Developing a Wider Skill base for Cycling Coaches and Trainers in Birmingham

1 Introduction

Birmingham is a great place to live, work and visit as well as being a sustainable city and in the past 10 years Birmingham has seen a 73% increase in cycling (source: BCC Cycling Trends Document).

Cycling is however one choice of sustainable travel that competes for road space and funding priority and to achieve any significant change requires the transport network to be considered as a whole. In June 2012 the West Midlands was awarded over £33 million after a success bid from the Government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) to help tackle congestion, reduce carbon emissions and kick start the regional economy.

Smart Network, Smarter Choices involves changing people’s travel behaviour while joining up transport networks. This will be achieved through ‘door-to-door’ initiatives such as:

• Smarter Choices, includes workplace travel planning, Work Wise and other supporting measures enabling people to make better informed sustainable travel choices, especially for trips under five kilometres;

• Infrastructure improvements including walking and cycling routes, improved passenger waiting facilities and small scale road and junction improvements to speed up journey times and improve punctuality; and

• Technology Showcase - working in partnership with National Express West Midlands on delivering real-time information from all their buses to passengers, with BT on the convenient use of smartcards for cashless travel and with other sustainable information technologies planned to deliver a Technology Showcase along the ten corridors to provide passengers with personalised reliable and up-to-date information and ticketing services.

In 2011 Birmingham was also successful in their small Local Sustainable Fund Bid. The Bike North Birmingham project targets ‘maybe’ cyclists through a package of cycling infrastructure and smarter choices to encourage cycling in North Birmingham. The project has developed three strands; Education, Business and Enabling Communities. Similarly this project has been developed in partnership with Birmingham City Council (BCC), Sustrans, and Birmingham Public Health to increase cycling and walking opportunities across the north of the city. The project will aim to improve people’s access to workplaces, schools and other key hubs, improve mobility, improve health and well-being, and better connect people to public transport.

Birmingham have also developed some existing cycling projects that aim to remove the barriers associated with cycling and help reduce health inequalities; subsequently improving life expectancy. A partnerships between Birmingham Public Health, BCC and British cycling has led to the development of ‘Be Active By Bike’ which is a extension of the award winning Be Active Scheme. This scheme provides access to free loan bikes, cycle proficiency training, bike maintenance courses and led rides. There is also a partnership arrangement between British Cycling Recreation and BCC and since 2010 there has been 52,000 people engaged through British Cycling partnership programmes in Birmingham. During the past 3 years there has been 3 Sky Ride City Events (mass participation rides); Sky Ride Local (formal led ride program) and Breeze (Women only led ride program). In August 2012 18,000 cyclists took part in the third Birmingham Sky Ride City Event.

Bike Birmingham’ is BCCs workable strategy to encourage Birmingham’s citizens to use canal towpaths and green spaces to help ease the traffic congestion and reduce carbon emissions. Cycling contributes to active, low carbon lifestyles that can be enjoyed by its citizens as a leisure activity giving access to Birmingham’s canals, rivers, parks and sporting facilities. Data recorded by 8 automatic cycle counters have indicated that since 2003 cycling has increased with the greatest numbers counted on the popular Rea Valley Route with up to 500 cyclists per day.

The Heartlands Ring project is a partnership project (which includes Canal and River Trust and Birmingham City Council) and focuses on a 7.5 mile canal ring in Birmingham. The route passes through some of the country’s most deprived areas and this project aims to establish the canal as a shared resource for health, wealth and leisure. As well as providing opportunities to volunteer and make physical improvements to the canal corridor the project also offers a series of events including guided walks, environmental arts projects, cycling training, angling opportunities.

The wider canal network across Birmingham provides many opportunities for traffic free cycling, particularly as a route in to the City centre area for cyclists who do not have the confidence to cycle on the roads. However in some parts of the City, the canal infrastructure requires upgrading to make it more accessible and usable by cyclists throughout the year.

In Birmingham cycling is a priority of the Council and forms part of its key priorities:

Stay safe in a clean, green city
Be healthy
Enjoy a high quality of life
Make a contribution

These priorities are being delivered through the Bikeability Scheme and other cycling initiatives such as women only cycling. Since 2009 BCC has received over £200k to deliver Bikeability with over 6000 students receiving Bikeability training. In Birmingham Black, Ethnic Minoriity (BME) are offered Women only cycling courses and since 2011 a total of 145 women from BME communities have learned to cycle.

