In a previous post I wrote about the campaigning journey from lobbying Birmingham City Council to create segregated cycle infrastructure, to the A38 and A34 cycle routes actually being created. I thought that it would be a good idea to go on the A38 cycle path and compare it to cycling around South West Birmingham in general.
Getting to the A38 Cycle Path
Sadly I don’t live near the A38 Cycle Path, but I do live near the A38. I live on the edge of South West Birmingham, a ten minute cycle journey from Birmingham’s border with Worcestershire. I could have used the Rea Valley route for most of the journey to get to the A38 Cycle Path, but the Rea Valley Route near me goes through a lot of parks and the canal. It is a pretty and pleasant ride, but not a practical one. Instead I decided to go on a bit of a cycle around South West Birmingham, from where I live near Longbridge, to Cotteridge and then to Selly Oak where the A38 Cycle Path begins. My cycle to Selly Oak involved using 20 Mph and 30 Mph roads, some of the roads were residential roads and some were high streets and B roads. In both cases, the cycle is not pleasant, even if the roads are quiet. There are a whole host of hazards to avoid. From potholes, to car doors that could be opened at any point. A bus passed too close to me to be safe on one road. The whole way, I had to be on guard because at any point, something could go wrong, and as the cyclist, I’m the one likely to get hurt.
The A38 Route itself
Having fought my way to the start of the A38 Cycle Path, I had my camera phone ready to take photos at points throughout the ride along the route. It starts by the University of Birmingham, who are prime candidates to cycle. Most students are too poor to own a car and cycling to and from the city centre is cheaper than getting the train.
It is a two way path for its entire length. A bit frustratingly, there are a few sets of traffic lights by the University that can stop you getting momentum, but once you get past them, the route becomes a joy to ride. The path partly crosses the road between the two roads designed for cars, and you cycle slightly above the cars. There is very little interaction with cars, and when there is, there are give way signs for cars, meaning that the cyclist gets priority over the car driver. Unfortunately a big 4 x 4 monstrosity was blocking the entire path at one point, because they had maneuvered illegally, but once this hazard moved out of the way, my happiness returned. I encountered a few more sets of lights designed for cyclists and I crossed the road again.
The A38 crosses Priory road at this point. This crossing is notoriously dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. That is until now as the crossing has cycle specific traffic lights, that allow an easy and safe crossing for cyclists. Before, you’d either have to get off and run across the road with your bike, or brave the traffic with the cars. Cyclists were squeezed into a dangerously small space. Carrying on you get to the middleway, which is a five lane juggernaut of a junction. Again it used to be horrendous to cross, but thank you to the A38 Cycle Path, there is a cycling specific crossing. It can take a while to wait for the cycling traffic lights to go green, but once it does, getting across the extremely busy and polluted road is easy. The path continues and I was now nearing its end. Confusingly, the path then veers away from the A38 and ends on the edge of Chinese and Gay Quarters. Funnily, the path ends in between Nightingales, which is a gay club and K Star, which is a MMA, Kickboxing and Pro Wrestling school venue. What would be better, would be for the path to continue into the city centre and then it should join up with the A34 Cycle Path on the other side of the city centre. We can dream!
Why is the A38 Cycle Path much better the alternatives?
What struck me the most when I was on the path was how safe I felt. At no point did I feel in danger, which is the opposite when I’m cycling on the roads. I counted thirteen people on the cycle route, whilst I was on it, and only three of them were wearing helmets. Why Would they? Just like in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and many other cities, when cycling feels safe, there is no need to wear safety gear or hi vis clothing. When I was on the roads, I’d be fighting with cars, who were often trying to pass too close or trying to squeeze me into the kerb. There were no potholes or cars parked that could open their doors, just as I cycle past. With the route being mostly direct, I can predict how long it will take me to get from one end of the path to the other.
Segregated cycle paths, compare well with parks and the canals as cycle routes as well. Parks are indirect and only useful when it is light, so in the winter, when it is dark at 4pm, they are not useful. The Canals suffer similar problems and have safety concerns. Neither the Canals or the Parks can handle any form of large scale modal shift to cycling. Other cities have made that change. London was forced to, by people starting to cycle in large numbers. London’s new Cycle Super Highway have helped the numbers of cyclists increase in London.
For cycling to grow in Birmingham by any meaningful numbers, we need more, safe and direct, segregated cycling routes like this. There can be a 13 to 1 Cost Benefit ratio for money spent on cycling infrastructure. For every pound spent on cycling infrastructure, there can be thirteen pounds returned to the economy. This is a much better return, than money spent on infrastructure for cars.
I will continue to lobby for money to be spent on increasing money spent on cycling infrastructure. Personally, it will be incredible if the A38 Cycle Path continued away from the city centre, to Northfield and eventually Longbridge, near where I live. Whilst I wait and lobby for that to happen, I shall continue to enjoy riding the A38 Cycle Path whenever I can.