As part of the social distancing measures introduced in 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic, sections of on-street parking on Kings Heath High Street were suspended. Birmingham City Council is now consulting on making those changes permanent.
The consultation closes on 10th June 2022. The link for the consultation is here: Kings Heath local centre consultation
Overview of the proposed plans:
The plans cover the parking spaces that were between the junctions of Silver Street, Heathfield Road and up to the front of Asda. The free public parking spaces will be removed, but there will be 3 loading spaces and 3 disabled parking spaces installed, with the remaining spaces taken up by pavement widening with planters.
Kings Heath local centre sits on the A435, which has a particularly high volume of cars and buses during rush hour. Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) identify it as one of the key arterial routes into Birmingham, suffering significant congestion delays in the morning rush hour from the Addison Road junction right through to the Middleway (see page 6 of the linked TfWM document). So, although Kings Heath local centre functions as a destination for many people, it also has an important traffic flow function.
Around Kings Heath local centre, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are being rolled out to encourage more active travel in the area and reduce the volume of motor traffic in the area. Kings Heath High Street is a key road connecting those areas, and is an area where we are hoping there will be more active travel - walking and cycling.
Regarding cycling on the high street, I have heard anecdotally that some people are cycling along the pavement on the high street, presumably because they don't feel comfortable cycling on the carriageway. A few years ago, someone involved in promoting cycling in Birmingham remarked to me that they wouldn't cycle along Kings Heath High Street, and that the surrounding side roads were more appropriate for cycling. There are some people who are willing to cycle on Kings Heath High Street, but there are also plenty of people who will not, and either take longer routes, or use the pavement, or won't cycle at all.
National design context:
In 2020, the DfT published LTN 1/20, updating national standards for cycle infrastructure in the UK, laying out minimum design standards for cycle infrastructure. Appendix A in LTN 1/20 provides an assessment tool for us to evaluate infrastructure, including the volume of motor traffic on roads where cycle users have to share the highway with motor traffic. Indicator 11, in the section on safety (page 174 of the linked document), evaluates the impact of volume of motor traffic on how suitable a road is for cycle users to mix with general traffic. A 'red' score of 0 is for roads with between 5,000 and 10,000 AADT (Annual Average Daily Traffic), and a 'critical' score is over 10,000 AADT.
TfWM state that, in 2016, the average AADF on the cross city route (which includes the A435) was 33,600, and Kings Heath high street was a location with particularly large volumes of motor traffic (see page 6 of the linked document). It seems clear, using the DfT's evaluation tool, that Kings Heath high street has a 'critical' score in terms of motor traffic volume. This means that designing a route that puts cycle users on Kings Heath High Street, sharing the road with general motor traffic, is unacceptable and an alternative solution must be found. Slowing the motor traffic to 20mph is insufficient for making this street safe to cycle on.
(Note: AADT is the traffic flow in both directions, while AADF is the traffic flow in one direction. The DfT states that AADT should be assume to be 50% of AADT unless a particular skew in traffic flow in one direction is shown. So an average AADF of 33,600 would be an average AADT of 67,200 if traffic flow in both directions balanced out over the course of a day.)
Our thoughts on this scheme:
In general, we think that removing on-road parking spaces from local centres is beneficial, but we also want to see a highway network that encourages people to cycle. In the context of Kings Heath High Street, that means protected cycle lanes, so that families can feel comfortable cycling to and through that local centre. As a major A road, Kings Heath High Street has too high a volume of motor traffic to be comfortable for everyone to cycle on. When evaluating this road as a cycling environment, the solution that is needed is segregated cycle lanes. Back in 2015, we suggested this solution for Kings Heath High Street - here is our article, including diagrams showing how cycle lanes can be fitted into the width of the high street.
If the pavements are widened through the scheme currently under consultation, it will be more difficult to switch that space over to a cycle lane later on. So we support the retention of the temporary measures closing those parking spaces, but not the construction of permanent pavements.