2  - DWSCCTB Project

In 2010 the then Road Safety Education Team (RSET) in partnership with Birmingham Public Health, British Waterways (now Canal and River Trust), Sustrans and British Cycling put in a project proposal to the European Union’s Leonardo Da Vinci Mobility Programme for a project aimed at developing ' a Wider Skill base for Cycling Coaches and Trainers in Birmingham'. EU funding was secured to visit Sweden on a 5 day visit to exchange innovative ideas and working practices. The aim of the project was to enable sports/cycling coaching and training professionals from Birmingham to learn from the Swedish experience of cycling in a community and economic context. Participants for the project were drawn from individuals working in cycling either through education, community or at a practical setting.

All of the Partners have been involved in delivering the project sending eight cycling coaches to Sweden to enhance their vocational skills. The European partner was Sweden's SISU Idrottsulbildarna-an organisation with which BCC has worked collaboratively with for almost ten years.

The aim of the project is:

  • To learn from Swedish partners to help develop vocational skills eg training and coaching.
  • Learning new skills in Swedish work experience in cycling training, maintenance, cycling events.
  • To help build an effective cycling partnership in Birmingham – through the development of a broader skills base for coaches and trainers.
  • To continue the partnership with SISU (Sweden) in order to further enhance trans-national cooperation.

Expected Outcome

  • To provide better vocational training and coaching for people working in the cycling sector.
  • To understand how other countries develop cycle friendly cities that encourage more people to cycle more often.
  • To disseminate learning across Birmingham to influence service design and policy.

3 - The Swedish Visit

Working Day 1

The Group visited the offices of Eva-Lena Frick, General Manager for the Vätternrundan race that is held each year in Motala. Vätternrundan is a 300km ride around Lake Vattern which involves 50-60 organisations volunteering. Approximately 36,000 riders from across Europe along with 800,000 spectators descend on Motal which generates around 64m Euro per year for the local area.

Vätternrundan is a non-competitive cycle event offering a challenge and an opportunity for people to socialise. The idea for a Vätternrundan originally came from a dentist and doctor working with sports professionals. The first ever Vätternrundan was held in 1966 with 370 people entering the race.

Good publicity and media has been a success in attracting large numbers to the event and after only 130 hours of the official launch on the website registration is full. The use of appropriate female/male role models in literature when advertising the event has been another success.

With any event on such a large scale there was one fatal incident in 2003 and since then Vätternrundan has a strict rule of not allowing any cyclist to drive for 6 hours after the race. This is enforced by the police who check drivers leaving the area and if a cyclist is found to be within the 6 hours they are disqualified from the race. Since 2003 no one has been killed and this shows how in Sweden they will address issues and move forward rather than not continuing with the event.

After visiting Eva-Lena Frick the Group visited Gota Canal which connects Lake Väner with the Kattegat at Göteborg viewing the new and old locks. Visiting the Canal was of particular interest to one participant who is responsible for the regeneration of the canal network in the Birmingham and West Midlands area. The Group was able to learn about infrastructure and opportunities to improve cycling on canal towpaths in Birmingham.

The Group also visited a Junior School and after speaking with the teachers learned that whereas in England cycling training is linked to a national standard qualification this is not the same in Sweden. In Sweden it is felt that it is best for children to learn to ride their bikes with their parents at an early age. There was much discussion about the wearing of cycle helmets and although it is mandatory in Sweden for under 15s not many people wear helmets.

Benefits for Birmingham

The visit provided an indepth insight into the organisation of a major cycling event showing that with the co-operation of partners a positive impact can be made to the local economy. The scale of event is very large with around 24,000 participants in Vätternrundan. It would be possible to introduce Birmingham’s own Vätternrundan and extend it to the West Midlands. This would entail a lot of planning and potential links with different groups/partners bringing a lot of people into the area and thus generating revenue from tourism. The Vätternrundan event is estimated to generate approximately 66,000 SEK in just over a weekend.

The success of Vätternrundan lies with volunteers from the local area who get involved and from the good cooperation with local authorities especially the police. The value of developing volunteers and support from private and commercial sectors is crucial in getting cycling more culturally accepted.

Creating useable cycling infrastructure in Birmingham is going to be essential to grow cycle use in the city. Birmingham has some reasonable but worn canal cycling infrastructure that needs improving but with additional funds ploughed into infrastructure and cycling there is scope to address this.

Birmingham already has big cycle events however these events still need to be linked in with other activities. An example is the Cycle Show at the NEC that has a pro tour ride which is part of the Tour of Britain, but due to collaboration between the Cycle Show and Tour of Britain other parties are not involved.

