Following last year's change of direction by BCR (see our previous article), the formal consultation on the segregated cycle track along Bristol Road from the city centre to Selly Oak has been launched. This 4km stretch of high-quality segregated track is one of two that will be built this year and if they are completed successfully, they will demonstrate that Birmingham is able to deliver high quality space for cycling. Push Bikes is very pleased to see that the plans are strong, and we think that the willingness to create safe space for cycling on major junctions is highly commendable. We do have some improvements that we want to see made, but we are very supportive of the plans and the principles that stand behind them. These cycle tracks will be a game-changer for cycling infrastructure in Birmingham.
Because of the changes that have been recommended, such as at the Bristol Road / Priory Road junction, there will be some challenges in getting these plans approved with possible opposition to changing the status quo. Push Bikes is unequivocal in our support for the principles behind these plans and we believe that in order to see these plans delivered, it is important that we all show our support for these proposals. We urge all our members and the wider cycling community in Birmingham to strongly support these plans and the principles in them. We have provided detailed notes below, but if your time is limited, the most important comment to leave is "I agree that making the Bristol Road/Priory Road junction safe for people walking and cycling is very important. Please build this route soon!"
The consultation will close on the 24th March 2017, but please make sure that you submit your response soon - do not leave it to the last day!
The consultation can be found here, including the detailed plans and the consultation leaflet.
Push Bikes' general comments on the scheme:
Push Bikes is very supportive of the plans (aside from some details, for which see below) and we are very pleased to see this improvement in the quality of cycle infrastructure design. We are particularly happy to see strong proposals for improving junctions to give safe space for cycling.
We disagree with using shared space at crossings and bus stops. We would prefer to see the cycle track continue past these, as we believe having a continuous cycle track helps pedestrians to predict where cycle users will go and reduces worry and uncertainty. With shared spaces, there is the possibility that people will wrongly predict what other people will do, and so steer or step in the wrong direction. We believe that increasing predictability is important for improving comfort.
We strongly oppose the introduction of a new right turn onto Wellington Road from Bristol Road. Currently Wellington Road provides a reasonable cycling experience, but a new right turn would probably turn it into a rat-run. Motor traffic that would use that route should instead have been made to turn right on the Middleway and use existing routes into that area. In addition, the reduction in size of the island at the mouth of Wellington Road would reduce safety for pedestrians.
We request that the cycle track should be at least 3 metre wides for as much of its length as possible. We know that guidelines for pavement widths specify a minimum 2 metre width, which we believe to be mainly so that two wheelchair or mobility scooter users can pass each other safely. We suggest that where necessary, wheelchair users will be able to use the cycle track to pass as the kerb between the pavement and cycle track should be angled to make it easy to cross. Mobility scooter users may find that it is best to use the cycle track anyway, as the surface will be smoother than the pavement and they will pass pedestrians more easily. Keeping the cycle track 3 metres wide for as much of its length as possible will help users to pass each other, allowing faster sports cyclists to use the track without worrying about being held up. Next to bus stops and crossings the width may be reduced, but otherwise the width should be at least 3 metres.
Where will the main areas of contention be?
The main pushback, we predict, will be over restrictions on turning manoeuvres at two junctions on Bristol Road, plus restrictions on Wrentham Street. These restrictions, though, are essential to delivering a high quality cycling experience, and we hope everyone will be strongly supportive of them.
Firstly, there are turning restrictions on motor traffic travelling along Bristol Road at the Priory Road junction, in order to deliver space for pedestrian and cycle users at the junction. People driving on Priory Road can turn onto Bristol Road, but people driving on Bristol Road have had 3 of the 4 turns banned (see the diagrams at the end of this article) The Bristol Road / Priory Road cross-roads is a road traffic collision (RTC) blackspot, with CrashMap showing numerous RTCs including a fatality and a serious injury in the last 5 years. There are two causes of these RTCs, the first being motor vehicles turning across the path of oncoming traffic and the second being the complete lack of pedestrian crossing facilities. We understand that banning the turning manoeuvres may inconvenience some drivers, but it is essential to do this in order to save lives. At this junction, as in every junction inside Birmingham, we must prioritise the safety of people using the junction, whether on foot, cycle or in a motor vehicle. In addition to this priority, the BCR design team have decided that maintaining the volume of motor traffic into the city centre is more important that avoiding a short diversion for the few drivers who are turning off Bristol Road at this junction.
The changes that are recommended at this junction will greatly increase the freedom of people to walk and cycle around this area. In doing so, we hope that local journeys by motor vehicle will be reduced, so that there is less congestion and less pollution. In addition there should be a very significant decrease in the number of RTCs in this location. We hope that these benefits will be seen by everyone as greatly outweighing the minor inconvenience of driving an extra 1/2 kilometre to make a turning.
There is also a turning restriction on motor traffic turning right from Pebble Mill road onto Bristol Road. Again, this location is an RTC blackspot, with 11 recorded in the past 5 years. The plans suggest signalising the junction for motor traffic turning right onto Pebble Mill Road, but only permitting motor traffic to turn left out of Pebble Mill Road. The RTCs in this location are caused by the lack of traffic light signals and cars having to watch for spaces in 2 or 3 directions at once. Signalising this junction and stopping cars turning across each other's path will eliminate these RTCs. Again, this is very important to the goal of achieving a sustainably safe transport network.
