The Birmingham Cycle Revolution (BCR) programme has entered into the final year of funding through the Cycle City Ambition Grant from the DfT, but this year we should see the biggest changes (finally) on the roads of Birmingham, with the delivery of 2 main road cycle tracks and a cycle hire scheme. It is not clear how the BCR programme will continue after this year - there has been a bid put in for some Cycle Safety Fund money from the DfT, but that is small and limited. The biggest hope for more funding is through the development of a Local Cycling and Walking Investment Plan (LCWIP) that Birmingham City Council (BCC) is working on - but that still relies on getting money from the transport money available to the West Midlands Combined Authority and the regional LEPs.
The BCR team is quite small, and while they can work on a few cycle projects each year, they are unable to review all highways schemes and developments going on in Birmingham, even if they had the internal political clout to do so. Ultimately the BCR programme will only be a success if thinking about cycling becomes a normal part of work for all BCC officers, so that all transport plans deliver appropriate infrastructure for cycling. The latest highways consultations suggest that that is still a distance away, and from a cycle campaigning perspective, we feel like there is a lack of engagement by some BCC officers who aren’t directly working on BCR projects. With the funding for BCR coming to an end this year, that lack of engagement is a worry.
This fund was announced by the DfT and only opened up to bids from councils that had received Cycle City Ambition Grant (CCAG) money (which funded the BCR phases 1 and 3). Only £6.5 million was available, but the CCAG cities put in bids totalling about £16.5 million. The BCR team put in two bids - one for the Pershore Road / Priory Road junction; the other for the Russell Road / Moor Green Lane junction in Kings Heath. The bid criteria was for locations that had a poor record of cycle safety - basically locations where cycle users had been killed or injured. We’ve been told by the BCR team that they know of other junctions that are dangerous but which they couldn’t put forward to receive money as there were only near misses, not recorded collisions. It is unlikely that BCR will receive money for both junctions, but we are hopeful that they at least receive money for Pershore Road / Priory Road, to safely link up the new Bristol Road route with NCN 5 and Cannon Hill Park.
The A34 route from the city centre towards Perry Barr is progressing well, and seems on track to be completed by October 2018. In what may be a first for a highways project, the contractor is looking at the scheduled works and reviewing them to perhaps finish earlier! The A38 route, which was the much more controversial one, has been approved after the second round of consultations at the end of last year. Work has started on the route, with the sections on the central reservations being the first to get attention. The scheme should hopefully be completed by the end of 2018.
At the end of last year, there was a consultation on cycle parking locations within the middle ring road. Those cycle parking facilities are currently being installed, with the first phase around Colmore Business District and Snowhill Station mainly complete. The second phase should start being installed in April. The BCR team are currently looking at cycle parking locations on and around the two main corridor routes.
The next area of 20mph speed limits, covering Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Cotteridge, have been approved and work has started on the signage. This is expected to be completed by June 2018.
All of the towpath improvements have been finished, and now the only work is on access points and Edgbaston tunnel. Most of these have been designed and approved - work has been started on widening the towpath through Edgbaston Tunnel, although the contractors paused work for a few weeks while they revised the designs for the steelwork. Work on improved access points, including Yardley Road, Lincoln Road and Pershore Road, will start soon. As for the green routes, Woodgate Valley Country Park should be completed by the end of April, in time for summer. Three more local links packages (minimal work mainly on local roads), at Castle Bromwich Hall & Gardens, Lyndon Playing Fields & Yardley Cemetery, and Bourn Brook should have work starting on them shortly.
The second set of Big Birmingham Bikes (BBBs) have been allocated and the distribution of the 2,000 bikes should be completed by July 2018.
The other major visible change in Birmingham will be the roll-out of a cycle hire scheme. This will be a docked cycle hire scheme that will be run at no cost to local authorities, but instead raise funds from subscriptions, sponsorship and advertising. See our recent news story for more details.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has received money from the DfT to pay for technical work in developing a West Midlands wide LCWIP. This plan will look at the strategic cycle network for the West Midlands as well as what cycle infrastructure will be appropriate in the new Sprint rapid transit bus routes that should be rolled out in the next few years. BCC has been working on their own LCWIP, but have slowed down on that so that they can co-ordinate with WMCA and avoid disjointed planning. The WMCA development work should take about 6 months, so we are hopeful that by the end of 2018 we will see cycling investment plans from both BCC and WMCA.
One important part of developing these plans is understanding where people want to cycle. The BCR team have been using travel to work data to look at routes that might have a high demand for cycling, but that data does not provide information about the local journeys that people make by bike. One way to do that is to use data from route logging apps, such as Strava, to see where people really cycle, and indeed Strava have approached BCC to try to sell them anonymised user data. It does not seem likely that BCC will buy that data - Strava data is provided by a different type of cycle journey, perhaps, than those BCR are trying to plan for, and the data is quite expensive for what it is. BCR do, however, have other data that they can use. The first set of Big Birmingham Bikes (BBBs) had GPS units embedded in them, and that data is available for BCR to see where people cycle. The new BBBs won’t have a GPS unit installed, to save costs, but the users will be asked to install a journey tracking app if they have a smart phone. This app is also available to anyone else who wants to provide trip information to the BCR team - We will write a fuller article about it, but it is the SETA mobility app, available on both Apple and Google app stores. If we can’t enough people to install and use the app, we will provide the BCR team with more accurate data about where people are cycling to help them plan cycle infrastructure interventions that will be most beneficial.