John Kirk

John Kirk

John Kirk, Head of International & Business Development

Birmingham is one of the eight cities to win national funding this month for investment in cycling. I was part of the successful Birmingham bid on behalf of Birmingham City University and of course we are very pleased that Birmingham has won £17 Million over two years which the City Council will “match” with another £7 Million.

When it comes to bidding it seems that the city often loses out, but this time Birmingham is second only to Greater Manchester in the amount of money awarded. Manchester will get £20 Million. When I first visited Birmingham in the early 1980s the city was almost impossible to navigate on foot , never mind trying to ride a bike.

Over the past 30 years the concrete collar of the inner ring road has been broken in many places and the city has really opened up. Pedestrianisation of New Street, Brindley Place and the building of the iconic Bullring have all made the city attractive to locals and visitors alike. Many express surprise upon first acquaintance that the city is so pleasant to walk around. Over the past four or five years more people have started to ride bicycles into and around the city, but the numbers are still very small. Fewer than 1 per cent of all journeys in the city are currently made on a bike. Compare this with 7 per cent in Bristol and up to 20 per cent in London. We have one of the highest rates of child and adult obesity in Europe at 30 per cent and dire warnings about what this will mean for health outcomes for around one third of the city’s population.

In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cities which have cycling rates up to 35 per cent of all journeys, the obesity rates are much, much lower. Street noise and levels of pollution are lower, and people are generally less stressed.

Birmingham is rightly proud of its motor industry, both past and present. This has affected road design, especially when it comes for planning for cycling. The city was planned for the car, and not for pedestrians and cyclists. It has opened up for pedestrians and now it needs to open up for cyclists.

I ride my bike every day, and drive my car on maybe one or two days. The streets are not really designed for cycling, and the vast majority of friends and colleagues think I am slightly mad for riding in traffic. To get more people out of their cars and onto their feet or a bicycle transport engineers need to redress the balance of power between the motor vehicle and defenceless pedestrians and cyclists. The car is currently treated as a planning priority and everything is done to keep cars moving as fast as possible. A mile of motorway costs on average £25 Million. HS2 will cost at least £42 BILLION.

This £24 Million must be the first investment of many. Denmark and The Netherlands have a great network of safe cycling routes because they have been investing £30 per head of population per year for the past 40 years. They also have legislation which assumes that a driver hitting a cyclist or pedestrian is the guilty party. That law ensures that drivers are a lot more careful around pedestrians and cyclists.

I really hope that this new investment makes a difference to ordinary people who want to travel around the city at low cost, contributing to their health and well being. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen there are no “cyclists” just people who ride bikes as one of their modes of transport . Nipping down to the shops for a pint of milk is done on a bike. Going to dinner is done on a bike. The school run is done on a bike. It is just the easiest and most convenient way to travel. Let’s hope the “revolution” gathers pace here in Birmingham and the other seven cities which have won funding.

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John Kirk

John Kirk

Head of International & Business Development
John Kirk

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