Birmingham’s Cycle City Ambition

Recently Birmingham City Council have confirmed that they will be submitting a bid for £17M of funds from the Department for Transport as part of the Cycle City Ambition grants announced by Norman Baker. In total the DFT have released £42M, which is to be spent as £30M on urban cycling improvements, and £12M on rural elements (National Parks).

The Government indicate that:

‘for the urban element there will be a maximum of 3 Cycle City Ambition Grants…However, as an indication of our approach, we might expect to support one First Wave 1 city and two cities bidding to be Second Wave cities.’
Cycle city ambition grants guidance [PDF]

This means that Birmingham will be competing against the other Wave 1 City Deal cities:

  • Leeds,
  • Sheffield,
  • Newcastle,
  • Bristol,
  • Liverpool,
  • Manchester, and
  • Nottingham.

If Birmingham is successful the £17M of central funds (alongside £5.9M of local funding) will be spent by 2016, and is part of the overall strategy of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution which is looking to make the city better focussed for cycling as part of a 20 year plan.  It also helps to deliver upon the council’s Vision for Movement, as well as showing that the council recognise that a modal shift towards cycling is needed.

A report before the council on 9 April 2013 ‘Changing Gear: Transforming Urban Movement through Cycling and Walking in Birmingham’ shows that Birmingham is considering the actions needed to make it a better environment for cycling.

The simple truth is that at the moment we do not have the infrastructure that helps to support a culture of cycling.  Below the current state of the cycle network can be seen:

The £22.9M of funds would be used to deliver:

  • Main Corridors – measures along eight of the main arterial routes into the city centre, which will generally be suitable for more experienced / confident commuter cyclists;
  • Parallel Routes – a network of generally quieter routes running parallel to the main corridors, but also linking to local schools, health centres, parks and other community facilities, and suitable for less experienced cyclists and family trips as well as commuters;
  • City Centre – a series of mostly minor measures, including some contraflow cycle facilities, to improve routes into and through the city core;
  • Green Routes – improvements and extensions to the existing network of ‘off-road’ routes such as Rea Valley, Cole Valley and Tame Valley particularly suitable for family and leisure cycling, and so supporting the tourism economy, but also available for commuter cyclists;
  • Canal Towpaths – extensive improvements to towpaths to provided a sealed surface more suitable for all-weather cycling, suitable for leisure and commuter cyclists;
  • Supporting Measures – items such as cycle hire, parking and hubs, wayfinding, a significant extension of 20mph areas, and bike loans to encourage and assist more people to cycle and stimulate local cycling manufacture; and
  • Smarter Choices – supporting package of revenue-funded promotional, mapping, marketing, educational and training measures to promote cycling to local residents and businesses.

This would mean that by 2016 the cycle network in Birmingham would look like:

Birmingham will find out by June 2013 whether it has been successful in the bid for funds. The real question is what will happen to the Birmingham Cycle Revolution with only £5.9M of local funding, as that will not stretch too far.

Paradise Circus Redevelopment


Outline planning application (all matters reserved save for access) for demolition of all buildings on the site (save for the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial) and commercial led mixed use redevelopment of up to 170,012 square metres gross internal floorspace, comprising offices (Use Class B1a), retail and leisure units (Use Classes A1/A2/A3/A4/A5/D1/D2), concert hall (D2), energy centre (Sui Generis), together with a hotel of up to 250 bedrooms (Use Class C1), car parking, highways works (to include the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory), public realm improvements and associated works including alterations to public rights of way.

The Paradise Circus redevelopment is a contentious one, mainly due to the presence of the Birmingham Central Library which was designed by John Madin and is set to be demolished if the plans get approved.  Though the building has been recommended for local listing by English Heritage, it has never achieved that status and the council have a Certificate of Immunity order on the building, preventing it from being listed.

The council have established an exclusivity agreement with Argent, who were behind the creation of Brindleyplace, with a view to sign a joint venture relationship for the redevelopment of the site once planning permission has been granted.
Whilst we await the final decision regarding the outline, it was interesting to see how the current plans look from a historical perspective.  As well as seeing how the proposal brings the area back to the public, both from an ease of access routes (especially down Congreve Passage to Summer Row) and also improvements to the public realm with two new squares, and the improvement to Chamberlain Square.

Town Hall and Council House - March 1921 (Britain From Above)

Whilst the future of the Central Library is an evocative topic, it cannot be ignored that the site plan does not facilitate access through it, or around it.  Areas such as Fletchers Walk, Paradise Place towards Summer Row, and Congreve passage are not the most accessible. Looking at the plans it shows that consideration has been given to the pedestrian flow, and there are a lot more ways to navigate across the site.
One of the main changes to the road layout is the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory (i.e the bit that runs under the Library).  There are also quite a lot of roads that would need to be reconfigured because of this.
Recently on 11 October 2012 the council Planning Committee met, and an item on the agenda was to discuss issues related to the planning application [PDF], this revealed some potential S106 planing obligations including:
  • Transport contribution – to include works to facilitate the next phases of Metro and contributions to public transport including Interconnect (new bus shelters and totem signage)
  • Public realm improvements – in particular to Chamberlain Square, Town Hall surroundings and Centenary Square – approximately £2.65m
  • Contributions to Wayfinding signage both into and around the site – £180,000
  • Easy Row subway improvements linking through to Arena Central – approximately £150,000.

