The Recent Acocks Green Smart Route Story
NB This scheme is due to be discussed and signed off by BCC Executive Cabinet on Monday 17 March. Since writing this theCabinet Reports have appeared, complete with a Mark 3 version of the Plan (2 sheets which need to be studied together)
and a Consultation Summary (Appendix E) These are both of particular interest in regard toour own report here, and will be referred to throughout.
The Smart Route: the scheme for a single carriageway through Acocks Green centre with extra facilities either side (including, ahem, more car parking) and a generally improved appearance, has been in the pipeline for many years. More recently it looked as though the dreams of Acocks Green might be about to become realised … and then it didn’t
In the wake of new concerns about the progress of the Smart Route on the 14 February 2014, local Acocks Green activists got a special message from one of their local councillors:
offering to investigate:
- The experimental shared use cycle lane
- Car parking – and a proper evaluation of chevron parking
- Some work around the Oxford Road junction – tabling/roundabout
- 20 mph zone/limit
- Securing the continuation of heritage style street furniture
- Exploring better options for street lighting column design if the heritage style columns are unsuitable for design and ongoing cost reasons
Everyone felt that this was a good list of the main points. An emergency item on the Smart Route was added to the agenda for the Ward Meeting on 26 February 2014. So, let’s see how the councillor’s Valentine’s Day promises have been working out since Valentine’s Day. For the performance of each promise we give our Valentine hearts ratingâ™¥ out of five.
â™¥The Experimental Shared Use Cycle Lanes â™¥
Pedestrians and cyclists to share footway – this scheme appeared suddenly with no local consultation last October. Some concerns were expressed.
No new developments.
Another councillor has now explained that the main target for the scheme are primary school age children cycling to Holy Souls Junior and Infants School, accompanied by parents, but has agreed that there is no way of guaranteeing that only this age group will use the scheme. However, he argues, introducing the scheme would be good because it would make legal the use of this pavement area by under-11s … despite the fact that it will encourage older people … so there you go now, that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Er …. ??
(1) Findings on this scheme are top secret!! Local people were not consulted, but only cycling organisations.
After earlier requests to BCC for the cycle organisation responses to the proposal were ignored we put in a Freedom of Information request. All we received were blank questionnaires. We understand that our request for the completed questionnaires has been turned down. (Information from the traffic engineer, un-minuted after the Ward Meeting was officially over – not possible to ask questions about this earlier.) So, all we know is that there are in existence three secret sets of responses from Sustran, Brum Pushbikes and CTC and that the now published Consultation Summary (see download link near the beginning of this page) describes CTC as requesting ‘more measures to assist cyclists’. From this we do not even know if they have seen the completed scheme.
(2)Safety Concerns for cyclists. Committee members from both Brum Pushbikes (Graham Hankins) and CTC (Graham Smith) have now informally expressed concerns to us about the cycleways being broken by side road, as already noted in our previous Smart Route post. These are a potential danger.
(3) Graham Smith has also pointed out that, given the sixth month trial period, one would expect such a scheme to contain ‘specific critical measures for assessment’. No such measures have yet been stated. According to the also withheld and secret response from the Access Committee for Birmingham, ‘determination of KPI (Key Performance Indicators) scoring to gauge success of the footway cycleway’ was requested and is forthcoming, but this is not yet in place. Will this be in place by 17 March, when the scheme is voted upon? Again, this scheme was introduced without the knowledge of local people.
(4) At the last Ward Meeting (26 February 2014) Cycling was not discussed at all. Instead, and on the way out, there were hurried reiterations to Focus Group members about the now well-known six-month trial period and about the well-known (secret) consultations with cycling organisations. Both of these factors in the scheme have been known about since last October. There was no evidence of any further investigation at all. This, at present, appears to represent the extent of the promised review.
â™¥s rating for shared use cycle lane investigation 0/5
â™¥ Car Parking and a Proper Evaluation of Chevron Parkingâ™¥
Some new developments
We did have a report on car parking at the Ward Meeting. Again, time was very limited, and the councillors were keen to finish, so questioning was cut short. Again, additional information had to be obtained after the meeting was officially over, so will not have been recorded. Here is what we were told
Car parking is down by at least four spaces – we calculate it is more, but we were correct in our last post to publish the report which suggested at least four spaces would be removed. A post-meeting apology was given for the oversight in not making this clear before.
