Stop Press Time for Birmingham City Council cabinet to sign off and approve scheme has now been extended to 17 March (Previously 17 Febuary) We still need more time though.
Since writing this we have had a request for a template email to Mr Blakemore. If you are here now because you are looking for this, here it is. Template Email to John Blakemore re Acocks Green Smart Route time extension (This link is repeated at end of post)
Sadly, it seems to be time to say something more on the course of the Smart Route plans for Acocks Green. The scheme to improve the layout of Acocks Green Village centre been under discussion in effect since 2005 when, after the euphoria of ‘saving The Green’, local people began to think what else could be done to improve our village. We needed to move our road system out of the 1970s. We needed a less traffic orientated, more people friendly, more pedestrian friendly layout, to encourage people to travel less far and to use our village more often for shopping and socialising: use it or lose it: many local shopping centres are dying, and ours is currently under threat from a range of nearby supermarket schemes: Morrison’s on Shaftmoor Lane, due to start April 2014, Asda at Shirley Parkway, due to open soon, Tesco at South Yardley, already open. Our 1980s village Sainsbury’s is relatively small by modern standards. Studies show that ‘out of town’ supermarkets threaten the survival of local shopping centres.
Even before the supermarket worries added extra urgency though, there had been meetings of various kinds at The Inn on the Green, at Acocks Green Library, at the Westley Arms, with Council Cabinet members and with the Transportation Department itself in the City Centre. Many local people may recall something-or-other which they went to, or read about.
An idea involving a single carriageway first appeared in 2007. The project was put on hold in 2011, through lack of funding, but great was the excitement when new funding was confirmed from the national Sustainable Transport Fund in 2012 .Here is a description of the Acocks Green Smart Route scheme as it stood in the summer of 2013
By the summer of 2013 mostly (so we thought) the Smart Route was looking good. As a pro Shared Space group it was certainly not everything we could ever dream of, but it was some of the way there: a space that was pedestrian friendly, driver friendly, cyclist friendly, bus friendly … everyone friendly, less cluttered, easier for everyone to navigate and safer than our present layout. Highlights included:
- New single carriage roadway from Sainsbury’s and onwards towards Solihull: the end to the dangerous ‘Brand’s Hatch’, speed-up effect by Sainsbury’s which has caused serious accidents, like the accident to Birmingham Jazz musician Steve Ajao in 2005. A speeding car collected Steve on its bonnet, on the zebra crossing in front of Safeway’s (now Sainsbury’s)
- More facilities in the reclaimed space, including especially trees and car parking. Lack of roadside car parking has long been an issue in Acocks Green centre. The hope was that more parking would encourage more local shopping. Yes, many people walk to the centre. Walking is good (so is cycling). However, many other people do not shop in Acocks Green very much because it is not parking friendly. Instead they drive through (if they do not live here) or drive elsewhere to shop if they do.
- A 20 mile an hour ‘zone’. A zone is not the same as a limit. A zone means that there are special physical traffic calming measures in force. (These need not be humps, which are now seen as slightly old hat. There are better ways.) A limit means that some signs are put up saying ’20 mph limit’ and we all cross our fingers in the hope that drivers take note of them. For further discussion on the distinction between limits and zones see our page here – ‘Don’t Zap the Zone’
Many will now have seen the July 2013 plans, but if you have not, or want to refresh your memory, here again are the two July 2013 drawings for the scheme:
What’s been happening since then? Read on.
Until December 2013 we continued to believe in the increased amount of parking which we had been given to understand would be available – there were lots of blue strips on the much touted plans, showing where the new parking would be.
Then we discovered something so odd that at first we did not believe it: after all of this work the extra provision for parking would be 6 cars. Could there be chevrons, we wondered? Chevrons, we were told, would increase the parking by just two spaces. It gets worse. We did our own count of the parking spaces available between Mallard Close and Oxford Road: counting both the Warwick Road and the service road:
There were spaces for 39 cars – ordinary sized cars. (We counted mainly actual cars but also obviously recently vacated car-sized spaces. ) How many spaces would really be available, by comparison, in the new system we wondered. We were told, on 17 December, that a parking survey of the Warwick Road in Acocks Green had been carried out, and that we could have a copy. So, in order to understand properly we obediently waited … and waited. We sent a gentle reminder. Eventually we put in a Freedom of Information Request. The information finally arrived via the FOI request on 7 February.
