Birmingham City Council is currently consulting on a bus corridor scheme for the Alcester Road. The consultation ends on the 22nd November. It will have an impact on cycling. Curiously, from a 24 page PDF of visualisations, the one shown here is the only one that depicts a bus. The almost complete absence of cars is also very curious, and is most unlikely to be the result.
The route follows that proposed for a BCR (Birmingham Cycle Revolution) cycle route that was never built. BCR came about after the city successfully bid for funding from the from the Cycle Cities Ambition Grant, a central government scheme intended to help councils get started with building for cycling. Whilst Manchester is now building on that start, Birmingham City Council has opted to do no further significant work on cycling, and instead major on buses and trams as the solution to the congestion and pollution problems the city is facing. But whilst public transport is an important part of the transport system for any city, the policy ignores some key points.
If a journey has start and end points reasonably close to a bus route, a bus can be a good, congestion-busting, and less polluting alternative to people driving that journey. However, if a change of buses is required, or the start or end points lie off the bus route, or there are a lot of stops to pick up and drop off passengers, the increase in journey time makes bus travel unattractive. Bus lanes certainly improve travel times, but the improvement is significantly offset by the things that make the bus slow and inconvenient for many journeys. Add to this the constant acceleration and deceleration for sufficiently frequent bus stops, cramped, hard seating, and anti-social behaviour in what is a confined space, and it's easy to see why people opt to drive. A bus lane only addresses one issue with bus travel, and only does so partially.
Cycling offers a true alternative to car travel in that it is personal, direct door-to-door transport. It is not as space-efficient as bus travel, and it demands the provision of cycle parking, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Traditional cycles represent the ultimate in fuel efficiency (way better than even a full bus), but electrically-assisted traction opens up possibilities for a wide range of vehicles, vehicles that we have yet to see in the UK because we have infrastructure that is utterly hostile to light transport. Those possibilities make light transport an attractive option for more journeys and to a wider range of people.
Both cycling and bus travel are better options than mass car usage in a city, but one shouldn't trump the other if we are to address Birmingham's transport problems. So Push Bikes is disappointed to see that the bus corridor scheme pushes cycling to the margins again, and represents a huge step backwards from the best practice that is the A38 and A34 cycle routes. Unless one considers playing leapfrog with buses in a bus lane cycling infrastructure, the only cycling aspect of this entire scheme is a shared-use, give-way-to-side-roads path running between a toucan crossing at John Kempe Way and Moseley Road. Such infrastructure is unpopular both with people on bikes and with people walking. This path is proposed because the council doesn't want people cycling in the bus lane being built along the central reservation between these points. Unless the city council is proposing to staff this section of bus lane, we think most people on bikes will ignore the shared-use path and cycle along the bus lane. Since the central reservation is so wide here, we think it would make far more sense to take the opportunity to build for cycling as part of this project. In order of preference (from least preferable to most preferable), we would suggest:
- Build the bus lane wide enough that it can be shared by buses and people on bikes without either blocking the progress of the other.
- Build the bus lane as above, but add a parallel cycle lane in the central reservation to allow people on bikes to make the return journey on protected infrastructure.
- Build a two-way cycleway (similar to those on the A38 and A34) alongside the bus lane.
Cyclists can use the same traffic light phases as buses to cross Highgate Middleway, so the additional cost would be minimal, especially when one factors in the benefits of getting people to make use of active travel.
We also feel that the scheme should include (preferably sheltered) cycle parking at at least a proportion of bus stops, as is normal practice on the continent (the photo is of cycle parking at a Dutch bus stop). This makes it easier for people to get to and from the bus route, which encourages people to use the bus route as part of their journey rather than drive, and because it means bus stops don't need to be spaced according to acceptable walking distance, it makes possible faster, limited stop buses. Cycle parking at stops is no different from what is now common practice at British railway stations.
It's important that we build infrastructure for all, not just the able-bodied, the young, the fit, the brave, or people whose journeys just happen to lie on a public transport corridor. If we don't, people will continue to opt to drive, even when that represents a serious burden on their finances (as it often does).
What You Can Do
Please take a few minutes to respond to the consultation. If you like, you can just say that you support Push Bikes' opinion, and provide a reference to this page (www.pushbikes.org.uk/blog/alcester-road-bus-corridor-scheme).