This is our response to the A34 Perry Barr Highway Improvement Scheme, submitted June 2019.
The A34/Birchfield Road flyovers and underpasses have represented one of the worst examples of car-centric postwar planning in this city, a sixties experiment long associated with poor air quality, noise, crime and anti-social behaviour and unpopular with students and staff when the Poly/UCE/BCU was located in Perry Barr.
The fundamental drawback of the current sixties-design is that it is for the convenience of those that do not live in the area, at the expense of most who do. The benefits of city centre growth can be shared much better with relatively deprived inner-city communities if sustainable transport options replace the blight caused by reliance on unnecessarily heavy, single-occupancy car commuting from further out.
The removal of the flyover and closure of 200m of Aldridge Road to general traffic are particularly welcome and will increase opportunities to create and demonstrate better public realm.
Removal of the A34 road underpass at the Wellington Road/Aston Lane junction would greatly simplify the feel of the area, free up space, and give much more scope to improve walking and cycling and the overall quality of the local environment. Removal of the underpass was already considered in the options appraisal and discarded for reasons that are not explained in the consultation. If mode shift continues in the way that the authorities hope and intend, then removal would become necessary and desirable at a later date. We would prefer it to be removed now, or welcome the reasons given for elimination of this option. We note that Sprint does not require use of the underpass carriageway. In the long term all of the A34 should returned to a walkable, at-grade environment, with removal of the Birchfield Flyover and Six Ways underpass too, to return this key radial close to the city centre to the thriving walkable environment that it once was.
Allocation of space
The illustrations show very few cars in the area. If this were a true representation of traffic levels, it seems unlikely that seven lanes for motor vehicles would be required at one point. In the near future, the roads will continue to carry considerable volumes of motor vehicles most of the time and look less amenable than in the CGI images.
However, to maximise the quality of the public space it is desirable to minimise the land taken for general traffic lanes.
Apart from short sections for turning or merging, at no point should there be more than two traffic lanes in one direction, as a general principle for ensuring a more human quality of the cityscape.
Lane widths: the planned width of general traffic lanes is not clear from the plans. Along the A34 from the A4040 to the One Stop north access, it should be possible to use lanes of 3m width. Has this been considered?
Flexibility to further reduce motor traffic lanes in future should be built into the design.
A4040 to One Stop north access section
It is not clear why three southbound lanes are required opposite One Stop. If it is necessary to allow for left turning traffic emerging from the Walsall Road, this could be managed by a bus gate if required. There is no
need for a third inner general traffic lane on the A34 southbound past the One Stop north junction. This should only emerge after the proposed toucan crossing, for drivers wishing to avoid the underpass and turn left into
Aston Lane or right into Wellington Road.
Alternatively and more simply, northbound on the A34 outside One Stop, the second general traffic lane should be straight ahead or right, dispensing with the need for a fourth general traffic lane at this section. It
would also avoid drivers travelling from Wellington Road to Aldridge Road having to manoeuvre across two lanes of traffic.
Either of these two options would free up more space to improve the public realm and reduce the sheer expanse of tarmac and sense of motor traffic dominance along this section.
Section between Birchfield Flyover and Perry Barr Underpass
South of Canterbury Road there is a surplus extra short motor vehicle lane exactly along the length of where a shared use footway is shown. This only exists
because of the design of the Perry Barr underpass and Birchfield Flyover and seems to serve no purpose in terms of capacity. This lane could be removed, enabling the other general traffic lane (in grey) and the bus lane to
moved outward, making space to ensure the protected bike lane is continuous along this stretch. This may require some re-engineering of the egress from the underpass carriageway and access to the Birchfield Flyover, but there is space to do this and it is not ambitious compared with the changes further north. If the extra lane is to allow space for left turning traffic out of Canterbury Road, this could be handled by making it a false one-way, with entry only from the A34 and local residential traffic able to join the A34 via Trinity Road.
Alignment of segregated cycle route
Has consideration been made of continuing the route between Heathfield Road to Perry Barr Station along the left (west) side of the A34, as far as the proposed crossing of the A34 just north of the planned interchange? This would enable a simpler crossing at Heathfield Road and would enable more direct cycle journeys to Perry Barr Station. We are aware that there may be issues with housing land ownership and more limited space on the west side of the A34 along the section south of the A4040. However if the route is to become well-used then it must be a convenient and efficient way to travel: compromises that slow journeys must be minimised.
Staggered crossings: staggered two-stage pedestrian crossings run counter to the notion of giving pedestrians priority and should be avoided in principle.
A34/A4040: at this junction, the central reservation portions of the crossings of Aston Lane and the north arm of the A34 should both be shaded orange (shared use) to be consistent with the rest of the diagramme. Wherever
walkers and cycle users cross this junction, segregated parallel straight-ahead single-phase crossings for each would offer much better service. Under the proposed alignment, they would at least create a simpler two-stage left turn for cycle users travelling north along the A34 towards Perry Barr station.
A34/Aston Lane: where the A34 crosses Aston Lane in particular, the proposed arrangement will foster conflict between walkers and cycle users. There could be a straight ahead, single-phase segregated crossing for walkers and cycle users, offering a much superior level of service.
A34/Heathfield/Trinity Roads: the multiplicity of toucan crossings at Heathfield Road and Trinity Road will slow cycle journeys considerably and reduce the level of service and competitiveness with other modes. Here could be a good location to experiment with simpler crossings with fewer stages. If a diagonal single-stage crossing is deemed not practicable, a two-stage right turn should be considered, including looking at the scope for achieving this by crossing Heathfield Road instead of Trinity Road. We believe it should be possible for a better cycle crossing to operate simultaneously with general traffic movements.
Bragg to Canterbury side roads: the cycle track and pedestrians should have clear priority over the side road crossings of Bragg Road, the Broadway and Canterbury Road. Consideration should be made of closing any or all
of them to motor traffic with bollards, or making them entry-only as described above for Canterbury Road.
Perry Barr station approach: it would be better if the cycleway on the Aldridge Road was curved in towards the crossing of the A34, making a more direct route for people heading between the shopping centre and the Aldridge Road.
A453: some provision needs to be made for cycle users travelling north beyond Wellhead Lane. Very few travellers are likely to continue into Wellhead Lane itself, with most travelling towards Aldridge, Kingstanding or
College Roads. The long-term plan is to continue the route up Kingstanding Road, therefore it will be necessary to cross the A453 again at some point anyway. Unless the Wellhead Lane to Tame Valley Canal section is to be
implemented simultaneously with the Perry Barr scheme, then consideration should be made of including singlestage parallel walking and cycling crossings of the A453 on the south side of the Wellhead Road junction.
Ideally, the rail station and bus interchange should not be severed from each other by motor vehicle traffic, with all vehicle access to One Stop from the north end. If the south access must persist, for example for vehicle access to the station, vehicle traffic should be minimised by limited hours of access, for restricted purposes and/or speed limited to 5mph and with very clear pedestrian priority designed across this access. We expect this will be covered in more detail by TfWM.