Working Day 2

The group spent the day at Vara where a series of presentations was delivered from Swedish Cycling champions:

SISU – presentation by Kenneth Tidebrink and Soran Karlstrom (CEO of SISU)

SISU was established in 1986 and receives about £14m funding from the government. SISU works with unemployed people in Sweden which stands at 8% of which there are currently 100 participants in the programme volunteering in local sport clubs.

100 years ago the Swedish Sports Movement was started in Sweden and today there are numerous independent clubs and federations. The Swedish Movement is an independent non profit movement based on voluntary leadership and work. It is open to everyone and is a factor for development in society and has a clear control/management structure from national and district federations. The Swedish Sports Movement receives funding from three different sources i.e. 15% government; 15% private sector lottery etc; and 70% members, subscriptions etc.

Volunteering in Sweden is built into the culture and a research by Johan Von Essen Ersta Skondal University found that money is a dividing line and people either work as a volunteer because they want to. The research also showed that it is inherent in mankind to help others. In Sweden people volunteer because they want to enjoy themselves and do not see it as a major route to employment.

Vargarda Cykelklubb – presentation by Helen Henrksson (Architect, cycling profession)

The Club was started in 1960 by two Petersson brothers from Vargarda who took part in the Mexico Olympics. To date there are over 300 volunteers with a professional MTB cyclist who supports training. The Club can teach between 35-40 children and focuses more on bike skills (MTB) for younger people allowing them to develop road skills as they get older. The Club accommodates all of its users and everyone who joins the Club can either compete or participate.

Cyclists at the Club take part in lots competitions during the year and even have a former Swedish world women’s champion helping with their publicity.

Helen’s day job is as an Architect but cycling is her second profession and like most companies in Sweden allows her to use some hours for voluntary work.

Thomas Gronqvist – Consultant
Thomas was a former professional cyclist and now works as a Marketing Director for health promotion. Thomas has worked with Stockholm traffic department on a project which was financed from Stockholm Highways to increase the number of cyclists in Kista Stockholm. After Thomas had gathered all the relevant information a pilot study was undertaken with 300 basic signs being put up to guide cyclists to Kista. The signage of the route was achieved through the co-operation of Stockholm Highways. Ten employers were also asked to present the message.

Part of the project involved a scheme being set up whereby companies in Kista could buy in the service of a bike check facility. A marquee with bike mechanics would be sited in a centrally located place and staff could book online a time to come and leave their bike for checking. The cost of this scheme was funded entirely by the companies.

Thomas explained that the companies had made available data about the areas that their employees lived in and this was used to indentify routes that would be well used. This data from different companies in Kista allowed a database to be built that covered virtually all the people working in the business park and their respective home areas. The project was funded to provide 100 bikes for a loan scheme to allow employees to try out cycle commuting before committing to buying a bike. There was also funding for providing low cost signage. This allowed the routes to be implemented quickly.

In the first month nearly 300 people signed up for the scheme. The project saw a reduced car usage by 20 car journeys per day for the 100 bikes loaned.

Thomas mentioned to the Group that it is important to keep the bikes simple, light with not too many gears and to have a good offer before promoting the scheme.
Despite Sweden having worst winter conditions than England the project still continued.

Benefits for Birmingham

Sweden is a very well organised Country in the way it manages its clubs and volunteers. There is so much emphasis on individuals volunteering which benefits not only the country but communities.

Similar initiatives to the Kista Scheme have been started within Birmingham, but what is still needed to be achieved is a study compiling data related to where people live and work. This data can show whether it is feasible to introduce cycling initiatives or whether other sustainable transport initiatives should be deployed i.e. if the study shows that for a given business district the majority of people who work there travel 20 miles or more to work then cycling schemes are unlikely to be taken up. Whereas if the average distance between home and work is 4 or 5 miles for a majority of employees then this would suggest that promoting cycling would have a greater chance of success.

Working Day 3

This was a whole day for the Group to experience the cycling infrastructure in Gothenburg. The Group’s host for the day was Lars another SISU staff. There was a short presentation from the office manager at the bike hire offices. The scheme in Gothenburg is run by a French company who provides the hardware i.e. bikes, poles and backup systems. There are approx 500 hire bikes located around Gothenburg with 1000 docking stations. The company employs 2 technicians who travel around the city with a van to redistribute the bikes from ‘hot spots’ to empty docking stations. The Authority in Gothenburg did not have to invest any funds and only needed to provide the space for the equipment.

