I have waited quite a time for this plan but the wait has been worthwhile. It is perhaps the most fundamental change in thinking this city has proposed in the last 30 years – ever since the city centre regeneration work got under way. So what is so radical about it. Well for once it is not just vision, not just gloss but a rational analysis of the transportation issues facing the city and the real need for change. Importantly and unlike many other such documents the City Council has produced it has started a dialogue on how it might be financed. Not an easy dialogue but an absolutely necessary facet of the plan. It is clear that doing nothing is not an option. Transportation in the City and the City Centre needs to change.
The plan is a consultation draft – which can be downloaded from here
It’s vision is ambitious and far reaching
It looks at what is changing;
- the issues of congestion and its costs;
- rising employment in the city centre with the pressures it will place;
- Growing population and the transportation issues
- the need for better accessibility to help tackle deprivation
- poor air quality exceeding EU levels;
- climate change issues and the need to reduce carbon emissions;
- road safety and the targets to reduce accidents that kill or seriously injure;
- existing transport investments
and concludes that change needs to happen.
Importantly it stresses the need to make non private vehicle modes of transport more attractive
- by increasing road spaces for these modes (bus/cycling/walking)
- and thereby reducing space for car borne travel
- by improving the quality, speed and reliability of public transport
- by introducing cross mode ticketing; a big challenge but the aim is to go further than London’s Oyster scheme
- by promoting an uptake in cycling through specific infrastructure measures and by the introduction of widespread 20mph zones
The plan sees as a major plank in its focus the introduction of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). These are tram like buses; often with separated routes which thereby have the travel quality and reliability of trams but are much less costly to introduce. These have been used elsewhere successfully in over 150 cities worldwide and are seen as a relatively quick way to have a step change in transportation. The concept of a tram network has not been set aside but the imperative of action has led to this initiative.
The BRT and other services are proposed in the long run to be zero emission at the point of delivery and examples of different types of emerging technology are discussed. The focus on improving air quality as part of this strategy is vital. I have commented elsewhere in this blog (here) on the health consequences of current transportation modes and it is clear this is one area where action will happen sooner rather than later as the threat of EU Air Quality fines pushes central and local government into action. There is a discussion on low emission zones; how freight may be delivered differently; low emission taxis. A really refreshing discussion.
It starts a discussion on funding models and argues for greater powers for the city; powers on a par with London to ensure some of the ideas can be developed.
The beauty of this plan is it is really a consultation; the answers are not finalised but the imperative for action is unarguable. The plan has drawn from experience form across the world and it specifically mentions studying the following cities
These are all leading cities in one way or another in transportation terms. For instance it picks up on the approach I have highlighted elsewhere in this blog about how in Stockholm the concept of congestion charging was successfully introduced and backed by a referendum. The document is refreshingly open to new ideas and this approach to learning from the best will if followed through turn Birmingham from a laggard to a leader.
The plan coverage is city wide as well as a focus on the city centre; it covers areas such as cross city travel which is difficult currently as the city centre is seen as a barrier. It explicitly picks fault with the recent bus changes in the city centre and sees the need for some services to cross the city centre to improve connectivity. It is a far ranging plan and there is not enough space here to do it justice – so it needs distilling and selling.
This is a consultation draft and there are a few areas where it could be improved but this is far and away much better than I had hoped for. The City Council is proposing to finalise the Birmingham Mobility Action Plan White Paper in March 2014 – to set the immediate priorities for investment but importantly the issues over new funding streams and greater powers for Birmingham are medium term issues but must not be forgotten about. This document should be seen as a start; a start of the debate, a start of changing peoples perception of travel and the Council and others must make sure that its radical ideas do not just sit on their desks.
Your street scene, your mode of travel, your city centre is going to change and I encourage you to read this document and comment.