Birmingham City Council is carrying out a consultation on some of the measures introduced to divide the city centre into segments, following the policies laid out in the draft Birmingham Transport Plan released early 2020. The consultation covers some of the temporary measures introduced in 2020, which will be made permanent, and a few extra measures. The consultation closes on the 10th Sept 2021, and can be found here: Birmingham City Centre Segments consultation.
Push Bikes' Response
Overall, we are very supportive of the policy of segmenting the city centre. Filtered permeability (where public transport and walking and cycling are allowed, but driving is not) is essential to giving cycling an advantage over driving, and so encouraging more people to cycle and fewer to drive. It is a key part of the success of the Netherlands (which is why I've chosen the deceptive image for this consultation response!). The proposals will make Birmingham city centre better for walking and cycling, and help public transport reliability by reducing private motor traffic.
Although the changes will lead to longer distances for some people's car trips into the city centre, depending on their destination, it should overall reduce the amount of driving by making other modes more attractive for many journeys. So people with disabilities who can not do without a car, and people carrying tools in a van, will still be able to reach their destination, and without significantly longer journeys for most cases. There will be uproar about the proposals from some people claiming that they will stifle trade in the city centre or make it impossible to get anywhere, but in the long run we believe that everyone will adapt and after 10 years, undoing these changes would be as unthinkable as bringing back motor traffic to New Street and Victoria Square.
The new measures proposed in the consultation are for the boundary between Highgate (Southside) and Digbeth (Eastside), to stop private motor traffic driving between the two areas directly. The first image at the end of this article shows the layout of the one-way streets being used to divide the two areas, maintaining motor vehicle access to all the properties on and around Cheapside, but blocking through motor traffic. These are very important measures, to reduce the attractiveness of private car use and make the area more welcoming for walking and cycling. We strongly support these measures.
However, we have two criticisms. The first is that many of the one-way streets don't permit contra-flow cycling. In countries such as the Netherlands and France, contra-flow cycling on one-way streets is common even where there is no separate cycle track for that. In those cases, the contra-flow cycling is indicated by a sign saying something like "except cycles". This exemption enables cycle users to get to their destinations even more quickly, giving them an extra boost over driving a car - which is important for encouraging more cycling. The one-way streets being proposed would be low-traffic, as they would only be used for accessing properties, so it should be safe for cycle users to contra-flow along them. This is not such an issue for the proposals here, as there are a lot of streets very close together and the detour for cycle users would be small, but we think that Birmingham should adopt the policy of permitting contra-flow cycling on all one-way streets except where specific conditions make it dangerous.
We are also concerned that the more direct routes for cycle users are in bus lanes - see the plans for Upper Dean Street and Barford Street in particular. Parallel to Barford Street, Rea Street has been blocked off partly as a main cycle route because of a lack of contra-flow along part of it, forcing cycle users to take a detour, most likely along the bus lane on Barford Street. Cycling with buses and black cabs is not welcoming to all ages and abilities, and won't encourage more families to cycle in these areas. There needs to be separate, direct, high-quality cycle provision away from bus lanes. While the proposals in this consultation do represent an improvement, we are concerned that direct connections for cycle users have been left out, and we are expected to just fit in around the edges. The recent fiasco over the tram-lines and lack of space for cycling along Broad Street have not done much to alleviate that feeling.
The plans for these schemes can be found on the consultation page.
Between Jewellery Quarter and Knowledge Quarter
Newtown Row: Closure of 3 junctions to motor traffic turning off Newtown Row into the Jewellery Quarter. These 3 junctions are on the A34 main cycle route, so preventing cars turning off the main road across the cycle track will improve safety for people cycling on the cycle track. There is less risk posed by cars pulling out on to the main road, as they have space beyond the cycle track to stop and watch for oncoming motor traffic. We think that the changes proposed to these 3 junctions will be beneficial to cycle users, as well as working to reduce motor traffic levels.
Between Convention Quarter and Jewellery Quarter
Summer Hill Street / Sandpits junction: Making the left turn only, towards the ring road, measures permanent. This closure stops people driving from the Convention Centre / Ladywood to get onto the A38. Sandpits presents a large barrier to active travel between the Convention Quarter and the Jewellery Quarter, but hopefully with the reduction of motor traffic along it, it can be downgraded and made more pleasant for people to live along.
