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Birmingham, Sustainable Travel

Stirchley’s proposed new road layout

By now you might’ve seen there are some plans to temporarily change the road layout of Stirchley high street as part of the emergency transport plans.

They’re not perfect, but they’re pretty bloody good. As someone that has an unexplained enthusiasm for public and active transport, I wanted to explain why they’re good.

A quick overview:

  • reduce some of the on-street parking in favour of social distancing and parklets
  • remove a lane on Hazelwell St to reduce speed and congestion
  • Put a refuge island on Bournville Lane / Hazelwell St to allow people to cross properly
  • proposed colourful crossings

There are also some other plans coming from some section 106 money that means more cycle hoops for parking along the high street, but that’s kind of a different story / different blog post.

Feel free to have a look at the plans at the Council’s website – and make some comments before the 31st July. I’m here to explain to you why, using examples from elsewhere, why I’m so excited about this.

Car dominance hurts residents and local communities

There is a funny thing within transport, that if you build more roads you don’t make things better, you make them worse. It’s a strange paradox and one that traffic engineers have known since the 1960s, but politicians are just about getting the hang of this news. 

Put it another way: making driving easier means that people take more trips in the car than they otherwise would. And we see this in Birmingham, where Birmingham City Council reports 25% of all car journeys are less than a mile. That’s about a 20 minute walk if you’re an able adult. And that can’t account for all the weekly shopping trips, collecting heavy goods, people with mobility issues or whatever other legitimate reasons there are for not being able to walk it.

Unnecessary car journeys are adding to the illegally high levels of air pollution in the city, health problems for residents and there are numerous issues around why a sedentary lifestyle just isn’t good for you.

We also know that access to green space makes people happier, and whilst we can’t put a park in the middle of the high street, we can add some greenery (more on that later).

And there are plenty of examples worldwide when reducing road-space had a positive impact on areas. Check out the likes of the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project is Seoul, South Korea; Central Freeway in San Francisco; Paris, France; and the one Birmingham City Council talks a lot about, Ghent.

Removing one of the lanes on Hazelwell Road will reduce road space, but coupled with the changes at Bournville Lane and the nearby removal of car parking spaces, it will also stop cars speeding down the road.

Retailers overestimate the number of people who use cars to get to their businesses

To quote the Sustrans Common Misconceptions of Active Travel Investment report: “In Toronto they thought 25% of customers arrived by car whereas in fact it was only 10%. (Smith Lea et al, 2017).The differences were 58% to compared to 32% in Graz, and 41% compared to 22% in Bristol (Sustrans, 2006).

The same Toronto report said cyclists and pedestrians were also better customers, spending more time and more money per month than the people who drove there. Central Madrid saw a 9.5% boost to retail spending when it it was closed to cars and Cracow showed an impact of car restrictions to be favourable by residents and business owners did not want to restore the previous situation.

In the absence of any data about Stirchley, doesn’t it make sense that most people coming to the high street are likely to be local? Pop down to Daves or Stirchley Newsagents to grab the paper, wander down to get some fresh bread from Loaf or get some fruit and veg from Wards. Whilst we have some very good curry-houses, there are a number of them in the area – why would you drive to Stirchley when you’d likely pass another one? Wouldn’t it be better to walk and make some more space for a table naan?

And then thinking of people coming from outside Stirchley, we can’t forget about them. But when we have the likes of nationally recognised cocktail bars like Couch and numerous beer venues, who is going to offer to be the designated driver when they could get the train, bus or share a taxi home?

No one is expecting everyone will be able to walk, or cycle, that was considered when doing the walk around. Spaces were left outside the doctors, builders merchants and dentists, as well as some of the shops where you carry heavy things. There’s also two car parks at Wickes and Morrisons and regular public transport via both bus and train.

‘Free’ parking is a lie

Essentially, free parking is subsidising that person parking there – this should annoy you if you’ve given up some of your land to be a garage (where it might’ve been another room in your home) and especially if you don’t drive at all. No one’s giving you a free 15.7ft (4.8m) by 7.8ft (2.4m) bit of land to do with what you like, so why do we do it for private property cars?

There is also an issue about looking for space. If you take the 25% of journeys in Birmingham are under a mile, that’s a lot of people looking for car parking space. According to Gilles Duranton of the University of Pennsylvania “There are some estimates that say in the central part of cities up to 30 percent of driving is people just cruising around for parking,”. He might’ve been talking about city centres, but think about the streets of Stirchley. If people left their cars at home more for short journeys, there would be less need to be trying to find parking spaces.

Okay, before you think I’m someone who suggests we get rid of all on-street parking, I don’t. But I do think we could be doing something so much better with the on-street parking on the high street that has a wider benefit for a larger number of people. Namely parklets – they reallocate public space back to public use, and with it encourage community. This is suggested in the plans and would be some of the first in the city.

There is an alternative

If you’ve never heard of a parklet, let me leave it to Living Streets to explain what one is; “A parklet can transform a parking spot or some road space into a place the whole community can use. These temporary small green spaces provide somewhere for people to sit, chat and relax – and because they make streets more pleasant for walking and cycling, they can help encourage people to get out and about. Parklets really don’t have to be expensive and the only limit is your imagination! Parklets have been popular in the US since the 1990s. In the UK, one of the first of its kind appeared in Hackney, London in 2015, with others now popping up in Leeds and Manchester.”

San Francisco parklet on Divisadero Street increased people’s sense of neighbourhood character to 90%. It also increasing foot traffic, particularly during week days and they encouraged people to linger longer in an area (and all without increasing anti-social behaviour). Glasgow are creating parklets, Liverpool too…so why not Birmingham? And why not Stirchley?

About Bournville Lane

In separate meetings between the councillor, local residents and Mondelez, there have been efforts made to reduce the amount of HGV lorries using Bournville Lane. A new postcode has been given to drivers to get them to use Linden Rd side of Bournville Lane, missing out the bridge and narrow residential road. This is still new, but already have a positive impact.

There’s also some talk about collaboration between the council and Mondelez about a roundabout to further discourage lorry drivers, but who knows on that one.

But really that isn’t the point. These changes are about people and we should be putting priority for pedestrians first, not the lorries.

In short…

Re-allocating road-space for people is a great idea. Removing unfair on-street parking on the high street allows for more equal and community driven spaces and helps reduce speed of cars but encourages footfall for businesses. Discouraging people who don’t need to drive frees up space for those with mobility issues who do.

These changes make Stirchley high street a friendlier place to visit. So, if you can, leave the car at home; walk, cycle or get the bus or train if you’re coming from a bit further.

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