Be Bold, Birmingham! is a series of blogs where Better Streets for Birmingham member Paul Manzotti suggests some big changes he’d like to see in the city.
We need to think of our city centre in a new way. We should prioritise the needs of people, not cars. Instead of making small changes to roads, we need to reset the city map. Pedestrianise all streets, then see if vehicles need access. Remove all on-street parking (apart from some disabled spots).
The area around Colmore Row contains some of the nicest period architecture left in the city. There are also a high number of hospitality businesses. A people-centric approach to the area would turn it into a jewel in Birmingham’s crown.
Here are my proposals for how to achieve that ambition.
We need a council-level conversation around last-mile deliveries across the entire city. For example, Tesco on New Street receives 1-2 HGV deliveries a day, but should use electric vans.
Build HGV hubs on the outskirts of the city, with electric vans completing the last few miles.
Smaller deliveries, such as those to restaurants, should use electric cargo bikes.
Snow Hill Queensway provides access to the train station and Livery Street to its car park. Pedestrianise every other road. Either allow limited access to ground floor car parks, or else close them. The Workplace Parking Levy in the Birmingham Transport Plan incentivises their eventual closure.
Edmund Street and Margaret Street are bus routes onto Great Charles Street. Keep the buses on Newhall Street instead, and allow left turns onto Great Charles Street. This allows the pedestrianisation of Edmund and Margaret Streets.
Newhall Street is a vital connection to the Jewellery Quarter. Install a protected two-way cycle lane on it.
Once the A38 tunnels are no more, reduce this barrier to the Jewellery Quarter to two lanes. Making access easier would transform both the area and the Jewellery Quarter as a whole.
Only buses need to use Colmore Row and Newhall Street. Install a bus gate on Colmore Row after the Livery Street junction. Should taxis use Colmore Row, or is access to Snow Hill and Livery Street enough?
Create a one-way loop along Snow Hill Queensway, Colmore Row, and Livery Street. If Snow Hill car park closes, pedestrianise Livery Street. Create a turning area outside Snow Hill to allow access to the drop-off point at Snow Hill.
The electrification of the bus fleet would remove most of the air pollution on the road. Together with the reduction in traffic, this would allow hospitality venues to flourish.
Pedestrianise Upper Bennetts Hill, Waterloo Street and Temple Row. Pedestrianisation does not stop deliveries to New Street, neither will it here.
Pedestrianisation would allow a cafe culture to flourish in this area. It would also free it up as an event space all year round.
Pedestrianise Corporation Street from Old Square down, and Stephenson Street. This will end the regular blocking of trams by illegal parking.
Pedestrianise from Navigation Street to the New Street Station drop-off road. Also close Pinfold Street to vehicles.
As transport links into town improve, look at closing the drop-off road to the station. We could then completely pedestrianise Navigation Street.
Longer-term, electrify all trains, and build over the train line. Build a new public square. I like the idea of a glass floor with greenery, permanent market stalls and seating. That would be quite the open-air market.
Is there any reason for the section up to the Town Hall to be open to traffic? It’s a dead-end at the top, a glorified car park. Accommodate the coaches that use it elsewhere. Make this a pleasant route to Victoria Square.
Swallow Street exists to allow access to car parking. Close the car parks and pedestrianise the road. Brunel Street gives access to Swallow Street and Town Hall car park. Demolish Town Hall car park when the flyover is, freeing up land for development.
The section from Navigation Street to the entrance to the old John Lewis car park can also close to traffic. Furthermore, turn that car park into secure cycle parking. There would need to be a more accessible entrance. A bridge from Navigation Street, as it is at a higher elevation?
Make the remaining section of Hill Street one-way down to the New Street Station drop-off road. If we close that, pedestrianise the section down to Station Street.
Station Street and St Jude’s Passage provide access to the NCP Car Park entrance. This is another car park that could be redeveloped. Pedestrianise Station Street, John Bright Street, Beak Street, and Suffolk Place.
Pedestrianise Hinckley Street and Theatre Approach. Only the bottom of Hill Street would be open to vehicles, allowing buses to get to the indoor markets.
The biggest improvement to this road would be to shut the unneeded entrance to the Bullring Car Park. Traffic levels would not need four lanes anymore.
Repurpose the southern carriageway as a cycle lane. Continue it up to Moor Street Queensway, Jennens Road, and Nechells Parkway. A spur up James Watt Queensway would finally join the two flagship cycle lanes we have built.
Longer term, a tram line could run down this road.
Pedestrianise the entirety of Hurst Street. This would allow the many hospitality venues to expand onto the pavements. It would also hinder the shameful number of drive-by homophobic attacks in the area.
Accommodate deliveries to The Hippodrome and Ballet Company. Tourist coaches could drop-off on Essex Street or Bromsgrove Street. Pedestrianise Thorp Street and close the car park.
Place modal filters on all the roads off the A38 to stop rat-running. Then extend the A38 cycle lane to Smallbrook Queensway. Build a spur on Bromsgrove Street to Smithfield and to the cycle lane they should build on Digbeth.
I hope I’ve persuaded you to make the city centre people-focused rather than car-focused. There have been many studies showing that there are economic benefits to this, as well as the more obvious health benefits. Freeing up land for development will help the city grow. And a new public square and outdoor market would be a destination in itself.
Above all, it will make for a much nicer city centre.
Once more, I find myself asking, why wouldn’t we do this?