Sandpits / Parade / Newhall Hill roundabout: Making permanent the closure of the road mouth of Newhall Hill onto that roundabout. This junction used to be very busy in the rush-hour with a long queue of cars trying to get out of the Jewellery Quarter and onto the A38. The changes measures have transformed those roads, making them much more pleasant places to walk and cycle. In the long run, hopefully some of the space that had been turned over to motor traffic will be taken away from the traffic island and returned to people.
The plans also refer to cross-city bus proposals to introduce bus lanes here, but I believe those will fall under a separate consultation.
Newhall Hill: Making the contra-flow cycle lane permanent. Since George Street is one-way, motor traffic going down Newhall Hill would have nowhere to go, so it was made one-way. The contra-flow cycle lane has kept permeability for cycles, so that they have an advantage over cars. It is unfortunate that contra-flow cycling hasn't also been permitted on George Street to improve permeability.
Moreton Street: Restricting motor traffic to one-way only, from Carver Street to Pope Street. This is a new measure, restricting the currently 2-way motor traffic on Moreton Street to only 1 way. Cycle permeability is retained with a contra-flow cycle lane.
Charlotte Street & Fleet Street junctions with Parade: Make the access restrictions from Parade onto these two roads permanent, permitting only cycles to turn left off Parade onto them. These road closures have made this area much safer to walk around, as previously cars would rat-run off Parade into the Jewellery Quarter at quite high speeds. The expansion of University College Birmingham in recent years has resulted in many more students walking along the side of Parade, so these changes have made conditions safer for the students.
Albion Street: Introducing a complete closure to motor traffic between Camden Street and Pope Street. In the initial plans, this section of road was made one-way, but the revised plans have removed motor traffic altogether, forcing drivers exiting the area to leave via Pope Street, rather than being able to use Camden Street to access Parade. Presumably, there had been some displacement of motor traffic from Newhall Hill onto Camden Street, and this amendment will change that. The proposals will further enhance the local cycling and walking environment, encouraging more active travel.
Between Eastside and Southside
Upper Dean Street: This road will be made into a bus gate between Moat Lane and Dean Street, with enforcement cameras. Motor traffic along this route has been greatly reduced since the creation of the new public square next to the Hippodrome, and this change will reduce it further. Cycle users will still be sharing the space with buses and black cabs, so we don't expect to see many families cycling with children along here, although those people who are already cycling here will appreciate the changes. As this area is redeveloped, Birmingham City Council will need to pay attention to planning better cycle routes through this area.
Barford Street: The section between Bradford Street and Moseley Street will be converted to a bus gate, cutting off private motor traffic from travelling between Eastside and Southside. Black cabs will still be able to use this route, but private hire taxis shouldn't be able to. This change should mean that only private motor traffic accessing properties in the area should be using Barford Street, which should make the area quieter and feel more comfortable to cycle around, although the lack of segregated cycle space on Barford Street will limit the attractiveness of this street to new cycle users.
Rea Street: Rea Street will be made one-way, as part of the one-way cells along Cheapside. It is surprising that there is no contra-flow cycle lane along the section of Rea Street from Bradford Street to Cheapside, as Rea Street is a flat route for cycle users from Digbeth across to the River Rea cycle route. By stopping motor traffic flowing into Rea Street at the Bradford Street junction, it will be easier to run the bi-directional cycle track across the traffic light controlled junction, but it should be possible to allow cycle users to turn into Rea Street. We suggest that the plans be amended to introduce a contra-flow cycle lane on this section of Rea Street to facilitate permeability for cycle users along this useful route.
Cheapside junctions with Birchall Street, Lombard Street & Alcester Street: (See the ES-SS Cheapside pdf at the bottom of the consultation page) These three streets cross Cheapside, creating a grid of streets that will be converted into one-way cells. Traffic islands and bollards will cut diagonally across each cross-roads, with motor traffic restricted to following the route round to the road they came off - either Bradford Street or Moseley Street. Cycle users will be able to turn through the bollards, to take routes that the cars can't, but there aren't any contra-flows for cycle users so they won't be able to cut directly across from Bradford Street to Moseley Street.
Moseley Road: Bus gates will be used at the junction with Cheapside, to allow the existing bus route to continue while blocking through motor traffic. This provides a route across for cycle users as well, and the introduction of the bus gates will make this area quieter for cycling.