In meeting time it was confirmed again that adding chevrons does not really help a great deal. There are two problems preventing the creation of more space:
(1) There is a very large junction of B.T. cables in the Warwick Road. This would cost hundreds of thousands to move. The space that could otherwise be used for echelon parking there (Spread Eagle area and below, towards The Green) is needed for trees and the carriageway cannot be moved because of the cable. The engineer would prefer an angle of 30 degrees. Because of the space available he has been struggling with a variety of parking angles from 35 degrees, 45 degrees, 60 degrees, 75 degrees, up to 90 degrees. At 90 degrees a 6 meter length measurement has to be used for clearance space. Elsewhere 2.5 meters is being used for width and 4.8 meters for length. The covering letter which was sent to us when we originally requested the car parking data on a Freedom of Information request gave 6 meters as the standard length, which is why our calculations were based around this in our previous post.
This explains some of the difficulties, even though it is still unclear which angles are being applied where. However, what is also puzzling is why it took so long before the major BT cable junction was found to be a problem. Why were inquiries about obstructions like cables not made at the beginning of the scheme?
(2) There is however another and separate reason for the reduction in parking space. This is the addition of pelican crossings: in a short distance we will now have quite hefty provision of these. In Ward Meeting time it was confirmed that these are also reducing potential car-parking space. Again, there was no time to ask why. We are seeking an explanation now, but perhaps this is because whilst a zebra crossing requires to be five meters from somewhere where cars are pulling onto the main road, a pelican needs 15 meters (p.8)
There is already a pelican crossing from the The Works Bookshop to near the two butcher’s shops. An additional pelican will be added between the Spread Eagle and Sainsbury’s area, where there is now a zebra crossing.
The two existing pelicans by Oxford Road will be replaced by a single pelican in the new position for the single carriageway. So, it seems that all of this will take up potential car-parking space.
At the Ward Meeting we were offered the now oft- repeated justification that the Station Road Car Park will become far more accessible when the top of Station Road, near Warwick Road becomes two-way, and that this will solve a lot of the parking problems.
Will it? The Focus Group has campaigned for making this part of Station Road two-way for many years now. Of course it will help, which is why we wanted it in the first place, but we were never relying upon this car park to solve all the car-parking issues in Acocks Green. That is what the additional car-parking along the High Street was supposed to do, offering more instantly available, readily spotted, outside-the-shop, just-in-time, parking to casual passers by. The Station Road parking facility will remain tucked away and less obvious (except to locals).
Once more ‘signs’ are offered as the solution to this Oh those magical signs! Signs will make traffic go at 20 mph. Signs will prevent people cycling on the pavement if the experiment doesn’t work. Signs will send strangers straight to the Station Road car park – yay! Even after they have driven past Station Road drivers will see a sign and will happily reverse on the single carriageway to return to Station Road, it seems. Should we really be so happy about all this additional signage clutter, and should we really be so ready to take signs as wonders? Incidentally, the report on the ‘Full Business Case’ (Appendix B of the Cabinet reports) notes that one of the aims of the project is to be the ‘de-cluttering of existing street furniture including signage’
Another interesting little problem cropped up at the Ward Meeting: it is true that there is currently quite a lot of space most days in the Station Road car park. However, it was pointed out that many of the spaces in this car park are normally taken by the large white building on the right in the picture: Arden House, which is apparently empty at present. This situation could change at any time.
Finally, we were assured that the Warwick Road areas next to the service roads – see right in the pic – will provide additional parking because of the lifting of parking restrictions after 4.30 pm. In principle this would provide more parking towards the end of the day. The snag in this argument is that it appears to be some time since these restrictions have been very strictly enforced anyway. Check any day after 4.30 pm to see what we mean. The Consultation Summary also notes that in effect this road is single carriageway anyway, because of the use of the road side for parking. In seeming acknowledgement of the real truth no proviso about ‘before 16.30 hours’ is offered.
â™¥s rating for car-parking investigation 1/5
â™¥ 20 MPH Zone/Limitâ™¥
Some New Developments
It is now proposed that there will ‘tables’ i.e. raised areas, on which the pelicans will sit. The point of tables is to slow traffic down. We were informally briefed on the tables before the Ward Meeting. Here they were not mentioned. We were told (in the car park after the Ward Meeting to be exact) that the tables were intended to help create an informal ‘zone’. This information appears in the Cabinet report Consultation Summary and in the new plan Mark 3 (see the beginning of this report.). We learn from the Consultation Summary that there is to be a ‘further public consultation’, although it would appear that local residents are yet to be advised of this.
