It seems paradoxical to be welcoming the growing evidence base and interest in the major issue of air quality and emissions, particularly in cities. And poor old Birmingham is obviously going to be one of the stand out cities suffering with air quality caused by emissions.
The reliance on the car and the lack of transformational public transport that can really turn people off cars and onto public transport is well-known. Indeed the Rail Minister mentioned only recently that London gets the vast majority of the cash because it has far more people/jobs/economic responsibility for the wider UK &c &c &c… i won’t go into that in too much detail, self-perpetuating cycles and so on… Instead, let’s focus on what can be done with our dear city.
I have written in the past about a Greater Birmingham Crossrail scheme on this site. As a reminder, the vision is to build deep-level heavy rail tunnels underneath New Street station and run them under to another new deep level connecting station at Curzon Street. These then connect outwards to north/south and east/west lines:
- the current Cross City line would approach from the North via a redeveloped Duddeston station, then dive down to a new deep level Curzon Street (for HS2 and Eastside) before then going into new deep level platforms at New Street before carrying on southwards to a new low level Five Ways station and after that reconnecting onto the existing line to Redditch and Bromsgrove;
- a new Cross City line would set off from Wolverhampton in the West and approach Birmingham via a new station at Ladywood, connecting the NIA area and the major redevelopment at Icknield Port Loop, before diving down to the stops at New Street before heading east and coming to a new station at Adderley Park and then heading out to Birmingham International, and then ideally onto a new rail link out to the new HS2 Interchange station.
- Those new deep level stations provide increased capacity at last for New Street and improved connectivity into HS2 and the new eastside area of the city centre; while those 4 city centre edge stations are key to improving connectivity and capacity as well as unlocking wider development in the surrounding areas.
But it probably still isn’t enough for wider modal shift and also to encourage people out of cars… so another grand projet to complement major rail improvement is a potential scheme that again does more than just get more seats for more bums to fill on public transport… Again, it involves going underground with a central bus tunnel from somewhere around Lancaster Circus, allowing buses to approach from the Walsall Road and Lichfield Road/Expressway and diving under the City Centre. To attract patronage for long and short trips, it would be good to have at least two major stops in the centre that are also great interchanges – one around Colmore Square/Bull Street for an interchange with the tram and one around New Street/Victoria Square for a tram and rail interchange.
Heading out the other side, to optimise the opportunity having them escape the city together and then shooting southwards down the Bristol and Pershore Roads would be good. Of course, many more bus routes could be diverted to approach and connect into the city via the Central Bus Tunnel – also from the South could be routes from the Moseley direction and from the North coming from the Tyburn Road.
The opportunity then is for the city centre to see less traffic so more space for pedestrians and also to create a safer space for cyclists in the wider city centre. There has to be a greater emphasis now on walking and cycling from an infrastructure perspective. The roads in Birmingham are terrifying and in order to disincentives traffic from entering the city centre area, there needs to be radical and transformational action. But bus users must not suffer whatsoever or we lose the opportunity to get that modal shift.
A Greater Birmingham Crossrail and a Central Bus Tunnel. Together they won’t be cheap of course but there is now a desperate need to do far more than tinker around the edges. We need serious transformational projects that can then deliver many many more benefits and with knock-on impacts that can go far beyond pure additional public transport capacity – supporting walking and cycling, economic development, housing, regeneration, public health and air quality. Without big ambition we will struggle to make the difference that we need to see happen for our city.