Birmingham City Council
This blog post was produced for inclusion in the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020.
The annual Birmingham Economic Review is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and a high-quality resource for informing research, policy and investment decisions.
This post is featured in Chapter 4 of the Birmingham Economic Review for 2020, on Connecting Communities: What Next for the Region’s Infrastructure?
Click here to read the Review.
Birmingham is a vibrant, diverse city in the midst of significant growth and transformation. To reflect this, we published the draft Birmingham Transport Plan (BTP) in January 2020 which sets out the vision for transport in Birmingham, prioritising cleaner, greener, healthier and more sustainable transport to enable us to meet and exceed our target of a net carbon zero Birmingham by 2030. To ensure this happens, four big moves were identified:
Towards the end of the public consultation of the plan, the country was placed into lockdown to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. As a result of this, travel patterns were transformed overnight with traffic down to a third of usual levels for a period of several months.
Figure 1: vehicles per week travelling along the A38(M) at Dartmouth Circus.
The COVID-19 pandemic transformed our city like many others across the world. Due to the profound impact on the economy of the city, we requested that the introduction of the CAZ was pushed back until at least 2021. This will enable businesses and families additional time to recover from the pandemic and plan for the changes. However, this decision does not mean that improving air quality in Birmingham is any less important.
The impact in terms of a quieter, safer environment for walking and cycling with much-improved air quality made a noticeable difference to every citizen, providing a glimpse into what a cleaner, greener Birmingham could look like. From this, we felt that whilst the pandemic provided us with challenges, it also presented Birmingham with a unique opportunity to transform the way we travel. Therefore, we published the Emergency Birmingham Transport Plan on 14th May 2020 which set out the short, medium- and longer-term actions Birmingham will take to enable a low carbon, clean air recovery from COVID-19.
The Emergency Birmingham Transport Plan maintained the four big moves outlined in the Birmingham Transport Plan. As such, measures and schemes were brought forward in line with these big moves. For example, over the short and medium term, temporary pop up cycle lanes have been created in areas such as Selly Oak and Small Heath through reallocating road space. In addition, low traffic neighbourhoods will be piloted over the coming months in Lozells and Kings Heath, closing roads to through traffic to make walking and cycling safer. These measures will also be trialled in the city centre through a traffic segments initiative, using filtered permeability to create a less traffic dominated environment and eventually remove through trips. In the long term, such measures will be made more permanent, creating dedicated ‘active travel’ cycling and walking infrastructure which extends across Birmingham.
By providing better active travel infrastructure, alongside restricting private vehicles in neighbourhoods, and the introduction of the Clean Air Zone in 2021, citizens will feel safer walking and cycling which will aid modal shift towards active travel. In turn, this will result in citizens adopting an active lifestyle, creating a healthier, cleaner Birmingham as we strive towards becoming net carbon zero by 2030. A healthier Birmingham will also bring additional benefits to businesses such as reducing the number of employees affected by health conditions caused by poor air quality and/or lack of physical activity whilst simultaneously boosting mental health.
We recognise that walking and cycling are not suitable for all journeys. Within the Birmingham Transport Plan and the Emergency Birmingham Transport Plan, equal attention has been paid towards public transport, which plays a vital role in enabling modal shift away from private vehicles. Such transport links need to be fully integrated and high quality, with walking and cycling infrastructure woven throughout the system. We are determined to create high quality public transport infrastructure, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on public transport patronage, with the effects of this still being felt by bus and train operators. The benefits of a highly sophisticated public transport network will be felt by all, with less traffic congestion facilitating efficient freight transport, and dedicated transport links into the city centre resulting in an increase in productivity as well as providing better access to job opportunities, connecting employers with a wider pool of potential employees.
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced several unique challenges to businesses throughout Birmingham, with a real need to support businesses and employees through an extraordinary situation. We will continue to support businesses and organisations with planning for and managing travel as their operations adapt to the easement of lockdown. We will also continue to support those companies who allow for agile and flexible working, which aids in the reduction of peak travel congestion periods. We will also roll out more school streets to promote sustainable travel to schools and enable social distancing.
The Birmingham Transport Plan, Emergency Birmingham Transport Plan and Clean Air Zone are only the start of our work to build a sustainable, healthy recovery for the whole city. There is lots more work to be done, however this is the start of a new era as we recover from COVID-19 with the ability to travel safely, healthily and sustainably. Our city can build a bright, healthy future and this is now our time to deliver it together.
Councillor Waseem Zaffar MBE
Cabinet Member Transport & Environment
Birmingham City Council