October Safari: A34 Perry Barr extension

Cycle track at Canterbury Road looking towards Perry Barr local centre.

In October 2022 a few members of Push Bikes cycled from Selly Oak to Perry Barr to look at new cycling infrastructure (a so-called cycling safari). In particular, we looked at Selly Oak, the link from Cannon Hill Park to the A38 blue route, and the extension of the A34 blue route to Perry Barr.

The original A34 cycle track, completed in 2019, ran from the city centre, alongside the A34 to the junction with Heathfield Street, which was some distance short of the Perry Barr local centre. It was disappointing that the original route didn't connect the local centre to the city centre, but BCC decided that it would be more practical to complete the cycle track alongside the 2022 Commonwealth Games work, when there would be a significant remodelling of the roads around Perry Barr, including removing one of the fly-overs. Those plans went out for consultation in 2019, and when we responded at the time, we were disappointed that some of the ambition of the original plans seemed to have been lost in the extension scheme.

The photos below show key sections of the route, and I have provided comments on those photos to discuss those sections. The next section is going to provide some evaluation of the route with reference to LTN 1/20 - you might want to skip this section and proceed to the photos and then come back to read this section afterwards.

LTN 1/20 and the Perry Barr extension

Overall, I think that the route is good, but here are a couple of issues that I want to discuss where LTN 1/20 guidelines and the route that has been built have some possible conflicts.

One concern I have is that this is a single linear route, but it crosses several major junctions that connect to other parts of Birmingham. LTN 1/20 says that "New junctions should be designed to provide good conditions for cycling in all permitted directions, regardless of whether they are on a designated route" (section 10.3.2), but the changes to the key junction of the A4040 (outer ringroad) and A34 only provide facilities for people to cycle along the single linear route. Although the facilities for cycling in that one direction are pretty good, the junction design fails to provide for future network links. This is a common issue that I see in many of the designs for junctions along the new cycle routes - how the route connects with the surrounding area seems to have less attention paid to it than it should.

Another point for discussion is the use of shared use pavements at several points on this route. LTN 1/20 says that "In urban areas, the conversion of a footway to shared use should be regarded as a last resort." (section 6.5.4), going on to say that it creates issues for people with visual impairments and is generally not favoured by people walking or cycling. Section 6.5.6 lists some situations where it might be appropriate - the relevant exemptions for this route are where it is necessary to get continuity for the route and at junctions where people on cycles are moving more slowly and / or there are toucan crossing facilities (notably, the example LTN 1/20 chooses for this is a situation where peak cycle traffic and peak walking traffic occur at different times). Through Perry Barr local centre, where there is a lot of walking, the cycle track is continuous, in keeping with LTN 1/20 requirements. Outside of the local centre, shared use pavements have been used where there were space constraints and purchasing adjoining sections of land would have been expensive. But opposite the One Stop shopping centre, some shared use pavement cycling has been implemented to fudge the crossing of the bus lane, and that seems a poor decision to me. I also don't think that breaking the cycle track up for shared use pavements at the A4040 / A34 junction is the right choice either, as it will have an impact on the directness for people cycling across that junction.


Toucan crossing at the Heathfield Road junction

The new toucan crossings under the flyover at the Heathfield Road junction
This photo shows the new crossing under the flyover at the Heathfield Road junction with the A34. I've inset a screenshot from Google street view so that you can compare it with what was there before. When the scheme was consulted on, I was concerned that the crossings here would still be too narrow and convoluted, but I was happily surprised to find that the toucan crossings were of a good width and only slightly offset, so they will be able to carry a good volume of cycle users. It would be good to have a dedicated cycle crossing here going diagonally across, but it would have cost substantially more to implement as it would have required changing much more of the junction to accommodate that. The toucan crossings here are a good compromise that feel much more welcoming for people walking as well as cycling here.