However,this then leaves us with a sixty-four thousand dollar question: are pelicans then really needed as well? Many areas have zebras only on raised areas.
We decided to put this question to ‘Designing Streets for People’. This is a forum mainly for professional traffic engineers and street and urban designers. The responses were rich and varied and suggest that zebras on tables can be effective and safe. One forum member shared with us his view that:
The best zebra crossing in the world (in my opinion) is in Piazza Venezia, outside the Altare della Patria in Rome.
It’s a huge double zebra on one of the busiest intersections in the city with high volumes of vehicles and pedestrians. It seemed to work pretty well when I was there last.
OK we have noticed we are in Acocks Green, not in Rome. However, if the Romans can do it in their very busy, and often chaotic, capital city, without mishap, why can’t we?
Here is another thought. If we have a 20 mph zone this should achieve (more reliably than a ‘limit’) a maximum speed of 20 mph. (For more info see our page Don’t Zap the Zone) How many pedestrians do you think are killed in accidents involving a 20 mph impact between a vehicle and a pedestrian. A pause whilst you guess, if you do not already know
Answer 1%.If you want to check, see under ‘Findings’ in this short Department of Transport pamphlet: DfT on Speed and Risk – Pamphlet
The Designing Streets for People members discussed a further two sets of statistics from The Department for Transport: Figs – DFT 2012 (Crossings) (Use Excel to open) and Transport for London pedestrian-casualties-in-greater-london-dec2010
Fatalities: 2010: zebra crossings: 7
Fatalities: 2010: pelican crossings: 14
Fatalities : 2012: zebra crossings: 7
Fatalities: pelican crossings: 17
A fatal accident appears to be at least twice as likely to occur on a pelican as it does on a zebra.
Why should this be? One possible answer is of course that pelicans are put where traffic is heaviest.
However, is there any other reason why pelican crossings could turn out to be more dangerous than zebra crossings? Wilf Tomaney, Urban Design Manager at Cheltenham Borough Council, shared this with us:
Some years ago we looked at accident data around some schools; we found that a significant number of accidents had happened at pelican crossings and there seemed to be 2 types.1. vehicle shunts – presumably the front car stopping suddenly as lights changed and being hit by vehicles behind – presumably not prepared for the stop.
2. vehicles (passing through on green) hitting pedestrians crossing against a red man.
The conclusion I reached (perhaps naively) was that some drivers were driving to the lights, rather than the “conditions” (i.e. they were watching lights rather than what was going on around them) & that some pedestrians were ignoring the lights. In which case zebras may be preferable because they require all parties be aware of what’s going onaround them.
(Mr Tomaney has kindly given us permission to use this piece on the provisos that we point out that he is not a traffic engineer, that these are conclusions based on reading reports only, and that these are his own opinions rather than those of his employer.)
Food for thought? Is it possible that pelican crossings may actually encourage people to start driving before people have finished crossing? Do some drivers watch and drive to the lights, not to the people? This may be a classic example of increasing danger by cutting down the interaction between the driver and the pedestrian. Have you ever watched what happens when the lights change, and people are still on the crossing?
Back to less-than-ahead-of-the-game Acocks Green:we are now spending at least an additional Â£100,000 on a brand new pelican crossing outside Sainsbury’s, to replace the zebra crossing there, even though we will now have only a single carriageway and the traffic will be moving more slowly – not to mention probably an additional Â£100,000 (Pelican crossing costs from BCC traffic engineer Andy Chidgey) on the new one near Oxford Road.
If we junked these expensive, space consuming, pelican crossings we could of course have even more raised tables and other measure in order to create a proper 20 mph zone, to guarantee lower speeds and more parking space. This would mean also that cyclists should be extremely safe on the roads: remember that 1% impact death rate on collision at 20 mph.
How much would creating a design-based 20 mph ‘zone’ rather than a sign- based 20 mph ‘limit’, by adding in more measures like tables and zebras cost? Considerably less than pelican crossings is the short answer. Here is a link to the cost sheets helpfully provided by Wiltshire County Council – a road table costs around Â£10,000 and a zebra crossing around Â£20-25,000.
