Early in the year Cycling England, the body charged with developing cycling provision announced innovative plans for six cycling towns and a cycling city. The Department for Transport (DfT) would fund the scheme to the tune of £140m!


Towns and cities across England were invited to bid for funding from the DfT. The cycle city fund would provide the successful applicant with £5-10 per head of population for three years. In Birmingham’s case this would amount to £5-10 million per year enabling substantial improvements in cycling provision, and promotion leading to a significant increase in the level of cycling. The scheme builds on the success of the Cycling Demonstration Towns scheme, in which selected towns, such as Darlington and Aylesbury were able to achieve impressive increases in levels of cycling.


The selection process was rigorous and the bidding authority would need to satisfy a number of criteria including

• commitment to the scheme at a senior political and officer level
• demonstrate that it supports investment in high quality infrastructure which gives priority to cyclists
• a willingness to restrain traffic speeds and volumes and to give advantage to cyclists
• active involvement of local education and health authorities and voluntary groups

Birmingham City Council put in a strong bid but unfortunately it was not shortlisted which was a great disappointment to those in the council and various stakeholder groups who had worked hard on putting the bid together.  However all is not lost and the work can be used as a springboard for informing future cycling policy.

A cycling strategy for Birmingham  – a decade later

Before the Cycle City bid was announced, Birmingham City Council was busy producing its draft cycling strategy which went out for public consultation earlier this year and to which Birmingham Friends of the Earth duly responded.

Since the publication of the current cycling strategy in 1998, it is striking how the health dimension of cycling has gained more importance, with primary care trusts now directly involved in promoting cycle use. Promoting the health benefits of cycling will be a highly effective way of attracting a much wider range of people into the saddle and hopefully lead to increased levels of cycling across the city.

On a less positive note, the 1998 target of increasing cycle use from 1% to 5% by 2005 was abandoned as cycling levels had actually declined to a paltry 0.7%. It was replaced by a much less demanding target of a 1% increase in the period 2003 to 2010. Contrast this disappointing story with that of London which has experienced an 83% increase in cycling levels since the late 90’s.

The main focus of the new strategy is in bringing about behavioural change which will be achieved by a range of initiatives including cycle training and promotion. The strategy will focus on the following areas of work.

• Encourage more cycling to school
• Improve cycling accident statistics through safety education and training
• Work with Travelwise and ‘Be Birmingham’ Partnership to encourage more cycling more often.
• Develop and implement a strategic cycle network across the city.

Within each area a number of targets have been identified, although in many cases these are not quantified. Some of these are now considered.

A target of no growth in car-based journeys to school is stated, but Birmingham Friends of the Earth considers this to be not ambitious enough; we think that the target should aim to reduce this number.

The strategy sets out a target of reducing the number of cyclists killed or seriously/slightly injured by 2015 from the 1994-1998 average. Rather than reducing the number of cyclists killed or injured, surely a more meaningful measure would be to reduce the proportion of cyclists injured or killed.

A city council survey identified that fear of dangerous traffic was the biggest deterrent to cycling. Thus the strategy gives strong support for the role of 20mph zones in making cycling safer and more attractive, but comments that it is beyond the scope of the strategy. On the contrary if cycling levels are to be increased, 20mph zones should be an integral part of the strategy. Murderously high speeds are commonplace both on trunk roads and residential side roads across the city. To tackle this problem we believe that a blanket 20mph limit should be applied to all residential roads. Portsmouth City Council has recently introduced such a scheme which has been welcomed by the vast majority of its residents; Aberdeen and Norwich are set to follow suit.

Bikeability training is to be provided to at least 1800 pupils each year to improve cycling safety statistics.  This is a welcome start, but we consider this initial target to be unnecessarily low, although this will be increased as funding and resources become available. Promoting the uptake of cycle training by adults is also given as a target, but not quantified.

More often than not, injuries and fatalities result from collisions with other vehicles on the road, so educating cyclists only tackles half of the problem. We believe that drivers need to be made aware of how to safely share roads with cyclists.

The establishment of a strategic cycle network is a key part of the cycling strategy. Emphasis will be on providing facilities on local roads and removing barriers to cycling on key routes such as at difficult junctions. At first glance, the map of the strategic cycling network appears to reflect a map of the main roads and raises concerns that cyclists will be chanelled along heavily trafficked arterial roads. However the proposed cycle corridors are only indicative, consisting of straight lines linking main destinations; the strategy points out that actual routes will in practice follow a combination of local roads, major roads and off road routes, whichever is appropriate.

While emphasis will be on developing the strategic network, existing schemes such as the North Birmingham Cycle Route and Harborne Walkway will continue to be funded and completed. 

Our verdict on the strategy? It’s comprehensive, but is not ambitious enough and is weak in many areas. Some of the targets also need to be quantified.

Considered cycling?

Our friends in Push Bikes, the Birmingham cycle campaign group based in the Warehouse will be running a number of ‘Consider Cycling’ presentations.  Aimed at adults who do not use their bikes much and those who are considering buying a bike, the following topics will be considered:

• choice of bike,
• adjustment and maintenance,
• advice for cycling the roads more confidently
• Cycle training and the Bikeability programme
These free events will be held in the Meeting Room at the Warehouse on the following dates:
• Wednesday June 18th 10am til noon, 2pm til 4pm, 7pm til 9pm
• Thursday June 19th 10 til noon, 7pm til 9pm.
• Saturday June 21st 10am til noon, 2pm til 4pm.
for further details and to book your place, email Graham Hankins of Pushbikes
g8emx@tiscali.co.uk or phone 0121 707 0420.