The bikes are managed on a subscription basis of usage which can be as low as 250 SEK annually. The first 30 minutes rental is free and the charging mechanism has been set up to encourage short term use.

The Group were provided with 10 bikes to explore the cycling network in Gothenburg. Gothenburg has an excellent infrastructure including seamless integration between tramlines, roads and cycle lanes. The City also makes excellent use of its canals and other waterways to provide traffic free routes for walkers and cyclists. Equally important was that motorists gave way to cyclists even where there were no traffic lights. The segregation between pedestrians and cyclists in places is excellent and most noticeable were the traffic lights for cyclists.

The usage of underpasses where cyclists can go under the dual carriageway without having to come near traffic with major road networks and places you can go without getting off your bikes have all been built into the infrastructure design. Other cycle specific infrastructure included cycle wheeling ramps at steps and a clear and comprehensive route marking system.

Benefits for Birmingham

There is clear evidence that it is possible to change attitudes over a period of time in how to integrate all modes of travel safely. Gothenburg is a good example of how infrastructure plays a vital part in achieving a good cycle culture. Not only is good infrastructure vital but thinking about how you place infrastructure is in most cases more important.

The infrastructure is not completely separate and in many cases cyclists, pedestrians and cars share the same space. However there are some common threads which are seen in other European cities such as the use of central reservation space on urban roads as cycle routes. This is an approach that could be adopted in Birmingham and would open up new commuter routes as well as widen and improve canal paths and accesses to the canal.

Working Day 4

The Group visited the Hjo Pit-Stop on the Vätternrundan where the group were able to speak with the stewards who were responsible for organising the whole of the pit-stop activities at Hjo. Provided at the pit-stop was a large truck to collect and transport bicycles from participants who had dropped out of the ride and approximately 1000 people had already dropped out of the ride at Hjo and earlier pit-stops. This was partly due to the fact that the day had started out wet. The group was also able to see the RFID tags being used to monitor and time the riders as they went through each checkpoint. Experiencing the atmosphere of so many cyclists approaching the pit-stop at Hjo was truly a remarkable experience for the Group.

Benefits to Birmingham

The whole experience of Hjo was a fascinating insight into the complexity of organising such an event. Even at Hjo there were 3 different sports club present which included children helping out in the canteen. This really shows the power of using volunteers and empowering local people to get involve.

Working Day 5

The Group met up with Thomas Gronqvrist for a 50km cycle ride along a converted disused railway track from Falkoping. The railway track was a direct link between a number of small communities and was being used for everyday transport. At Falkoping the group was interviewed with the local newspaper who was interested in why they had come over to Birmingham. Cycling along a disused railway really showed that in Sweden they will not just let infrastructure go to waste but will convert it into something useful. The surface was superb and a pleasure for the Group to ride along.

Benefits to Birmingham

Many of the converted railway lines in the UK which have been converted to cycle tracks are in remote areas and used primarily as leisure cycle routes. There is however one exception where the use of converted cycle routes is primarily for commuting and as a means of transport between communities.

It would benefit Birmingham to put funds into bringing back its disused railway lines as cycle paths. This would encourage more people who are not confident cyclists to cycle in a safe environment. To get more people on the canals Birmingham could consider a bike hire scheme at canal locations with interactive maps dotted along the way. The visit to Falkoping showed the value of investing in high quality infrastructure which is designed to last many years with minimal maintenance, which should be replicated in Birmingham.

Cultural Day

This was a day for the group to relax and learn more about the Swedish culture. Some of the participants decided to ride from Vara to Lidkoping which is on the shores of Lake Vanern the biggest inland lake in Sweden. The participants followed the main road from Vara to Lidkoping then followed the Vastergotland cycle route. The ride was excellent and gave the participants a real insight into how sparsely populated this area of Sweden is.

Other participants from the Group took a trip to Stockholm whereby the looked at more walking and cycling infrastructure, urban regeneration, integrated transport schemes and active citizenship. Again cycle use was notably high, despite poor weather conditions. In a similar way to Gothenburg, Stockholm takes advantage of its network of waterways to provide excellent traffic free routes. These routes are actively promoted for use by tourists visiting the city.

It was also obvious from the experience that Sweden has got some very good signage methodologies (i.e. where signs are placed at road junctions) and made good use of their minor road network.

