Consultation: A45 cycle route, city centre to Small Heath Park

Bolton Road pop-up cycleway

This is one of four cycle route consultations that Birmingham City Council are holding during November 2021, most of which are improving on routes introduced as pop-up cycle routes during 2020. The consultations all finish on 30th November 2021, and the link for this one is here. Please respond to it and make your opinion as a cycle user known (you can just say that you agree with Push Bikes' opinion), otherwise the council will just receive responses from entitled car drivers.

Overview of this Route

This route provides a link from the end of the Bradford Street cycle route along the line of the A45, as far as Small Heath Park. The original pop-up route was intended to go through the local centre on Coventry Road, and meet up with the River Cole cycle route, but it was decided that the pavements along Coventry Road are too narrow and busy to be used for shared-use pavement cycling.

Most of this route is good, with long stretches of comfortable bidirectional cycle track that will provide a good main link in the development of the cycle network in the area. But there are issues at some of the large junctions. For example, at Bordesley Circus, the crossings for cycles take too long, so compared with someone in a car driving across the roundabout, it can take much longer to cycle around it. That makes the connection into the city centre slow and complex - which will have an impact on whether people choose to cycle or drive. At the Golden Hillock roundabout, shared use pavements are used, but the area has a high volume of pedestrian footfall, and there is no easy route to access Small Heath railway station. These issues at junctions impact on the overall attractiveness of the route.

We support the proposals in this consultation, but still think that there will need to be further improvements made to achieve the full potential of this route.

Detailed Comments

Bordesley Middleway

From the end of Bradford Street, the route comes down the steep Trinity Terrace, and onto a shared-use pavement to cross over the Middleway. Along the Middleway, there are further shared-use pavements. This section feels neither direct nor particularly inviting. The climb from the Middleway to Bradford Street, up Trinity Terrace, is quite steep and off-putting. If the main route out of the city centre for cycling had been taken along Digbeth High Street, rather than up Bradford Street, the route here would be much flatter and more direct to reach Bordesley Circus, instead of making cycle users cycle along a long stretch of the Middleway.

It is probable that a significant proportion of cycle users will prefer to continue over Bordesley Circus to reach Coventry Street, and cross under the railway there and on to Digbeth High Street, rather than following the designated main cycle route. We wonder if more joined up network planning, paying attention to the contour lines and their impact on cycle routes, would have resulted in a different decision about which way to take the main cycle route through Digbeth.

That having been said, the route along Bordesley Middleway does provide safety from motor traffic, and the toucan crossings are broad enough, without sharp dog-legs in the middle, for people to walk and cycle comfortably together across them. They also provide a link along Sampson Road to a on-road cycle network through Sparkbrook.

Bordesley Circus

The money available for this scheme does not include enough to make significant changes to the roundabout here, so the proposals are converting existing crossings to toucan crossings, and widening some of the pavements. The cycling conditions leave much to be desired, but with very few people wanting to walk around here, there will at least be little conflict with pedestrian traffic on the pavements. There is a short stretch of narrow cycle track between two of the crossings, but the plans have it marked as 1.5 meters wide, which is far too narrow. Building short stretches of cycle track in locations like this is pointless - it does nothing to improve the cycling conditions, but gets criticised as being disjointed cycle infrastructure. It is better to widen the shared use pavements and not try to squeeze in short stretches of cycle track.

Small Heath Highway

The cycle track proper starts after Bordesley Circus, and this is much better than the quality of the link to Bradford Street. The plans show a bidirectional cycle track that will be mainly three metres in width, with continuity at side roads. Where the cycle track passes under the railway, it will be narrowed to 2.5m, but the sight lines are ok and that short stretch of narrowing shouldn’t affect the quality of the route.

Bolton Road

Past the railway, the cycle track joins the roads parallel to Small Heath Highway. There are a few potential issues with the section along Bolton Road.

Firstly, the mouth of the junction with Small Heath Highway is very wide and sweeping, a design that encourages higher speeds. The road mouth needs to be narrowed down to the minimum possible, so that motor vehicles cross the cycle track at an angle as close to 90 degrees as possible and at a low speed. Narrowing the road mouth would also reduce the distance that cycle users are outside of the protected section of the cycle track. Cycling across that junction as it is at the moment with small children could be very worrying because of the width and the speed that width permits.

Secondly, where the cycle track joins Bolton Road, it is at the bottom of a slope, and water gathers there when it rains, leaving behind mud as it dries. The drains are not located in positions where they can take that water, so simply cleaning the drains won’t be sufficient. It is important that the cycle track is constructed in such a way that it drains properly and doesn’t get covered in water. This has been an issue with other cycle tracks in Birmingham, and can result in crashes, especially when conditions are icy.

