Birmingham Cycle Revolution?

27 May

This post is my personal interpretation and analysis of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution bid, and what exactly appears to be proposing, in regards to infrastructure (the full document can be found here. All emphasis in quoted text below is my own). As in the video above, the introduction to the bid appears to be heading down the right tracks:

 ‘The bid focuses on investment in deliverable cycling infrastructure and facilities, building on our exiting cycling network, making the best use of our canal network and green corridors, develop a comprehensive on-road network supported by wider enabling measures. Such as cycle parking and bike hubs, offering significantly improved cycling conditions.’

While building on the existing canal and green corridors sounds like a pretty good idea, the focus on ‘deliverable’ infrastructure and emphasis on cycle parking and bike hubs is slightly worrying. Yes, cycle parking and bike hubs are a nice idea but paired with the idea of ‘deliverable’ infrastructure, it sounds like more of the same sub-par infrastructure present throughout much of the country (in other words an escape clause). The overall goal of the bid is a

‘Cycling modal split target of at least 5% over the next ten years, rising to the levels of of comparable European cities such as Munich and Copenhagen at over 10% by 2033.’

Certainly a high target for 20 years, with Munich at 20%+ modal share and Copenhagen at 36%+ with the target of increasing it to 50% by 2015 ( To even reach the same level as these cities would require a widespread and continuous network of infrastructure at a world class level, I for one hope that Birmingham can step up to the challenge. The proposals for the different types of route, however, do not exactly fill me with confidence:

Main Corridors: measures along eight of the main arterial roads into the city center. These will generally be suitable for more confident and experienced cyclists who value fast and direct routes with priority over side roads, and who are happy to mix with buses and other traffic in areas where separate cycle facilities cannot be provided within the space available.’

This whole idea that only ‘confident and experienced’ cyclists value fast and direct routes, and that we are ‘happy’ to mix with buses and other traffic is absurd. Fast and direct routes with appropriate priority should be standard across the whole spectrum of cyclists, and besides extremist vehicular cyclists (cycling’s secret sect) I have not come across a single cyclist who is actively happy to share the road with buses and trucks. The infrastructure proposed for these main routes also appears to cater this flawed idea:

‘Typical measures will include marked cycle facilities (formal or informal) on the carriageway, shared use foot-ways, improved cycle routes through subways (particularly at the ring road), bus lanes (with cycle lanes to link disjointed sections of bus lane) and short diversions to avoid particularly complex junctions or other pinch-points where facilities cannot be accommodated (for example in local centers) then general traffic measures will be introduced to narrow traffic lanes and reduce speeds, to give cyclists more confidence in taking up a dominant position within their traffic lane.’

So in other words, a choice between; an on road cycle lane (likely to be narrow, blocked and/or subjected to close passes by motorists), sharing the path with pedestrians, sharing a lane with buses or sitting in front of a queue of angry motorists who have no way to overtake you. Sounds absolutely lovely, especially the part where this will give the average cyclist ‘more confidence in taking up a dominant position within their traffic lane’. And then for those lacking confidence:

‘Parallel Routes: A network of generally quieter routes running parallel to the main corridors, but also leading to to local schools , health centers, parks and other community facilities, and suitable for less experienced commuter cyclists as well as family trips. Many routes will be identified primarily by signing, but additional measures will provided in many locations including marked cycle lanes or shared use footways, changed priorities at junctions, controlled crossings at intersections with main roads and measures to reduce vehicle speeds (including traffic calming features and 20 mph areas).’

While the idea of quieter routes does sound like a good one, as stated previously, is no replacement for safe, convenient and direct infrastructure, which will only happen if these routes are truly parallel and not significantly longer and harder to navigate through. However with the apparent focus on signage over any meaningful infrastructure I am not sure exactly sure how ‘safe’ these routes will feel. 20 mph limits are definitely a good thing (and not just for cyclists) but ‘traffic calming features’ sound like pinch points and other road narrowing schemes to me. Which at best create friction between drivers and cyclists and at worst are downright dangerous. The other types of infrastructure may be decent if built to a very high standard, but as stated before, often do little to help (‘controlled crossings’ – cattle pens anyone?). If implemented properly, with filtered permeability and appropriate priority parallel routes could be very beneficial but i have not seen any evidence that this will actually happened.

The document continues:

‘Within our bid area an emphasis on segregation and semi-segregation from traffic along main roads routes will develop a greater sense of continuity and improved safety similar to London’s superhighways.’

It is interesting that the people who wrote this document chose to compare the planned routes to London’s superhighways. While the designs for the new superhighways look promising, the routes already in place are hardly a roaring success in getting the average Londoner to cycle, don’t provide a great deal of safety and are definitely not trail-blazing pieces of infrastructure. And ‘semi-segregation along main roads’ doesn’t exactly sound like amazingly good infrastructure for the purposes of mass cycling.

Yes, I reckon I have approached this document rather cynically but I feel that I am somewhat justified in doing so, as the standard of currently in place on our roads at the moment is often of sub-par design, implementation and often more dangerous than the roads alongside. My conclusion is that this may be a slight step forward for Birmingham but it falls far short of being anywhere close to a real ‘cycling revolution’, in fact I don’t think there  is anything really ‘revolutionary’ to be seen in any of these proposals. My opinion is that to start a true ‘cycling revolution’ funds should be focused on small stretches of infrastructure built to an extremely high standard of safety and convenience and then extended gradually with a focus on high standards and continuity.

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