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'Motor City' Birmingham shifts focus away from the car in its 20-year vision for transport (+ video)

Support for public transport, walking and cycling central themes as city prepares for population growth

Birmingham City Council says it wants to restrict growth in car use over the coming two decades as it aims to become Britain’s “leading green city,” focusing on helping people get around by bike, on foot and through public transport.

Once dubbed “Britain’s Motor City” due to the urban development plans of the 1950s and 1960s, the council last week set out its vision of how its transport network will evolve to meet the needs of a population that is due to grow by 150,000 people by 2031.

The Birmingham Mobility Action Plan white paper – now rebranded Birmingham Connected – was drawn up by the council working alongside the consultancy WSP, and was formally launched last Thursday by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin. The chief points are laid out in this video.

It envisages among other things the creation of Green Travel Districts that would see pedestrians and cyclist prioritised over motor traffic in some areas of the UK’s second largest city.

According to the council, in such areas “people are put before cars, enabling residents, workers and visitors to walk, cycle or take public transport safely,” which “would reduce congestion, pollution, accidents and promote healthier, safer communities.”

Several potential locations are identified within the Birmingham Connected document, including Sutton Coldfield and Perry Barr, as well as the city centre itself, and the council says it will select a pilot Green Travel District next year to conduct a detailed feasibility study.

Currently, more than 1 million trips a day are made by car in Birmingham, a quarter of those of less than a mile.

The council acknowledges that many people see no viable alternative to using a car for such trips, and providing them with infrastructure that makes cycling, walking and taking public transport viable alternatives is a theme running through the white paper.

It says that if people chose to forgo their car for just two return trips each week, substituting them with alternative means of travel, it would reduce the number of journeys made by car within the city by 200,000.

“We make no secret that we want to contain the growth in the number of cars on the roads, because an over-reliance on cars means major damage to public health and road safety,” says the council.

“It causes poor air quality, traffic collisions, congestion for all road users and dissuades people from walking and cycling due to safety concerns (which in turn affects public health). 

“Too many cars on our roads also affects our ability to grow our economy; we need to make the most efficient use of the space we have available to move people by the most appropriate means.”

Encouraging growth in cycling through providing better infrastructure under the Birmingham Cycle Revolution project, supported by £24 million investment through the government’s Cycle City Ambition Scheme plus an earlier grant of £4 million through the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, forms a big part of the council’s plans.

A number of consultations into new cycling schemes on key routes across the city are under way or have already been concluded, and work has commenced on improving canal towpaths and creating off-road green routes.

The council is also planning further expansion of the city’s cycle network beyond that already announced, and says it will set out its intentions in a forthcoming Active Travel Strategy.

Other areas highlighted in Birmingham Connected include proposals to complete a £1.2 billion public transport network throughout the city including improved rail links, and promoting a low emissions zone in the city centre.

Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for development, transport and the economy, Councillor Tahir Ali, commented: “Our vision is to create a transport system, which puts the user first and delivers the connectivity that local people and businesses require. 

“We will improve people’s daily lives by making travel more accessible, more reliable, safer and healthier, and use investment in transport as a catalyst to improve the fabric of our city and boost the local economy.

“We also want to use the transport system as a way of reducing inequalities across the city, providing better access to jobs, training, healthcare and education as well as removing barriers to mobility,” he added.

WSP associate director Simon Statham said: “There is huge potential to improve a large area of the city centre which currently has an urban motorway running through it, by providing better connectivity and also freeing up valuable land to be put to better use. 

“A long term vision is needed to ensure Birmingham can move towards a future where the impacts from through traffic are reduced and the potential benefits are maximised.”

The process of changing the habits of many of the city's residents and encourage them away from the car in favour of greener alternatives could take some time, however - this 1991 article from Management Today quotes a council official as saying "I believe that people should have priority over traffic."

While some of the schemes mentioned have come to fruition and transformed parts of the city, the environment on its busier roads can still be highly intimidating for people on foot or on bike.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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