After the consultation back in late spring this year and the delays due to a challenge from residents on Wellington Road, Birmingham City Council has launched a new statutory consultation on the Traffic Regulation Orders needed to carry out the work on the Bristol Road cycle track. Push Bikes are keen to see this route approved and delivered, as for the most part it is well designed and high quality, providing a good link between Selly Oak and the city centre. However I am unhappy that the route has been delayed for so long due to an element of the plans that is not for people on cycles, but rather in cars - the new right turn into Wellington Road - and one which I believe should not be in a Birmingham Cycle Revolution scheme.
You can find the consultation on the Birmingham Be Heard portal, and you can fill in your response to the plans on there. Because of the type of consultation this is, there is only 1 comments box to write in, where you can express your support for the scheme, so showing your support is very quick and easy. The consultation closes on the 21st December 2017.
I would ask you to comment specifically on the right turn into Wellington Road, as well as saying how brilliant the rest of the plans are, because I think that opening up the new right turn for motor traffic into Wellington Road is the wrong thing to do. The cycle track does not rely on that right turn being introduced, and it is possible for Birmingham City Council (BCC) to take the decision to press ahead with the rest of the cycle route but abandon the new right turn for cars. Because it is not too late for BCC to change their minds, I want to encourage people to object to this right turn.
Why object to the right-turn into Wellington Road? (short version)
The short and simple reason I object to this right turn is that BCC has a policy (Birmingham Connected) to contain the growth of car use, by encouraging more people to use sustainable transport, such as cycling and public transport, that are a far more efficient use of road space. For car journeys that can not be avoided, road space can be freed up by removing some non-essential car journeys (All of this is laid out on page 10 of the Birmingham Connected White Paper). The 2017 Bike Life report has found that 79% of Birmingham residents (not just cycle users) want more protected space for cycles, even if that reduces space for motor traffic. There is widespread support in Birmingham for the aims of the Birmingham Connected policy, in which encouraging more people to cycle plays a key role.
So why is BCC arguing that they need to open up the right-turn into Wellington Road to maintain motor traffic capacity?
To me, this goes against BCC's core transport policy and shows an unwillingness by some parts of BCC to acknowledge the problems that our addiction to cars is causing. Opening up the right turn into Wellington Road is feeding that addiction and we need to stop doing that. Residential roads must not be used to carry ever more rat-running motor traffic.
Why object to the right-turn into Wellington Road? (long version)
Firstly, as I explain above, BCC policy is to discourage unnecessary car use for short journeys. To do this, we need to cut off the rat runs that blight our city and push through motor traffic onto the main road network. By preventing rat running, we will make walking and cycling attractive options for short journeys of a few miles - both by making residential roads quite and attractive to walk and cycle on, and by making short car journeys take just as long as cycling or walking. This is a policy that has worked miracles in Germany and the Netherlands, and which we should be adopting here. A new right-turn into Wellington Road would be going directly against that need to cut off rat-runs.
Adding to that point, I wonder if this route along Wellington Road is intended to facilitate commuter flows to the University of Birmingham and the hospitals. I have asked BCC if they can tell me which destinations they are using in their traffic models - where are do they think people using Wellington Road will be driving to. I've not been given that data because there would have been substantial work involved in extracting that from the models, so I am only going on supposition here, but it is telling, I think, that there was an overwhelming objection to this right-turn from people living on Wellington Road. That does not suggest that people on Wellington Road think they need this new turning, so it is unlikely to be for them. Instead of accommodating commuters driving cars, BCC should be encouraging them to use public transport or cycle.
It is important to note that traffic evaporation is a real phenomena which has been documented across numerous road schemes. BCC should be planning highways schemes on the basis of that evidence, rather than on traffic modelling that assumes no change in traffic levels. Even more so when BCC has a stated policy of trying to discourage private motor vehicle use.
Secondly, if we assume generously that the right turn onto Wellington Road is intended for people accessing the Wellington Road area, we have to ask why the existing route along Spring Road is not sufficient for that local traffic (See the map below for the location of Spring Road in relation to Wellington Road). It is only cars cutting the corner from Pershore Road along Bellevue who would not be able to drive a short distance up the Middleway and turn onto Spring Road. The junction of Bristol Street and the Middleway is actually being modified, with two right turn lanes, to make it easier to get onto the Middleway. The difference in distance for car drivers is close to zero, so why is it that the motor traffic modelling did not find that the route along Spring Road was sufficient to carry the extra motor traffic? Is the expected flow of motor traffic so great that Spring Road would not be able to carry it all? It is claimed repeatedly that banning right turns from Bristol Road onto Priory Road is the reason why this turning at Wellington Road is necessary - but Spring Road should be able to carry all of that motor traffic.
Thirdly, there is already an alternative route for car drivers to still access Priory Road, by taking a short diversion on to Pershore Road (see the second map below). This, combined with the Spring Road option, should be sufficient to accommodate the cars that have been displaced, especially as there is supposed to be only a small number of cars trying to turn right into Priory Road.
Fourthly, the turning itself will be dangerous. We have been told that the cars waiting to turn right across on-coming motor traffic will only have a give-way line to control them. This arrangement at the Pebble Mill / Bristol Road junction is a hotspot for car crashes, so much so that the cycle track plans include traffic lights to control this junction. Yet BCC are suggesting the installation of another turning on Bristol Road that will have cars trying to jump through gaps in the on-coming traffic. The cars turning into Wellington Road will have to watch for cars on Bristol Road, as well as people walking and cycling across the mouth of Wellington Road. Not using traffic lights to control this turning is introducing a risk of crashes that will ruin lives and create gridlock. The turning into Spring Road will be safer once the extra right-turn lanes have been introduced.
Fifthly, and on a selfish note, the plans involve reducing the size of the traffic island at the mouth of Wellington Road. I use that traffic island on a regular basis when I am cycling along Bristol Road, and the changes would make it more difficult for me to cross that road mouth safely. If the traffic island does not have enough space for couple of bicycles side-by-side, then the usefulness of the shared-use pavement at that point will be reduced. Even if the traffic island does have enough space, I will have to watch cars coming down Bristol Road as well as turning across Bristol Road - Will the oncoming motor traffic turn into Wellington Road without signalling? Will the car waiting to turn jump through a gap in the traffic when I am crossing? We are not supposed to be using Birmingham Cycle Revolution money to make it more difficult to walk or cycle, yet that is what is suggested at Wellington Road.
Finally, a stated benefit of introducing the right turn at Wellington Road is that it will eliminate illegal u-turns by motor traffic into a shop car-park, back onto Bristol Road and then onto Wellington Road (Strangely, although u-turns at that location are illegal, we have been told that turning across Bristol Road into the shop car-park is not). By going twice across the pavement where the cycle track will be, these cars will be putting the cycle track users at risk. In response to this, it has been pointed out that plastic 'wands' are cheap and easy to install, as shown by Leicester and Stratford-upon-Avon, where wands have been used to stop illegal right turns. Combine this with some targeted police enforcement over a few weeks, and those drivers turning illegally could be encouraged to use Spring Road instead.
Birmingham Cycling Revolution money should not be spent on facilitating rat-running motor traffic, and it is about time that BCC took the Birmingham Connected vision seriously and stopped putting private cars first.