A Proposal to Build a Cycle Superhighway along Monmouth Drive in Sutton Coldfield, UK

Reading time about 5 minutes

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.

The solutions

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

Above: Illustration of the proposed cycle superhighway
Monmouth drive in January 2021

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)

The bigger picture

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.

Selection from the Starley Network taken from http://www.wmnetwork.co.uk

Note how Monmouth drive is already a highlighted road within the Starley network plan and how it connects with the TfWM (Transport for West Midlands) route going down to Perry Barr from where the cycle superhighway leads to the city centre.

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.

Future CSH (cycle scooterhighway)
Alternative directions would be possible if found to be safer (I’m personally not sure yet)

Some thoughts

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.

To download a PDF of this proposal click HERE

Urban Greenways, Greenlanes & Cycle-Scooter Highways for Birmingham

This is a brief summary of the proposal – reading time 5 to 7 minutes. Further information is available via the hyperlinks in the text. 

The current situation

In Birmingham, UK, car traffic has steadily increased in recent years leading to deteriorating air quality and various safety issues.

Given that during the current covid-19 crisis non-essential public transport is discouraged we face the possibility that even more people may be using their cars. This not only poses a danger to the environment and human health in terms of air quality, but also in terms of the virus because many of the extra car journeys will also be with groups of people in the same vehicle.

An additional problem is that many in the city are now turning to motorbikes (the most dangerous form of transport) and petrol scooters (many times more polluting than most cars and far more dangerous for the riders). The noise and anti-social behaviour that sometimes go with their use is also a problem.

The solutions

In March, 2020, we wrote an open letter with the following suggestions:

  1. Improve and widen cycleways/bike lanes.
  2. Legalise electric scooters & some other non-polluting lightweight portable transport tools & allow the scooters on the improved cycleways (or ‘cycle-scooter ways’).
  3. Devote just a few carefully selected long roads in each city to green transport gadgets to allow safer faster travel across the city.

Most local governments have voiced agreement with points 1 and 2 and escooters have now been legalised with a rental scheme beginning in Birmingham from the late Summer. (No doubt we were simply adding our voice to the existing chorus of calls for change).

More escooters and bikes require more space in which to ride them safely in order for their benefits to be realised so we believe suggestions 1 and 3 are now more important than ever. Therefore, we have created a map of suggested routes in the city to devote to bikes, scooters and other non-polluting lightweight portable transport (henceforth LPT)

Other research has been done in this regard and the local government also have a coherent and impressive network of proposed cycle-superhighway routes (shown later).  

After we created our first network of routes we referred to the above research and found that the local government’s plan already incorporates some of the routes we also found to be suitable. Furthermore, the local government’s current map of proposed pop-up cycle lanes uses the same system we have suggested – direct pathways converging in the city centre forming a radial pattern. This radial starfish design allows fair distribution of access for residents from all sides. We strongly support the local government in this excellent initiative and urge them to refer to our routes and those suggested by others to see whether they can also be incorporated. This work needs to be done as quickly as possible.  

We envisage three kinds of pathways for bikes, scooters and possibly other forms of LPT (lightweight portable transport).

  1.  The ‘cycle-scooter ways’. These are cycle superhighways allowing for some other forms of LPT. They should have at least two lanes in either direction (slow and fast) with clear space to divide the two directions further enhancing safety. All efforts should be made to separate riders from vehicle traffic and pedestrians – even if it means elevating the pathway over some or all roads. See a good example from Beijing HERE. The Beijing example uses a red zone between the lanes going in opposite directions. We should employ such measures and possibly make the intermediary space rougher to naturally limit rider’s speed if they stray onto it – like a subtle rumblestrip. This separation is not only important for physical safety but also for health because it will help prevent riders going in opposite ways from straying into each other’s slipstreams. 
  •  Greenlanes. These are single lanes taken from multi-lane roads. The lanes are devoted entirely to LPT by use of signs and barriers – like many pop-up cycle lanes. They have the advantage of requiring minimal to no infrastructure and are entirely reversible later if need be. However, the disadvantages are that air quality and safety is likely to be poor given the proximity to vehicle traffic.
  • Urban Greenways. Roads devoted entirely to LPT with no cars allowed other than emergency vehicles.

All three types of pathways above must allow for safe use by, or create alternative provision for, those using mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs and for disabled cyclists. This needs to be a top priority in all transport planning and is why we emphasize adequate width and use of speed lanes. Shown below are the pathways we suggest for the city. Where two or more pathways run in parallel then one of them needs to be chosen.

Thin blue=existing cycle superhighway

Wider blue=proposed cycle-scooter highway

Thin green=proposed greenlane

Wide green=proposed urban greenway

Specific information about each pathway will appear HERE very soon.

Shown above are the Birmingham emergency active travel plan routes – for more information see HERE). Note the similarity to our plans. These routes are longer given that our routes were designed to be extended later pending demand. In fact, given the urgency of the situation and to ensure adequate usage we agree with creating the longer routes right away.

Shown left: locations where temporary cycle lanes could be quickly created and would likely prove most useful as identified by research by Dr Robin Lovelace, Dr Joey Talbot, Dr Malcolm Morgan (University of Leeds Institute for Transport Studies) and Martin Lucas-Smith (CycleStreets). More information HERE and HERE.

