Consultation: Smithfields city centre site

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Birmingham City Council is consulting on the master plan for the city centre area around the current markets. This is the area from the edge of the Bull Ring, down to Rea Street, which runs parallel to the River Rea through Digbeth. Pershore Road and the Arcadian form one edge, while Digbeth High Street forms the other edge. This is a very substantial area for re-development and there will be big implications for cycling through the city centre.

The consultation runs until the 23rd May, which is Monday next week. You can find the consultation details, and the web-form to respond, on the Birmingham BeHeard website.

Push Bikes' comments:

This masterplan presents very welcome changes to the area, prioritising public transport and cycling over private motor traffic. It represents another step in the modernisation of Birmingham city centre to make Birmingham a welcoming, liveable city. However the lessons of poor design and consultation elsewhere in the city centre must be learnt. Of particular note is the fiasco over cycle infrastructure along Corporation Street, where it seems that the solution for any difficult situation is to make cycle users get off and push. It is wholly unacceptable for cycle routes to have 'cyclists dismount' signs and Birmingham City Council must ensure that no future routes make this mistake.

We urge Birmingham City Council to undertake extensive consultation with Push Bikes to discuss the details of the cycle routes through the area to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes made in previous designs.

The opportunity should be taken to create quick and direct cycle routes from Southside to Eastside to make cycling around Birmingham more functional. We should not make the mistake of building more shared-use pavement cycling routes such as the one through Eastside. 

Some notes (in no particular order) on the master plan:

(1) While the locations marked for cycle parking would be appropriate for high-volume cycle parking, it is also important to ensure that there is low-volume cycle parking spread through the rest of the site. Having cycle parking close to the entrance of a shop encourages cycle users to stop and shop, increasing impulse spending. The Sustrans Bike Life report found that there was a very low level of knowledge about cycle parking facilities, yet cycle parking is something that is a very important consideration when planning a cycle trip. Having a liberal scattering of cycle parking such as sheffield stands and cycle hoops around the area would mean that cycle users would not need to worry about parking before starting their trip.

(2) In high-volume pedestrian areas, such as the city centre, it is important that cycle routes are clearly visible as cycle routes. The key cycle routes through the development should look like roads. John Bright Street, next to New Street Station, is a perfect example of an attractive public realm that retains a clear traffic area. Having this clarity gives pedestrians a security in predicting where cycles will be going, and helps people with visual impairments to navigate the area comfortably.

(3) We would expect Edgbaston Street to be a primary cycle route, to connect Dudley Street to St Martins Church and Digbeth High Street. The other routes provide far too long a diversion from this key desire line. Around St Martins Church there will be large numbers of pedestrians, so it would be appropriate to provide a clear cycle track through that area to give an clear and understandable route for cycle users.

(4) There is a Metro route planned through the site from Meriden Street to Sherlock Street. This is also marked as a key cycle route through the development. As we have seen with the fiasco over Corporation Street, there are issues in putting cycle routes and tram lines in the same area. It would be better for the Metro tram route to not be a main cycle route, and for cycle users to be encouraged to use alternative parallel routes. The best way to do this is to invest in substantially upgrading the other routes to be much more attractive for cycle users. For example, the cycle route along Hurst Street could be invested in, to encourage cycle users to use Hurst Street and Bromsgrove Street, through to Allison Street, rather than going along the Metro route. This development presents ample opportunities to give cycle users a good network of routes away from the Metro route, but with out adequate planning now, the opportunity will be lost.

(5) There are several Sprint / bus routes through the development. Sharing space with buses is more pleasant for cycle users than sharing space with private motor traffic, but we think that the best solution is to provide cycles with their own space away from bus routes. The biggest problem is that buses have to pull in and out of bus stops, crossing the desire line of cycle users repeatedly. We want to see well implemented bus stop bypasses on these public transport routes to minimise bus-cycle conflicts.

(6) While we welcome the creation of more public squares for holding events in, we are concerned that when events are held, cycle routes through those areas are often bottom of the list of priorities. In particular we note the disruption caused by the city centre Christmas Market every year. It is very important that cycle routes through these public squares are considered to be highways and not blocked during festivals. If we are to attain a high cycle modal share, we need to keep cycles flowing smoothly through the city centre.

(7) On page 28, there is reference to Park and Ride. This is a little confusing - we hope that it means that Park and Ride locations on the edge of Birmingham at Metro and Sprint stops will help people to reach the city centre without driving. We hope that it does not mean that there will be Park and Ride facilities located in the new development.

(8) We are very pleased to see that private motor traffic will not be able to drive through this area, and that access points for parking will be next to the roads around the edge. We are concerned, however, about the quality of cycle infrastructure that will be provided on this bi-directional roads. It is important that the cycle routes through this area are connected by good quality cycle infrastructure on the roads where private motor traffic will be directed. Part of the planning gain from this development needs to be invested in improving the local road conditions to ensure cycle users have good facilities.