Air pollution, the climate crisis, dangerous roads, physical inactivity, community severance and congestion are key issues facing Birmingham.
Creating a robust transport plan that puts the movement of people, not cars at the forefront of future development will help create a vibrant and inclusive city.
We have some specific points listed below for which we would welcome consideration as part of the final document:
Reallocating road space
The move to reallocating road space to more efficient modes of transport is warmly welcomed by Sustrans.
With projected population growth in the city, the use of space must be reimagined and designed to ensure the most efficient use of the roads.
Studies have consistently shown that the use of private motor vehicles is less efficient than other transport modes including walking, cycling and public transport.
Whilst challenging, more and more cities are reallocating road space away from motor vehicles to create dedicated space for cycling.
Residents in Birmingham, and across the West Midlands support this:
- The Bike Life representative survey of residents living in the West Midlands in 2019 found 76% think that more cycle tracks along roads physically separated from traffic and pedestrians would be useful to help them cycle more. 65% of residents support building more of these tracks, even when this would mean less room for other road traffic.
- The same survey found 72% of residents would like to see more government spending on public transport. With 59% saying they want to see investment in cycling and 55% on walking. By comparison, only 46% wanted more spent on driving – the least popular of the four options.
We feel there is a need to ensure that within the forward plan Birmingham City Council follows the latest design principles.
This includes providing training for staff responsible for delivering ambitious transport schemes.
Policy direction needs to be aligned with operational capability for high-quality schemes to be delivered.
Transforming the city centre
For many years the Dutch have planned cities, towns and neighbourhoods to reduce short journeys by car within the city.
However many people think you cannot retrofit a city.
Ghent in Belgium proved this wrong in 2017[i].
Ghent overnight closed 14 key junctions into its city centre. This was undertaken to reduce through-traffic in the city.
At the same time, other measures were taken including changed signage, making some streets one way and increasing pedestrianised streets.
As a result, the modal share of private motor vehicles dropped almost instantly by 16%.
Alongside the improvements, Ghent has invested in cycling and public transport – Modal share for cycling increased by 13%.
There have been no increases observed in-car use outside of the city centre and Ghent is now introducing similar plans for five other districts (known as ‘cells’) around the city.
Greater Brussels has similar plans across the metropolitan area with a unique plan developed for all 58 cells.
Within the UK we have seen benefits through a similar approach in Waltham Forest, through their Mini-Holland scheme.
We believe a similar approach within the middleway in Birmingham would transform the city and produce multiple benefits for people, visitors and businesses.
It would improve air quality and create spaces people want to live, visit or enjoy whilst opening up space for walking, cycling and public transport.
No city has as yet taken this approach with the exception possibly of Cambridge. However, York, Brighton and Edinburgh are all developing similar plans.
For this to be delivered effectively in Birmingham we would like the points below included in the plan:
- Cell focus – Ghent started with city centre then have moved to other neighbourhoods (stage 2) – could stage two be referenced in this plan? We would be interested to see how this approach could be used in other busy local centres around Birmingham to rebalance traffic priorities.
- There is a risk that this scheme will add traffic to the middleway. The cell approach may make it harder to get into the city core by any means of transport by adding traffic to the middleway. We feel this plan needs to be a broader scheme to reduce overall traffic use in and around the city. Including better public transport, cycling and walking provision.
- We would welcome more detail on the middleway plans and associated modelling. Access across the middleway by foot or by cycle needs to be high quality, such as that on the A38 interface.
- Would like to see further multimodal integration in the plan. For example, outlining walking and cycling routes as key priorities to access new stations and transport hubs such as the new HS2 station in Digbeth.
- It is important that when adding bus or tram infrastructure across the city cycling is always a consideration. We suggest following Leicester’s successful approach adopting signage that states “Cyclist proceed with caution – Pedestrians have priority” rather than “Cyclists Dismount” or “No Cycling” signs. Birmingham should use “Caution – Tramlines” rather than “Cyclists Dismount” signs where possible with Metro routes. This will encourage the sharing of space rather than creating conflict with cyclists and pedestrians or criminalising cycling in certain areas.
Prioritising active travel in local neighbourhoods
Sustrans welcomes the focus on active travel at a local level, especially the move to creating low traffic neighbourhoods.
With 25% of all car journeys undertaken by Birmingham residents less than a mile then active travel should be the obvious mode of travel in local neighbourhoods.
A city-wide role out of low traffic neighbourhoods is needed to create a safer environment for people to walk and cycle.
