As ever with these schemes, there’s no detail as to why each design decision has been made, so the usual disclaimer applies that we’re sorry if there’s a good reason for each decision, but it’s not obvious from the design.
We cannot stress enough that we wish that all design proposals contained the reasoning behind each element of the scheme, along with possible alternatives and the reasons they were rejected. We believe that would make these consultations far smoother and more productive.
These are my thoughts on the current proposal to improve the area around Cathedral Square in the centre of town. The proposal, and all associated documents are online here.
We will start with what we consider to be the good parts of the proposal:
Pedestrianising the loop of Temple Street, New Street and Lower Bennetts Hill is a fantastic move. Whilst there’s not a huge amount of traffic that uses it, restricting it to mostly deliveries allows this design to make the road the same level as the paving. This will make the area much friendlier to pedestrians.
We absolutely love the paving that they are proposing to use, it will really improve the look of the area. Removing the lower road level from the section of New Street will make for a more pleasant pedestrian experience.
The replacement of the horrendous and intrusive Hostile Vehicle Mitigation measures with stylish bollards will make New Street a lot more pleasant, and is to be loudly celebrated.
Removing parking spaces from Waterloo Street and Newhall Street is also to be applauded, though it’s not clear from the plans if they intend to remove all the parking spaces from those roads.
Providing a dropped kerb on Stephenson Street to enable cycles, mobility scooters and wheelchairs easier access to New Street is also a welcome idea.
Restricting when deliveries can be made to outside 11am-11pm will improve the pedestrian experience, whilst allowing an extra hour for morning deliveries to the current situation should be good for the businesses there.
The less good
There are, however, aspects of the scheme that puzzle us. A couple of us did go to an in-person consultation for this scheme, and had a very enjoyable chat with the designers there.
It is proposed that Upper Bennetts Hill and Newhall Street are to be made two-way, in order to allow an alternative route for delivery vehicles if a problem blocks Colmore Row. This seems like an excessive solution to an infrequent problem that could be dealt with by allowing delivery traffic to use those two roads in the event of a problem, possibly via manual traffic management.
We did ask why Temple Row, Waterloo Street, and Upper Bennetts Hill were not being pedestrianised in this scheme. It was apparently to maintain delivery vehicle access. Given that there are already deliveries to the pedestrianised New Street, and this scheme includes pedestrianisation of more streets that require deliveries, we don’t agree with this argument. Pedestrianisation would free up space for hospitality venues to put tables and parklets out, which would improve the feel of the area, not to mention make it easier to take over Cathedral Square and the surrounding street for festivals.
There is a 31-space private car park on Temple Street, and it is proposed that owners of spaces in it will be allowed access to it. We think there is a serious discussion to be had over whether these schemes should be designed to cater for something that actively goes against the current Council policy of reducing the amount of parking in the city centre.
There is a pressing need for a city-wide discussion on how last-mile deliveries occur. A good example of why is that there are currently a couple of full HGV deliveries to the Tesco Express on New Street. Those are already roads that are completely unsuitable for HGV traffic, and we can only imagine that the lovely paving that is being proposed will either soon be damaged by this traffic, or else will have to be seriously reinforced, presumably at greater cost to the council.
Also on the theme of deliveries, the many restaurants in that area require daily deliveries. We would ask whether there are potential alternatives to delivery vans having to park directly outside establishments? Temple Row is a much wider road, so could delivery vans be allowed to unload there, onto either electric cargo bikes or electric carts that then deliver directly to the restaurants?
We ask whether Temple Row, Waterloo Road, and the entirety of Bennetts Hill could be pedestrianised. That would leave Newhall Street as one-way, and installing either a contraflow cycling lane or a fully protected lane would allow it to be used as a cycling route to and from the Jewellery Quarter.
Additionally, with the focus on improving the permeability of the city centre for cyclists, Pinfold Street and Stephenson Street could also be pedestrianised, especially given the number of times that illegally parked cars hold up trams. Again, there’s no need for vehicular access to these roads, other than for deliveries.
In summary, whilst there are many aspects of the proposal that are to be applauded, we feel that this scheme should be more ambitious. Whilst the general improvements are to be welcomed, we can’t help but wonder why the city must seemingly move forward in such small steps. Be Bold, Birmingham!
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.