Opinion: Thoughts on the Birmingham Transport Summit

Filed under: Opinions

Better Streets for Birmingham member Paul Manzotti gives his thoughts on the Council’s Birmingham Transport Summit, where they talked about how they’re going to implement the Transport Plan released in 2021.

Setting the scene

Time for the morning-morning-after review of the #BhamTransportSummit (hey, I’ve got a day job that’s nothing to do with transport!). This is based off memory, WhatsApp messages, and @lauracreaven’s live-tweeted thread of the day.

As I hope I’ve previously made clear, I’ve been disappointed at the quality and quantity of change delivered by the council over the last few years.

I say this not to rag on the council again, but to establish that I’ve not been a mindless cheerleader for the council’s active travel agenda. Indeed, I cycled in to the #BhamTransportSummit very much more in hope than expectation.

So, when I tell you that I was thrillingly gobsmacked by the level of ambition laced throughout the day’s proceedings, I hope that you, too, are impressed.

The morning session: lessons from other cities

The morning sessions were mainly memorable for the cast of speakers from cities who are further down this path than Birmingham.

The State Secretary for Urban Planning of Brussels, @SmetPascal, was particularly impressive. He did a cracking job of both selling his city as a worthwhile destination, and imparting the important lessons he’s learned from the battles he’s fought over reducing Brussels’ car dependency #BrusselsForPeople. He also dealt brilliantly with the Neanderthal who kept attempting to disrupt his presentation.

Another speaker with lessons to impart from the frontline of the move to active travel was @Labourstone, from Waltham Forest, a council that very much offer a vision for how our urban spaces can be improved for everyone.

Nottingham Council’s Nigel Hallam gave a good presentation on the success of their Workplace Parking Levy scheme, both in reducing demand for parking, and for raising funds for active travel and transport schemes. Definitely sounds like a scheme that Birmingham could benefit from.

Finally, Councillor @duncanenright from what the fringe right-wing culture warriors have turned into the Ground Zero of their anti-LTN campaign, Oxfordshire County Council. Again, he delivered a good talk around the challenges they have, and are, facing with their move to reduce vehicle traffic in a city that is less suited to it than many. I also enjoyed his shameless attempt at currying favour with the crowd “Hello to the best big city in the world, from the best little city in the world”; well played!

The afternoon session: The Birmingham Transport Plan

Onto the presentation of the Birmingham Transport plan itself. Overall, what impressed me was the breadth of change proposed: all-encompassing changes to policy levers and design processes; proposals to break the silos of thinking and funding that hinder the current system; putting active travel and sustainable transportation at the heart of the planning system; aiming for a completely integrated public transport system, from both infrastructure and ticketing perspectives.

And then there was the scale of ambition for the physical changes to the city.

The four principles announced were:

  1. Reallocating road space away from cars

Re-allocating a third of road space from cars to sustainable transport modes by 2030. I’m hoping that means a lot more protected cycle lanes, as well as bus lanes. The next phase of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution will be released in 2024, hopefully it will show the same level of ambition that the rest of the plan appears to.

  1. Delivering a largely traffic-free city centre

Introducing Ghent-style cells, a strategy for taxi, freight, coach and blue badge access, looking at a workplace parking levy and expanding the CAZ , and closing the A38 in town (why, yes, I did smile when I saw that!).

  1. Low traffic conditions in a third of wards

More LTNs, 20mph speed limits, school streets, and controlled parking zones. Sounds ace.

Thinking holistically, they are proposing multi-purpose mobility hubs, through secure bike parking facilities at public transport facilities, especially suburban rail stations.

Pleased to hear that they are going to look at the long waits pedestrians have at traffic light crossings, something @for_harbquin have recently been campaigning for!

  1. Looking at parking availability and cost to manage car travel demand.

This, impressively, includes looking at all public parking streets (making me wish that I’d had time to write up my long-planned article calling for city-wide paid parking permits!)

I was particularly impressed by the aspiration to look at all the works required on a route simultaneously, rather than the current piecemeal interventions (usually drive by mode-specific funding pots, to be fair to the council).

There are also plans to look at streamlining processes for designing, approving, and delivering infrastructure projects. I hope this includes moving away from having to make a business case for every single scheme. Approve the concept of LTNs and then implement them asap!

Overall thoughts: wow!

In summary, what was presented today were mighty fine words that can only ultimately be judged on delivery. I cannot fault them, for both the breadth and scale of ambition they contain.

So, thank you @LizClements @BrumLeader @bhamconnected @joe4greentravel @adamtranter and everyone else who has worked on this plan, it was everything I had hoped for, and more. I look forward to diving into the details, when released, and providing any assistance to improve them (if needed, obvs!).

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.