As we reported earlier in November, Birmingham City Council (BCC) has revised their proposals for widening Dudley Road, and they are now consulting on the revised proposals between Spring Hill roundabout on the Middleway, to the junction with Icknield Port Road, just past Birmingham City Hospital. With 750 new homes planned on the Birmingham City Hospital site, and 700 on the Soho Loop Site opposite, there will be substantial changes to transport patterns in the area. BCC state that they hope these plans will improve the flow of people through the area to help meet the extra demand.
The original consultation plans back in autumn 2018 had some provision for cycling, but much of the route had shared use pavements, and there was no continuity at side roads. We think that these plans are a significant improvement over the originals plans. The consultation closes on December 15th, and can be found here: BeHeard Dudley Road Consultation.
Consultation talking points
These are the main points that we think are important in this consultation, condensed down to help you with your consultation reponses:
- The cycle track, on the whole, is good, and the continuity at junctions and priority on side roads is really important.
- Plans should be developed to give separate cycle crossings on the junctions of Dudley Road / Icknield Port Road and Heath Street / Winson Green Road.
- The bus lanes should be 24 hour lanes, with camera enforcement.
Firstly, the plans include proposals for a cycle track running from outside the Tesco at the Middleway, up and past the City Hospital site, and extending to Winson Green Road. The cycle track is generally 3 meters wide and bidirectional, although there are a few narrower sections where there are physical constraints. It has dedicated crossings at all the side roads, using tiger crossings which are a version of zebra crossings giving cycle users the same priority as pedestrians. It also has dedicated space at the light controlled crossroads where Western Road meets Dudley Road. This is a good quality cycle track that would provide a substantial improvement for people cycling along this section of Dudley Road.
Secondly, it includes a section of cycle track from Ladywood side of the Middleway, running down Dudley Road to a crossing to join the main cycle track. This suggests that BCC has plans to further cycle tracks along the Middleway and across into the city centre, and is planning ahead for how those will connect to this route. BCC is planning out a network of cycle routes, rather than the patch-work of individual bits of cycle infrastructure that was common 10 or 20 years ago. Highway schemes like this will be an essential part of delivering sections of the new network, with BCC then being able to fill in the sections between with other funding streams when they are available. We are seeing in schemes like this a real change in approach by BCC that promises many more improvements in the future.
Thirdly, the scheme could represent a significant reallocation of road space from private motor traffic to public transport. It includes a bus lane in both directions from the Middleway up to the local centre next to Summerfield Park. The plans currently have these as limited hours, only to cover the morning and evening flows of traffic. We think that they should be 24 hour bus lanes, with cameras for enforcement. Although Covid 19 has had an impact on bus passenger numbers, there should be a bounce back once the vaccines have been rolled out, long before this scheme is finished. Just under 40% of households in Birmingham do not have a car, and buses are an essential form of transport through necessity. The same factors that led people to using buses before will apply after the pandemic is over, but buses will continue to need bus lanes to get them past rush hour congestion, and they provide good space for emergency vehicles to use when necessary. We think that bus lanes should be 24 hour, so car drivers don't have to worry about getting the operating hours correct, as well as simplifying enforcement for BCC, and outside of rush hour there are few issues with road space for private cars anyway.
The fourth point is not so positive though. Although for most of the route, the junctions are well thought through and give space for cycle users, the junctions at the end and the links onto the route have shared use crossings with people walking, rather than dedicated cycle space. At the junction of Western Road and Dudley Road, cycle users trying to cross from the Soho Loop Development need to take a diversion, or narrow staggered shared-use crossings. At the junctions of Heath Street and Dudley Road with Winson Green Road, the cycle tracks go up to the junctions, but then shared use pavements and crossings are used. This does reduce the cost of the plans in this scheme, by avoiding designing in the continuity that is provided on the rest of the route, but it could present a disconnect on the route when further sections of cycle track are built in the future, and for people trying to get onto the cycle track from local streets. Cycle infrastructure design in the UK is still developing, and junctions provide a particular headache for designers, but there will need to be an improvement in how junctions are designed so that cycle users get a continuous level of service across them, rather than being put back on to shared use pavements which are often crowded and with narrow crossings.
The fifth point is on a similar note - Between the junctions with Heath Street and Icknield Port Road, there is a short section of segregated cycle track, and then a section of shared use pavement, while there is a bus lane with off-peak parking, and 3 general traffic motor lanes. In order to use cycle tracks, rather than mixing with people walking, to progress, you would have to cycle up Winson Green Road, and back down Heath Street. This is a diversion that other modes of traffic are not being asked to make. Removing 1 lane of traffic here would provide space for a cycle track that would give continuity and encourage more uptake of cycling along this route, as well as reducing conflict with people walking in and out of the shops here. The proposals are to permit parking here for most of the day, effectively removing the traffic lane anyway. Having more people cycling through here would result in a bigger increase in customers than those parking spaces provide, giving more support to the local centre.
Finally, on a related note, there seems to be a lot of use of shared use pavements to take pedestrians across the cycle track at side roads and bus stops. This happens mainly in the local centre and outside the City Hospital site, but also where a toucan crossing joins the two cycle tracks coming down Dudley Road from the Middleway. I think that a clearly delineated cycle track gives a better visual cue to people when they are walking to look out for cycle users, and a section of shared use path may lead some people to not look to see if anyone is coming along the cycle track. Using zebra crossing markings on a cycle track would give better priority to people walking over the cycle track, while alerting them to the possibility of cycles coming through that area. At bus stops, I also think that a cycle track, even if it is narrower, provides a more easily understood space for people to predict where others will go. At the shared use pavement bus stop outside the University of Birmingham, people waiting for the bus use the whole pavement and pay little attention to people approaching on cycles, but there is no the same issue where the cycle track continues past the bus stop. At quieter locations, the shared use pavement is less problematic, but busier locations present more issues.
