Opinion: Opinion: 6 ways to improve the Kings Heath LTN

Filed under: LTNs / Opinions

Following on from his opinion on the Kings Heath LTN, Better Streets for Birmingham member Paul Manzotti suggests ways to maximise success.

Intra-city active travel connectivity

LTNs are part of the cycling infrastructure network. They provide safe cycling environments in residential areas that do not have the space for protected bike lanes.

You can’t ask people to drive less and cycle more and not do anything to make that a more appealing option. Our roads are horrendous to cycle on – and I say that as a very experienced cyclist. What chance is there of persuading people to try cycling for the first time in years, if not ever?

It is a major disappointment that no cycling infrastructure has been built to join the LTN to the rest of the city. Three years on it’s shocking that there aren’t even any plans to investigate this.

There should be a focus on both connecting Kings Heath to the City Centre and a local network centred on schools. A significant volume of traffic is generated by parents driving their kids to school. As most of the schools in Kings Heath have catchment areas of under a mile, this really is unnecessary.

My vision for Kings Heath

This is a map showing how I think the current LTN cells should look, along with the local cycling network:

Add a cycle lane to the High Street

A cycle lane on the High Streetwould not only enable pupils to cycle safely to Queensbridge School, but provide a safe cycling route from south Kings Heath to the new train station.

With this cycle lane in mind, the bollards on Station and Grange Roads need relocating nearer to the High Street, which would allow for installation of a fully protected cycle lane on that side of the High Street.. The original bollard on Bank would also need to be reinstated, and space provided for cars to to pass each other, as the blind corner makes it impossible to know if there is an oncoming vehicle.

A cycle lane on Vicarage Road would provide a safe cycling route to Camp Hill Schools, as would a proper protected lane on Cartland Road. Those two are complicated by the scale of resident pavement parking on those roads, but this is a problem that needs tackling.

Move the bollard on Highbury Road

People are still using Grange > South > Balaclava > Silver > Highbury as a rat run soI suggest moving the bollard to the junction with Vicarage Road. This would also fit with the implementation of my proposed cycle lane on Vicarage Road, which would obviously be safer without vehicles crossing the lane. 

Modify the filters on York Road

I consider York Road to be a triumph but it could be improved further. The middle bollard is unnecessary, making it harder for delivery vehicles to go up the road. It needs removing and the concrete blocks on the High Street side should be replaced with a planter.

Additionally, allowing the hospitality businesses to instal permanent outdoor seating, perhaps parklet-style, would improve the look of the road.

Introduce parking permits

The forthcoming opening of the train station is going to require a parking permit scheme for the Station Road cell too. I believe we should bring in parking permits city-wide, as I don’t see why free on-street parking is allowed. Having paid parking permits would bring in much-needed money that could fund active travel infrastructure. Parking permits could also be used to slowly reduce car ownership, at first by allowing the planning department to force car-free developments in areas of the city well-served with alternative transport means.

Fine tune traffic lights on Vicarage Road

More could be done to reduce rush-hour congestion. The introduction of Phase 2 of the Kings Heath LTN will remove the rat run of Vicarage Road to Institute Road, which should result in fewer motorists using that route. Less queuing to turn right into Institute Roads should improve traffic on the High Street too. Both these factors should reduce the traffic on Vicarage Road. However, Phase 2 will also allow traffic to turn right onto the High Street, which could counteract some of that reduction in traffic.

Traffic Light sequencing

Congestion on Vicarage Road coincides with congestion on the High Street. The current sequence of the traffic lights at that junction may be a contributing factor.

The current sequence is:

A435 traffic is allowed through the junction, then immediately Vicarage Road traffic is allowed onto the High Street. If the A435 traffic has backed up to the junction, because either the pedestrian lights near Institute Road are red, or traffic is queuing to turn into Institute Road, then very little traffic can make it from Vicarage Road onto the High Street.

Changing the sequence to the following would help matters:

In this scenario, A435 traffic can move through the junction and pedestrians can cross, allowing some time for the northbound traffic to move away from the junction, before then allowing Vicarage Road traffic onto the High Street. And then A435 southbound traffic is allowed through for a period,as currently happens. This gives time for the northbound traffic from Vicarage Road to move and not block the northbound A435 traffic.

This could increase the flow of traffic from Vicarage Road traffic onto the High Street, reducing congestion on Vicarage Road. In rush hour, it may be necessary to have a second period when cars can turn right from the southbound A435 onto Vicarage Road.

Improve the pedestrian crossing experience

In both the current situation and in my alternative sequence, all pedestrian crossing occurs in the same phase. It would be possible to have a scramble crossing, which allow diagonal crossing of the junction. This would save people having to cross twice to reach opposite corners.

By Sei F from Tokyo, Japan – Scramble from above, SHIBUYA SKY, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=97156045

Rethink the positioning of bus stops

Another cause of congestion on Vicarage Road is the location of the bus stops on opposite sides of the road by All Saints Square. There are at least five regular bus routes using those stops (11, 27, 35, 46, 76), and all it takes is one bus arriving from each direction at the same time to completely block the road. No vehicles can pass, causing traffic build up. 

Additionally, buses use the High Street-bound bus stop as a waiting area, often with their engines running, for up to 15 minutes, adding yet more air pollution.

Are the High Street-bound stops needed? The 11, 27 and 76 all go southbound on the High Street, and also use the stops outside the old Pear Tree pub, which can only be about 30m from the Vicarage Road stops. The 35 and 46 go northbound, so could use the stops on the High Street side of All Saints Square. The stops on the other side of Vicarage Road could remain in use. The West Midlands Combined Authority regulates bus stop locations, through Transport for West Midlands.

Push for clean-tech buses

National Express West Midlands should be encouraged to roll out electric and hydrogen buses on these routes as a priority.

Support car clubs

Most cars are parked 23 hours a day. The roll-out of shared car clubs has the potential to take a lot of cars off the road. I’m down to about 5,000 miles a year of driving now, and most of that is Sunday mornings taking my children to various sporting activities . I think I could get by with a shared car. The amount of money I’d save on owning a car means I could easily use more taxis and car rentals if needed, and still save money annually.

Offer financial incentives

I’d like to see the council and West Midlands Combined Authority offer free monthly bus passes to allow people to trial commuting by bus. We know that buses are currently unreliable, but most of that is due to the buses getting stuck in traffic. We also know that post-lockdown traffic was still free-flowing at about 94% of normal levels (from conversations with Highways Department engineers), so we don’t need to shift many commuter journeys to other forms to see benefits for all commuters.

Once the train station opens, again I’d offer free monthly rail passes for it, to tempt people to try it.

We’ve seen from recent examples in Spain and Germany that subsidised public transport massively increases usage.

And, if we ever join Kings Heath to the cycle network, offer free monthly passes to the West Midlands Bicycle Hire Scheme.

Let’s aim high

The LTN has been an overall success – but there is room for improvement. I’d like to see the council do everything they can to make the scheme as successful as possible. The council needs this project to be a complete success, otherwise it will make it so much harder to roll similar schemes out across the whole city. We want this to work so well that other parts of the city demand the same for their neighbourhood.

The council deserve praise for persisting with the LTN in the face of some very vocal protests, but I would urge them to do everything they can to make the scheme the best it could be, and show that this city can be weaned off its car dependency – for good.

Paul Manzotti

Worrying about my wife's daily cycle commute and the health of my born-and-bred-in-a-city children, I may have become slightly obsessed with creating a network of protected cycle lanes in Birmingham! Which includes LTNs.

In my defence, they can solve so many problems our country suffers from currently.