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Can Birmingham turn around its dwindling cycling numbers?

Cyclists in West Midlands dropping to country's lowest numbers - can massive investment in infrastructure turn the tide?...

Most urban centres agree that promoting cycling is one way towards sustainable transport and population fitness - but what can they do when numbers are dropping?

The West Midlands is one of the worst areas in the country for people regularly cycling - but the city council says it’s relying on the Birmingham Cycle Revolution, which is seeing £60 million invested in ‘bike-friendly’ initiatives over six years to 2018, to halt the decline.

During 2013-14 the number of people cycling once a month fell to just 10.2% - the only metropolitan county area to see a fall in cycling that year.

In Birmingham it was just 9.2 per cent, a fall of 1.5 per cent compared to 2012-13. The national average was 15 per cent.

Birmingham’s Cycle Revolution project, backed by Department for Transport and Local Enterprise Partnership funding, is investing in cycle lanes, green routes through parks and canal tow paths and some free bike giveaways to those who can’t afford their own.

Council cabinet member for sustainability Lisa Trickett told the Birmingham Post: “We have devised the Birmingham Cycle Revolution programme in response to the long-term trend of low participation in the city.

“The plans we are delivering on, including improved on-road and off-road infrastructure and training should all help see our figures increase in the coming years.

“We are dedicated to removing the obstacles that currently exist, to ensure cycling is a feasible and attractive mode of transport.

“The Big Birmingham Bikes scheme is a great example of what we are trying to do – offering bikes to people where cost is a barrier, improving public health, traffic levels and air pollution in the process.”

“The GPS system used in the Big Birmingham Bikes will provide us with actual data about how much people are using the bikes. Like the automatic counters, this will show direct use rather than reported use – and help us to identify what works and what needs to change to continue encouraging cycling.

“Finally, the period covered by the Sport England data covers the very early stages of the BCR programme. Naturally, it will take a period of time for improvements to ‘bed in’ before the full benefits are realised. This isn’t an overnight transformation and the successful funding bids we have put to government show we are in this for the long haul.”

Just last week we reported how a freedom of information request by the Birmingham Post has revealed that there were 1,537 injury incidents involving cyclists in the West Midlands in the last three years. Of those, 12 were fatal and 273 resulted in serious injuries. Campaigners have reacted to the news by calling for a greater number of segregated cycle lanes.

The A41 Warwick Road was found to be the road on which there were most incidents with 49 cyclists having been injured on it in the last three years.

Two junctions – Pershore Road and Belgrave Middleway, near Birmingham city centre, and Heartlands Parkway and Aston Church Road, in the west of the city – each saw six collisions involving cyclists.

The Post also claims that the figures do not include a further 2,000 incidents which have yet to be loaded onto the system.

But we also reported in March how the leader of the Conservative opposition on Birmingham City Council believes the West Midlands city’s ‘Cycle Revolution’ will lead to greater congestion for motorists – and says the council should focus on measures to keep cyclists away from main roads.

Councillor Robert Alden said that plans to put separated cycle lanes along streets such as Hagley Road in Edgbaston as part of a £60 million investment in cycling in the city will not encourage more people onto bikes, reports the Birmingham Post.

He maintains that the Labour-controlled council would be better-off investing in upgrading routes such as those in parks or on canal towpaths to keep bicycles off the road.

However a Labour cabinet member insisted the council was committed to getting people out of cars and onto other modes of transport, while the chair of CTC's national council says Councillor Alden does not “get” cycling as a mode of transport rather than a leisure activity.

Birmingham has been one of the principal beneficiaries of the Cycle City Ambition scheme operated by the Department for Transport.

It received a grant of £22 million earlier this month, on top of £17 million awarded in August 2012. Local match funding will take the total spent on cycling to more than £60 million.

The money is being spent on realising the council’s Cycle Revolution, which aims to increase modal share of cycling to 10 per cent over two decades and includes a set of cycle routes radiating from the city centre.

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