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What is it?

The origins of the Bike West Midlands Network lie in an exchange on the excellent Birmingham Cyclist Website; see the Archive below! The idea was to provide some mutual support between cycling campaigns and individual campaigners across the whole West Midlands area. At present BWM Network consists of an email list of around 100 addresses of campaign groups and interested cycling campaigners as well as politicians, professionals and officers engaging with cycling issues. There is also a Twitter account @BWMNetwork.

Currently, David Cox (Chair of National Council at CTC and Vice-Chair of Pushbikes in Birmingham) uses these media just to circulate information that might be of interest. In early 2013 Centro the public transport authority with its Sustainable Travel section began work on a Centro Cycling Charter and the BWM list was partly set up to enable Centro to consult with campaign groups across the Region. The Charter has finally come to fruition with an Implementation Plan published in the Autumn of 2015 but as yet there are no guarantees of funding.

Generally what little money that there is available to support cycling is managed by individual local authorities often bidding in a time of "austerity" for special grants from the Department for Transport. Local campaigns lobby and consult on various local issues and initiatives. Since 2013 Birmingham has secured c£60 million from central Government to support the Birmingham Cycle Revolution and Push Bikes has been fully engaged in consultations about the implementation of this grant. Other local authorities have had far less to spend, but there have been discussions about, amongst other things, an Active Travel Strategy in Wolverhampton, station parking, and some specific junction proposals in Coventry. Centro managed a combined bid under an earlier Local Sustainable Transport Fund and various cycling improvements to station parking, some work around sustainable travel corridors and high streets were commissioned from this. There are active Cycling Campaigns in Solihull and in Worcestershire and individual campaigners across the Region. At least one local community is beginning to push for what might be called a "mini-Holland" to enhance their neighbourhood with safer walking and cycling especially for children and families.

Who's behind it?

Why is it important now?

Since 2015 the UK Government’s new proposals for regional devolution (the Northern Powerhouse or the Midlands Engine!) have begun to take shape and hold out the possibility of being able to campaign for cycling and active travel at that level. A new strategic Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) is taking on the Cycling Charter from Centro with an avowed commitment to a Strategic Network of Cycle Routes and a mention of applying Dutch and Danish expertise to their development. Proposals are being discussed for a West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) with devolved powers including transport, planning and economic growth. Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) bring local business interests into play in shaping local and regional priorities.

Notable and welcome within these steps towards regional devolution have been the incorporation of Cycling and Walking as prioritized modes of travel, initially in a Birmingham Connected visioning document and now in Connected for Growth issued by the ITA. Sustainable travel and Active Travel are on the agenda because it is now recognized that economic development that brings further growth in car and motor vehicle travel is unsustainable due to congestion and air pollution. The social, health, environmental and public realm benefits of making our cities attractive for cycling and walking are now complemented by a better understanding of how active travel will support economic regeneration as well as more liveable communities.

The cycling community has the opportunity to shape this future and a new governmental body with which to lobby and negotiate. We are on the agenda even if precious little money has yet been committed. How can we take advantage of this and create a better future for our children and grand children?

Manifesto

In 2013 a few of us via emails and discussions at the late lamented Bike Lounge in Kings Heath Birmingham agreed a Manifesto of what we would like to see to ensure that the potential of cycling to improve our lives across the West Midlands Region. These are now suggested as the key elements :-

Active Travel

Active travel and cycling have well understood physical and mental health benefits for the population and for employers. They also ease congestion, improve social cohesion and community life. We are only now beginning to realize the full horror of air pollution from diesel engines and the bicycle is the most effective green vehicle around. Many countries throughout the world are rebuilding their urban areas around active travel, cycling and walking, and efficient comfortable and green public transport. Car use must not be allowed to grow to further choke our cities (in both senses) but can begin to be much more controlled through road charging or filtered permeability.

A Regional Strategic Network of Safe Cycle Infrastructure

The prime aim is a safe strategic network of high quality cycle routes to be built to Dutch or Danish standards across the Region. We want consistent standards of design criteria, safety, inclusivity and signage across the "borders" between different authorities. Cycling is about transport and even short journeys can take cycling individuals, groups and families out of ward, district or local authority areas. If people are to take up the option of cycling then they need to feel safe in a well understood cycling environment which joins up desirable destinations. BWM Network includes people with expertise in cycle infrastructure and we will begin to map out and proposed desirable routes rather than just be responding to sub-optimal proposals as so often in the past.

