I chose cycling as the subject for this blog after seeing Bicycle, a recent documentary produced in Birmingham. The film discusses the bicycle’s rich heritage in Britain, and how for a time the rise of the automobile and myopic road building projects made our roads uninhabitable for cyclists. But cycling has long been making a recovery, and I see a lot of other riders on my way to Digbeth every morning. Films like Bicycle can only have a positive effect on participation, as they bring a positive, persuasive message to new audiences. When I watched it at the Electric Cinema, I was convinced it would have inspired me to start if I hadn’t been a cyclist already.
It’s positive that such a film should be made here, because according to the 2011 Census, Birmingham has the lowest proportion of bike commuters of any major city in England – just 1.44 per cent of adults.
Ultimately, the roads in Birmingham aren’t very friendly for cyclists. As Bicycle describes, some short-sighted policies meant that when cars became financially viable for ordinary working people, the road building and planning at the time didn’t consider that people might want to continue using bicycles.
The situation is improving though - last summer Birmingham won £17million from the department of transport with the aim of becoming a ‘Cycle City’. This has been topped up to around £23 million by the local council, and means work is underway to improve existing cycle paths such as those along the canal which connect the suburbs and the city centre. There are also plans to improve some roads, which hopefully means more designated cycle paths.
The increased popularity of cycling has been partly a result of competitive success for British cycling. Athletes including Laura Trott, Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins have won enough medals to give a giraffe neck ache, inspiring people to get on their bikes in the process. Cycling is accessible, useful and has become trendy. Being a cheap form of transport, it has an appeal for people who might not be interested in sport and exercise otherwise. Existing popularity and positivity around cycling still needs to be harnessed to encourage a wider audience though, as shown by these statistics:
In the West Midlands, only 33.3% of people participate in sport, the lowest percentage in England, and significantly lower than the highest, London, which is 37.2%
I cycle to work, and I can’t recommend it enough. The more people use bicycles, the less cars will be on the road. That can only have a lessening effect on air and noise pollution, and a positive effect on public health.
My interest in sporting participation goes back a few years. As a student I made a documentary about roller derby, and spent some time finding out what appealed to women about a sport which isn’t on most people’s radar. A lot of them actually said they got involved after seeing Whip It, a Hollywood film starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore.
Since then I’ve been convinced that video can increase sporting participation. With no real marketing or social media on my part, that video has gone on to receive over 100,000 views on YouTube. I was able to interview people that were well known to existing fans of the sport, and because I shared the video with everyone who contributed to the film, they then shared it with people in other teams and friendship groups. My experience with roller derby was a fulfilling one, because my work reached an audience and has played a role in bringing more people into the sport.
I’d love to help cycling grow in Birmingham through my work as a video producer. Getting more people on their bikes would be a positive step for the city, and high quality content can be a means to achieve that.