"Boris bikes" could be coming to Birmingham in a bid to help the city shake its reputation as one of the UK’s least cycling friendly places.
Under the plans a ‘bike hub’ would be created in the city centre, offering travellers the chance to hire two-wheeled transport for short journeys.
Council bosses see cycling as means of cutting the impact of ‘transport poverty’ caused by families and low paid workers being priced out of cars, buses and trains.
The initiative is one of dozens being considered as part of a concerted bid to encourage more cycling in the city, to improve health and cut traffic congestion.
A council scrutiny inquiry into the issue is also likely to recommend that all local authority departments consider the impact of any policy on cycling, in the same way they might consider impacts on equality or disability.
A council transport committee inquiry heard that Birmingham and the transport authorities have woefully undervalued cycling and needs to do much more.
They were told by lobby group Push Bikes that just 109 regular cyclists can deliver up to £1 million in congestion, health and pollution benefits. But despite small successes Birmingham lacks consistent facilities and an overall strategy for cycling.
Thanks to lottery and other funding, there are dedicated cycle routes for North Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield, much of the rest of the city is poorly served.
It was also claimed that in an era of high petrol and public transport prices, cycling is a cheap alternative for hard-up commuters and families – but many are put off by road safety fears and speeding traffic.
David Cox, chairman of cycling charity CTC, said: “Perceived danger from the volume and speed of motorised traffic is by far and away the major barrier to more uptake of cycling and to the wider use of cycles for shopping, commuting as well as leisure and exercise.
"These perceptions also affect parents allowing their children to cycle more widely and some schools are reluctant to encourage pupils to cycle or put in the necessary training and cycle parking.”
While Push Bikes chairman Chris Lowe added that a clearly defined network of cycle routes with improved safety at junctions is needed and that highways engineers need to place higher priority on cycle safety.
He said: “A network of attractive cycle routes requires junctions to be designed with safety for pedestrians and cyclists. This can be achieved through the use of advance stop lines, or through separate green phases for bicycles, to provide segregation in time. Without safe junctions, there can be no continuous network of attractive cycle routes.”
He argued that a key barrier is the cost, with an estimated £200 for a reliable second hand bike and accessories compared to £48 for a monthly bus pass. But over a year and beyond the cycle is much less expensive – although he admitted theft of the bicycle adds further cost and many cyclists do give up at that stage.
City transport chiefs are developing a new ‘Bike Hub’ in the city centre under which a cycle hire scheme is being considered.
But unlike Boris’s Bikes in London which has cycle racks scattered about central London, the City Council, Centro and cycling group Sustrans are looking at the automated hire of folding Brompton Bikes available from lockers, likely to be based at or near New Street Station.
These would be particularly aimed at visitors and commuters coming into the city centre to borrow for short trips around.
Also under the Cycle Hub umbrella would be of a range of facilities, such as supervised parking, bike hire, changing facilities, bike servicing and sales around the city centre.
While the council’s Be Active, health for free scheme, is also considering more cycle hire facilities at leisure centres.
Committee chairwoman Victoria Quinn (Lab, Sparkbrook) said: “As a council we need to emphasis the importance of bikes more.”