Birmingham City Council’s draft “Low Carbon Transport Strategy 2011+” went out for consultation on 3 October. Unless significant changes are made it seems unlikely to deliver a radical change to the current carbon-intensive transport system.
The document is divided into four areas: Smarter Choices, Smarter Infrastructure, Smarter Technology and Effective Carbon Management Planning. It relies on the ‘nudge’ theory to influence people’s choices. This could be an effective part of the mix, but will not be enough to address Birmingham’s love affair with the motor vehicle.
Nearly all the ideas in the strategy are welcome: investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, implementing planned public transport improvements, and introducing a fleet of fuel-efficient, low-polluting buses. Where the document falls down is that the improvements are hopelessly vague and unambitious. Many proposals that BFoE have been making for years are not even mentioned.
As a non-expert in the field of transport, I found the document maddeningly obtuse, with long words and sentences that seemed to say nothing complete with references to other council publications and unexplained acronyms – TBT, CABLED, SCOOT, UTMC, SPD, etc. A few BFoE volunteers tried to convert the document into Plain English, and found there wasn’t a great deal of substance behind the convoluted sentences.
Some of the glaring omissions were: an automatic allocation of street space to bus and cycle lanes when work is done on roads; a recognition of public transport’s capacity and efficiency problems; the need for proper connections between different local areas, not just into the city centre; and any innovation regarding one major cause of congestion – the school run.
Some long-running BFOE campaigns are alluded to, but only in a very weak sense: certain areas should be given 20mph speed limits, but it doesn’t state how many or which ones. We would like to see this becoming the default speed limit for residential areas, which would play a large part in shifting away from private car use towards pedestrians and cyclists.
Birmingham Gateway Project
The reopening of the Moseley and Kings Heath rail stations is mentioned, but without dates, costing or timescale, so there is no sign this will become reality any time soon. For projects that have already been agreed on, it is surely time to just get on with it.
The document reflects the Council’s infatuation with the airport, as it considers how best to “improve access” to one of the city’s greatest polluters. There is no recognition that what people actually need is a transport system that allows them to get around their own city safely, clearly, quickly, affordably and sustainably, as opposed to getting people to the airport as quickly as possible (so they can spend their money on a weekend in Greece). There are many places in inner-city Birmingham that are a far less accessible than the airport. Birmingham City Council should not be subsidising a private company by reorganising the road infrastructure around its demands.
Overall, the impression given by this Low Carbon Transport Strategy is very much of a box-ticking exercise – little thought seems to have gone into what Birmingham needs to reduce its greenhouse emissions. Rather, the document simply inserts the words ‘low carbon’ in front of all the existing policies. It is disappointing that even with the Local Authority’s commitment to carbon reduction, there is a huge lack of vision and ambition in individual departments. The idea behind ‘effective carbon management planning’ is basically sound – promoting a low carbon culture across the council’s transport and planning services but, as with the rest of the document, there are very few details and no measurable outcomes.
BFOE have submitted a response to the consultation draft and we hope that a change in thinking at the Council’s Transportation Strategy team will occur before too long.