Birmingham Reveals Radical Ghent-Style Plan To Cut Car Addiction

Birmingham—the city of Spaghetti junction—wants to reduce the number of car journeys in the city. The “allocation of road space will change away from single occupancy private cars,” promises the Birmingham Transport Plan (BTP) launched on January 13.

The idea is to “move people not [motor] vehicles,” adds the draft masterplan, saying that the priority needs to shift to “mass transit and active modes of travel.”

Currently, 25% of all car journeys in Birmingham are for less than a mile. To discourage such use—and reduce congestion and improve air quality—Birmingham City Council points residents to the traffic circulation plan that the Belgian city of Ghent implemented in 2017.

Through the use of “traffic cells”—where motorists still have access to most areas but have to travel longer distances to do so—car use into the city center was much reduced. Pedestrians and cyclists were not subject to the same circulation rules and could travel into the CBD swiftly and easily. As a result there was a massive jump in the amount of people who cycled in Ghent, rising 60% between 2016 and 2018. This surprised city planners, who had assumed such a figure would not be realized until the plan’s end date of 2030.

Birmingham’s plan is good through until 2031, and includes the creation of an already announced Clean Air Zone, restricting road use by vehicles powered by petrol and diesel. The new plan includes a workplace parking levy which would charge £500 per parking space for the city’s businesses, a scheme successfully used in Nottingham to part-pay for the extension of its tram system.

The proposed traffic cell plan would mean motorists would not be able to drive from city cell to city cell direct and would have to go back out on to the A4540 Middleway ring road to do so.

Birmingham has recently designed for more active modes of travel—the A38, a key access road into the city, was upgraded last year to include protected cycleways, partly repurposed from a former tramline.

In a blog post last year, Cllr Waseem Zaffar, cabinet member for transport and environment, said Birmingham needs to “become a place where walking, cycling and using green public transport are the best and most preferred ways of travel, reducing our reliance on private cars.”

In a hard-hitting foreword for the new plan, Cllr Zaffar wrote:

“Over-dependence on private cars is bad for the health of ourselves and our families, bad for our communities and bad for business as measured by the millions of pounds of lost productivity caused by congestion.”

He added that car use is “bad for the future because of the very significant damage caused by vehicle emissions and their impact on climate change.”

Instead, the “more journeys we take by walking and cycling, the more we will improve air quality and our health and the more we will reduce congestion,” stressed the city’s transport lead.

“For longer journeys, buses, trams and trains will be the backbone of a new, go-anywhere transport system,” he promised.

The Birmingham Transport Plan, not yet a done deal, now goes out to public consultation.

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