4 - Participants Feedback

This has been a successful trip for all of the participants and the vocational benefits gained have been:

  • Going to Sweden and seeing/sampling how cycling is integrated into there culture has made me realise that in England we need to be more solution focused and cooperate with each other more to move forward. The use of volunteers is fantastic. I have come back even more positive and engergised to encourage more people to cycle.

  • This has shown me how different cultures regard cycling and their approach to training. One other very interesting aspect that I wasn’t aware of before was the culture of volunteering in Sweden and how this is supported in a very positive way by the sports associations and governmental funding.

  • Planning, implementing and operating cycling infrastructure in both urban and rural areas. Development of canal and waterway routes for walking and cycling and how this can be a catalyst for regeneration and how physical barriers to cycling participation can be overcome.

  • The strength and possibilities associated with trying new ‘crazy’ things dreamt up at the grass-roots and fed into the broader communities, rather than relying on ‘safe’ top-down provision.

  • I learnt about the use of better lanes for cyclists on the road and the fact that cyclists in general have a much better environment in Sweden. Cyclists are thought of in a different way, there’s much more respect for them on the road.

  • First hand knowledge of organising cycle events on a massive scale; gaining new friends from the group and increased employment prospects.

  • Exploring more the development of clubs and the use of volunteers.

  • Despite often poor weather conditions, cycle use in Sweden is continually high, possibly as a result of their good infrastructure and provision for cyclists at places of work, schools etc, and this is something that needs to be considered if the UK is to increase cycling participation levels.

  • The public health benefits of cycling are well known and publicised in Sweden; again something for the UK to consider doing more of.

5 - Conclusion

There is much more emphasis on cooperation, health, friendship and less on elite sports or competition in Sweden. The visit gave the Group excellent opportunities to look at different aspects of cycling in Sweden. The culture of volunteering and community support was greatly evident during the visit and this emphasised the high take up of sport activities. Sweden is committed to spending funds on its infrastructure providing dedicated cycle routes within its large cities and small towns.

Clubs play a significant part in Swedish culture where the take up is high from young people. The benefit for sports on society in Sweden is noticeable in that 90% of children and young people have been a member of a sports club. Even today in Sweden 56% of young people are members of a sports club with the split of 60% boys and 40% girls. More surprising is 80% of parents are involved in clubs with their children and 50% of adults give time to work in the voluntary sector. There is also a very clear and well defined national funding strategy for clubs and community groups where the time that volunteers give is carefully recorded and is directly linked to the funding a club receives - i.e. more volunteer hours results in more funding.

The visit showed that even organising big events can be achieved with the cooperation from both local communities and private sectors. The model used in Sweden of organising such a large event as Vätternrundan is something that Birmingham should look at especially if Birmingham’s annual Sky Ride is to be expanded.

Whereas in England Cycling training has been formalised with the introduction of Bikeability Sweden have a different perspective to cycling with parents taking more responsibility for their children’s “life skills”. This does not mean that in Sweden they are less aware of health and safety just they take another approach to education and life in general.

The importance of partnership working with both the private and public sectors, building on initiatives that reduce carbon through a shift from car use to sustainable modes is going to be essential for Birmingham to change attitudes towards safer travel modes.

6 - Recommendation

The Group’s recommendations are:

  • To develop cycling clubs and initiatives at the local level aimed at encouraging “non-cyclists” to start to cycle regularly for leisure and as a way to commute;

  • To enhance the existing cycling volunteer network i.e. British Cycling, CTC etc.

  • To explore Local Sustainable Funding and other possible funding to develop further opportunities for cycling initiatives. The development of a project similar to the Kista/Stockholm project where highly congested areas are studied to understand if many of the journeys by car could be substituted by bike. This could involve collaboration between Universities and industry and could be the basis of follow on projects.

  • Make a presentation to the Birmingham City Council Planning Department to highlight the potential for additional cycle infrastructure based on good practice in other European Cities.

  • Promote the development of cycling activities for young people by targeting statutory/voluntary youth clubs to cycling initiatives such as Bike North to extend across the rest of the City of Birmingham. Specifically this means provision of structured cycle rides for youth. This could be tied into the Council’s Strategic Plan for Healthier Lifestyles for Future Generations.

  • For those involved in planning and implementing cycle infrastructure in Birmingham, there is a lot to be learned from other European cities such as Gothenburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen and the like. Consideration should be given to some form of awareness raising amongst highway engineers and planners.

  • To host a return trip of our Swedish Partners SISU in June 2013 to see how Birmingham is increasing cycle levels within the city through i.e. hire schemes, led rides, improved infrastructure design and partnership working.
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