Two Final 2020 Stakeholder Meetings: Birmingham and West Midlands

online meeting

As you will know from our banner photos members of Push Bikes regularly attend two important quarterly meetings one with Birmingham City Council and another with Transport for West Midlands. These are very useful meetings at which the transport authorities and partners (Canal and River Trust, Park Rides/Mencap, Cycling UK, Sustrans, British Cycling etc) outline their plans, discuss them with various stakeholder and report on developments. During the COVID pandemic these meetings have continued, but online.

Both of the meetings are well organised and good notes and copies of presentations are provided in good time. These are available on request. However, the point of this report is to give interested readers a taste of what is discussed and what is coming down the line to improve active travel and cycling in Birmingham and across the West Midlands. And a lot has happened in 2020 and much more is promised for 2021 despite the pressures on local government and the ravages of COVID.

Birmingham City Council Cycling Stakeholders Group 24th Nov organised by Alison Kennedy and Joe Green. First up was a presentation from Chris Coyle who has recently become Cycling Mayor for Birmingham. Cycling Mayors are an international voluntary network of activists who try to accelerate "bicycle progress" in their city. Adam Tranter who became Cycling Mayor of Coventry in March is the only other one I know of in the UK. Chris has a background in racing cycling and medical communications and now runs the Cobble cycling café in Erdington and an e-bike business, e-BikeBrum. He wants to push cycling's contribution to health and well-being and intends to create cycling youth development programs.

We then had Perminder Balu present the long-awaited scheme to improve the Pershore Road/PrioryRd junction. This was where Suzie Bull was killed by a lorry driver three years ago. Funding of around £2 million has come from a road safety fund and construction will now start in the Spring. Push Bikes has examined and supported the design. Delays have been due to the need to purchase some land. This junction currently makes no provision for cyclists or pedestrians illustrating the neglect of active travel and the absolute priority previously given to motor "traffic flow".

There was a report on the progress of Birmingham's Emergency Transport Plan and the schemes funded by the Emergency Active Travel Fund announced by Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP in May. Lesson learned from Tranche 1 the emergency pop up lanes and LTN filters are being recorded and consulted on and Tranche 2 will involve more prior consultation and the continued use of the Commonplace platform. Stakeholder members were able to ask a lot of questions about the detail of these schemes and especially about junctions how they could be connected up to form a proper network. We also discussed "backlash" and how to respond while we know that wider public opinion show a majority approval for active travel schemes and their benefits.

Broad Street has long been disrupted by the Metro works but this is making progress and a diversion to National Cycle Route 5 is proposed to enable cycles to cross between the HSBC building and Baskerville House.

Other new developments are the e-Cargo bikes coming to the City and a e-Cycle extension fund to give some access to "hard to reach" groups.

We also looked briefly at various highway improvements in Perry Barr associated with the removal of the flyover, an extension of the A34 cycle route and a much modified consultation plan for Dudley Road to which Push Bikes has now responded.

This was followed on Thursday 26th November by Transport for West Midlands Cycling Charter Quarterly Meeting. This is a rather different day time meeting where the main role is to bring together cycling officers representing each of the West Midlands Combined Authority constituent city and borough councils together with other interested organisations. The original Cycling Charter to which Push Bikes contributed dates back to Centro but has been updated with the election of a Metro Mayor in May 2017 and the need to produce Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans in a coordinated way for the Region. Without these and a prioritisation of routes and schemes there is no hope of bidding for money from the Department of Transport.

We enjoyed updates and presentations about the e-Scooter hire pilot trial now spreading across city centres. The Coventry trial was suspended but the Birmingham roll out seems to be progressing well. We think that e-scooters are being hired as an alternative to walking rather than driving but they are proving popular possibly as a novelty and for leisure use. There are some worries about safety, use on pavements or in busy pedestrian areas and also parking of these dockless vehicles. By all means feed in your views.

There was a comprehensive summary of how all the Local Authorities were delivering £3.85 million worth of Emergency Active Travel Fund projects. These add up to 57 different infrastructure schemes and a range of other communications, supporting and monitoring and evaluation programmes. Tranche 2 announced on 13th November brings in another £13million and proposals for another 38 infrastructure schemes. This is now the Active Travel Fund (the Emergency has been dropped) and fuller consultation is now required rather than the suck it and see drive of the initial Experimental Traffic Orders. The schemes however are expected to be more permanent and better engineered often based on learning and experience of the temporary projects. Again, support from activists is vital. Tranche 2 schemes are expected to be completed during 2021/2.

My abiding impression was of the unevenness of development with Birmingham (thanks to its Cycle City Ambition Grant) far ahead in aspiration and achievement in comparison to most other authorities. But Coventry has begun some good schemes and Solihull have a new Cycling and Walking Strategy.

The long-awaited West Midlands Cycle Hire Scheme is now ready for a roll out from February 2021. This looks really good, a docked scheme with cycles made in Stratford on Avon similar to the Santander Bikes in London. It will include some e-Bikes. We know that such bike share schemes bring new people including young people to cycling and should be popular. The payment system is integrated with Swift so getting closer to a mobility service.

There were various other interesting presentations. The Canal and River Trust have a Be Kind and Slow Down campaign because on a few of the busy sections of the network there have been complaints of fast cyclists creating problems for walkers. Cycling UK's successful Community Cycling Clubs initiative is now spreading to Coventry alongside Birmingham and the Black County with a new Cycling Development Officer.

We hope that this summary of two meetings is useful. We go to them so you don't have to !!