Consultation: Digbeth Active Travel

From the consultation documents, a proposed illustrative view of Fazeley Street looking south-east t

Birmingham City Council (BCC) has put forward some plans for improving active travel conditions (that is, for walking, cycling and wheeling) in Digbeth. The proposals cover the area to the north of Digbeth High Street, up to the canal and the new HS2 station. The consultation closes on Friday 21st Jun 2024, and the link for the consultation is here: Digbeth Active Travel and Streets Consultation.

What is in the plans?

The plans include a mix of one-way streets, pedestrian priority zones and some segregated cycle tracks, along with some teleportation through buildings. To best understand this, you need to look at the plan from the consultation (which we have reproduced at the end of this article, but a larger copy that you can zoom in on is linked in the consultation).

The main focus is on introducing one-way streets to direct the flow of motor traffic through Digbeth. The flow of motor traffic along Park Street (under the end of Moor Street Station, opposite the marshmallow) will be reversed, connecting to Bordesley Street, which will be made one-way for much of its length. The roads leading off Digbeth High Street will mainly be one-way as well, with only New Canal Street, carrying the tram, being kept two-way. All of this will be to discourage private motor traffic from ratrunning through Digbeth to get to Digbeth High Street, but it appears to maintain rat-run exit routes from the city centre through Digbeth.

The concession to cycling has been made on the one-way sections of Park Street and Bordesley Street, where a 2-way segregated cycle track will be built using one lane of the existing highway. There will also be a segregated contra-flow cycle lane on Oxford Street, but in the rest of Digbeth, cycle users of all ages and abilities will be expected to mix with motor traffic.

What is missing from the plans?

First, there is no information provided about the predicted motor traffic levels in Digbeth and where the main flows of motor traffic are expected to be. That analysis is essential for being able to respond to proposals for active travel. For planning for cycling, the Department for Transport has published a 'Cycling Level of Service Tool' (Appendix A of LTN 1/20 Cycle Infrastructure Design guide) which lays out the volume of motor traffic that is acceptable for streets where cycle users and motor traffic will be mixing. Without those predictions, we do not know if BCC's proposals are acceptable or not.

Second, despite the numerous one-way streets being proposed, there is no mention of unsegregated contra-flow cycling being permitted, despite BCC's recent moves elsewhere in the city centre to allow that. One-way streets create an unnecessary barrier to cycling, but this is easily overcome by permitting contra-flow cycling. If a one-way street is safe enough for cycle users to be mixing with motor traffic in the main direction of flow, then it is safe enough for unsegregated contra-flow cycling. If it is not safe enough for that, then there should be provision made for segregated cycling facilities. Either way, there is no excuse to not plan for contra-flow cycling on every new one-way street.

Third, the proposals fail to meet the priorities laid out in the Birmingham Transport Plan launched in 2021:  "Public transport and cycling provision will be prioritised over car parking provision." (page 38). But the proposals in this consultation include 2.5 meters dedicated to on-street car parking on Fazeley Street while cycle users are forced to share space with motor traffic. It is baffling why a segregated cycle track is being proposed on Bordesley Street but not elsewhere in Digbeth, where the volume and speed of the motor traffic might be even higher.

Finally, there does not appear to be measures to eliminate fast moving rat-running motor traffic from this area. The roads are long and straight, and the proposed lane widths are wider than needed, so motor traffic could move quite quickly, especially on the straight one-way sections. Modal filters could be used to make it more difficult to rat-run through this area and break up the long straight roads, and measures could be taken to slow down motor traffic, such as using sinusoidal speed humps and narrowing the road. If the volume of motor traffic is reduced (including during peak rush hour) and slowed down, then people cycling and walking will be safer on these streets.

What is our overall analysis?

Overall, the plans show a lack of understanding of what planning for cycling is about.

Every street in Digbeth should be accessible to cycle users, including small children cycling with their families. As more residential developments are built in this area, we should be planning an urban environment where parents are happy to let their 8 year old child cycle on their own bike, as is the case in the Netherlands.

Expensive segregated cycle infrastructure is important for the network of main cycle routes that will provide direct, speedy and comfortable links across the whole city, but at a local street level, there needs to be a clear reason for isolated segments of segregation that is based on careful analysis using DfT tools. After that analysis has been done, it may be the case that there is a good justification for the segregated cycle tracks proposed in these plans, but until the analysis has been done, we don't know if they are justified or not.

Again and again we are seeing proposals from BCC that are not planned using DfT tools and best practice and that do not understand that cycling has to be safe from door to door, on all streets. There must be better training of BCC officers and external consultants, and proper engagement with cycling stakeholders before these consultations are launched.


Digbeth Active Travel Proposed Movement - final.jpg

Map showing the proposed changes to streets in Digbeth in the active travel consultation in June 2024.
This map is from the BirminghamBeHeard consultation on active travel in Digbeth. Here is the link to the consultation: The consultation was held in June 2024.