This year, Birmingham city centre was transformed for World Car Free Day, as 5 bike trains pulled into the city centre and cyclists took over Victoria Square. We wanted to get as many people as possible to experience how easy, fun and practical it is to commute to work by bike. In cities such as Brighton, Copenhagen and Amsterdam cycling is more than a specialised sport or a family day out, it is a way of life. Why not Birmingham?
Birmingham Friends of the Earth teamed up with Sustrans and Push Bikes to get people commuting to work by bike and had a great turn out, with around 70 participants coming together from Quinton, Acocks Green, Sutton Coldfield, Cotteridge and Kings Heath. The bike trains went along the main routes into town, picking people up along the way, and everyone had the chance to see how safe and simple it is to cycle, even during rush hour. The sun was out, people were in good humour from all the sunshine and exercise. The event finished with a celebratory round of Fairtrade tea, coffee and breakfast in Victoria Square, provided by three ethical, independent cafés: Six Eight Kafé, Brewsmiths, and Urban Coffee Company.
The feedback we’ve had from participants has been great with calls for more frequent Bike Trains to happen! We’re hoping some of the cyclists on each route will take on the task of organising these for themselves.
We thought it would be great to organise Bike Trains for a number of reasons:
Cycling is good for the environment. It produces zero carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that is polluting and warming Earth the most. Human activities create about 27 billion tonnes a year of CO2, and each time we use a car, plane or train, we contribute to global warming and climate change. By riding a bike, you can help curb this. The pollution from public transport also makes buildings dirty and causes respiratory diseases, whereas cycling does none of these, which is good news for the city and people of Birmingham.
Cycling saves lives – literally! One in four people in the UK are obese and the University of Oxford’s Department of public health has discovered there has been a “dramatic rise” in obesity-related deaths. Experts in The Lancet say that 30 minutes of daily exercise is the “bare minimum for health” and cycling is very easy to integrate into your daily routine. (It is also door-to-door and therefore very convenient.) A Dutch study has shown that people who cycle have fewer sick days: “The more often people cycle to work and the longer the distance travelled, the less they report sick.” What’s more, research has proven that the health and other benefits of cycling outweigh the potential risks such as being involved in a road traffic accident or exposure to air pollution.
Cycling saves you money. We know that there’s an economic crisis, and we know that there’s a debt crisis, but few people know that cycling to work can save you a lot of money. For the people who did the Banners Gate to Victoria Square route, that’s £6 for the day if they normally drive a car, which works out to £160 a month. Going from Quinton to town by bike and back on a daily basis would save you a whopping £1,222 a year! Just think of all the things you could spend that money on. You also save on parking costs, and if you’re fed up of waiting in queues at the petrol station and being stuck in traffic, cycling is really the way to go.
We tried to get as many people as possible involved in the event, and contacted forums, elected councillors, and the media. We tweeted, e-mailed, got articles posted on blogs all over the city, put posters up and handed out flyers.
Disappointingly, Birmingham City Council failed to provide as much support as we’d have liked in promoting the event, although the cycling officer did provide a gazebo, a couple of tables and some hot water. Two councillors, Martin Straker Welds and David Radcliffe, out of the fifty or so we invited gamely joined the trains at Moseley and Row Heath Pavilion and were very enthusiastic about the day.
Media coverage was great as Midlands Today put a helmet cam on one rider, and filmed the ride from start to finish, as well as taking video footage of the gathering at the end. A film crew also filmed the event for Friends of the Earth’s 40th anniversary and all our photos are up on Facebook.
Most of all, however, it was great to see so many commuters congregating in the sunshine and wearing smiles at the end of their journey. How often do you see that in a car park of a morning?