This is really a thought experiment and a bit of fun and I would welcome other peoples’ thoughts on this – 5 big ideas to change how we move about in the West Midlands… go on!!
(1) The Greater Birmingham CrossCity rail network – I have written several posts about this (check out my other blogposts on this), a RER/Crossrail style high-frequency, high-capacity rail network starting off with the key 2 lines North-South and East-West which would be Lichfield to Redditch/Bromsgrove and Wolverhampton to Birmingham Interchange (HS2) – both meeting at a new underground Birmingham New Street, releasing capacity on the existing 12 platforms for better intercity and regional connectivity.
That turn-up-and-go metro frequency (i.e. trains running at least every 10 minutes on a distinct, regular route) is what makes the Tube in London and the Metro in Paris so successful a piece of those cities’ success. We need the same to really ramp up the connectivity across our conurbation – those routes connect central Birmingham at New Street with: Erdington, Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield to the North; Wolverhampton and a big chunk of the Black Country to the West; University of Birmingham, Longbridge, Redditch and Bromsgrove to the South; Birmingham Airport, the NEC and the HS2 Interchange station to the East.
In addition you could deploy 4 edge of city hub stations to really support developments and exciting new schemes around those areas which would be Duddeston, Ladywood/NIA (a new station), Five Ways and Adderley Park. A strongly-defined branded RER/Crossrail network would be effective at encouraging ‘Transit Oriented Development’ which is where improved transport connectivity can really improve areas by encouraging investment in an area.
(2) Car-free days – quite literally ban all private cars from going inside the main ring road in Birmingham (and Wolverhampton and Coventry and other town centres) for one day a week/fortnight/month. Then go further and ration car access by age of vehicle, or else electrics and hybrids only. We have congestion and we have population growth which will see growth in travel demand around the conurbation. As many journeys as possible that are by a means other than the car will really support the health, wealth and wellbeing of our communities. All methods for supporting that must be deployed!
(3) Pedestrianise Colmore Row in Birmingham City Centre. Imagine how great the Grand Hotel would be as well as the wider area for removing vehicles from that place?! Apply this across key central areas all over the conurbation, more pedestrian-only spaces plus limit access on other roads to just buses and taxis and/or car-shares/car-clubs. Then deploy more walking and cycling prioritisation on roads along with buses.
(4) An integrated mobility platform for all users – Start getting to grips with modern technology, we could very easily deploy a single-interface mobility application that could deliver our individual options, information, fares and ticketing, real time info onto a single app – with an individual account that i could access on my phone, or on my home laptop, or potentially on a screen built into my local bus stop or metro stop, enabling me to plan my journey instantly based on either cost, or speed, or on health or environmental benefit/cost… Now with that ability to support personalised travel planning we could then do some really cool stuff using incentives and live information. That information could then support transport policy and planning and give a complete picture of the transport network across the conurbation which would be phenomenally powerful and exciting.
(5) If we are going to provide a platform for people to plan and undertake journeys more effectively, then the infrastructure needs to be better integrated as well. Planning journeys and paying for them, being flexible with how and when we undertake journeys requires a more dynamic system that can help manage capacity, cost, asset management and live network information to support an effective transport network. What I mean by this is the need to integrate our existing ‘classic’ network of trains, buses and metro with cycling, cycle hire, car sharing and hiring, taxis (black cabs, minicabs and Uber and so on…) and all forms of on-demand and community transport into a holistic offering for the user through that single-interface platform I talked about above.
So the true delivery of the door-to-door journey in the most flexible and dynamic way possible so that the user gets their journey according to their desires while the network monitors its performance and adjusts itself to ensure optimal operation. What I mean by this is the ability to realise where issues will occur and mitigate them before they happen. For example, a broken down bus immediately deploys cover for itself with Uber and a nearby minibus private hire company and so on…
This isn’t the stuff of dreams but it requires a fluidity between modes and operators and the ability to communicate quickly and effectively with customers – along with trust and the effective use of incentives.
While big infrastructure is useful, I reckon the biggest wins for mobility in the West Midlands (and everywhere indeed) are in the effective deployment and coordination of technology to support and optimise the delivery of transport options for users. Truly making better use of what we have and investing in better ways of doing things – especially when it comes to information and the user experience are absolutely key to delivering better mobility (intelligent mobility). It can happen, but will it?