From a cycling and walking perspective, the changes to these two junctions will be very positive because of the increased safety. But these changes will also be important to Birmingham from an economic perspective. Every RTC on Bristol Road creates congestion and delays, which has an economic cost for the city. By greatly reducing the likelihood of RTCs at these two junctions, motor traffic on Bristol Road will suffer fewer delays. This is something that Birmingham City Council and commuters along Bristol Road should welcome.
The second issue is on Wrentham Street, where motor traffic will be restricted to one-way between Bristol Street and Kent Street. This will mean that the rat-run along Wrentham Street onto Bristol Street will be cut off. It is likely that this will raise complaints, but it should also be welcomed as it ought to reduce RTCs at another blackspot - the Wrentham Street / Sherlock Street junction. CrashMap shows 23 RTCs at this junction in the last 5 years, caused by motor vehicles trying to rat-run down MacDonald Street, onto Wrentham Street and then to Bristol Street. It is important that rat-runs like this which causes RTCs and thus congestion are dealt with, and for this reason Birmingham City Council and commuters should strongly welcome the proposed changes to Wrentham Street.
It is important to note that none of these three restrictions limit the ability of motor vehicles to reach their destinations. At the Priory Road and Pebble Mill Road junctions, there are short diversions for motor vehicles that will enable them to reach their destinations without putting themselves at risk. The long distance routes for drivers will be unaffected (if not actually made more reliable and smoother) but there will be slightly longer routes for the final part of some journeys. This is a key feature of the Dutch transport network, where there is a high level of permeability for walking and cycling, and driving long distances is very easy but at the start and end of journeys there may be some detours. By doing this, RTC hotspots can be reduced and driving short distances of 1 or 2 miles is discouraged. Compromises such as these are an important part of building a safer, better, transport network.
Overall, Push Bikes is very happy with the proposed plans for this route. Where we have not made specific comments on part of the route, we should be assumed to be very supportive of that section.
(BR22) At the Kent Street / Wrentham Street junction, the cycle track should be on a raised table. In order to slow motor traffic turning off Bristol Street, would be better for motor traffic turning right into Kent Street to have priority over motor traffic on the one-way section. So there should be a give-way line before the cycle track, to stop motor traffic for both the cycle track and right-turning motor vehicles.
Ideally, Wrentham Street should be closed to all motor traffic between Bristol Street and Henstead Street. This would have a very minimal impact on motor traffic beyond the current proposals, but would provide an attractive public square in this area that would complement the local redevelopments. If necessary, there could be lockable bollards for deliver access to the local businesses.
(BR21) The cycle track should be continuous past this crossing. This will probably mean putting the cycle track at the back of the pavement from the Wrentham Street junction until past this crossing.
(BR20) At the light-controlled crossing, there will pedestrians going to the bus stop as well as crossing over to the park area. This will create uncertainty about which direction pedestrians will be walking in, and create conflicts. It would be better for the cycle track to be continuous.
(BR19) We strongly support the proposed plans for this junction and are very happy to see that space has been created for cycle users to safely cross this large and intimidating junction.
We are pleased that extra space has been provided for motor vehicles turning right onto the Middleway from Bristol Street, and we hope that this will encourage more people to drive as close to possible to their destination on the Middleway, rather than trying to rat-run through the local residential streets. It is important that we limit rat-running as much as possible and direct drivers onto main roads for as much of their journey as possible.
(BR18) We are pleased to see that a high-quality bus-stop bypass has been designed here. This will provide a good environment for people walking and cycling here.
(BR17) We strongly support the proposed designs for the new diagonal cycle crossing of Bristol Road and the design for the junction with Bellvue. Both of these elements are well designed and will be good improvements for cycling along this route.
We strongly oppose the creation of a new right-turn for motor traffic onto Wellington Road. The money being used for this work is Cycle City Ambition Grant funding, and it is intended to be used for improving cycling and walking conditions in Birmingham. The work needed to create this new right-turn onto Wellington Road will do absolutely nothing to improve cycling and walking conditions, and on that basis alone it should not be paid for out of CCAG money. It will be expensive to carry out the roadworks needed to construct this right turn, and the additional traffic lights required will be an added drain on limited revenue funds. If Birmingham City Council insists that this right turn is necessary, then the funding should be found from a source entirely separate to the CCAG funds. Aside from the issues of mis-allocation of CCAG funding, we also strongly oppose this new right-turn because of the significant impact it will have on motor traffic on Wellington Road. We do not believe that measures should be taken that will needlessly increase motor traffic on any residential roads - only where motor traffic is being reduced elsewhere and compromise is needed should any residential roads be impacted.
We also suggest that there needs to be a short section of cycle track to link to Wellington Road, to make the connection simple. At the moment, the legal manoeuvre is to rejoin Bristol Road at the crossing and turn left onto Wellington Road. That does not seem like a good solution. The money that is not spent on introducing a new right turn for motor traffic can be spent on making a better connection to Wellington Road for people on the cycle track (among other improvements).