Improved, safe, predicable and high standard cycle access and parking at journey generators like hospital campuses, universities, office complexes, commercial, retail and industrial parks will also relieve the pressure on roads and public transport. As the infrastructure improves the value of easy access shared bike schemes becomes apparent attracting casual cycle users and visitors.

The Sustainable Economic Benefits of Cycling

The economic benefits of cycling are increasingly understood. Employees who cycle to work are healthier and more punctual. Integrating exercise into daily trips is by far the most effective way of improving health and well being and preventing ill health in the working population. The savings to the NHS if far more of the population took regular exercise by cycling are substantial quite apart from the fundamental benefit of people living longer healthier lives.

The cycling industry itself including retail, some manufacturing, maintenance and repairs and recycling is an important economic sector with growth potential. Many small shops and social enterprises have grown up in local communities doing cycle maintenance, recycling unused bikes, led rides and creating employment, volunteering, and training opportunities. Big and medium sized cycle retailers are expanding on High Streets while there are at least three major distribution centres in the Region. The big prize is the reshoring of manufacture, initially of high end bikes, holding out the promise of training and apprenticeships in design, engineering, marketing and business skills.

Tourism and Well Being

Birmingham and the surrounding cities and counties also have great potential as centres of cycle tourism. Our colleague Roy Watson has carefully mapped, photographed and documented the 150 miles of Greenways accessible from Birmingham City Centre and publishes an excellent interpretative map. Over 34 million visitors come to the Region every year. If a small percentage were to stay over an extra night and hire a bicycle to explore (something that visitors expect to be able to do in much of northern Europe), it would be a significant boost to the economy. Green routes or local train services give more ambitious touring cyclists access to the wonderful lanes of the Borders, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire or the Cotswolds.

Working with the Canal and River Trust to improve canal towpaths and with parks departments on active parks and improving local Greenways and links between them has been one of the most successful elements in the Birmingham Cycle Revolution. This model can be extended across the whole West Midlands with its rich network of canals and open spaces.

Integration with Public Transport

Birmingham Connected and Connected for Growth both want to prioritise fast, comfortable, clean, reliable public transport with better rail services, trams, Sprint buses etc. The interface between cycling and walking and public transport is increasingly understood. We want to see better and safer cycle parking at railway and bus stations, safe cycling access to stations (Plebgates!) so that cyclists can arrive without using dangerous heavily traffic roads and junctions and better organized and accessible carriage of full sized cycles on trains. This is important because many cyclists cannot just leave their cycle at a local station and walk to an office, they may need their bike at the end of the rail trip to access different sites and workplaces.

These elements will be an important part of BWM Network’s response to the current West Midlands Rail Franchise consultation.

Equalities, inclusivity, challenging transport poverty and a cool cycling culture

The UK is a profoundly unequal society but the Equality Act 2010 requires all public bodies to promote equal access to facilities and to consider the impact of policies on persons with a variety of protected characteristics. Economic inequality is not included in the Act but is a critical element in social cohesion, health and life expectancy as well as in economic development.

For many people with disabilities a bicycle or tricycle, or hand cycle, perhaps with adaptations or electrical support can become an invaluable mobility aid and one that has additional fitness and range benefits compared to the widely used mobility scooters. Some adults cannot have a driving licence even if they could afford a car because of medical conditions that are no impediment to cycling.

Cycling and walking are inherently democratic modes of transport and in safe circumstances enable citizens to travel, explore and seek work and other opportunities at minimal cost. This is especially so compared to the costs of running a car, using minicabs or public transport.

In a large city transport poverty is a significant restriction for those living for example in outlying estates. Many households and individuals have no access to a car and public transport is expensive. Schemes like Big Birmingham Bikes bring the employment, health and social benefits of cycling to a wider population including those whose families and cultures have not previously adopted bikes in the UK or those for whom the initial cost of a serviceable bike might seem prohibitive. In other Regions easy access bike share schemes have also spread the benefits of cycling to new groups and generations.

Another aspect of inclusive cycling that is too often neglected is age. Not only can older people take up or maintain cycling fitness into their later years but the bicycle is a great liberator for young people from teenagers to "generation rent". In many European and American cities the bike has become a preferred mode of travel for a younger people and a "cool" cycling culture has grown up around this with cafes, fashion trends and entrepreneurial innovative hubs like Hackney’s silicon roundabout.

