Cycling in Birmingham: Ten Reasons For Hope

In previous blogs I've written, occasionally with a modicum of bluntness, about the lack of real support for cycling in the UK’s second city. I have not been backward in laying blame squarely at the door of the city council who too often appear wedded to the interests of motorists. 

The temptation is to let the truth of local authority failure grind us down. 

Except I’ve never been one for letting other people dictate who I choose to be; instead I’m focusing my sights on a rising tide of cycling optimism and I’m not alone. Birmingham is changing. Birmingham is on the up. Birmingham is experiencing a cycling revolution. 

Here’s ten reasons to believe things really are getting better for cyclists in the second city. 

1: Bold, confident assertiveness. In late August and in one of the most passionate acts of defiance I have seen in years, a gathering of up to 200 young people rode from Chelmsley Wood in the far East of the city to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the West. 200 young cyclists taking back the streets because a friend is living with cancer. Bloody brilliant! 

2: WM Police. Another group we’ve not been shy in criticising are West Midlands Police and their frequent reluctance to enforce traffic law. It appears things are changing. WM Police are now pioneering an operation directly targeting motorists who pass too close to cyclists.  And all good people said, “Amen!”

3: Double Yellow lines. For years the tiny amount of cycle infrastructure we do have in the second city has been undermined by its flagrant abuse by other road users. That came to an end (ish) in one small part of the city when the Highway’s agency finally acted on the wishes of hundreds of commuters and painted double yellow lines along Sherlock St. It’s a tiny gesture but it’s made a big difference and surely that’s the point. 

Muppets will still drive and park like muppets do but the law is now firmly against them. 

Muppets will still drive and park like muppets do but the law is now firmly against them. 

4: Eastern Europeans. I’ve lived in the East of the city for nine years and for seven of those cyclists have been like gold dust. And then the Romanians moved in. Our Eastern European friends brought with them a new frugal, hard working economy, not ashamed of a little up cycling.  All over the East there are suddenly a mass of second hand bike shops and a notable change in behavior. 

5: Volume. I’ve commuted through the city for a long time and while I have no hard data to evidence this my observation is that the number of regular cyclists is significantly rising.

6: Velo Birmingham. Ok so the entrance fee borders on the ridiculous but it still promises to be a great moment for the second city. Add to this rumour that the national road championships will return to Broad Street and the city is clearly being recognised as a key development opportunity post London's cycling saturation. 

7: Diversification. At each of our summer road show events gender has been balanced and the diversity of ethnicities and incomes huge. If you think cycling is just about white blokes in lycra you’re simply wrong. 

8: Urban Development. With massive urban development planned both in Southside, Eastside and JQ there will be two net consequences of a growing urban population. Firstly the disappearance of hundreds of parking spaces. Secondly thousands of people living within a short riding distance of their work. Why wouldn’t they go by bike? 

9: Good People. When you do what we do you get to meet a whole load of cyclists and here’s the thing; they’re good people. There are even a number of councillor officers who are seriously good people strangled by an inadequate system. And as the saying goes “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing”. So here’s to action, not "their action" but "our collective action". Instead of endless criticism maybe the much more searching question ought to be “who have I helped, inspired and encouraged to ride this week”.    

10. Rumour of Focus. One of the chief criticisms of the local authority's approach to cycling infrasture has been it's tendency to develop a 'lot of a little' rather than do 'a few things well'. Note the mass presence of painted bikes on roads with no other cycling infrastructure and an overly generous budget for bright orange t shirts! Note also that this approach has enabled  dinosaur like councillors to deliberately obstruct the good plans their own officers had drawn up. Note finally our huge relief to hear rumour that this approach is to be abandoned and replaced by a much more focused operation bringing real notable infrastructure change to a limited number of areas. Prove the case in these few areas and councillors will find continued obstruction much more difficult. 

Have you seen signs of hope. Tell us about them.