(BR16) We think that the pavement here is wide enough for the cycle track to be taken along the back of the pavement behind the bus stop and the crossing. The cycle track should be continuous here.
(BR14) With the trees, bus shelter and bench here, this section might not be wide enough for a segregated track and bus stop. Ideally the cycle track should be continuous here if possible.
(BR13) At the existing Toucan Crossing, there are issues with pavement parking on the north side of Bristol Road. With this issue and the space restrictions on the mouth of Sir Harry's Road, the shared space solution is perhaps a necessary compromise. At the bus stop, however, we think that the cycle track should be continuous, in order to give predictability to the situation.
(BR11) We strongly support the proposed changes to the junction of Priory Road and Bristol Road. These are very important changes which will make the whole road environment safer for all road users at this junction. The addition of safe crossing space for people walking and cycling is particularly important for important for improving links to local facilities.
It looks as if the cycle track will be squeezed when going past this bus stop. It is important that the cycle track has continuity past the bus stop, so we welcome that feature. We wonder, though, if the bus stop shelter could be re-located to the island, which we feel would be a more efficient use of the space here.
In the future, the Pershore Road / Priory Road junction will need to be improved, and at that time we hope that there will be a segregated cycle track installed to connect Bristol Road with NCN 5 and Cannon Hill Park. To plan for that future route, we recommend that consideration be given to the design of the junction here to reduce the cost of retro-fitting a cycle track junction here in the future. It is also important that cycle users approaching on Priory Road are helped onto the cycle track, so dropped kerbs and short sections of shared-use pavement may be useful on the approach to this junction. There should also be some drop kerbs to help cycle users turning left from Bristol Road up Priory Road.
(BR10) Ideally the cycle track should be continuous. One solution could be to have lights controlling this crossing in the same way as in BR2, which would permit a continuous cycle track while helping pedestrians to access the crossing comfortably.
At the entrance to the ballet school, the cycle track should be continuous and given priority over motor traffic turning into and out of the school, in the same way that all other driveways have been treated. A raised table (in effect keeping the pavement level) would assist in reducing motor traffic speeds turning into and out of this driveway.
(BR9) It is unfortunate that there is not enough space to keep the cycle track on the pavement until after the U-turn pocket for Pavenham Drive. The safest option would be to remove the U-turn completely; in this case, drivers have a safe route down Pebble Mill Road, along Pershore Road and up Priory Road to reach Pavenham Drive. This is a longer option but considerably safer for everybody. The U-turn facility, though, will be lightly used and does not offer any advantage to drivers who are not trying to reach Pavenham Drive. On CrashMap there are only 3 RTCs that might be associated with this U-turn facility, and even those are doubtful, so the facility does appear to be safe. If it is necessary to retain this, we recommend that the cycle track be taken to the south side of the central reservation and given priority here. Turning motor vehicles should have give-way lines at the cycle track, rather than priority over the cycle-track, so that cycle users are not inconvenienced by stopping too often. The cycle track should be made very clearly visible to motor car drivers so that they know that there will be cycle users in this space.
(BR8) We strongly support the proposed changes to the layout for this junction and the section of cycle track on Pebble Mill Road. These changes will make a very significant improvement in safety on the roads in this section. The design is good, but the cycle track will need some widening next to the arm going off to Pebble Mill Road - so that cycle users waiting to cross here do not block the cycle track too much.
(BR6) We support the proposed changes to the layout for this junction.
(BR5) The junction of Eastern Road with Bristol Road has a better RTC history than the junctions with Priory Road or Pebble Mill Road, with only 3 RTCs recorded in the past 5 years. However there is a strong possibility that this uncontrolled junction could be intimidating for cycle users. The space that cycle users have to cover should be as narrow as possible, in order to minimise the amount of time that cycle users are in the path of motor vehicles. It is also important that this new island is at least long enough for a tandem cycle or a cycle and trailer to safely stop in, but ideally longer. It is likely that at peak hours this island could have several cycle users waiting in it, so a good length and width are important here. There should be some road markings, as well, to warn motor vehicle drivers that there will be cycles crossing this space.
(BR3) We are pleased to see the use of a separate space for the cycle track at this junction, but it is important that there is as much space as possible (width as well as length) in that central island to accommodate cycle users who are waiting for the lights.
This junction will present problems for cycle users who want to turn off the cycle track and into Edgbaston Park Road. At the very least, there will need to be dropped kerbs installed to help cycle users to access the toucan crossings, and to reach Edgbaston Park Road as well as the surrounding businesses.
(BR2) With the high volume of pedestrian traffic that there is here, the use of traffic lights to control the cycle track at the pedestrian crossing is a better solution than a shared use pavement. We are pleased to see that this solution will be tested rather than using a shared use pavement, and we hope that it is successful.
(BR1) This is a challenging junction, and we understand that there is not the money available at the moment to take the cycle track past this point. We hope that there will be plans drawn up soon for improving Bristol Road beyond this point.