Thirdly, how cycle users will access the cycle track from side roads needs to be considered. If the kerb is continuous along the whole length of the cycle track, then people approaching from Sandfields Avenue or Amiss Gardens, for example, will have problems getting on to the cycle track. There need to be breaks in the kerbs built in at points where people may join the cycle track from side roads.

Junction with Jenkins Street

The main flow of motor traffic in this area is over the bridge, rather than along Bolton Road, and the brick walls along the road over the bridge present significant issues for seeing oncoming motor traffic. The proposals to change priorities at this crossroads, as well as to introduce a zebra crossing for pedestrians, seem very sensible. However, very clear signs will be needed to indicate that the cycle track has priority at the junction, and monitoring of user behaviour might be important to see how this experiment goes. It may be that poor behaviour patterns might develop while cycle user levels are low, with people coming to expect not to see someone on the cycle track and so proceeding without sufficient caution.

End of Bolton Road / Golden Hillock Roundabout

At the end of Bolton Road, the cycle track moves back to the pavement alongside Small Heath Road. Although the initial section will be widened enough to have a segregated cycle track and pavement, most of the section up to the crossing of Golden Hillock Road is shared use pavement. The plans aren’t clear if the railing along the pavement will be moved to the outside of the existing trees and the pavement widened, or if the railing will stay in its current position. Either way, the pavement is narrow for a shared use pavement in an area that has a high volume of people walking at times. It would be good in the future if land could be purchased from the residential block on the corner and the grass turned over for a cycle-track, though there won’t be time and money in the current proposal to go through that process now.

At Golden Hillock Road, the existing toucan crossing will be retained, and then a cycle track provided from there to Byron Road through taking space away from the carriageway, reducing the exit onto the roundabout to 2 lanes, rather than 3. With a high volume of pedestrian traffic at times from the mosque and school here, it is good to have the segregated cycle track. The plans note that some of the existing pedestrian cage along the pavement edge will be retained to provide some separation between the pavement and cycle track. We are not sure about the advisability of that, as vertical obstacles, such as guard rails, will narrow the effective width of the pavement and the cycle track. It might be better to remove the railings completely, to ensure the maximum width available for users. There will be a few trees removed as part of installing the cycle track, but Birmingham City Council has developed good policies about transport schemes providing adequate resources to replace trees that are lost on schemes like this.

There needs to be a mini-zebra crossing near the end of this stretch of cycle track to take pedestrians across to the pedestrian crossing here. Using a mini-zebra crossing would guide people to walk across the cycle track in more predictable ways, as well as giving clear priority to people crossing at that point. With appropriate use of tactile paving, it would also assist people with visual impairments to cross the cycle track more safely.

Something that is missing from the scheme is a link across the roundabout to Small Heath train station. It would be good for a future scheme to upgrade the crossings to toucan crossings, and widen the east pavement on the bridge to provide a link across. With the Sprint route coming down the A45, there will also be a need for better walking and cycling links across this bridge to Sparkbrook, to get the most out of the new public transport scheme.

Byron Road

We are pleased that the cycle track that was put on Byron Road as part of the pop-up scheme in 2020 will be taken out, as we suggested in our comments on the 2020 plans. Byron Road is a quiet residential street with little traffic apart from for the school, and there is no need for segregated cycle infrastructure. It is better that the parking is retained, so that the carriageway remains free for people to cycle along. If there are issues with too much motor traffic at school pick-up and drop-off times, then a school street scheme would be more appropriate than a cycle track.

Byron Road / Waverley Road Junction

The suggested parallel crossing (combined zebra and cycle crossing) seems suitable, although the cycle track could be taken to the dropped kerb on Byron Road, rather than having a section of shared use pavement there. That would more clearly indicated that cycle users should rejoin Byron Road after crossing, rather than cycling down the pavement on Byron Road.

The shared use pavement along Tennyson Road is a bit too narrow, but there are no houses opening on to it, and many people walking will prefer to go through the park, so it may work ok to help people to cycle to Coventry Road.

We think that putting a bus gate on Waverley Road, between Tennyson Road and Malmesbury Road, would provide a low traffic neighbourhood on those two streets, and produce a welcoming environment for people to cycle on the general carriageway along there up to Coventry Road, as well as accessing the cycle route over the bridge to the Ackers and the canal. Of course that would require buy-in from the local residents and a further consultation, but we think that it would improve life for the people on Oldknow Road in particular, and contribute to encouraging more active travel. With the Ark Victoria Academy entrance on Oldknow Road, there will be a lot of children using the road, and reducing through motor traffic would be very beneficial for encouraging them to walk, scoot or cycle to school as well.