Shared use pavement approaching underpass.jpg

Shared use pavement alongside the A34 approaching an underpass
After the junction with Heathfield Road, the A34 cycle route has a long section where it is mainly shared-use pavement. Without using compulsory purchase orders to take part of the front yard off houses along this section, along with part of the church yard, it wasn't possible to widen the pavement sufficiently to get in a cycle track plus keep the bus lane and the general traffic lane. This photo shows another pinch point, where the entrance to the underpass squeezes the space available. It is difficult to tell which side of the underpass has the stairs and which has the ramp, so this is one of the few times that a barrier (to stop people cycling off the top of the stairs) would be a good idea.

Cycle track at Canterbury Road junction.jpg

Cycle track at the Canterbury Road junction entering Perry Barr local centre.
At the junction with Canterbury Road, the pavement space widens out and the cycle track starts up again. Car parking for The Royale Suite previously used to spill out across the whole of the pavement outside the venue, but now bollards, fences and visual differences in paving clearly delineate the parking spaces and the public pavement and cycle track. In the initial consultation the cycle track did not have priority at any of these side roads, but our objections were listened to and the final scheme had cycle track priority included.

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Cycle track crossing Bragg Road in Perry Barr local centre
This photo is looking back towards the city centre (the opposite direction to the previous photos). The cycle track is continuous through this busy local centre, providing a clear indication about where people on cycles are likely to go. There is a clear visual distinction between the pavement and cycle track, but it might be useful to have a slight raised ridge along the edges of the cycle track to provide a tactile barrier. The bus stop has plenty of space for people waiting for buses, and cycle racks provided immediately on hand for bus-cycle journey combinations. This is a much better solution than shared use pavements which were more traditionally used in situations like this - cycle users clearly belong here even if people are walking on the cycle track.

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Straight-across cycle crossing at the A4040 A34 crossroads
This photo shows the cycle crossing of the A4040 junction with the A34, facing Perry Barr train station and One Stop shopping centre. On the right is the first stage of the staggered pedestrian crossing. In the original consultation, cycle users would have been taken on to that staggered crossing, but we are very pleased to see that a single stage straight-across crossing was implemented in the final design following our objections.

Shared use pavement on the A4040 A34 junction.jpg

Shared use pavement on the A4040 A34 junction
This photo is taken at the A4040 / A34 junction, facing towards Perry Barr local centre. The single-stage cycle crossing can be clearly seen, as can the expanse of shared use pavement between that crossing and the section of cycle track the photo is taken from. At the A4040 and A34 junction, only the A34 has a cycle track - anyone going along the A4040 faces either shared-use pavements and crossings or cycling with the motor traffic. The section of shared use pavements here could be defended as a means of legitimising cycle users travelling along that A4040 direction on the shared-use crossings, but I think that it confuses matters and results in poor design decisions that create problems later. There must be a network of high-quality cycle tracks along main roads in the future plans of Birmingham City Council, and if current cycle track designs at junctions don't incorporate options for cycle tracks in multiple directions, then it either results in expensive digging up of the junctions multiple times or poor connections. We need to do better in our network planning when we rebuild whole junctions like this.

Cycle track outside the One Stop shopping centre.jpg

Cycle track outside the One Stop shopping centre
This photo is facing towards Perry Barr local centre, with the One Stop shopping centre on the right. After the junction with the A4040, the cycle route continues over the railway, with a mix of shared-use pavements and cycle tracks, and then crosses with pedestrians at the two stage crossing you can see at the end of this section of cycle track. What is notable here is that the cycle track has priority at both of these driveways for delivery lorries into the back of the One Stop centre.

Conflicting signs at the end of the A34 cycle route.jpg

Conflicting signs at the end of the A34 cycle route
This photo, taken at the junction of the A34 and Cliveden Avenue, is beyond the point where money was spent on the latest scheme, although approaching in the opposite direction, this section of pavement is signposted as shared use. Presumably the 'no cycling' sign is old and no longer correct, but hasn't been removed - and the police are unlikely to do anything about someone cycling on the pavement next to a dual-carriageway like this. As more routes are developed, conflicting signs like this need to be taken down so that they don't cause confusion. Also, the wrong sign has been used to indicate "shared use", a common error in Birmingham.