The Birmingham Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan outlines the ambition to create a city-wide network of walking and cycling routes, crossings and low traffic neighbourhoods that are safe, convenient, comfortable, direct and coherent.
By doing this in local centres and surrounding areas in Birmingham we will see a more inclusive transport system than the one currently in place.
By creating low traffic neighbourhoods in Birmingham we will see:
- Safer, direct access to cycleways on A38 and A34
- An increase in cycling and walking among residents, easing congestion on the roads
- Fewer emissions and better air quality from road transport
- More inclusive access to local shops retails centres and places of work
- Wider pavements and new crossings for safer pedestrian and cycle access
- More attractive, safer places with green space, more trees and plants
- A fit for purpose road network that can cope with growth
- Safer, more inviting environments for the oldest and youngest residents.
The plans outlined in the Birmingham Transport Plan will need to be delivered in partnership with communities in the city.
We welcome further detail on the consultation process involved in increasing active travel at a local level.
We recommend that the implementation of a Low Traffic Neighbourhood should be implemented in one area of the city by 2022, two further areas by 2025 and five further areas by 2030 to assist in the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.
Effective community engagement and having walking and cycling infrastructure expertise as part of delivery will be essential to their success.
Managing demand through parking measures
Currently, car parking in Birmingham is plentiful and easy to access.
We support any initiatives to limit the amount of parking and its use in the city.
With 30% of available land used for parking, there is an opportunity to think creatively about how else this could be used.
Schemes that create affordable housing and better public realm in the city will benefit all.
Sustrans would like to see:
- Surplus revenue from parking measures to be invested into a dedicated active travel fund
- Proactive engagement with West Midlands police to ensure enforcement around new parking measures
- Targeted pavement parking initiatives. Vehicles parked on pavements are a common source of inconvenience and are a hazard to pedestrians. Often they force a wide range of vulnerable people into the road by taking up space on the footway
- The resource to ensure that planning teams can assess and implement measures that restrict the number of parking spaces at new developments in the city centre
- A review of the process to close parking bays on high streets across the city. This will free up space for cleaner, greener and people-centred environments.
- Planning approvals that prioritise sustainable transport ahead of access for cars. We have seen new developments putting car parking at the heart of their transport plans and designs. Such as in Longbridge Town Centre development, Selly Oak retail parks, and the approval of a multi-story car park for University of Birmingham students. These recent and yet to be built schemes have provided thousands of car parking spaces, encouraging congestion and making walking and cycling more difficult.
Other points to consider
The plan seems, to a considerable extent, a city centre traffic management plan rather than a holistic Birmingham-wide transport plan, presumably partly because aspects that are beyond the direct control of the City Council are excluded.
The scope of our comments partly reflects the scope of the proposed plan.
Sustrans would welcome further information on how partners get involved in realising these themes.
We would welcome further guidance on time scales and a plan for delivery. This plan is an excellent foundation.
To succeed it needs to be implemented in a timely and efficient way.
This will then provide a platform for the development of more sustainable travel across the whole city.
Also essential will be planning and investment from a West Midlands level, to reduce dependency on the car and provide better alternatives especially for public transport.
The Commonwealth Games is a huge opportunity for the region and one that can have a significant impact on the legacy of transport.
It could be a key catalyst and opportunity to pilot low-cost initiatives.
Doesn’t appear to be enough detail in how the transport system in Birmingham will be created through the games.
The needs of the youngest and oldest members of our society and those people with additional mobility considerations must be mentioned as part of the plan.
Our children should be physically active for at least 60 minutes per day and enabling them to walk or cycle to school is the simplest and most cost-effective way to achieve this.
People moving via wheelchair, adapted cycle, mobility scooter, and people with sight or hearing impairment should be included in the strategy and considered in all plans.
As we age we must remain active to prevent or manage diseases.
We have an ageing population and this transport plan if implemented will reduce the burden on the NHS and social care.
The recommendations of our ‘Age-Friendly Tyburn’ report due to be published in June 2020 should be added into the detail of this plan.
As the city applies to become an ‘Age-Friendly City’, it is essential that our older members of society are considered within transport planning.
Investing in provision for cycling is good value for money, and gives greater returns than many alternatives.
For example, the £150 million English Cycling Cities Ambition Grant programme secures approximately £5.50 in benefits for every £1 spent.
This is typical for cycling schemes in the UK and compares favourably with most other transport schemes.
[i] Daan Peckmans, 2019 Personal Communication