These are exciting times at BFoE as, in case you missed it, on June 19th we launched our new local campaign, Let’s Get Moving! After all our work on national campaigns, it’s great to once again be working on a campaign targeted directly at making our city a better place to live. Let’s Get Moving was inspired by two key themes of environmental concern that converged to be particularly relevant to Birmingham: air pollution and active travel. It’s vital that we fight the curse of the ‘motor city’ and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We, and many others, have been calling for a long time for improvements to sustainable transport infrastructure and an end to the obsession with motoring. We’ve also encouraged individuals to incorporate healthy, active travel into their own lifestyles for as long as we’ve been around. For Let’s Get Moving though, we wanted to come at it from a different angle.

It’s all very well asking Birmingham to change its travel habits to challenge the problem of air pollution, but we need to make people aware of how big that problem is first! That’s why, when we launched Let’s Get Moving in June, we did it with a series of stunts that saw campaigners wearing masks gathered next to some of Birmingham’s busiest roads and air pollution hotspots. On the launch day we could be seen masked up outside the Town Hall and then again a week later, we were there with our masks and enormous banner on Digbeth High Street with a very striking message. Yes, the slightly creepy sight helped gather attention for the campaign, but it was about more than that.

Lots of people are aware of air pollution – they can see it billowing out of cars and smell it as they walk around the city. Our message is more than just pointing out that air pollution exists. Our message is that air pollution is seriously harmful to us and those we love. That’s why we wore masks, because it’s not just a nasty smell, it’s a serious threat to our health. The cars in the background of the photos were no mistake either – motor travel is by far the most significant cause of air pollution in Birmingham and it’s this that we need to change.

With that in mind, we most certainly didn’t stop at the launch. FoE’s revamped annual conference, Basecamp, also took place this month, and BFoE campaigners drew on our work on Let’s Get Moving and our experience of Birmingham to run a session on air pollution with other groups. We’re by no means the only local group thinking about air pollution at the moment and it was great to get us all together to share thoughts and ideas. Whilst we came away with a lot to think about and get working on, we like to think the experiences and knowledge we shared were valuable to others too, particularly as we’re probably the furthest along with the development of our campaign.

Continuing to spread the message of Let’s Get Moving, we were also present at Centro’s ‘Bike Trains’ event on the 19th. We joined the riders and discussed the campaign with people at the endpoint in Victoria Square. It’s good to see other organisations taking on something that was a first for Birmingham when we started them back in 2011.

In September 2011 we organised a series of ‘trains’ of cyclists to ride into the city centre from all around Birmingham for ‘In Town Without My Car Day’ to replace the commute to work in the car with an enjoyable, active travel alternative. We led five trains packed with riders into Victoria Square where we gave them a free breakfast and discussed the joys and benefits of cycling. Even better, we got a lot of press coverage and firmly put bike trains on the agenda for Birmingham. It was such a success that Push Bikes ran a bike train event again in 2012, again successfully promoting them as a viable solution to our transport problems.

Our aim however was always to do more than this – BFoE isn’t a transport provider and we know organising an event once a year isn’t enough to make our city a better place to travel. Instead, the point of us organising big bike train events was to show that it was a real and viable option, as well as giving people a taster of what it could be like to live in a more cycling-friendly Birmingham. We hoped bike trains would be taken up by authorities and communities as an everyday transport solution. The news that Centro’s Sustainable Travel team were organising a series of bike train events was therefore very happily received!

The team have organised bike train events over a series of weeks, timed to demonstrate them as a travel alternative during the A38 tunnel closures. They’ve also been run in conjunction with workshops offering bike checks and set-ups. Altogether, it’s a great development that we’re extremely pleased with!

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s enough. Bike trains and cycling more widely has the potential to make Birmingham a radically healthier and more pleasant place to live every day, not just on specific days during tunnel closures. That’s why we’ve launched Let’s Get Moving – to keep up the pressure for more progress. We’ve already seen from Birmingham City Council’s detailed bid for the Cycling City Ambition Grant that it knows at least some of what needs to be done, so now the challenge is just to make that happen.

If you want to help us do this, drop into the Warehouse, give us a call, or send us an email and get involved with Let’s Get Moving!

Samuel Jones