This will have the junction with Dudley Road closed off, and the section of road over the old railway bridge blocked to motor traffic. The reason for this is to protect the old railway bridge which has been found to have structural weaknesses. The effect for walking and cycling will be to make Northbrook Street much more pleasant, and to make it easier to along that side of Dudley Road. This is a really positive proposal, that cuts a short rat-run that bypassed the traffic lights, and will improve the local area.
Cuthbert Road cycle route link
There is a quiet back road cycle route that goes along Cuthbert Road, and which connects onto the cycle track on Winson Green Road. This route seems to be for people to reach the location of the new hospital, but we don't have plans for which direction the route takes after Cuthbert Road. The plans show access using a shared use pavement, but it would be better for the cycle track to have a short branch coming off to connect to Cuthbert Road directly (where the dashed blue line is on the plans), rather than using the dropped kerb on the shared use pavement. Cycle users would want to cycle along Cuthbert Road on the general carriageway which is quiet, whereas the shared use pavement dropped kerb will have people walking across to the pavement. People can easily cross over cycle tracks, so this wouldn’t block any walking routes or lead to any confusion.
Canal and rail bridge
Across the bridge over the canal and railway, the cycle track narrows down to 1.7 meters, with a pavement of 1.9 meters, and then a pedestrian rail blocking off the road. Halfway across the bridge, there is a section of shared-use pavement, with a shelter for the bus stop. This is not an ideal situation, but is a necessary compromise, as the cost of an extra parallel bridge at this location would be prohibitively high, even if permission could be obtained from Network Rail to build an extra structure over the railway. Having a narrow cycle track is better than shared use, as the delineation of the walking and cycling spaces gives a clear visual cue that cycles will be travelling in that space and establishes their right to be there. Relocating the bus stop to the other side of Aberdeen Street would reduce conflicts further, but that could be done retroactively when the amount of people using the cycle track increases.
Outside the City Hospital site
Along this section, the cycle track has been set behind the line of trees marking the edge of the hospital site. BCC has a policy that when highway schemes impact trees, the cost of appropriately replacing those trees must be included in the costs of the highway scheme. This can be up to several hundred thousand pounds for large well established trees. That money then covers the cost of putting in proper tree pits so that any newly planted trees have suitable growing conditions and the pavement is protected from disturbance by tree roots. In this case, the cost of acquiring more of the land behind the trees is probably cheaper than replacing the trees themselves, and so BCC has negotiated the purchase of land to accommodate the cycle track while keeping the trees.
At the corner of Dudley Road and Western Road, there is a wide pedestrian path leading from the junction to the NHS Treatment Centre, and the plans show the cycle track cutting through that path. To assist pedestrians in crossing the cycle track, there is a zebra crossing on the cycle track. This is a better proposal than using a stretch of shared-use space, as the zebra crossing gives very clear priority to pedestrians, while also visually signalling where cycle users will be travelling. This is something we have suggested in meetings for other locations, and I'm pleased to see it being implemented.
Dudley Road / Western Road junction
This junction has a separate cycle crossing over the mouth of Western Road, for the cycle track, but staggered 2-stage crossings across Dudley Road. It is good to see the separate cycle crossing on one arm of the junction, but the 2-stage crossings would present a delay for cycle users trying to get across, with a narrow space and 90 degree corners introducing conflicts with people walking. People trying to get to and from the cycle track from the Soho Loop Development will face significant inconvenience at this junction. A Dutch junction might have an all-green phase for pedestrians and cycle users on a junction like this, and have separate cycle crossing space for all arms. It would be nice to see junctions designed with not just the one cycle crossing where the existing cycle track is planned, but with good connections for cycles to all sides of the junction to accommodate future schemes. With so much extra space being provided for the junction here, it should be possible to build in an extra segregated crossing for cycles.
Spring Hill Canal Bridge
The canal bridge over the Birmingham Old Line Canal is too narrow to accommodate the carriageway widening plus a cycle track, so the plans propose the construction of an additional 5 meter wide shared use bridge alongside the old bridge. Five meters would permit the shared use bridge to be converted to a three meter cycle track plus 2 meter pavement in the future when cycle demand is higher, so the design is future proof. The plans also show a new proposed access point to the canal from that bridge, but this appears to be a set of steps, rather than a ramp, which would offer better access for cycle users and wheelchair users.
From College Street down to Ellen Street
The cycle track continues down the hill, with a 2 meter wide pavement between the cycle track and the bus lane. The cycle track will require some of the existing grass verge, and it is not clear from the consultation plans whether any trees will need to be removed and replaced to make way for the cycle track. The bus lane here is not proposed to be 24 hour, but it would be better if it was 24 hour. Restricting the motor traffic on that to mainly buses, will reduce the volume of motor traffic passing so close by the pavement, and that will reduce the discomfort of pedestrians. If the volume of traffic is higher, especially with HGVs, pedestrians will tend to move closer to, or on to, the cycle track to avoid the motor traffic immediately adjacent to the pavement, and that would introduce some conflicts with people cycling along the track.