Commuter Cycling Route for Birmingham City
Right now, there is no dedicated cycle path for commuters that goes throughout Birmingham City (Birmingham, 2011). One can cycle there, but he or she will be in the minority and quite often in danger due to drivers. In addition, the cycle paths that are available are designed as a series of pieced-together, on-and-off road adventures that may be fun for a hobbyist or cyclist who is interested in exercise (Sarig, 1997), but that will not be good for someone who is attempting to commute to and from work. Because of those kinds of problems, the city really needs a dedicated commuter cycle path – but there are concerns with the usage of the path and how much demand there would be vs. The planning policies and guidelines that would have to be followed. Also, parties with a vested interest would need to weigh in on the issue so that the best route could be determined with the least amount of disruption and the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the proposed path would also be worthy of consideration.
The proposed route for a commuter cycle path for Birmingham City will follow some of the current cycle path, but will differ in some key areas – which means that parts of the path will need to be constructed because there is no cycle path in those areas at the present time. Right now, anyone entering Birmingham in the Frankley area must utilize the Rea Valley Route to get to the city centre. Once in the city centre, the route goes through the heart of the city and then leaves along the canal, headed toward Smethwick (Birmingham, 2011). There are many routes within the city that are already good for commuters, but that area between Frankley and the city centre needs to be adjusted so that the commuter is not forced to go off road through the Rea Valley in order to get downtown. A few sections of the route are on the road, but many are not. Moving the path so that the entire Rea Valley Route is on-road would speed things up greatly for commuters in Birmingham City.
Another area of concern is the North Birmingham Cycle/Walk Route. This is a route that is mostly off road, and goes between Sutton and Brookvale parks (Birmingham, 2011). Again, an off road route is a poor choice for commuters. Even if one has a cycle that will handle all types of on-road and off-road terrain, commuters heading to work do not want to have to go off road and worry about mud, rough terrain, dust, and other problems that might stop them from arriving at their destination looking presentable. Commuters are not setting out to see the sights. They want to get from one destination to the next quickly and efficiently. By traveling on the road as opposed to off road, commuters on cycles will be more likely to get to their destination and back again with a minimum of fuss and bother.
Since Birmingham City has some good cycle paths already, the best option for a proposed route would be to leave the on-road portions of the cycle paths alone and connect them with other on-road paths, avoiding the off-road areas. It would not be necessary to remove the off-road portions, but it would only be necessary to add to them in such a way that off-road and on-road cycling options would be available for all of Birmingham City. That would give commuters the option to use the on-road portions only, and cyclists who wanted to sightsee could take both the on-road and off-road portions of the path in order to see more of the surrounding area. Giving cyclists more choices could lead to better and faster commute times, as well as an increase in tourism (Berg, 1994).
Parties with a Vested Interest – For and Against
Any shops located along the off-road portions of the current cycle paths would clearly have an interest in whether there was reduced traffic on those portions because of new commuter portions of the cycle paths. Also, any shops that would now be on the new, commuter cycle path would have a very vested interest in the path change, because they would have the opportunity for increased business (Leather, 2001). Of course, that might also depend on the type of shop. Some would not appeal to commuters who are busy and in a hurry to get to work or to get home. Other kinds of shops would do well on a commuter route, because they could provide items that commuters need and want on their travels. Shops and other commercial ventures would not be the only parties with an interest in commuter bike paths through Birmingham City, however, because there are many other considerations when moving a cycle path from one area to another or creating additional paths (Birmingham, 2011).
The environment, social groups, and the economical feasibility of the commuter cycle paths all have to be considered. A usage and demand forecast must also be examined, because it costs money to create new commuter bike paths. There is no need to spend money and go to all that trouble if the paths are not going to be used by a large number of commuters. In addition, there are policies and planning guidelines that belong to the City Council and have to be followed. The city has a vested interest in what takes place within its boundaries, because revenue can be gained or lost by changes that take place. Also, it is vital to consider the fact that building codes, environmental preservation, and other factors all come into play when a city is going to change something about itself – including the layout of its cycle paths, which is an area in which Birmingham has been lacking for some time (Cherry, 1994).
