Pushbikes Bristol Road inspection
Thursday 20 Feb 2014

The ride with Push Bikes the Birmingham Cycling Campaign on 15th February 2014 to inspect cycling provision on Bristol Road in Edgbaston was a disappointment. It was well attended by around 30-35 riders and the organisers of the ride are to be congratulated. There was a rider on a recumbent, a cargo bike and various different bikes being used. My disappointment is not with the members or officials of Push Bikes but on what I found was the "provision" for cyclists. 

We started off from the Birmingham University main gate on Bristol Road and then headed towards the City on a shared path.  The immediate need was to negotiate the street furniture and then cross a side road. After that was negotiated the ride continued along the shared path negotiating more street furniture until the junction with  Edgbaston Road  was reached. Then, the sign directed cyclists to join the carriageway, which we all did. The lights then changed to green and we were off again. Just the other side of the junction past the bus stop, we were directed back on to the shared use path. So what was the point of the path if it was shared with pedestrians and ended at the first significant road junction forcing cyclists back in to the road? 

The path was bumpy on my road bike. Has anyone from Birmingham City Council actually ridden a bike along it? Motorists would not tolerate this. It was narrow at the start but it did widen out later and was littered with street furniture. It was never possible to get up to a reasonable speed. I don't expect to be able to ride at Tour de France speed (as if I would be capable of that anyway) but I would expect to be able to proceed at about 10 mph. That was not a feasible speed on that path due to the surface, the width (or lack of it) and the need to watch out for pedestrians. 

We paused outside McDonalds and then the bulk of the riders crossed over Bristol Road to go back on the other side of the road. As I had already cycled that way to join the ride and had other things to do, I left them to it.

I am afraid that if Birmingham City Council think that shared use is the answer to encouraging cycling then then they are wrong.  Faster confident cyclists will stay in the road albeit contending with the wrath of the “you don’t even pay road tax” brigade telling them to get off the road.  Forced on to the pavement means riding at a fairly slow pace because of the narrowness of the path for most of it’s length and the need to watch out for pedestrians. Those people who are afraid of the road and might be willing to cycle on the shared footpath are still faced with negotiating the junction. Conflict is created as soon as the cyclist is expected to leave the shared path and get back on the carriageway. That will put off those who might have been prepared to give it a go. It's pointless really. This infrastructure is neither one thing nor another. 

Birmingham City Council need to be courageous and create a Dutch style lane between the carriageway and the footpath. That means narrowing the road space for motor vehicles. However, when motorists are sat there in a jam and see the cyclists cruising past them in their own lane, (and not a lane they are expected to share with pedestrians) more of them will leave their cars at home and travel in on bikes. Sadly, decades of thinking that traffic means motor traffic means that road transport planners have a complete blind spot on this issue and lack the imagination or courage to be bold.

This location is right by the University. So you might expect bikes, as you would in places like Utrecht, a Dutch university town where I have cycled. Anyone who has cycled in such places would find it hard to believe that a great university city such as Birmingham cannot do better. 

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Tim Beasley

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