Closure of the A38 tunnels; the City coped well – so lets think longer term

I don’t avidly look at reports produced by Birmingham City Council but what are interesting sometimes are the reports presented to the Overview and Scrutiny panels. I came across an interesting one today; a report on how well the city’s transportation system had coped with the closure in the summer of the A38 tunnels. Now this review was ostensibly done to look at lessons for next summer’s closure but also behind it is the long desired but equally feared (because of its potential impact) – long term closure or major adaptation to allow Great Charles Street to be down graded and allow for the scar that separates the Jewellery Quarter from the rest of the city to be healed.

Take a look at this video of the tunnels just before the closure in summer 2013. See the scar!


I beforehand predicted that the city would cope; this is generally the case in other examples where roads have been closed; people adapt. So what were the results. The report can be download from here. It found

  • On average, across the main radial routes and Middle Ring Road, bus services experienced no delay
  • traffic generally experienced delays of less than 1 minute during the AM peak and less than 3 minutes in the PM peak.
  • National Express bus patronage was up on average 1.6% from 2012 summer’s figures which equated to approximately 110,000 additional bus journeys over the six weeks.
  • In addition rail passenger journey numbers (London Midland) were up an average of 7% during August 2013 when compared with August 2012 across the Centro area. This figure equated to an extra 131,000 passenger journeys

So the city coped well and modal switch (switching to public transport) occurred. The City (Council/Centro etc)  undertook a significant publicity campaign, introduced extra traffic control measures, put on extra park and ride and generally prepared well for it.

So what for the future – the Birmingham Mobility Action Plan consultation draft recently launched (my post here) somewhat ducks the issue of long term closure indicating that;

BMAP believes there is scope for the medium and long term future of the A38 to be debated openly with the population of Birmingham to decide the future for its connectivity in the context of its impact on movement in the city centre and their ability to either help or hinder the long term vision for transport in the city centre. There is no doubt that the A38 provides a fast route across the centre for all traffic, but it it also severs the centre creating a very noisy unattractive barrier to intra-centre movement’

Aside from the dubious grammar ( I think the word tunnels is missing) it indicates that the powers that be are treading cautiously. I think perhaps too cautiously as I think the benefits from really dealing with tunnels and down grading Great Charles Street will bring enormous economic benefit. There are vacant sites/derelict buildings adjacent to the tunnels; these have been like this ever since I moved to Birmingham in 1998. These would be much more easily developed. I dream of a walk down Church Street straight onto St Paul’s square – with perhaps a minor road to cross. This would then allow the Jewellery Quarter to fully become Birmingham’s cool quarter. To become the North Laines of Birmingham. The economic and cultural benefit I predict would be immense and I feel a study is needed to

1) Envisage what Great Charles Street (or perhaps boulevard) would look like

2) Look at the impact on the Jewellery Quarter in terms of development and new uses

3) Look at the potential therefore for extra visitors to the city

4) Look at air quality and pollution benefits

Now BMAP may be correct; this still may be medium term but scoping, visioning and inquiry needs to happen to build the case. Such a study should be undertaken. We may need to wait a few years; we may need to wait for BMAP to put in some of the extra transport facilities but the city needs to be building the case for radical change and should sooner rather than later bite the bullet.


One comment

  1. Whilst I agree it is important to look at the possibilities that could come from this study, it needs to be pointed out that people were happy to make sacrifices for a short term duration. I personally experienced some very severe delays during this time mainly in getting home in the afternoon rush hour rather than in the morning one. It also added an extra 2 miles each way to my journey, over the many road users this could have a large environmental impact and may mitigate any environmental benefit of driving more people to public transport. I think the survey whilst important was in no way comprehensive, therefore to avoid any repeat of the damage to our great city caused by the well-meaning city planners of the 1950’s and 1960’s by enveloping the city with the concrete collar, poorly thought out underpasses, central library, housing estates etc. (need I go on), a lot more investigation must take place. Just because the city coped in the short term is no mandate for permanent change. Unfortunately too many town planners and architects unfortunately have yet to learn the lessons from the awful era of Erno Goldfinger, John Madin, Richard Seifert et al in that social engineering does not work, you cannot force people to be the model citizens you want them to be.

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