This was not quite what we had expected at all. According to this study there were 33 spaces in this patch, all 6 meters long. The spaces were to be reduced however to 27 spaces. Moreover, according to the study overall parking in the centre was to be reduced from 72 to 68 spaces – see the handwritten note on the corner of the plan here (blue is now and red is proposed) Incidentally, in the area where we counted cars there are also prominent one hour only signs … and spaces. Kind of interesting that we had to put in a ‘Freedom of Information’ request to get this?
but … wait a minute. If a traffic engineer thinks that our Acocks Green cars are typically 6 meters long (Do they all live in Solihull?) and they think they are reducing our parking by 6 cars (i.e. 6 lots of 6 meters … how many spaces for Acocks Green cars (not some Solihull stretch limos … ) are they actually taking away? Remember they calculated 33 car spaces to one sample area, where we found 39? Here is that long awaited study itself in its entirety: Parking Count, Warwick Road, Acocks Green
Now, they indicate, at least in this study (and we have had no message to say that it is wrong) that overall parking in Acocks Green is to be reduced by four spaces, but that is if we have big cars. How many spaces are we really loosing?
Finally on this point, here is our own video study of the parking in this area. We videoed just the service road, which is shorter than the main road. We counted 16 cars, and spaces for more. See what we mean?
Oxford Road/Warwick Road Junction
It gets worse. We did make some suggestions after the July 2013 consultations. In particular we suggested fewer sets of lights and instead a traffic calming arrangement at the Oxford Road/Warwick Road/Victoria Road junction. This area currently feels unsafe to many. A single carriageway will help, but this is still a difficult junction. Also a traffic calming measure here, near the entrance to our urban village would help reduce speed for the whole of this stretch of road.
Many Acocks Green people will testify; entering and exiting this area can be nerve-wracking and local people often see broken headlight, or tail light glass. It will be continue to be dangerous, even as a single carriageway. This is a crossroads, with two minor roads entering what our traffic engineers always love to remind us is a ‘major arterial route’ into and out of Birmingham.
Suggestions have included a small traffic island and what is known as a ‘table’ – a low ramp into a leveled across area. See this one in nearby Kineton Green Road in Solihull, near a school.
It was claimed there is not enough space, and that to add an island here would remove even more car parking spaces. ??? We would draw readers attention to the clearly visible amount of space in the two pics above of the Oxford Road area here. It was grudgingly agreed that a physical obstruction of some kind could be the most effective measure. Since then there has been only a deafening silence. There seems no inclination to investigate this further … and the scheme is due to be signed off by Cabinet in a few days time now.
Twenty Mile Zone
Between July and November there was a proposed twenty mile an hour zone for the area (On the July plan it says limit/zone but the engineers explained to us why a zone would be better.) This was abruptly downgraded to a limit (signs only, no other measures) in line with plans for the rest of Birmingham. We will now be dependent upon signs only for keeping traffic at a steady pace through the village. See again the notes above on the Oxford Road junction and our page: ‘Don’t Zap the Zone’
There seems little confidence in how safe this scheme is going to be: perhaps not surprising since the proposed 20 mph ‘zone’ has been downgraded to a 20 mph ‘limit’ which is statistically less safe. Instead the scheme has recently been larded with some traditional and expensive safety measures. We are to have two extra pelican crossings (one brand new one and one replaced on the Warwick Road near Victoria Road/Oxford Road.) We have previously been advised by BCC Transportation that these crossings cost around Â£100,000 each. Also traditional pedestrian safety refuges have been added in in a number of places, also removing car parking spaces, we are told by the traffic engineers. If the 20 mph signs are really so effective all by themselves then we should not need these.
We also discovered that, unbeknown to local people, who were not consulted, a brand new pedestrian/cycleway had suddenly nipped in from nowhere between July and October.
Here are the two sheets for the Autumn version of the design (Sheet 1 is from Station Road to Oxford Road, Sheet 2 is from Oxford Road and outwards to Dolphin Lane
Here is a close-up of part of that new cycle/pedestrian path. Note part of the key has been left in below, so that the explanation for the pink sections is visible.
Q. But cycling is healthy and does not leave petrol fumes. Shouldn’t we be encouraging more cyclists?
A. Yes. It would be good to encourage more cyclists. We have fully supported the addition of Sheffield frame cycle stands for this reason. Our concerns are not with having more cyclists in the centre of Acocks Green, but with the manner in which cyclists are being encouraged. Discussions in meetings have revealed three areas of local concern:
- This was introduced without local consultation.
- This obviously requires a wide pavement. Especially given the disparity in parking calculations we are still unclear whether or not this affects the amount of available car-parking; the people who we need to encourage to shop here by making more parking available are not suddenly going to take to bicycles if parking is not available … they will continue to shop elsewhere. We need to balance different needs, and, as noted above, we need to keep our centre alive against pressures from elsewhere.
