On Saturday I bumped into a friend at the junction of Linden Road and Mary Vale Road in Bournville, having just completed most of my food shopping at The Clean Kilo. Standing a covid-considerate distance apart at this junction that is dangerous by design, I could barely hear her above the roaring engines, squealing tyres, intentionally explosive exhaust sounds, and honking of horns. Afterwards I faced the challenge of travelling about ten metres to the opposite side of Linden Road, so I could continue my journey on my bike. It was a challenge because of the heavy traffic on all four arms of the crossing and the reluctance of the pedestrian crossing to change in favour of pedestrians if it detects approaching motor traffic. Cycling across it at busy times risks death from someone flooring the accelerator to make their move. There were quite a few people on bikes visiting the shops, and they were all avoiding cycling across the junction.
Clearly that heavy traffic is the result of there being a low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) at this location. Oh no, wait, there isn't one, and despite the protests from locals about the traffic and the promise of plans being presented in October for an LTN, we're still waiting. LTN's are a highly cost-effective means of enabling active travel, with studies showing that they reduce private car usage (and therefore motor traffic) in favour of active travel, provided people are given time to adjust to the change (typically a couple of years). Other than in the short term, they do not, as many people believe, make traffic problems even worse. Far from being some new, untested idea, they have been quietly implemented for the past century as a means of making neighbourhoods pleasant to live in. So why are we still waiting for this much needed improvement, especially given that CoP26 in Glasgow has just highlighted the extreme urgency of needing to change how we do things? It's as if the response to a call for the fire brigade has been met with the dispatch of a snail. At the present rate of progress it will take Birmingham thousands of years to achieve what we know must be largely complete across the entire city within the next ten years. Let that sink in: ten years.
The powerful image shown above projected by Cycling UK illuminates the way. Although time is desperately short, most cities that take the bull by the horns do manage to make themselves cycle-friendly city-wide in ten years. Alas the West Midlands Combined Authority has thrown its weight behind the tram, even though, despite the massive cost and engineering requirement, it serves almost none of the city. It is also inflexible and non-resilient (because trams can only follow the rails and the power supply), and it blocks other forms of transport (such as active travel). Additionally, at the time of writing, it is completely broken (this year both track and vehicles have failed); it may be a serious bother if you found your cycle frame was cracked, but at least that doesn't stop everyone from cycling. And whilst a bicycle requires minimal energy input, how much of of the large energy requirement of the tram is met from renewable sources?
But that ten years means we need to be getting on with the job NOW, and in a big way. We can't afford to spend time trying out unproven ideas. We can't afford to spend time listening to people who believe LTN's don't work (but who have neither familiarity with the evidence, nor alternative solutions). We can't afford to spend any more time pandering to people who think they need to drive everywhere, and we cannot afford to waste any more time on people who think there isn't a problem.
The first person who alerted me that there might be a climatic problem was my mother, and that was way back in the 1970s. She was a keen gardener, and had noticed that weather patterns had changed in her lifetime. Despite being a teenager, I listened, though it took me a long, long time to understand the magnitude of what she had said to me. It helped that I had just experienced the summer of 1976, a summer of intense heat and aridity. That year I learned the painful, frightening way that if the sky turned black, it was time to get indoors fast to avoid finding myself covered in, of all things, viciously biting ladybirds (it really wasn't as funny as it sounds). After a highly successful spring they were by the summer desperate for food and water (as were the bald monkeys by the time it rained in September), so in huge numbers they would sink their gnashers into anything that offered either. I have met people who don't believe me that this happened. Trust me, it did, and to those that didn't have that experience, take this as a warning as to how very different your life in this country could be in the future courtesy of a changing climate. Being attacked by huge swarms of ladybirds will be the least of our worries.
My mother wasn't the only person to notice something. Some with appropriate qualifications were starting to study the issue. Thus pre-eminent scientists such as Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking have been warning of anthropomorphic climate change for decades. If only we had listened to them instead of ignoramuses, charlatans, and certain so-called "newspapers" I could mention. Like the person who failed to heed the advice to save for their retirement from a young age, now things are getting desperate.
So now is the time to deluge MP's and councillors with emails, letters, and phone calls. They may fall on deaf ears with nothing in between (don't forget that at the next election), but many will reach people who do understand what we are facing, and your contacting them will encourage them to be bold. You could perhaps remind those that respond negatively, especially the Tories, that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said: "I support councils of all parties, which are trying to promote cycling and bus use. And if you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is, because trying to squeeze more cars and delivery vans on the same roads and hoping for the best is not going to work". And remember, the entire scientific community is standing there right behind you. Anthropomorphic climate change has been predicted and measured. and is an existential threat. It needs urgent action, not hand-wringing. Of course it's also the time for all of us to review our own actions. It's no good the council building cycling infrastructure if people are slow to move away from their dependence on an SUV, or fly off to Thailand or the US twice a year.
There is one personal action you can take that certainly wont reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but will help with understanding their effect. If you have a desktop computer (powered by electricity generated using renewable energy, of course), you can join me in helping the scientists studying climate change. How cool is that?