The following text constitutes our response to the consultation on Birmingham City Council’s Low Carbon Transport Strategy 2011+ as it was sent to them:
Image Courtesy of Acocks Green Focus Group.
Thank you for the opportunity to respond to this important strategy on an issue that we and all our members and supporters feel very strongly about. Here is a brief summary of some of the aspects we felt were most important to highlight, although we could have included a lot more detail.
It is encouraging that Birmingham recognises that action on transport is essential if it is to meet its commitments to reduce CO2 emissions by 60% by 2026 and that so far not enough has been done in this area. We hope that the strategy also recognises that over-dependence on fossil fuels in powering automobiles is unhealthy economically when we are likely to be faced with ever-higher prices and fuel shortages in future, as well as leading to ever-decreasing levels of air quality across the city.
What could emerge from this strategy is a clear pathway to a future where the city has a world-class public transport network, excellent cycling and walking facilities (meaning high rates of both for journeys to school, work and for leisure) and is no longer reliant on private cars.
Sadly, the strategy does not go far enough and much of the language is so vague that it is hard to find any measurable outcomes or any way of checking whether or not it has been successful. We would like to see better indications as to how the strategy fits in with the Birmingham Core Strategy, the West Midlands LTP3, the Birmingham Vision For Movement, the Cycling Strategy, the Air Quality Action Plan and other such relevant documents.
In order to meet the city’s CO2 reduction commitments, we would like to see how emissions from transport are going to decrease year on year to 2016 and beyond.
We would also like to see clearer indications of how the re-allocation of road space can be achieved to enable better functionality to be created for public transport, cycling and walking. This should reference documents that provide guidelines for best practice such as the DfT’s manual for streets.
The falling levels of traffic should be seen as an opportunity to use our streets differently, creating cycle and bus lanes, more public spaces where people can gather, such as having village squares instead of car parks. This will also mean that there will need to be considerable extra capacity on public transport to cope with the extra demand, as well as better efficiency.
Another factor which should also be linked into this strategy is reducing the need to travel by much better planning of local neighbourhoods. For pedestrians and cyclists, safety along the whole of their journey is vitally important. No mention is made anywhere in the document of the danger or perceived danger of roads being an obstacle to low carbon transport modes. There is no doubt, however, that this is the case and that lower speed limits of 20mph on residential roads along with separate cycle lanes on busier roads would have a significant impact on the numbers of people who would be willing to cycle and walk. There is little road traffic rules enforcement and if we want to make the transport environment more attractive, enforcement has a role to play in this.
Pedestrian prioritisation and traffic calming in local centres would also contribute greatly to their attractiveness and the vibrancy of trade there. Shared space would also help in changing people’s mindsets about the way that streets should be used and that they are not the exclusive domain of cars.
For pedestrians, facilities such as benches and toilets play a crucial role in ensuring comfortable journeys, so some kind of minimum standard for these would be extremely helpful.
There is a lot of focus on the city centre, but if we want to promote vibrant urban villages, each district centre should have its own information hub as well as transport hubs where different modes of travel link up in a way that is easy to understand and supports the needs of different users, including the provision of cycle parking.
While it is reasonable to mention the Airport and NEC as a destination in its own right which requires surface access it is difficult to know where the runway extension fits into a low carbon transport strategy. Indeed there are plenty of other locations within the City which could be mentioned as requiring a surface access strategy and it has to be remembered that the Airport is actually in Solihull. Planning for a reduction in aviation demand would be more in line with a low carbon transport strategy and the likely effects of peak oil and carbon taxes.
We feel that implementing the workplace parking levy that has previously been discussed in Birmingham and has been implemented successfully in other cities such as Nottingham would have a beneficial effect on traffic levels. Car parking facilities are currently over-supplied in Birmingham and there should be stricter controls on the use of land for car parking in areas around the city centre, as well as controlling demand with pricing.
Journeys to school cause a considerable amount of congestion and we believe that the success of walking buses should be noted, as well as the potential for other similar schemes – bike trains, for example, have been successful elsewhere and are very cost effective measures. Cycle training for both children and adults has also proved to have a significant effect on cycling rates and should be encouraged further.
Newly opened or refurbished stations, such as the New Street Gateway should be examplars of good practice in regard to cycling facilities, pedestrian accessibility and links to other forms of transport to get people door-to-door without needing a car. Re-opening stations on suburban lines in Birmingham should be a major priority and solutions need to be found to the obstacles preventing this from happening.
There is no scenario planning for changes in the cost of vehicle fuel and the effects that are likely to be seen due to peak oil. We feel that this should be recognised as a major factor in the affordability of different types of transport and planned for in the strategy.
There should be not just be mention of electric cars but also electric bikes and indeed the potential role of smaller powered two wheelers, which also require less road space and less fuel.
There is no mention of the role of green infrastructure and how wildlife corridors will play an increasingly important role across the city and improving the public realm. The street trees for which Birmingham is rightly famous need to be protected and enhanced as such they are important corridors for wildlife to be able to make its journey within and through the City.
We also took part in a meeting with other 3rd sector organisations looking at the strategy, the notes from which we hope will have been sent to you by Sustrans.