My U Turn
I’ve had a difficult relationship with the newly constructed bus lane between Selly Oak and Northfield. Initially I was against it at first, because the funding came from emergency transport active travel funding, which was meant to be dedicated for walking and cycling infrastructure. Whilst a bus, cycle and taxi lane is better for cyclists than normal road, they don’t attract new cyclists as they still feel dangerous to use. It can be feel intimidating to be over taken by a bus. In a dramatic U turn, I changed my mind and decided to support the new Bus Lane after using it a few times. I realised that it is better than what was there before it, From previous bitter experience, I know that if infrastructure is removed, it won’t be replaced, with better infrastructure and the previous status quo will become the norm once more. Bus Lanes do help cyclists, but more importantly they help buses. We know that over the last ten years bus use has declined in Birmingham. There is a vicious cycle where people stop using buses, because the bus gets stuck in traffic and is often late. Those that can then revert back to cars, making congestion worse, and buses even more late. Bus Lanes make bus journeys more reliable. More people will trust the bus and more people will use the bus for important journeys like commuting.
The Climate Emergency is really real!
The Climate Emergency is real! If we don;t get people out of cars and radically alter how people travel for day to day journeys we will not avert the worst effects of the climate emergency. It is the middle of April and it is currently snowing. In summer we will probably get 35 degrees celcius temperatures and severe flooding in winter. The status quo also pollutes our lungs with dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution, encourages sedentary lifestyles and is incredibly inefficient. Prior to lockdown I sometimes drove to town for work. What would take 50 minutes on the bike would take an hour and forty five minutes in a car. I wouldn’t want to drive to town, as it is a horrendous experience of traffic, and angry people shouting at each other.
The Campaign against the Bus Lane
The Labour run Council who had installed the Bus Lane said that it was a trial that would last for at least six months. Predictably my MP, the Conservative Gary Sambrook, who is the MP for Northfield, campaigned against it. He raised a peititon that he says got 3000 signatures. When I tried to make the case for the bus lane he said that less than a 100 people had got in touch with him who were pro the bus lane. It is ironic that he was campaigning against the bus lane, which was funded by money from his central government. In more irony my MP recently released a video with the current West Midlands Metro Mayor that was pro Buses and said that Sambrook was in favour of bus lanes. As long as they are not in his own constiuency it seems! From my correspondence with Gary Sambrook, he thinks that electric cars and planting trees will be enough to avert the Climate Emergency. I strongly disagree.
More infuriatingly, especially as I am a member of the Labour Party, Labour Councillors in the local area campaigned against the Bus Lane! That’s right Labour Councillors campaigned directly against their own policy! I’m part of the Labour Party because I think it is the best way for me to help campaign for action against the Climate Emergency. Labour Councillor Julie Johnson presented a petition that 1000 people had signed against the Bus Lane. This is incredibly disheartening. Labour says that it wants radical action on Climate Change, but then members of the Labour Party actively campaign against tiny measures that would help reshape our society in favour of the status quo. There was a pro Bus Lane petition, but it did not get anywhere near the numbers of the anti Bus Lane petition.
Personal Experiences of using the Lane
I live close to the Bus Lane. I regularly used it as a pedestrian, cyclist, bus passenger and van driver. As a pedestrian and cyclist the Bus Lane was beneficial, Cycling in the lane felt far safer. I often had a whole lane to myself. Prior to the bus lanes I’d be shunted into the advisory cycle lane, which are incredibly dangerous. Motor vehicles often don’t feel that they don’t have to give you any space to overtake, meaning incredibly close passes are the norm. Being a pedestrian was also nicer as the sometimes empty lane next to me meant that I was breathing less dangerous fumes from motor traffic. Unsurpringly my experiences as a Bus Passenger were improved. Buses were freely able to move between to the two suburbs, with less motor traffic in their way. My experiences of being a van driver were slightly worse, but even at rush hour, congestion was minimal. The only minor problem was sometimes car drivers would want to turn right at certain junctions. and a queue would form. Rather than wait patiently like they should, some car drivers would dangerously and illegally undertake the traffic, sometimes entering the Bus Lane. This minor inconvenience is not a good reason to get rid of the Bus Lane. It is a good reason to enforce action against illegal driving. My experiences as a pedestrian, cyclist and bus user were better and they should count too! I do hope the council keeps the entire stretch of road 30 MPH.
Difficult decisions for Birmingham City Council
I can understand why the Labour Council has decided to scrap the Bus Lane, In it’s report released this week (Page 59), the council stated that the majority of the feedback about the Bus Lane was negative. There are all out elections in 2022 in Birmingham and so I can see why the council decided why now was the best time to scrap the Bus Lane. However, thinking of the bigger picture, if any infrastructure that inconveniences car drivers, for the good of other road users, is scrapped than we will not reach net zero by 2050. Birmingham City Council has a target for net zero by 2030. This won’t happen unless we radically reshape our transport network. The message is clear from this Bus Lane scrappage. Infrastructure changed is only ok if it does not inconvenience car drivers.
On a positive note, the council has announced that they are considering extending the A38 cyle route from Selly Oak to Longbridge. More on that later!
If you were in favour of the Bus Lane it would still be a good thing to get in contact with your councillor/ MP to show that there are a range of different views on this controversial subject.