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Cycling and Birmingham canal towpaths

with 3 comments

In December 2013, Birmingham city council announced plans to improve canal paths, in support of its Cycle Revolution.

Birmingham city council announcement on canal improvements for the Cycle Revolution

Birmingham city council announcement on canal improvements for the Cycle Revolution

[Birmingham city council]

Under the canals element of the programme, 30 km (almost 19 miles) of towpaths would be upgraded to provide a smoother ride for bikes, while improved lighting, new access points to the cycle network and better signage are due to be introduced too.

The work would be carried out on behalf of the city council by the charity Canal & River Trust.

CRT’s project manager for the Birmingham Cycle Revolution was good enough to provide the following information.


Our project is funded by the Department for Transport, with the funds being administered by Birmingham City Council (who have funds for other works outside the CRT remit) to resurface a total of around 25 km of towpaths, plus the improvement of a number of access points to the canal and the installation of at least 2 new ones. The areas of work covered by the project were jointly proposed by BCC and CRT and we began in January with the resurfacing of 2 km of the Birmingham Main Line Canal towards Winson Green. Since then we have completed 3 km on the Birmingham & Fazeley canal from close to the NIA out to the M6 Spaghetti Junction, along with approximately 4 km of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal from King’s Norton towards Birmingham city centre. Other areas of resurfacing work currently underway include the completion of the W & B Canal to Granville Street, further lengths of the B & F Canal from under Spaghetti Junction towards Minworth and we plan to commence works on the GU from Fazeley Street to the Ackers in the coming month or so.

[…] There are no plans to install new lighting along all of the towpaths, but we do hope to be able to improve some existing lighting around the Gas Street Basin area. You also asked about smoothing over canal bridge surfaces – this is not something covered by the project, as many of our foot and basin bridges in the Birmingham area have brick paved surfaces, some of which are of heritage value and can’t be altered without good justification and a sensitive solution.

In Birmingham’s depths of winter, it gets dark about 4.30 pm, so the lack of lighting is obviously going to be a significant obstacle to using towpaths to encourage active travel. The lack of cyclable surfaces on canal bridges is also a big minus. No-one wants to keep getting on and off their bike at every bridge they come to.

Another problem on the Birmingham canal network is poorly implemented anti-motorbike access railings. In some cases, these make bicycle access difficult.

Written by beleben

September 16, 2014 at 11:51 am

Posted in Birmingham, Centro, Cycling

3 Responses

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  1. Commentary on Birmingham Cyclist forum is very informative in this respect.

    Standards for towpath improvement are ‘diverse’ to put it in a tactful way. There also remains a challenge to presever historic features such as the brick grips on bridges, put in to stop horses hooves skidding as they pulled boats and went over the raised approaches (The surfaces being laid in bricks with a bond across the direction of travel, and the periodic raising of a course of bricks by about 0.5″ to provide the grip. A neat solution on restored surfaces is to leave 2 gaps for wheelchair users and cyclists.

    Drainage and surface flatness are especially important more than the exact material used, but use of motor vehicles on drybound macadam paths has to be managed-out as this destroys the path, especially is wet weather and poor drainage put water under the tyres and induce washing away of the fines.

    Dave H

    September 16, 2014 at 12:19 pm

  2. The Grand Union is some 200 m from my house and I regularly walk along it as a part of an oldman’s exercise routine..It is a traditiona tow path,with the usable width varying between 1 and 2 metres in width. The surface is very variableand and it’s condition is very weather dependent – so any upgrade is very welcome.
    The problem with the vast majority of cyclists is that they do not recognise that the tow-path is shared space. When they come from behind they do not ring their bells to warn of their approach (indeed most of themdo not have bells!).If they come from the front they expect the pedestrians to move out of their way.The vast majority have ear-phones on and are seemingly oblivious to anyone else.”.I am a cyclist in a hurry get out of my way!” is the mantra.
    So,my question is, what about the pedestrians and canal barge users?


    September 16, 2014 at 6:23 pm

  3. […] cycle network consistent with the “step-change” aspiration. As ‘strawbrick’ commented, canal towpaths are generally spaces shared with […]

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