Birmingham Cyclist

Cycling in and around Birmingham England

Hi all
Which is the best route from Harborne High Street to Steelhouse Lane.
Need the fastest route for commuting, It'll be a bit after Rush hour (After 9am)

Thanks

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I'm a little surprised at people's view of Five ways Island. I frequently cycle round it, from all approaches, without any real issues. I take the lane and stay in it, in the same way I would if I was driving round it. It may annoy those who can't wheel spin away from the lights, but I don't care. When you know what to look for, you can easily get the jump on everybody else.

I'm such a an oddity, if I was cycling this route, I'd go, Five Ways, Broad St, Gt Charles St, St Chads, Snowhill and then Colmore Circus. I just prefer to take my chances with other motor vehicles than pedestrians on shared paths. 

Why are you surprised?   In the UK we've had forty years of a tiny percentage of the population saying "take the lane, accelerate to 20mph, don't worry about the motor traffic", and watched our modal share of cycling fall to less than two percent.   When asked, time and again people say they don't cycle because they feel threatened by the motor traffic (and not just in the UK).   And it turns out their view is reasonable.   For a MAMIL, the chances of being killed or seriously injured whilst cycling in the Netherlands are seven times lower than in the UK.   That's the objective safety improvement.   But the Dutch have also taken into account subjective safety (does it feel physically safe?), and social safety (does it feel creepy?).   That's why they have a cycling modal share of up to 60% in towns and cities.   In general, towns and cities that build a network that is acceptably safe to most people (not just people who currently cycle, who are typically young, fit, and male) see their cycling modal share jump from two percent or less to around 20% in the time it takes to build a usable network (typically five to ten years), and all the supposed reasons for not cycling, like weather, hills, and culture, turn out to be falacies.   They also find that the cycling demographic changes, with more older people, people with disabilities, and women joining in.   These are all people who can't or don't want to cycle frenetically.   You appear to have completely forgotten them.   Interestingly, whilst cycling in the Netherlands I saw way more MAMILs than you will see here, and they use the cycleways.   Of course if you don't have modern infrastructure, people are forced to make use of what they have.   So for most people cycling under Five Ways will be the most attractive option, as it feels safer and is safer.

In addition to being safer and feeling safer, avoiding the motor traffic is often quicker, as you don't get held up by it.   On the carriageway I quite commonly find myself stuck behind cars that are travelling slower than I can cycle, but they are either travelling too fast for me to overtake, or they are occupying the entire carriageway.   And very often they are occupying the entire carriageway, but not moving at all.   Yesterday, the Selly Oak Triangle gyratory system was once again not gyrating, so even before I got to it I was being held up by motor vehicles.

The problem with this is you can't easily generalise; each route has to be considered on its own merits.  An unobstructed towpath with a half-decent surface will generally win over a road route with many traffic lights and junctions in spite of the lower moving average speed.  An uncongested road route with a few junctions will usually win over a cyclepath with lots of barriers and pedestrians.  A shared-use pavement is tedious and harder work but better than sitting in a traffic jam.  A main road may become congested at rush hour, but might be significantly flatter.  A cyclepath route may be less direct than the obvious road route.

Sometimes there isn't really a choice - "I'm not riding in traffic with the kids", "I'm not doing the towpath on my road bike", "Need to avoid that hill with the loaded trailer", etc.  But otherwise it's worth trying alternatives to see how well they work.  I find I tend to use different routes depending on what and why I'm riding, weather, and time of day.


Robert said:

In addition to being safer and feeling safer, avoiding the motor traffic is often quicker, as you don't get held up by it.   On the carriageway I quite commonly find myself stuck behind cars that are travelling slower than I can cycle, but they are either travelling too fast for me to overtake, or they are occupying the entire carriageway.   And very often they are occupying the entire carriageway, but not moving at all.   Yesterday, the Selly Oak Triangle gyratory system was once again not gyrating, so even before I got to it I was being held up by motor vehicles.

Sure, but given what usually happens in the rush hour, riding on the carriageway around a busy junction like Five Ways is not only more dangerous, but very often slower than riding an off-carriageway route that one would assume to be slow.   Even a pedestrian moves faster than wall-to-wall stationary cars.

I'm sure, the drop in cycling proficiency for school children played a part in that decline too.

For me, taking the lane is about positioning, not so much the acceleration. I see people riding far too close to the kerb all the time, which has to be as dangerous, or close to, as riding too far out. 

When I mention getting the jump on people, it's about pulling off, slightly ahead of the other traffic, before they try to overtake, which is the basic premise of the ASL. This does not mean jumping the red light, it means getting your feet on the pedals and moving as soon as the lights turn green.

It's evident, to me at least, the issues that cyclist face are not going to solved by a one size fits all solution.I just find, there's too much highlighting of the negatives, over the positives. It is possible to cycle round Five Ways without an issue, but this doesn't mean, it will always be issue free. We have to be honest. If you constantly hear how dangerous something is you may never try it yourself to see if it's true or not. I'm just putting forward an alternative view to show, you can cycle round Five Ways and live.

