and it was found that the most serious issue was crossing at Priory Road which was considered particularly dangerous.
Crossing minor roads and entrances were also seen as problematic, but Bristol Road has relatively few minor road junctions. Good points were the flat nature of the route and that the pavements were sufficiently wide enough for shared use along most of the length. The surface was good for sections, but rough at others and not swept clean.
Part of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) award of £51 million administered by Centro and West Midlands Local Authorities has been used to improve cycling facilities on Bristol Road between the Ring Road (Belgrave Road) and Bournbrook Road. The principal improvements for cycling are specified as:
- Conversion of 4 pelican crossings to toucan crossing (Wellington Road, Speedwell Road, Sir Harry's Road and Pebble Mill Road).
- Cycle lane merge from footway to carriageway at Priory Road.
- Dropped kerbs at side road and private entrances.
- Improvement of signing for shared use footway.
Approximate cost £250k (half of which was on the controlled crossing changes). As the aim of the LSTF is 'to attract additional users of sustainable transport modes' and as this is one of the first projects to be completed Push Bikes believes as many people as possible should test these improvements by cycling the route and reporting back. Consequently Push Bikes devised an online survey form to assess reactions and to pass the results to Centro and Birmingham City Council.
Push Bikes asked people to bear in mind that the changes are not aimed at the confident cyclist who feels able to handle existing road conditions but to attract new riders to the route and that with this level of expenditure the scheme had limited objectives and was never intended to be the complete answer to cycling requirements.
Riding the route
To further publicise the route Push Bikes organised a ride along the route from University Gates to the Ring Road and back that attracted 31 participants - including a recumbent bike and a cargo bike with 2 children. A proportion of the riders were from a Gentle Cycling group of less confident cyclists - a 'target market' for the scheme. Local Councillors, Officers and Centro officials were also invited but sadly only one officer (from Centro) came.
54 survey replies have been received and analysed. 32 were from commuters and 22 from social cyclists. Only 14 answered that they were prepared to ride and recommend the route and most of these had some reservations. A selection of typical comments is shown as an appendix.
What did we find?
Positive features of the route
- The shared-use paths are relatively wide for most of the length and there are few pedestrians, so for most of the length there will be little conflict between cycles and pedestrians.
- The route is quite level over its length, making it attractive for new cyclists.
- Compared with many main roads in the city there are relatively few side entrances - minor roads and properties - so momentum can be maintained by cyclists more easily.
- There is a pleasant cycling surface for most of the length between Priory Road and the Ring Road. However, closer to Selly Oak, the pavement can be very uneven and rough, and is not swept clean.
Drawbacks of the route
- All respondents complained about the dangers of crossing Priory Road. Here (and also at Edgbaston Park Road) the shared use on the footway ends and cyclists are diverted on to the Advanced Stop Area at the traffic lights. They then have to navigate a multi lane junction made worse by frequent turning vehicles followed by a lay-by and bus stop before rejoining the footway. It is well recognised that most traffic incidents occur at road junctions so, not surprisingly on the Push Bikes ride, at the junction most people chose to remain on the footway, dismount, wait for a gap in the traffic entering or leaving Priory Road and dash across. Similar behaviour took place crossing Edgbaston Priory Road where there is a central reservation and the need to negotiate a complex (on a bike) set of barriers. It is therefore imperative that if this route is to be used as required a safe way to cross these roads is found by introducing a separate pedestrian/cyclist crossing or a preferential start phase for cyclists on the carriageway at the traffic lights.
- In the survey most respondents also identified a lack of warning and unrestricted access from minor roads and entrances as another reason they would not use the route or recommend it to others. This is particularly important at Sir Harry's Road, Pebble Mill Road and Eastern Road because of fast turning vehicles.
- Many respondents also noted severely uneven, badly maintained or debris strewn footways that made cycling uncomfortable and imparted a serious belief of being treated as 'second class' citizens.
- At certain points, clutter and obstacles - bus shelters/sign posts/advertising hoardings - were seen as reducing the attractiveness of the route. At some locations where the pavement was narrow, this clutter would introduce conflicts between cycles and pedestrians.
- Finally, there was inconsistent and inadequate signage. Pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all need certainty to reduce the potential for collisions and conflict.
- Although not part of the survey the extension to this route from the Ring road to the City Centre is essential.
While some positive features of the route were identified, it is disappointing to conclude that the ordinary people who cycled the route and the others who responded to the survey ultimately rejected this scheme as being 'unfit for purpose'. Put simply, unless it is significantly improved it will not attract the intended additional people on bikes. The most significant task is that crossing Priory Road must be conquered!
Push Bikes strongly recommends that before other LSTF or Cycling Revolution designs are finalised ALL engineers, council officers and councillors and Centro officials are directed to cycle the Bristol Road route in both directions.
- "Priory Road and Edgbaston Park Road are dangerous to cross for both pedestrians and bike users. surely a system of traffic management (with a pedestrian phase) is needed to allow safe crossings."
- "Clearly marked cycle path (not shared) with good surface and priority over side roads/driveways. Need to move some street furniture out of the way. This would encourage less experienced cyclists to use the cycle path but experienced cyclists would probably mostly still use the road, as would I, because a much higher speed can be maintained."
- "It seems to be a case of 'segregating where possible', but ultimately it's just signage, not real cycling infrastructure. Most motorists, pedestrians and even cyclists are probably not even aware of what it is."
- "The reason I would use the shared paths is because the state of the carriageway is very poor with lots of potholes near the curb. The carriageway is generally safer to use than the shared paths, but stretches of the carriageway have become dangerous due to the poor road condition. Both are currently dangerous."
- "Cycle lanes have to be separate from pedestrians AND cars if they are ever to work. Driveways need to have room to see and stop before exiting from the drive. Cyclists will need to have high vis clothing + lights so there is a quid pro quo. But for experienced commuting cyclists we do not need hold ups (and I am not a 30 year old on a racer but a 60 year old on a 'sensible' commuter bike)."
- "This route runs parallel to the Rea Valley route, which is greatly preferred by traffic-averse cyclists, as it's much more pleasant. To offer a significant advantage, this route needs to be faster than the Rea, which means a minimum of faffing about at junctions. I regularly cycle on the Bristol Road, but only use the shared paths to bypass traffic congestion. The road is smoother and safer for a confident vehicular cyclist."
- "Crossing at Pebble Mill Road and Eastern Road going southbound causes conflict with road traffic due to the angle and high speed of motor vehicles turning into it, some sort of calming measure should be used. Also when travelling from City centre to University there seems to be no obvious safe route of crossing from Southbound carriageway to either the main University entrance nor Edgbaston Park Road. Overall rubbish, putting a few shared use signs up and dropping a few kerbs does NOT make a safe pleasant cycle route."