The 96 metre tunnel is part of the busiest stretch of towpath in the West Midlands and, as the previous path was less than a metre wide, there could often be problems with congestion at peak times. Recent developments in Selly Oak, at the University of Birmingham and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital have only increased the number of people heading onto the towpath for a quiet, traffic-free route into the city centre.
To ease the congestion, funding from Birmingham City Council has helped more than doubled the width of the towpath to 2.5m. The old narrow towpath, coupled with the restricted headroom due to the curvature of the tunnel, only allowed single file walking or cycling. The new path will make a trip through the tunnel much easier and more comfortable.
The widening of the towpath is part of the 'Birmingham Cycle Revolution' programme, a programme which has seen around £11m of investment being made by Birmingham City Council in towpaths, accesses, lighting and signage across Birmingham's canals.
To protect the historic fabric of the tunnel, which is in a conservation area, the new towpath has been built in such a way that it can be taken out at any time reinstating the tunnel back to its original design and conserving the original structure.
The newly widened towpath was officially opened on Wednesday 18 July by Cllr Waseem Zaffar and Bashir Ahmed, development & engagement manager for the Trust.
Less congestion, less pollution
Bashir Ahmed, development & engagement manager for the Canal & River Trust, said: "This stretch of towpath is the busiest in the West Midlands and it's great to see that people living and working nearby really value the canal and see it as part of their daily lives – as a charity that's exactly what we want to encourage.
"However, it's fair to say that while the tunnel was fine for 19th Century industry it's not quite kept pace with modern life leading to congestion and queuing on the towpath at either end.
"We're delighted to work with Birmingham City Council on these improvements and it's fantastic that more people can now enjoy the benefits of spending time by the water as part of their daily routine.
"We hope that local people enjoy their new towpath but it's also an opportunity to remind them that canals are tranquil, relaxing places and that pedestrians have priority. We want people to enjoy the canal as a calm, safe place so if you're in a hurry or looking to break a new record on a fitness app then the towpath probably isn't for you."
Cllr Waseem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment at Birmingham City Council, said: “This is a busy stretch of towpath used by pedestrians and cyclists alike to travel to and from the city centre so I am delighted that we have been able to work in partnership with the Canal & River Trust to make these important improvements.
"Our Birmingham Cycle Revolution is about making cycling an everyday way to travel around our city, so I hope that this newly improved route will encourage more people to swap four wheels for two wheels and pedal power, helping to reduce congestion on our roads and, crucially, reduce pollution in the air we breathe."