â™¥s rating for 20 MPH Zone investigation 2/5
â™¥Some Work Around the Oxford Road Junction – tabling/roundaboutâ™¥
Some new developments
At the Ward meeting it was reiterated that putting in a traffic island in this position removes too much parking. Apparently, the councillors have negotiated what they see as a solution here, although to date they appear to have shared it only with Acocks Green Focus Group, and we were not exactly encouraged to question this when we were told about it. Nor was the new idea explained at all at Ward meeting, but again, like many other measures here, only mentioned after the meeting in a hasty aside, in the car park, when no minuting was taking place. The ‘solution’ is to be that the Oxford Road area will get one of those pelicans on tables (see above.).
â™¥s rating for Oxford Road junction investigation 3/5
â™¥ Securing the continuation of heritage style street furnitureâ™¥
No new developments
‘Heritage style street furniture’ here would appear to refer to the choice of lighting columns. Local activists were also told that councillors would not be ‘bounced’ into making a decision here. Instead, what appears to have happened is that councillors had a discussion with the engineers by email. (Described on Twitter as ‘interesting’) We do not know all the content of this discussion. At the Ward meeting there was a further reiteration of the by then old information sent to councillors in an email from the engineer. This email was published in its entirety on the activists email circuit back on 13 February 2014 (It appeared rather hastily after it was obvious some information about this had been leaked somewhere.) This stated that the lighting from the heritage columns available was too weak unless a large number of columns was used. The meeting report simply suggested again that a modern style of lighting column was used.
â™¥s rating for securing continuation of heritage street furniture 0/5
â™¥ Exploring better options for street lighting column design if the heritage style columns are unsuitable for design and ongoing cost reasonsâ™¥
In the original February email about lighting to councillors they were being asked to make a rapid selection, by the middle of next day, from one of four designs. The one being recommended was this one:
Some new Developments
In the Valentine’s Day special to local activists it was suggested that lighting designers might be invited to the Ward meeting. In point of fact, no lighting designers appeared.
Instead it became apparent that without further reference to residents the councillors had selected this ‘Piano’ style of lighting instead. Questioning at the Ward Meeting about this choice was discouraged. (Time was short but was also taken up by the questioner being questioned about motives for asking questions, so an intended question about lighting choices did not get put, so again nothing recorded in Ward minutes.)
What would a heritage lighting unit actually look like? Here is one, as used by Southampton Council
After the Piano style was circulated to local activists on the email circuit by us, not by the councillors, an email appeared from a councillor:
The lighting head only – not the rest of the pole. I haven’t had a chance to post the other options that we have been offered. Two of them have quite radically different supporting arms – attractive in their way, but I worry about Amey not matching that in the rest of the Green and that creating a visual disconnection. The Piano doesn’t look too dissimilar to the lights used on other roads. The other option which can be fitted to a standard Amey pole is called the Rio – that was the preferred option from Lewis at Highways. I’ll try to scan a pic in later.
Anyone have any views on these – for or against?
Someone else offered the further clarification that another head – perhaps the first design shown here:
[….] would not have fitted in with the Heritage look and by the fact that it did look different and more noticeable and it would probably cause more criticism for this reason. The piano head on the other hand although nothing special although it is a smart looking head would not be noticed so much blending in to a degree with the general feel of the village and therefore not draw the criticism for being something out of place.
This may be so, although privately some people have expressed concerns about the Piano design. It has become apparent however that neither the councillors concerned, nor the engineer themselves, understand the lighting values being discussed. We have now established that the key unit being used for Acocks Green is a ‘lux’. It seems we need 30 lux. However, most street lighting units are given in watts. An on-line calculator translating watts to lux suggests that the heritage lighting system depicted above would supply a huge ‘lux’ , well over 30. Perhaps this calculation is just wrong? Who can tell us? It might be interesting to know which of the apparently weak heritage lighting systems were fully examined. Again, we do not know. Moreover, apart from the already previously known half-power issue, what was the content of the ‘interesting’ discussion the councillors had about lighting with the engineers? Again, we do not know. It took a long time to extract the information about the ‘lux’. We are still awaiting further answers: e.g. how many ‘lux’ does the Southampton model have? and time is now fast running out.
Meantime, bar the salutation and sign off this is the entire email we, belatedly, received on lighting values:
Sorry I should have sent this on earlier. Please let me know if you have any queries.
The area in question is regarded as a District Centre so the associated lighting class that we have to achieve is what the standards class as CE1 in a white light source. This equates to in figures and lighting terms 30lux average with a 40% uniformity.
