Birmingham City Council has faced a backlash after installing gates at the entrance to a popular off-road cycle route in an attempt to tackle "nuisance behaviour" from motorcyclists and quad bikers, a measure that now prevents a family from using the path with their four-seater cargo bike, also raising access concerns for disabled people cycling with adapted or larger bicycles.
BBC journalist David Gregory-Kumar took to social media last week to raise the issue with the council in financial crisis, suggesting "there's always money to make life harder for cyclists", even with the local authority in the midst of a funding crisis that could see "non-essential" services slashed and widespread cuts implemented.
Yesterday, West Midlands Cycling and Walking Commissioner Adam Tranter calmed concerns that the council's perilous financial situation could impact road safety schemes, stressing there is "no evidence" of such an issue as road safety is a "statutory duty", basically meaning "it's not a 'nice to have', it's the bare minimum we should expect".
Sharing pictures of the new gates at the entrance to the Edgbaston Reservoir path in the west of the city, part of one of the council's own family-friendly 'Cycle Revolution' routes, Mr Gregory Kumar said it now prevents his family an off-road route to his kids' nursery.
There’s always money to make life harder for cyclists apparently. A set of new gates at top of reservoir path that now stops me exiting in the cargo bike. So forcing me and the kids back onto the road for my commute. Genius. @adamtranter @LizClements @BCC_Help pic.twitter.com/1iXbub2tFK
— David Gregory-Kumar (@DrDavidGK) November 15, 2023
"So forcing me and the kids back onto the road for my commute. Genius," he wrote. "I do hope the council updates its cycle maps to show this route is no longer accessible especially for users of cargo bikes and other larger bikes like those owned by disabled cyclists.
"This is our route to nursery and I take my two twins and five-year old with me on the cargo bike. The gate, I'm told, will remain closed for the time being at least, which is annoying as it means we'll be forced out onto the road now to get to nursery," he told Birmingham World. "I'm pretty sure getting the twins through in the buggy is now impossible, too."
And while the post was inexplicably met with comments from some who suggested the size of a cargo bike is the issue, he again pointed out "legally" the impact of access issues for a "disabled rider using an adapted bike" is "more of a problem for the council".
Acknowledging the situation, Birmingham City Council's transport chief Liz Clements and parks boss councillor Majid Mahmood said the gates had been installed as a reaction to "dangerous nuisance behaviour from motorcycles and quad bikes around the reservoir".
"This pathway is part of the Edgbaston reservoir improvement works. Unfortunately there have been numerous incidents of dangerous nuisance behaviour from motorcycles and quad bikes around the reservoir which is why the chicanes have been installed," they said.
"We would stress that in the 'closed' position they remain pedestrian, cycle and wheelchair accessible. However, the aim is to keep the gates open unless there are further nuisance incidents."
Mr Gregory-Kumar was not convinced by this explanation, saying he cycled the path "twice a day for a year and have never seen one on this route".
The whole episode comes to the backdrop of the city council's serious financial concerns, a recent report showing the council has an expected budget shortfall of £164.8 million for 2024-25, rising to £177 million in 2025-26, prompting fears about cuts and "non-essential" services' potential to be slashed.
However, the region's walking and cycling commissioner Tranter yesterday said there is "no evidence to suggest that any road safety activity is under threat" and insisted it is "business as usual".
"Importantly, road safety is a statutory duty, so it is a core thing that councils need to do. I'd hope that anyone working with the council will see road safety as a priority – it's not a 'nice to have', it's the bare minimum we should expect," he said.
"The numbers have to do the talking with road safety. We have to see where we get too, but my gut says there is progress being made. Working in partnership we can make sure everyone who uses our roads and pavements feels safe. It won't be easy, and the scale of the challenge is huge, but I'm very grateful to partners including the police for the improvements they've made to their third-party reporting service and new roads policing teams."
In June, 15 campaign groups signed a letter calling on Birmingham City Council to deliver infrastructure to "end to road violence" after three cyclists lost their lives in collisions in three weeks.
In March, Milton Keynes City Council, similarly to its Birmingham counterparts, claimed bollards had been installed on an off-road cycle route for "safety", to prevent those in motorised vehicles accessing it. Unfortunately for the council the very same bollards' installation saw the local authority branded "muppets" by ultra-cycling legend Steve Abraham who was consequently unable to use the route on his cargo bike, a bicycle ironically provided to him by the council for delivery work.
Last month too a cyclist in Worcester told us they were left "astonished" at the sight of kissing gates on a shared-use path for pedestrians and cyclists, obstructions he described as an "utter shambles and not at all inclusive", and that forced a family of four cyclists to turn around, unable to get through.
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.