It was certainly a bit of a spectacle watching the cyclists going past at their nearest point to us. To be honest though I was quickly bored, but then cycling has always been a means of transport rather than a sport to me. I can understand that it’s great for the participants to be able to cycle without motor vehicles though and it might be nice to see your street being traffic free.
Our experience with Birmingham Velo is that it just wasn’t very well organised. This made it a public relations nightmare and it’s no wonder there were protests and objections. It wasn’t that easy to find alternative routes, as there was a lack of information and I have rarely seen road closure signs with so little information: just this road is closed and no diversion routes. I dare say some of the fault for this lies with the local authorities involved. I’m not sure where all the blame lies. We live within sight of a road that was closed, but we got nothing through the door. The first I knew of it was seeing road closure signs around the week before. That’s simply not good enough.
I know some people had lengthy journeys when they had no real alternative, but to make the journey that day or to use the car. In some areas there aren’t many footpaths, so that caused problems too. Many people locally weren’t able to attend their usual church because it was too far to walk and there weren’t any reasonable alternative routes. A friend who is a nurse was coming back from a night shift and she couldn’t drive home because she needed to get across the main road, which was closed, and the only way into her road was off the main road. Businesses will have lost trade. People will have lost their time or their freedom to choose to go somewhere – we often go to the countryside that the route went though at the weekend, but it wouldn’t have been possible that weekend. No one will have had compensation for this.
I’m a bit doubtful that it will have brought in much trade outside central Birmingham itself, except for the few shops that catered for the riders when the promised refreshments didn’t turn up. I don’t really see the Velo being a boost for the whole area. It made it difficult to attend other events such as the Birmingham Weekender. I’m not sure what the answer is really. It’s nice that such events exist, but they inconvenience many hundreds of thousands of people – can that be right? I think as well that people who objected tended to get personally abused accused of nimbyism or remarks made about their fitness or were told not to be grumpy. I think those that argued that way clearly don’t have enough rational arguments to put forward and are just falling back on personal insults, which does them and their cause no favours. And then there’s the ‘it’s for charity refrain’ which was trotted out a lot.
Clearly there are lessons to be learnt. Communication needs to be many hundreds of times better. Signage better. Marshalls that know the local area and can suggest alternative routes are a must – there is no point importing people in who don’t know the area. Thought needs to be given to the routes that will be used instead of the closed ones – the traffic that would normally be on the main roads will be moved to other places. Perhaps more could be done to encourage spectators and improve that experience. Birmingham Velo certainly need to run a PR campaign throughout the region to encourage some goodwill. Maybe the routes needs to move around a little each year, so you don’t end up inconveniencing the same people all the time.