There are 6 consultations closing on the 29th April 2015 for some canal and green routes to be improved as part of phase 2 of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. Push Bikes welcomes the improvements that these plans will bring for cycle users, by giving the routes all-weather surfaces and by allowing cycling in some places where it previously was not allowed. Making these small connections is important for building up a connected cycle network across Birmingham.
While Push Bikes does welcome the improvements, we do have some issues with the plans:
Firstly, national cycle infrastructure design guidance states that any shared use paths should be a minimum of 3 meters wide. While there are physical constraints on canal tow-paths that prevent this width being achieved, in other areas it should be possible to achieve a 3 meter width for most sections of path. This is important in order to give more space when cycle users are passing pedestrians or other cycles, and so provide a more comfortable experience for everyone. For example, the Harborne Walkway improvements do not mention any widening of the paths, and some of the paths around the Alexander Stadium are only 1.5 meters wide.
Also, Push Bikes is not convinced by the use of tar and chip surfaces on green routes and canal towpaths. The all-weather tar and chip surface is an improvement on the soft surfaces found on some towpaths and on the Harborne Walkway, which get muddy and wash away. However the tar-and-chip surface is rough and has a higher-rolling resistance than smooth tarmac, so that cycling on it requires more energy. In addition when first laid there is an excess of loose chips on top of the surface, and although these are swept off after a month, chips continue to fall off the tar unless the surface is laid to a very high standard. It is possible for the chips to fall off large areas, leaving the surface with a patchy appearance. The loose chips also present cycle users with a skidding hazard, especially on slopes and bends.
Finally, we believe that it is important for cycle routes to be as smooth as newly laid roads (initially I did type 'as roads are now for motor traffic', but then thought of the state of Birmingham's roads and realised my mistake...). To achieve a smooth finish without the small ripples found on pavements that are invisible to pedestrians but which shake cycle users, it is important for the surfaces of cycle routes to be machine laid. While this may not be possible on canal towpaths, due to the weight of the machinery, it should be standard practice elsewhere.
Finally, there are some specific comments under some of the consultations below:
These paths should be 3 meters wide, rather than 2.5 meters and 2 meters in places. It is important to achieve a comfortable width for all users.
The plans do not state what the proposed width of the paths will be.
All of the shared use paths should be built to 3 meters wide. While the main 2.5m path is almost wide enough, the 1.5m and 1.2m paths are much too narrow for shared use.
It is important that the tunnel under Hagley Road, on the Harborne Walkway, has lighting installed and the floor levelled out. At the moment the tunnel is very dark, even on bright sunny days, and the floor surface changes unexpectedly. Providing lighting will improve social safety as well as reducing accidents, and levelling the floor will make it more comfortable to cycle through.
The width of the path of the walkway also needs to be maximised as far as possible, to be more comfortable for different users to pass each other.