- Local people have expressed worries about safety aspects of the scheme. Engineers told us that the hope was particularly to encourage ‘young cyclists’, although the area may be used by cyclists of any age. School children were mentioned. This would imply that the area is available for and intended to be used by people too young to have passed any kind of driving test. Without particularly suggesting that today’s teenagers are worse than those of yesterday, teenagers are often naturally thoughtless, as anyone who has ever experience one riding fast at them on a pavement will testify! (And we know there are some lovely, thoughtful teenagers out there, before one writes in … but we are generalising.)
We discussed these issues with a committee member of Brum Pushbikes, Graham Hankins. Mr Hankins observed that one of the problems with pedestrian/cycle routes is that there is a tendency for cyclists, particularly younger ones, to then fail to observe the side roads at the end of a pavement stretch, and to then fail to take due precautions. There are a number of such side roads in Acocks Green. Much the same point is also made in Nottingham’s Cycling Design Guide 2006.
We note that since this manual appeared eight years ago a plethora of shared cycle/footway schemes has appeared across the country in the past year or so. There seems to have been insufficient time to test any of them very well, but the points made in the Nottingham Manual would not seem to have dated. We also note the suggestion of a plateau at the entrance to the area, which is what we are calling for, near the entrance to the area, at Oxford Road.
Mr Hankins also pointed out that given that this part of the village is due to be becoming a 20 mile an hour limit area, again not very much confidence in the safety this offers is apparent. Also, encouraging pavement cycling tends to re-enforce the idea that the road is a dangerous place: perhaps ultimately not such a confidence building measure for cyclists either!
This brings us back to that lost 20 mph zone. We have also suggested other measures which have been effective and popular for reducing speed elsewhere, and have been used successfully where there are cyclists around, like a median line (slightly raised strip) in the middle of the road. The Smart Route engineers tell us that in order to make the roadway safe for cyclists they would need to provide 4.5 meters of space, as against the proposed 3 meters, leaving less space for trees etc. However, according to Manual for Streets 2. this is not quite the whole story:
In other words according to the handbook which these Smart Route engineers were actually referring to in July when they first talked with us, whilst it is correct that a 20 mph road which contains buses and HGVs will need to provide 4.6 meters clearance for cyclists, a simple central median line (of the kind now refused because the area is no longer to be a 20 mph zone) can provide safety for cyclists at 3 meters or less. Anyone who lives in Birmingham will tell you how busy Broad Street in the city centre is. This is the Broad Street median, not a million miles away from where our engineers are based in Alpha Tower …
Again, we were told this is not possible because we cannot have a ‘zone’ with traffic calming measures, but only signs.
We are aware that the shared cycle/pedestrian footway is a trial scheme, for six months. If it is a ‘failure’ (How is ‘failure’ to be measured?) then the signs saying that cycling is possible will be removed. The area will not otherwise be re-designed. So that will be alright, won’t it. No young cyclists will cycle there again once the signs have been removed, ever … will they?
Where do We go from Here?
At the moment the plans are supposed to be signed for and approved by the Birmingham City Council Cabinet on 17 March 2014, with a view to a May 2014 start. The work is to then all to be completed by March 2015, or the grant money runs out. Are we ready to start? Is everything logical, clear and in the best possible interests of Acocks Green given the budget available? Um, no. This shocking conclusion at present seems to be the view of most Acocks Green groups and local politicians from more than one political party.
Since the government funding was clearly a government matter we decided to go to see ‘The Government’: well, to see our local Government representative. Yardley MP John Hemming has been discussing the matter with Transport Minister Baroness Susan Kramer, who thinks there may be a window for extending the time period, since the funding for the Local Sustainable Transport scheme as a whole is being extended, though this will still depend upon available financing. John Hemming is suggesting to Birmingham City Council Transport boss John Blakemore, that he asks the Transport Minister for another six months, until September 2014, so that now the problems now so abjectly apparent in the workings of this scheme in Acocks Green can be looked at again. One thing is clear. Once this road work is done it is done. We won’t get another go, but Acocks Green people will have to live with this layout for decades to come – many people will probably not see another major alteration in their lifetime.
In 2005 Transportation boss John Blakemore, in a meeting after The Green was ‘saved’, joked with us that the tornado which devastated the Ladypool Road curry houses ‘would not have dared to go to Acocks Green’. Let’s make sure a badly designed Smart Route doesn’t ‘dare’ turn up in Acocks Green, either. Do you support a time extension to the scheme? Well you could always drop a line to Mr Blakemore and tell him so: [email protected]
Since writing this we have had a request for a template email to Mr Blakemore. Here is one. Template Email to John Blakemore re Acocks Green Smart Route time extension