Birmingham City Council is to give away 2,000 bicycles and make an identical number available for free long-term hire for between six and 12 months in an attempt to get people living in deprived areas onto bikes to improve employment prospects and access to workplaces, as well as getting them more active.
The council, which last year won £17 million funding from the Cycle City Ambition Scheme from the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of its £24.3 million Birmingham Cycle Revolution, also plans 20 community hire hubs in the same parts of the city where a further 1,000 bikes will be available to borrow on a short-term basis, reports the Birmingham Post.
People using the scheme, called Big Birmingham Bikes, will be required to be live in the same area as the hubs – which will be sited in parks and at leisure centres – be in possession of a Birmingham Leisure Card, and take level 2 Bikeability training.
The council is looking for a corporate sponsor for the scheme, although according to the project manager, John Carrigan, the intention is firmly not to try and replicate the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme in London.
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.”
The hubs, which are planned for locations including the National Indoor Arena, Ward End Park, the Nechells Leisure Centre, Aston Villa FC and Aston Park, Handsworth Park and Leisure Centre and Small Heath Park, will be open seven days a week.
They will have full-time, paid staff assisted by volunteers and will offer led rides as well as cycle training and maintenance classes. The contract for supply of bikes to the scheme is expected to be awarded next month.
According to Councillor James McKay, the council’s cabinet member for a green safe and smart city, the Big Birmingham Bikes scheme follows on from the city’s Be Active initiative, which provides free sessions at leisure and swimming lessons to Birmingham Leisure Card holder.
“That’s now an internationally recognised public health intervention,” he said. “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.”
Several other cycling initiatives are currently taking place in Birmingham, including the upgrading of canal towpaths, the forthcoming introduction of Brompton Docks at New Street, Moor Street and Snow Hill stations, and the anticipated naming this month of funding for new cycle parking facilities for businesses considered “Top Cycle Locations.”
Professor David Cox, who is Chair of CTC Council and also chairs the South Birmingham Primary Care Trust, said the council’s views on cycling had undergone a transformation.
He told the Birmingham Post: “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.”
The council is also uploading images to its Be Heard website allowing residents to see the impact of schemes, and Professor Cox added: “People are seeing virtual footage of what the roads could look like and how they could be made more cycle-friendly.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.