For those who want to make changes in Birmingham City, there are planning guidelines and policies that have to be addressed (Birmingham, 2011). Most of these relate to people who want to change something on their residential property, such as adding onto their house or doing some kind of remodeling. However, there are also planning guidelines and policies that involve larger-scale projects. For something such as a commuter cycle route, it is necessary for the city to study the issue and determine whether the route would intrude on anyone’s rights or cause a problem that is related to the use of the land on which the cycle path would be placed. It has been ruled that the use of land for a sports activity such as cycling is just as valuable as using the land for something else (Birmingham, 2011), so there is no reason to assume that a cycle path would not be approved. However, that does not mean the path could automatically be created, or that the city would be required to build it.
Usage/Demand Forecast – a City Comparison
Whether the cycle path would be used sufficiently to make it worth the cost of creation and the inability in the future to use the land for anything else is worthy of consideration. Land is at a premium, especially in cities where many people have built homes and businesses and there is not much space left for further building. Because there are few areas of open land, the cycle path will have to be somewhat circuitous, even though it will be an on-road path. London has a better cycle path network for commuters than Birmingham, and their cycle accident rates are low (Ackroyd, 2001). The cycle paths are popular with commuters, and they are used extensively. That gives Birmingham some indication of what it could have if it created better bike routes.
Potential Benefits – Economic, Social, and Environmental
There are many benefits to having a good commuter cycle path network (International, 2011). Of course, there are downsides just as there are to everything. However, the pros usually far outweigh the cons when it comes to the creation of cycle paths for commuters. Anyone who wants to commute to work and back and is interested in riding a bicycle to do so can benefit from the cycle paths. The city will be able to create these paths in areas where cyclists can be safe but can also have access to everything that they need on their commute, making it easier for them to travel and still take care of everything they need to do in their busy lives. While traveling by bike is not always that convenient, it can be helped along greatly by the use of good commuter cycle paths instead of scenic routes.
Economic benefits include a lack of cars on the road, which helps cut down on the damage these vehicles due to the roadways. Fewer cars mean that the roads last longer, so the city does not have to pay for crews to fix the roads as often. There is also less of a need for new roads to accommodate a growing number of cars, and that helps the city keep its costs down, too. Creating and maintaining cycle paths is less expensive than doing the same thing for roadways that carry larger, heavier vehicles (International, 2011). The economy can also be helped along because commuters on cycles will often stop at smaller shops and get what they need on the way to or from work. That stimulates the economy and allows smaller shop owners to expand and hire more workers, which is beneficial for the unemployment rate and helps to bring more money into the city and into the pockets of workers in that city.
There are also social benefits, such as the friendships that can be made by people who commute to work together each day by cycle (International, 2011). Similar to carpooling, this allows people who live close to one another and work near each other to cycle into work together and have a conversation while riding along. Some people make friends with others that they would not have talked to or gotten to know, save for the fact that they both have the same basic route to work and back on the cycle paths. While Birmingham does have a cycling community, those who commute are often more concerned about getting to and from a specific place rather than cycling on weekends or sightseeing.
Helping the environment is another way bike routes can be important. Cars pollute, and while they are still needed there is no reason why there cannot be more cycles as a way of mitigating the effects of automobiles. Bicycles are very earth friendly, and they are a healthy way to get from one destination to another (International, 2011). Even people who are not that interested in protecting the environment can do so without much effort on their part, simply be using commuter cycle paths to get to and from work and other destinations, rather than driving a car. There are some times when a car will certainly be necessary, but when the weather is good more people can ride cycles if there are available paths for them to use. Cities like Birmingham are not completely cycle friendly, but that can be changed.
As can be seen from the information presented, there are many issues that surround the creation of a commuter cycle path for Birmingham. It is not possible to simply tie everything in together and make it the commuter path, because areas of it are not in the right locations and the terrain is not appropriate for commuter traffic on a daily basis. There are also environmental and economic issues, as well as social concerns, that must be observed in order to make a commuter cycle path in Birmingham a reality. By working closely with the City Council, it will be possible to make the cycle path a reality, but it will take time and effort all around.
Ackroyd, P. 2001. London: The Biography. London: Vintage.
Berg, J. 1994. Positively Birmingham. England: Birmingham Picture Library.
Birmingham City Council. (2011). Home Page. http://www.birmingham.gov.uk/
Cherry, G.E. 1994. Birmingham A Study in Geography, History and Planning. England: Academy Press.
International Bicycle Fund. 60+ Benefits (Advantages) of Bicycling. http://www.ibike.org/encouragement/benefits.htm
Leather, P. 2001. A brief history of Birmingham. England: Brewin Books.
Sarig, R. 1997. The Everything Bicycle Book. New York: Adams Media Corporation.
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