Interconnect Birmingham – City Mapping & Wayfinding

Those familiar with London will have seen a consistent signage brand throughout the city to help locals and visitors alike find their way. This was initiated by a study back in 2006 that TFL commisioned called Legible London [PDF] which aimed to make London easier to navigate for pedestrians.

Though it is not just London that cares about pedestrians, in Birmingham it has been identified that visitors’ navigation needs improving:

Interconnect Birmingham is a project to improve visitors’ navigation of the city – from initial web visit, through maps and on-street orientation and signage; it will ensure visitors have the best possible experience of the city. The project is a key part of the Big City Plan. [Birmingham Toolkit]

Interconnect Birmingham, a £3 Million project, it is mentioned in the Big City Plan, and also is seen in the Vision for Movement for making Birmingham a walkable city.  The contract for the first phase of the work was put out to tender, which City ID won.  They are experts within the field, and show that Birmingham is really looking to achieve a high quality output.

The first phase of work will focus on improving orientation with improved street mapping and interpretation to help people locate their destination and create better mental maps of the city.  It will help them to link different areas of the city and integrate their journeys. [Marketing Birmingham]

City ID - Promotional Image - Interconnect Birmingham

To achieve the above the above:

  1. A map of Birmingham was required, and
  2. A mechanism to deliver the maps (such as monoliths, totems, signs).

As a basis for the work a royalty free map was created by Bluesky, which cost £86,765 [FOI Request, Word Document].  This map was then corroborated by City ID with on-street research.  With the aim being to design a map which blended detailed urban structures with simplified road networks; putting the pedestrian first. [Yellowfields Blog].

The map above is an indicative image based on the work by one of the City ID consulltants who mentions that the final colouring and other detailing is subject to change.  More recently a new public transport map of Birmingham [PDF] has been released which uses this style, and gives a good indicator of what to expect in our wayfinding maps.

In total there will be 24 wayfinding totems installed in the next fortnight which make up Phase 1 of the delivery, and they will be placed within the City Core.  These totems will look similar to the new bus signage which contains public transit information, and be the first step to making it Birmingham an easier city to navigate.

Thought it is not just about making it easier for people to navigate across the city core, and these wayfinding totems will appear in the Jewellery Quarter, Eastside & Digbeth as part of Phase 2.  This is currently in the preparation stage, so it will be a little while before we see them appearing on the street.

Overall it looks like Birmingham is set to deliver a great initiative, that has been in gestation for a while (back as far as 2007).

Update (Tuesday 25 September 2012):
It appears that one of the large monolith signs installed on Colmore Row for the Snow Hill Interchange has incorrect artwork.  The photo below is taken looking towards Snow Hill with the Cathedral on the right hand side.

Interconnect Birmingham Incorrect Snow Hill MonolithThe wayfinding map is orientated the correct way, though the signposting area at the top is incorrect. The Interconnect Birmingham team have been notified of this, and have informed us that the sign will be fixed as a matter of priority.

Update (Monday 15 October 2012):
The totems are appearing across the city centre, and this post has been updated to show them.

Birmingham City Centre – Vision for Movement

Only recently have I come across the Birmingham City Centre ‘Vision for Movement‘ [PDF], created by Birmingham City Council in November 2010, which aims to be ‘laying the foundations for a vibrant and liveable global city’.

The themes within the plan focus on Birmingham being

  • A well connected city,
  • A walkable city, and
  • An efficient city.

A well connected city

Whilst the expansion of Birmingham New Street, and the longer term vision to bring HS2 to Birmingham underpin the desire to improve the rail capacity and quality in the area it is not just focused on the railways.  The Metro is still shown to be of interest wider than just the expansion to New Street (and lately we have heard of the expansion to Centenary Square, and there is the potential for the Metro to reach to Eastside if HS2 delivers).

One key theme coming out of this area is making the public transport network easier to use, this is happening at the moment with the new interchanges and we are starting to see the standardisation of design and branding towards the network.  Also the Birmingham Swift smartcard is being introduced by CentroSmartcard Branding PDF].

Rapid Transit Corridors are proposed as part of Birmingham Sprint, which would see quick routes out of the city to locations such as Birmingham International. Though this doesn’t seem to have been a focus for the moment, and perhaps now that the interchanges have been created this may be the next bus led focus.

Cycle routes are discussed, and whilst there has been some improvement to this over the last few years there is certainly not much movement regarding ‘better connectivity to the canal network.  Also I can’t think of the ‘secure storage hubs’ that it talks about, but again this is something that is feasible, and cycling facilities need improving if we are to see an increase in cycling within the city.

A walkable city
For Birmingham to be a walkable city the public realm needs to satisfy this need, and it highlights that pedestrians need to be considered through the creation of better quality links between the main transport interchanges and the city centre.  Some indicative images of what the future public realm could look like are further below.

Lately with the introduction of the new bus interchanges, and associated totem signage we can start to see consistent design and way-marking/wayfinding coming to Birmingham.  This is part of the Interconnect Birmingham plan, and will be one of the most visual changes to allow pedestrians to find it easier to navigate the streets.