August heralded a successful bid from Birmingham, which will result in £24 million being spent on cycling in Birmingham. Tuesday’s cycling forum was a chance for the city council to feedback to a selection of cycling campaigners and enthusiasts the plans to spend the money. Several councillors fed back to the audience.
James McKay, the Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart city, spoke about how cycling is being pushed up the agenda and how the council now has a nice problem in that the council has to spend the money in a short amount of time. Mckay wants to create a city where cycling is a viable choice for cyclists. At the moment the city is far too geared towards cars. He also stressed the need for this cycling revolution to get the wheels in motion for further funding beyond the £24 million as much more money and effort is needed to create a cycling culture in Birmingham.
After McKay, the Cabinet Member for Public Health Steve Bedser also spoke. Bedser talked about how cycling was important to public health. He made an observation that most of the audience where of a healthy weight, unlike a significant amount of Birmingham. He quoted that a quarter of ten year old children are obese. Cycling could help play a role in getting the people of Birmingham more active, reducing obesity in the process.
Unfortunately he did not touch on the very important issue of air pollution and how much damage pollution causes to our health. Air pollution from things like car exhausts are the second biggest killer in Birmingham after smoking. If we undertook more journeys by bike, walking and pogo-stick we would reduce air pollution, making us less susceptible to toxic fumes like nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. It could also make us fitter and less obese. Cycling is also very cheap and often quicker than driving. I often find that during rush hour I get to my destination quicker than I would in a car. On top of this it is also fun!
Following Bedser the Transport Manager for Birmingham city council spoke about the plans for the Birmingham cycling revolution. He spoke about improvements to infrastructure, creating arterial routes on the main roads, quieter routes parallel to them and canal routes. Combined this would create a better network for cycling.
In addition to this infrastructure new initiatives are going to be created to increase participation. These include a new website where cyclists can buddy up with other cyclists. An aim of this is to hopefully pair cyclists who are not confident with confident cyclists. Another initiative is to create cycling hubs throughout areas of the city where people can take and leave bikes. There are plans to introduce 5000 new bikes to Birmingham.
Once the presentations were over a round table session was introduced for us to participate in. Different tables were set up to discuss different issues concerning the cycling revolution including the Birmingham bike scheme and the infrastructure plans. I chose to join the table discussing the role of community groups in the cycling revolution. We talked about the barriers to cycling for those who do not cycle regularly. Fear of the road was a big concern. We discussed about how community groups could be involved in the revolution. An inclusive, consultative process was the answer from the participants rather than a top down you do what we tell you to, which has often happened in processes like this.
When the discussions finished the cyclists returned to give their feedback the panellists. Sadly I had to leave at this point to meet Julien at the bike lounge.
Overall there is excitement that some substantial work will be undertaken in Birmingham to help create a cycling culture. I find it promising that I see more cyclists out and about than I did 5 years ago, especially commuters. The forum did lack specifics like a target for a % of commuter journeys done by bike. Birmingham Friends of the Earth will continue to keep a close eye on the revolution.