A monumental announcement?
On Saturday Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for transport announced £2 billion for walking and cycling infrastructure. He also announced £250 million to be spent in the immediate future for cycling and walking provisions to help social distancing. Unfortunately, this is not new money but money that comes from £5 billion has been allocated to buses and cyclists. What is important is the change of focus. Before Covid 19 cycling and walking was a fringe issue, some good things were happening, but overall the balance of power remained with the car.
Covid 19 has changed how people travel. Cycling has increased dramatically. We know that we can not return to pre Covid 19 levels of car usage as the air pollution is prematurely killing thousands of people per year and the congestion is causing gridlock. Public transport usage is likely to fall as people don’t trust buses and trains for the time being. People will either go back to their cars or we can hopefully get them to cycle, walk or potentially use an E Scooter (trials in Birmingham soon).
Birmingham City Council (BCC) have started to implement a plan to help social distancing. They have picked two high streets and enacted some measures. These two high streets are Kings Heath in the south and Erdington in the north of the city. Erdington is too far away from me to get to via bike in Covid 19 times, but Kings Heath is quite close to me. I cycled to Kings Heath to see what the differences are given the new installation of social distancing measures.
The changes are modest. Two sets of parking bays, on opposing sides of the road have been taken out. They are now paths that can be walked or at a push cycled down. They are maybe 10-20 metres in length. Where the widened paths are, it makes a significant difference, as the extended path makes social distancing easier. On other parts of the high street, it was very difficult to social distance, by the Sainsbury’s and several banks, which had large queues outside of them. The paths are narrow by these institutions so the only way to socially distance is to walk in the road, where cars are still in place. Other parking bays on the high street remain in place and cars are still dominant. However, I did notice more cyclists than I normally would on Kings Heath High Street which was encouraging. On a sad note, I saw the remembrance bike by the Asda. Hope Fennel was killed by a lorry driver at a crossing. Every time I see the bike I am reminded about why making cycling safer is so important. Deaths like that of Hope Fennel don’t happen when cyclists are properly segregated from motor traffic.
The campaigning continues
The alterations are minor and won’t revolutionise Kings Heath High Street. What they are though, is a starting point. If we can get ongoing support for these new measures and support for further measures, than these initial, modest changes can be built upon. Cycling campaigners often get frustrated, because we know what we want, and how much of a positive difference it would make but are hopes are often not met. Birmingham is still a city dominated by the car and that won’t change overnight. The motor lobby remains powerful. As active transport campaigners we need to keep pushing for positive change. Once upon a time, we’d have to point to Copenhagen or Amsterdam to find examples of what we want, but now we can point to Lambeth, Cambridge and Leicester. Across the country the landscape for walking and cycling infrastructure is changing. We have to push BCC to go further with their plans. They have made changes to two high streets and have said that many more will be on the way. We also have to lobby central government to give BCC the money it needs to make substantial changes. Those involved from BCC do care about making cycling better, they are fighting against a backdrop of continued budget cuts. The more support that we gain for cycling, the more that BCC can do. Removing some parking bays is a start but we need much more time come. We will continue to campaign for better active transport provisions.
Photos courtesy of Birmingham Friends of the Earth Campaigner Martin Stride
The photos are of the infrastructure not completely finished. They have tarmac ramps at each end with one in the middle as well.