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Big bike giveaway to kickstart £24m cycling revolution

Birmingham is offering a massive 5,000 bike giveaway in a desperate bid to get people to take to pedal power.

Jade Mansell and fellow cyclists at the opening of the first canal cycling towpath route which stretches from St Vincent Street bridge near Brindleyplace to Winson Green - part of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution
Jade Mansell and fellow cyclists at the opening of the first canal cycling towpath route which stretches from St Vincent Street bridge near Brindleyplace to Winson Green - part of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution

Birmingham is offering a massive 5,000 bike giveaway in a desperate bid to get people to take to pedal power as part of a £24.3 million “cycle revolution”

The ambitious plan which won £17 million of funding from the Department for Transport last summer, will see 2,000 brand new bikes given away free and 20 community hire hubs launched around the city.

A further 2,000 bikes will be up for grabs on a cost-free long-term hire basis for six to 12 months, while 1,000 more will be held at the local hubs for day hire and short term loans.

The initiative, named Big Birmingham Bikes, will offer bicycles to anyone living in a priority area who has a Birmingham Leisure Card and agrees to attend a cycle proficiency course.

Locating the hubs at leisure centres and parks (in the city centre, Selly Oak, Hodge Hill, Ladywood, Yardley, Hall Green, Northfield and Perry Barr), the council says the scheme is targeting neighbourhoods in deprived communities, aiming to upskill potential cyclists with cycle proficiency and bike maintenance training, while improving access to employment and education as well as boosting health.

A project sponsor is being sought in Birmingham’s business community to support the scheme, with the council offering to brand bikes with the sponsor’s logo or colours.

But Big Birmingham Bikes project manager John Carrigan says there will be no similarity to London’s blue “Boris bikes” which are sponsored by Barclays.

He said: “It’s nothing like the London scheme. We’re not looking at the heavy, bulky Boris bikes. Ours are going to be quality hybrids.

“I want the best bikes I can get so that people want them and enjoy using them.

“They will be colour coded bespoke to the project. There will be no sticky labels. They’ll be made to specification with all the logos on the bikes properly.”

Each hub, which will be open seven days a week and run by paid instructors with support from volunteers, will offer a programme of activities including cycle training and led rides.

The council is expected to work with Birmingham’s current cycling champions to roll out the scheme, with support from Centro and BikeRight as well as Northfield Ecocentre in the south and Sustrans in the east.

The contract for the supply of the bikes is currently in tender and expected to be awarded in mid July.

A separate scheme, funded with £90,000 secured by London Midland from the Department for Transport and £50,000 from the city council, is expected to see state-of-the-art folding bikes installed at city centre railway stations for onward travel by rail commuters.

The £800 Brompton bikes will be available for hire at £2.50 a day, with 20 stored at New Street, 20 at Moor Street and a further 20 at Snow Hill.

The scheme, which was initially set to be rolled out last autumn, is now being scheduled for launch before the end of summer.

And later this month funding is expected to be announced to support businesses deemed “Top Cycle Locations” by the council to install new cycle parking facilities.

Professor David Cox, chair of the national cycling charity CTC, commended the work saying he’d seen a change in the council’s attitude towards cycling. He said: “Where we are now is fantastic compared to where we were. When the scrutiny report was first published nothing seemed to really happen and when it did it was pretty pathetic.

“But this is a major plan and it’s not just a cycling plan, it’s a full public transport plan.

“For the first time in my experience the council is consulting thoroughly with the cycling community and they’ve also brought in some very good consultants.

“People are seeing virtual footage of what the roads could look like and how they could be made more cycle-friendly.”

Up to 200 images are being uploaded to the council’s Be Heard website where members of the public can see how the project affects their neighbourhood and commuting route.

This week saw the unveiling of the first of six upgraded canal towpaths which connect the suburbs to the city centre.

The first to be completed is a 2.2km path running from Winson Green and the Sandwell border to the NIA and Brindleyplace, a route used by more than 50,000 cyclists each year (an average of 137 each day).

The council’s transport department is also set to consult cyclists about a series of highway improvements along key access routes which could include priority traffic signals and new cycle lanes. But the council has recently come under fire from cyclists who have questioned their dedication after admitting they failed to arrange a date this year for the popular closed-road SkyRide event, which has previously drawn 18,000 residents to the one-day traffic-free ride around the city.

However, Coun James McKay, who holds the cabinet position for “a green safe and smart city”, said: “We are absolutely committed to cycling.

“Promotional events are an important part of that and we are working with Sky to make sure we can put SkyRide on next year.

“But because of the road closures and other big events we weren’t able to fit around those.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re not causing problems elsewhere when we’re closing roads across the city.”

Speaking at the opening of the upgraded canal route, he said Birmingham’s canal network is key to bringing cyclists into the city centre, alongside main roads and quieter parallel routes.

“The surface here wasn’t fit for purpose. It was potholed and you’d turn up to work covered in mud, but the new bonded gravel surface is appropriate for all users.”

Coun McKay reckons the Big Birmingham Bikes scheme will build on the city’s Be Active scheme, offering free leisure centre and swimming pool sessions to card holders at specific times of the week. He said: “That’s now an internationally recognised public health intervention.

“Look at the figures: forty per cent of 11-year-olds are overweight and one-in-four is obese.

“There are barriers to cycling and not everyone can afford to go out and buy a bike straight away, but short-term loans, long-term loans and bike maintenance should help to break down those barriers.”

For further information about proposals for highways, green routes and “20 is Plenty” 20mph speed limits see www.birminghambeheard.org.uk

For further information about the Birmingham Cycle Revolution plans see www.birmingham.gov.uk/BCR

Apply for your free bike at community hub

Bike hubs are set for 20 locations and residents in the same postcodes as the hubs will be able to apply for a free bike. The hubs are planned to be at:

* Woodgate Valley Visitor Centre

* Edgbaston Reservoir

* National Indoor Arena

* Chinn Brook Recreation Ground and Billesley Common

* Saltley Leisure Centre

* Ward End Park

* Shard End Leisure Centre

* Nechells Leisure Centre

* Aston Villa FC and Aston Park

* Ackers Adventure

* Sheldon Country Park

* Small Heath Park

* Holders Lane Park

* Calthorpe Park

* Northfield Ecocentre

* Kings Norton Park

* Manor Farm Park

* Hamstead Park

* Handsworth Park and Leisure Centre

* Perry Park/Alexander Stadium

Green routes across city

Off-road paths through parks and open spaces are also being improved. One green route along the Small Heath Highway has already been completed as well as minor tweaks to off-road routes along Cheddar Road and Clevedon Road in Balsall Heath and improved signage along the Rea Valley route.

Green routes due to be improved by the end of the year are:

* The Ackers

* Hamstead Park and Park Lane

* Stratford Road and Sarehole Mill

* Stechford to Bordesley Green

* Perry Hall paying fields and Cherry Orchard

* Chinn Brook Rec

* The Dingles and Colebank

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