You can avoid the island if you want, but can you avoid riding on the road completely?

Risks can be reduced, but they can't be eliminated.


Robert said:

Why are you surprised?   In the UK we've had forty years of a tiny percentage of the population saying "take the lane, accelerate to 20mph, don't worry about the motor traffic", and watched our modal share of cycling fall to less than two percent.   

I'll pitch in my experiences as a wannabe cycling courier disguised as a Deliveroo rider. I pretty much always stay well away from any of the islands that we like to call circuses. They encourage aggressive driving and while I like to save any few seconds I can it simply isn't worth mixing with the cars here, and generally I have no issues riding in traffic. Five Ways underpass is pretty pleasant to ride through at any time of day and I reckon it costs me 20 seconds of my time.

I am with Joe on this. in the absence of proper infra then we have to look after ourselves. That means no close to the kerb, that means making the lane ours not the cars at junctions.

I have been left hooked twice at lights and now I go well in advance of the lights and position myself so it is clear where I am going. But that takes confidence which Joe and myself have if you look at the miles we put in, obviously for a novice or less confident cyclists then this could be an major issue.

I have ridden around Five Ways island with a group (more than once), but I wouldn't attempt it on my own, and I've done a lot of cycling, both here and abroad.   I had figured out road positioning long before the vehicular cyclists wrote books about it.   Whilst it can help when you really have no other choice, it quite often just results in aggression from motorists, since it's not a part of learning to drive a car.   Ironically, many motorists will happily overtake me on the right when I'm signalling right and over towards the centre line, even though there is room to pass on the left, because they would rather punish the assertive cyclist who they believe is doing everything wrong, rather than obey the rules of the road themselves.   They'll do it even if someone coming the other way has to swerve into the kerb, but they wont notice that because they're too busy shouting abuse at the cyclist.   They may be a minority, but they're the ones that cause the collisions, as well as making using the road unpleasant for everyone.   Riding around Five Ways is simply a pointless risk, as there's an alternative that works.   Many people realise that, and use it.   There's an old touring cyclist's maxim (also used by motorcyclists, IIRC), which is "There are old cyclists and bold cyclists, but no old, bold cyclists".

Nick makes the more general point, which I second.   The only collision I've had in my current car was on one of Birmingham's circuses.   I saw it coming, but even in a car I didn't have the necessary acceleration to escape a driver who had wrongly assumed which exit I was taking, and who consequently T-boned my driver's door at speed.   Continental countries don't have these big roundabouts, because they consider them too dangerous.   There are simply too many fast-moving objects for a human driver to safely track.

fair comment on those Robert, I personally never had an issue on those but can see how there could be. It is the legacy of Birmingham wanting to be the US. Of course over the years the council rightly has wanted to move more traffic on middle ring road away from the centre.

It's actually good that there is a ring road, and it's where the through motor-traffic should be, but the junctions are appalling.   They have monster urban roads in the Netherlands too, but the junctions are completely different.   On a heavy, single speed station hire bike I made a left turn at this junction, safely crossing seven lanes of motor traffic in one go.   It's a simultaneous green junction, which holds motor traffic in all directions to allow cyclists from all directions to cross together.   After the cycle phase, the lights work their way through the phases to allow motorists to safely cross the junction with minimal risk of conflict.   If more capacity is needed than even this monster will provide, Dutch cyclists get underpasses.   These are much better than the narrow, shared-use tunnels with blind corners that we get, but the principle is the same.

The DfT refuses to even consider simultaneous green junctions.   Instead it just keeps building on the roundabout concept, making them bigger and bigger and more and more difficult to use, and equipping them with hopelessly slow toucan crossings rather than wide, open, Dutch-style underpasses.

This discussion reminds me of something once said to me by an experienced cycle instructor.  Riding round Fiveways is indeed do-able if you are up to what bikeability calls 'level 3' riding ability.  This instructor (who is an extremely good instructor) was adamant that he didnt want to teach L3 riding to anyone who couldnt do 20mph.  Vehicular cycling is entirley possible but it really does help if you can do the same speed as the rest of the traffic.  And this rules out the vast majority of the population.

My view is that you can do L3 cycling even if you are not able to accelerate quickly or maintain relativy high speeds - i go out of my way to slow people down when i teach L3 so that they have to negociate with other traffic rather than just slotting into it......this reduction in speed does make a lot of difference to how other road users treat you.....can also be remarkable how a fit rider suddenly loses confidence if they cant go at their normal speed!  It also goes some way to explain why some people will be happy in certain situations and others wont.  

Just to show, I'm not completely foolhardy, I have chickened out on cycling on the roads in the past myself.

Even though it's a fairly new town, cycling on the roads in Milton Keynes is horrendous. It's the only place I've felt so unsafe I actually took to their terrible cycle paths, which are far worse than any I've seen in Brum.

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