When we ran the layout calculations we were unable to achieve these figures without introducing quite a few extra lighting points which would increase cost’s, energy usage and end up over lighting the area and increasing ‘Street Clutter’.
This could also lead to potential bright spots and on top of this we then have to consider obstructions (trees, drive ways etc.) when selecting final positions which may prevent us from locating the additional units in the correct positions to ultimately achieve the required levels or force the use of even more additional units to achieve the min required criteria. This would also not be considered good practice from a lighting design perspective as discussed in the standards.
This writer obviously knows a lot about street lighting, and this may well be a perfectly fair explanation, but apart from the fact that probably none of us, including the councillors and the engineers understand it very well, this email stands out as being odd in one particular way: it is not a forwarded email. The main content is obviously cut and pasted from elsewhere, and then placed in italics. So: no names, no pack drill, no email address. As this stands this makes the original writer un-contactable. Why is the lighting expert for the scheme er, standing in the shadows like this?
â™¥s rating for exploring better options for street lighting columns 2/5
Where do we Go from Here?
We go to what is in many ways a sadly unsatisfactory conclusion to the long-standing Smart Route project, by the looks of things.
John Blakemore (Brum Transportation boss) has been asked by local MP, John Hemming, to contact Transport Minister Susan Kramer to ask for more time. Has Mr Hemming been supported in this suggestion by the present Labour administration on Birmingham City Council or not? The short answer is that we do not know. Nor do the councillors seem to know – when we put this question (in the car park after the Ward Meeting again) we drew a blank: ‘Don’t know.’
We are well aware that this extra time may be an entirely unfeasible proposition. We have now been told numerous times that Baroness Kramer cannot make the decision herself, but will need to apply to The Treasury, who may well say no. This much was already clear in the letter she sent where she originally expressed interest, before Christmas. However, it is also clear that she will not ask The Treasury unless she herself is asked to do so. Has she been asked? If not it may well now be too late to ask, in which case why was she not asked?
Here is a list of items of information which have now been repeatedad infinitum as though saying these enough times will solve all problems:
- The cycle-footway is for a 6 months trial period
- Cycle organisations were consulted about the cycle footway
- No more parking can be added because of the large BT cable
- The street lights cannot be of the heritage lighting type because this would be half of the strength of non-heritage lighting
- Station Road provides additional car-parking space
- There will be additional car-parking because of the lifting of time restrictions on the parking on the Warwick Road in front of the service roads.
- Baroness Kramer would need to consult the Treasury about funding for more time
The Valentine’s Day promises seem to have added little of real worth. It now feels more like the Valentine’s Day Massacre round here. But this is about Acocks Green’s future. Hopefully we are about to increase our status and aesthetic value with a Conservation Area. We need a world-class village centre re-design to go with it – and, although the engineers admitted they had no idea at all about previous work on designs and consultations and exhibitions, some of us have been working on this re-design for ten years. Interestingly the cabinet Executive Report notes that the general idea was well supported by residents five years ago: why were the current engineers not advised of the ongoing nature of the project, and of the previous designs and comments? Are we going to get something that is anything like at all like that originally well-supported re-design. In this tangle of secrecy, omissions and some very casual, very late, admissions, and late plans, the answer seems to be no – not the way things are looking at present, anyway. What we do get will be likely to be with most of us as long as we live here though. Do we now say shrug in weariness, say ‘whatever’ and give up?
What could be done?
- Dump at least one, if not two of the pelicans crossings. Spend the money on cheaper traffic calming measures to achieve a proper, safe, 20 mph zone
- Use the additional space gained for car parking.
- Dump the cycle footway: with the above measures in places it would be unnecessary.
- Failing that examine safety issues in connection with the cycle footway, and put a proper assessment scheme for the success of the cycle footway in place before this is passed.
- Instead of refracting everything through engineers and councillors allow the community access to the scheme lighting designers who can explain properly about street lighting, with proper comparisons between the power ofactual examples of heritage LED lighting units and non-heritage LED lighting units rather than leaving us with third-hand explanations to take on trust.
- All round more openness please. The cycling questionnaires are being kept secret by the Council. The councillors had (in effect) secret email discussions about lighting – why were Acocks Green activists not copied in?
- Rather than constantly informing us that it is The Treasury and not Baroness Kramer who will make the decision,ask for extra time for the scheme, if this has not already been done. No matter how slender the chance, not asking for it is the fastest way of guaranteeing that extra time will not be given!
Do these things and some of us may feel a little more