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Our current situation
Starting around March, 2020 the pollution levels in Sutton Coldfield, UK, went down considerably during the first lockdown and many of us started to appreciate cleaner air and birdsong as the noise levels went down. But with the dangers of public transport well documented many have resorted to their cars pushing pollution levels back up to where they were before and possibly beyond. Many drive alone which is hopelessly inefficient and wasteful. Some drive together with others in the vehicle which as of January 2021 is still often unsafe health wise (even though masks and open windows can help mitigate the risk).
The pollution problem in and around Birmingham has become steadily worse over many years with increased traffic anyway so we really do have a traffic and pollution crisis.
In the long term we need more electric and hybrid vehicles as well as improved public transport such as trams or light railways. For now though, we also need awareness campaigns to remind people to turn off their engines when parked and waiting and we need the legalization of electric scooters including personally owned ones. But perhaps most importantly we need better cycling infrastructure.
A cycle superhighway along Monmouth drive
I have written about transport for a number of years and have never seen a more ideal location for a cycle superhighway (henceforth CSH). The wide grassy verge on the park side is almost entirely unused. The potential usefulness is shown by the sheer amount of traffic along this road.
The traffic is unsurprising given that it connects Sutton with the highly populated areas of Kingstanding and reaches out towards Walsall and Wolverhampton.
At least some of these drivers would sometimes cycle if this CSH were created therefore reducing pollution and noise for residents. The main benefit though would be vastly improved safety for cyclists compared to going on the road.
The one obvious question is ”Why bother? People can cycle in the park.” Taking a bike through the park to get to Sutton would be a detour for anyone going from some areas around Kingstanding and West of Wylde Green. Obviously those coming from Streetly and surroundings will likely still cycle through the park, but congestion in the park would be reduced enhancing safety and healthy distancing. Importantly it would also provide a safe night-time cycling alternative to going through the park.
Map above showing the proposed route in blue
(All map images from Map data ©2020 Google Earth – used in accordance with Google’s attribution guidelines)
This simple proposal would also create almost zero interference to drivers. Between Banners gate and Somerville Rd there are literally only two places where cars would have to pull out – the entrance to the Sailing club and golf club and then Stonehouse Rd. Drivers would in fact likely be happier given that many cyclists would be off the road altogether.
This is in contrast to the hastily removed Brassington avenue cycle lane which stopped drivers from taking a left turn along park road.
Lessons from Brassington Avenue
I personally was very much in favour of the pop-up cycle lane along Brassington avenue and used it frequently for the few weeks it was there. Going off a main road onto a well-designed separated cycleway greatly enhances the riders’ peace of mind. – this is something more of us need to experience to realise the true value of such bike schemes. The Brassington avenue scheme didn’t even last to the end of its trial period so very few people got a chance to experience this ‘bike-lane peacefulness’. We need to give some such schemes more time to gain traction and enter into people’s consciousness as alternatives. People need time to get used to them and to even be converted to liking them.
Designing for the future – extensions
In the case of Brassington avenue scheme one complaint was that it was isolated and not part of a network.
The truth is that it takes time for a network to emerge and it has to start somewhere. A CSH going along Birmingham Rd to Wylde Green and Chester Rd has been mentioned by others and this would still be both feasible and highly valuable.
In this case let’s be clear from the outset as to how this Monmouth Drive CSH could be extended in future.
Shown below is a picture of the various possible future extensions.
Luckily Rough Rd (light blue-left) is more than wide enough to accommodate a full CSH. On the Sutton side (right) one option would be for one small section of Somerville Road and then Wilkinson close (green – right) to be restricted to residents’ cars and cyclists only to form a safer route to Wylde Green train station. This may not be popular among some drivers but the busiest section of Somerville Road beside the park would still be accessible. Alternatively or additionally (and far more ambitiously) Digby Rd (pink – right) would be made one way only for vehicles and incorporate an extension of the CSH connecting to an elevated CSH alongside the railway line leading to Sutton train station and possibly even Wylde Green train station (light blue vertical line – right). This is just an option for many years into the future but would certainly put Sutton ‘on the map’.
Alternatively, a conventional CSH could be built going through the park towards Sutton station.
The future extensions would be optional steps pending the popularity of the initial Monmouth drive scheme and consultations with the public.
Designing for the future – Accommodating transport gadgets
We’re currently witnessing unprecedented innovation in the field of lightweight transport devices with ever more transport tools, ever more features and constantly increasing range and speed. It’s obvious that lightweight portable transport tools – such as escooters – will play a role in our future so we need to allow for this. Legalisation of scooters in Sutton would warrant a name change, I would suggest ‘cycle scooterhighway’ (still abbreviated to CSH so no need to amend any maps).
It’s also absolutely essential that wheelchairs are also allowed on the CSH to create equality of access and equality of joyful peacefulness!
I strongly believe that any well designed CSH nowadays should be wide enough to have at least two people side-by-side going in either direction. I would recommend two lanes – fast and slow, in both directions making a total of four lanes with a total width of at least 4 to 5 metres.
Separation between the two directions of travel is vital to enhance safety and distancing and I would recommend using an uneven or gritty surface for the central reservation making it unpleasant to ride over at any speed but still usable in emergencies.
There are times when we need to be conservative, hunker down and resist new ideas. There are also times when we need to be liberal and progressive and embrace change. Now, in the middle of a pollution crisis caused by increasing traffic in the middle of a pandemic which threatens to make it even worse is absolutely the time to be progressive and think outside of our metal boxes known as cars. Obviously cars are going to be around given their convenience, but we mustn’t let ‘car fundamentalism’ stop the adoption of other safer, cleaner and more healthy solutions as well. Opportunity presents itself to those with an open mind.
If you think this idea is worthwhile please do share this article and also go to: https://covidmeasuresbirmingham.commonplace.is/overview
Then click ‘Suggest a change to improve walking or cycling’ and navigate to Monmouth drive in Sutton using the map tool and click ‘agree’ with this proposal or any others you would like to see happen.
You can also go to the following URL and ‘upvote’ this proposal.
Thank you for reading. If you can come up with another possibly better idea then please leave a comment. Wishing everyone all the best.