Providing infrastructure for cycling is not just about better space on roads, but also about being able to park your cycle safely at either end of the journey and at any stopping points in the middle. Cycling should be 10% of the modal share of journeys in Birmingham by 2033, according to Birmingham City Council's future plans for transport in Birmingham, laid out in the 'Birmingham Connected' white paper released in 2014. A 10% modal share in 18 years is rather unambitious for a cycle revolution, but it is still a significant increase on the levels of cycling in Birmingham now. Birmingham City Council needs to be planning the extra parking spaces for these cycles, but it appears that at least one part of Birmingham City Council has not had that message.
Last year, while responding to a planning application for private student accommodation in the old fire station near Aston University, Push Bikes noticed the private planners said in their transport plan that they would not be providing all of the cycle parking spaces that Birmingham City Council planning guidelines required and that Birmingham City Council planning officers had agreed to this. Their reason was that the students in the accommodation would be attending Aston University, and so they would be walking, and they based this on past experience from other cities. We objected to this on the grounds that Birmingham is aspiring to have higher cycling rates in the future and that students do not only make trips to the university, but all over the city. Then, at the end of 2014, we saw two more private student accommodation planning applications which also were not providing the required level of cycle parking, and also cited Birmingham City Council planning officers. Clear this was more than a blip, so we sent a letter outlining our concerns to the BCC Transport Scrutiny committee chair, asking for this to be investigated, as council officers should not be undermining stated Birmingham City Council aims.
Which brings us to a planning committee meeting in May and another private student accommodation development, this time in Selly Oak. At the planning committee meeting (video in the link), the planning officer highlights that there is not sufficient cycle parking to meet BCC guidelines, but he then says that there will be monitoring of the situation and the possibility of increasing cycle parking if demand increases in the future. He backs this up by citing the research done by the company submitting the planning application, and by citing past precedent where the planning committee accepted similar compromises. The documents accompanying that planning committee highlights that the company is going to provide £84,372 in Section 106 planning gain money towards (car) parking actions, such as local parking surveys or residents parking schemes, which works out at £316 per bed space in the new accommodation.
Why does this matter?
It is all about aspiration. The buildings that are being consulted on and built now will have a life-span of at least 50 years, during which time we hope that the Birmingham Cycle Revolution will really have turned out to have been a revolution and that cycling has become a part of everyday life. At the very least, Birmingham City Council needs to be ensuring that their own cycle parking guidelines are being met to be able to start catering for hoped-for future demand. If these aspirations are diluted now, then what chance does the Birmingham Cycle Revolution have?
It is particularly telling that the planning application includes £84,372 for Birmingham City Council to alleviate car parking issues while providing cycle parking significantly under BCC guidelines. The message would appear to be that at least one part of Birmingham City Council is still focused on Birmingham the city of the car, and not Birmingham the city of the cycle. How much of that £84,372 would be needed to bring the cycle parking in the development up to BCC standards?
We should not imagine that students will only travel to and from their lectures. Students will have part time jobs in other parts of Birmingham, as well as wanting to go shopping and visit friends. We should also be helping them to travel to tourist attractions in Birmingham and also to access the countryside around Birmingham. The liveability of a city is a major factor in making it an attractive place for graduates to live, and Birmingham does not retain enough of the graduates from our universities. Encouraging students to cycle around Birmingham and understand it as more than just their university and the Bull Ring is part of helping to retain their skills in the city after graduation.
What should be done?
Firstly, the leadership of Birmingham City Council need to go back to BCC officers and tell them that cycling is not simply in the remit of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution team, but that it is an integral part of the vision for the future of transport in Birmingham. Where guidelines have been laid out for cycle infrastructure, they must not be compromised. The profits of the companies building these facilities will be minimally impacted by this in the long term - indeed, if the Birmingham Cycle Revolution does take off, the student accommodation with sufficient cycle parking will be more desirable.
Secondly, the £84,372 Section 106 money provided for car parking needs to be allocated to providing secure cycle parking in areas of Birmingham with poor cycle parking facilities. Lambeth council has a cycle parking scheme that provides Bike Hangers (see photo below) to residents. The best way to reduce car parking problems is to enable people carry out daily activities with out cars, and providing adequate secure cycle parking is an essential part of that.