At least once a week I’ll ride 20 miles across the city of Birmingham to Sutton Coldfield and back. It takes about 80 mins one way and is one of the most stressful things I do.
I leave about 7.45am in the morning and depending on how I feel I’ll immediately play in traffic on the A38 briefly or I’ll take a safer but harder route up and over the Lickey Hills on the Old Birmingham Road.
If I use the A38 its because I want to save a bit of time and be more direct. I turn right onto the trunk road that feeds Junction 4 of the M5 so cars will speed away from the lights. After about 200m I turn right across the traffic so I have to get a gap between a line of cars. I’m experienced so it’s ok but I would definitely NOT recommend that way for a novice, newbie or child.
I then ride to the end of the original A38 (dead end now because the road was dualled to the motorway junction) and I drop down a broken path through some trees onto a (shared) path of the A38 northbound towards Rubery. The path is extremely narrow. You can’t safely ride past a pedestrian for example. Two pedestrians couldn’t even walk side-by-side. The surface is broken, uneven and overgrown. This is ‘infrastructure’. No, it is not.
In Rubery the path ends. For cyclists there is no more obvious route so you have to just drop off the kerb and you are back on a road. I take the high street which is normally quiet and pick up the A38 dual carriageway to Longbridge. There is a left filter lane at the island now but for cyclists joining from the right (if I go over the Lickey Hills) it’s another example of poor design that puts cyclists at risk because they have to cross the path of speeding cars.
Now the stress starts. Riding to Northfield from Longbridge is horrible. You constantly pass parked cars on the left (the public road is a free car park it seems) to avoid been doored but risk close passes by being squeezed on the right and you can’t take primary position in the right hand lane all the way as you get intimidated by drivers up your arse. You have to be alert all the time and listen.
Around Northfield, constant traffic lights mean you have to stop and start which inevitably means a close pass from the lights by the first few cars who can’t wait a few secs.
The dual track from out of Northfield is now better. The left hand lane has been repatriated as a bus & cycle lane. Technically not segregated but the vast space created between me and the cars now on the far right is refreshing.
Into Selly Oak, the bus lane ends and I have a choice. Play in traffic, and in road works that don’t give shit about cyclist safety, and go round Selly Oak or cut across a lane of traffic and go through Selly Oak itself. The High St is quieter now but the temporary cycle lane they have created is an appalling waste of time and money. Its connected to nothing. It is too narrow, dangerous in places and common sense would have seen it, at least, try to hook up to the (ok) A38 cycle path into the City but no. It just ends popping you out around parked cars into traffic and asks you to become a pedestrian to simply get to it. Why? Who is this lane for?
The A38 (blue) cycle route is not great. It has debris and drainage issues aswell as waits at crossings and lights being too long but it is safe.
Then it just ends with no safe route to join up with the Northbound A34 route created around the same time. I have to join the plethora of buses choking up and congesting the roads around the Bullring. I don’t feel safe.
I continue out towards Saltley and I still get the close passes from taxi’s and cars away from lights. When I cross the ring road and join the temporary A47 cycle path I have to engage years of skills dodging debris, turning corners and negotiating concrete lumps for bus stops so harsh you could damage your wheels. Then the temporary path just ends spitting you out on a busy roundabout with no more safety net.
I continue on the A47 dual track to the Fort Shopping centre. It’s race track giving drivers the opportunity to speed with impunity and without any sign of enforcement. I’m alert and always nervous constantly looking. The whole road could have a bus lane or cycle lane. But no. A race track is better.
I ride around the back of the fort through an industrial area littered with pavement parkers and the road surface is appalling again. I cross and take up the Tyburn Road now which offers me a bus lane and another race track before I get off the roads and go traffic-free on the NCN through Pipe Hayes and New Hall Valley Country Park.
Traffic-free yes. Is it safe? Yes but as a transit solution far from it. Take your kids for a pedal, go for a ride but to get from A to B efficiently it goes the long way round, the surface is bumpy, it is littered with mulchy leaves so it’s slippy and you share it with a lot of walkers and runners. Not withstanding the road pedestrian road crossings with beg buttons you have to navigate. It is not a solution.
Riding to and from work is a tiring, stressful experience of having to deal with dangerous traffic and a disjointed cycling network not fit for purpose. I understand why people will always choose a car. At the moment there is no real alternative for them but for now I’ll just plod on and try and stay safe .