Safety and Road Justice

We know that perceptions of safety are the biggest factors discouraging people who would like to cycle or to cycle more regularly on their daily journeys in cities, towns and the countryside. BWM Network will support local and national initiatives that contribute to a safer cycling environment. The most successful approach is to create safe space for cycling on direct routes which are separated from heavy fast motor traffic and which don’t impede pedestrians’ enjoyment of footpaths and pavements. Speed reduction like the successful 20 is Plenty campaign also help. Vision Zero is an approach to Road Safety which sets out measures to ensure that no one is killed or seriously injured on our roads. This is a change in perspective which is fully in line with modern Health and Safety practice in factories and on building sites. There is a specific issue with regard to buses and HGVs and while training and enforcement are important it is also possible as with HS2 construction vehicles to campaign for higher design standards to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

The reduction in traffic policing is a key issue to be raised with the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner when strategic priorities are determined to ensure that existing laws are enforced. This also needs to be backed up by the courts when prosecution and sentencing guidelines are drawn up and implemented. While some of these issues of law are of course national, local campaigning about local experiences can also be very effective in winning public support for a safer more law abiding environment on the roads.

Current activities

BWM Network already has a mailing list and a Twitter account. We have consulted on the Centro Cycling Charter and been included in meetings about its implementation. We are working towards a coherent and shared response to the current West Midlands Rail Franchise. We have consistently taken an interest in the new Integrated Transport Authority and the West Midlands Combined Authority.

Next steps include setting up a small steering group and then holding a launch event probably in June at a central location. Next may come a website/ message board and an action plan. However, it is not the intention to set up a complex organization requiring a superstructure of committees when many of us are fully committed to working with existing local groups and/or national organisations. It is not the intention to supplant local groups merely to add value where it will be welcomed.

I would welcome colleagues views here but my preference is to keep it light and electronic.

Successes

Since the BWM Network was established in 2013 we can count a number of successes. These are not necessarily of our making but steps in the right direction!

  • Birmingham's Cycling Revolution bids have been remarkably successful in bringing some much needed funding for cycling improvements in the City.
  • The Birmingham Greenways map covering 150 miles of traffic free walking and cycling paths around Birmingham, the Black Country and Solihull has been published and well publicized by one remarkable individual Roy Watson.
  • Birmingham Connected the City’s mobility and transport action plan gives a full chapter to the importance of cycling and walking as does the related Connected for Growth document from the Integrated Transport Authority.
  • A new cycle manufacturer is about to be launched and CyTech skills are beginning to be taught in schools in Sutton Coldfield. Several social enterprises and recycling centres are thriving across the Region.
  • Wolverhampton has begun a consultation on Active Travel.

Archive from Birmingham Cyclist

From James Avery Nov 11th 2012

So my question is -

  1. How can we all pool resources across the West Midlands? Look at the resources London Cycling Campaign have - both in terms of funding through members and additional cash, and also the simple fact most boroughs seem to meet monthly.
  2. Should there be a pan-WM cycling campaign, and if so, will Centro support it with some cash (afaik, TfL give LCC money)?
  3. If yes to above, what are the most important issues of cross-boundary co-operation? I'd suggest trains, stations, canals, and the airport / NEC complex on top of the obvious longer distance routes.
  4. Are there other people from Cov, or just not from Brum reading this? Is there a virtual 'critical mass' for separate forums for us here, or elsewhere? I suggest that whatever co-ordination is done, running it through here is a good place to start, as whether we like it or not, Brum is always going to be the lead player on these matters. And if you disagree with me on any of this, tough - you can't send me to Coventry as I'm already stuck here behind the impenterable barrier of the A452 / A45 ;)
Reply by Dave Cox on Nov 12th 2012 at 9:28 James this is a really good idea. Birmingham Cyclist has been a brilliant way of celebrating and developing a cycling culture in Birmngham but we need to be working on a wider area as well. Centro is now our pale apology for Regional Government and we should be talking with them across the area. Did I meet you at the Love London Go Dutch conference?? Cyclenation bring together campaigns like Push Bikes from across the country and CTC Right to Ride reps do the same. But I agree that a focussed West Midlands drive could be useful. Are you aware of current Scrutiny Hearing on Cycling by Birmingham City Council links are on this website. Could be a very useful catalyst for progress in Birmingham and wider area.

 

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