These designs above also share some of the same routes but include a complete ring road as well.

Public views on where infrastructure amendments are required to allow for more walking and cycling can be found HERE

Our Methods & factors

Safety is paramount. Therefore we only chose routes with sufficient width space and where absolute separation from vehicles was possible. It simply cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to fully separate cyclists and pedestrians from vehicular traffic – both in terms of safety as well as health.

We also prioritised roads with less junctions and road crossings to allow for more speedy progress for the LPT users.

Another important factor was the creation of fair access to various areas of the city as well as future extendability of the initial pathways.

Also very important is to minimise disruption to drivers and especially to local residents. Any roads with large numbers of personal driveways are not suitable to convert into Urban Greenways unless we allow access to residents. We know this can work – as shown by the successful ‘school streets’ campaign – but it would mitigate safety, speed and air quality. Some urban greenways could allow resident access for the first phase until a review would determine whether to:

A: revert it back to a normal road

B: keep it as it is

C: transform it into a full ‘Urban Greenway’ by banning all large vehicles apart from emergency vehicles.

Our routes were chose using the above principles combined with intuition rather than using any mathematical formulae and so on.

However, we have created two methods of mathematical analysis to evaluate and compare the various pathway options – information about these methods will be provided HERE very soon.

The Value of Urban Greenways

Although more challenging to implement, we believe that ‘Urban Greenways’ are likely to be one of the safest and most effective solutions: minimal to no infrastructure required, maximum safety and social distancing, maximum encouragement to get people out of cars and onto bikes and scooters, massively enhanced air quality for residents on those roads and completely reversible in future if need be. Furthermore, the width is sufficient to allow for safe and comfortable use by those on mobility scooters and modified bikes.

Only a few long routes are required to allow for speedy and safe long distance travel across a city with minimal to no disruption to car drivers on the other roads. Although small-scale local projects and improvements are also valuable, overall we strongly believe this will prove far safer and more cost efficient than peppering a city with a multitude of narrow or hastily created bike lanes. This is also a future proof solution that will fit in well with future developments in transport – especially developments in lightweight transport gadgets or even forms of lightweight electric taxi services – such as electric tuk-tuks. More information on Urban Greenways can be found HERE.

This proposal fits with the Ghent model

Birmingham has sought to model itself on the Belgian city of Ghent with ideas to restrict car flow between adjacent areas to encourage more walking, cycling and possibly scooting. Although it ultimately proved to be very successful, the Ghent plan was highly controversial initially and would likewise cause discontent among some drivers in Birmingham (at least initially). If, however, we create a network of divergent green pathways using the radial pattern, and then limit the numbers of car crossings then we very naturally achieve the Ghent model because this would restrict car movement between areas. In this case it’s also likely that many drivers would be less inclined to complain given the clear visible reason for the blocks. Furthermore, some access routes could be maintained – at least initially and as usage of the green route goes up then some junctions could be blocked to cars, thereby enhancing health, safety and speed for the LPT riders on the route.

Overall conclusion
Hopefully, it’s very clear that this is a cost-effective, efficient and elegant solution that helps us achieve many goals at once and allows us to enhance safety, health and well-being.

Extra Notes

What scooters to use?

https://peacemakerfoundation.com/2020/07/27/transportables-portable-transport-tools/The local government must now choose which scooter vendors to use. For a thorough and objective evaluative comparison of scooters as commuting tools see our own unique interactive matrix evaluation chart HERE where you can quickly find some appropriate scooters based on your priorities. For an extensive specs comparison table see HERE. Although not the most important factor, we would also advocate using any scooters with quite low decks and minimal roll resistance so that riders can use them as regular kick scooters to get exercise or if out of battery. From personal experience I know that using electric scooters manually can also help oncoming pedestrians to feel more at ease. ET-WOW scooters seem especially suitable in this regard.

Alternative solutions

In the long term, perhaps the safest and most convenient approach will be to create elevated greenways or cycle-scooter ways as done in  BEIJING and XIAMEN (shown left) in China. https://dissingweitling.com/en/project/xiamen-bicycle-skyway

We could use the space above roads, canals, the river Rea or even above railways for this purpose.

We also previously proposed a network of automated pods to run above the canals in Birmingham, projects like this will be valuable in the long -term. Given current circumstances we believe the immediate focus should now be on safe travel using LPT.

Get in touch

This is still a work in progress and we may incorporate other pathways into the map and are open to suggestions. If you have any queries, comments or would like me (the author) to work with/for you as a researcher and advisor on transport plans, then please do get in touch with me at luc@peacemakerfoundation.com

If any local government would appreciate any input then I’m happy to work with them as one of the designers of the new transport plan or humbly take part in any online meetings.

Thank you for reading.

We need greenways & electric scooters NOW

An open letter from the Peacemaker Foundation (Reading Time 2 to 3 minutes)

Update May 2020: Since the time of first sharing these ideas in early March 2020, more and more places have already started following some of these suggestions. We need to make sure we keep up the momentum and see these beneficial changes happen in more places.


At present we face the challenge of providing people with safe forms of transport in which they do not occupy enclosed spaces with others and can maintain a safe social distance. The hazards of public transport right now are well documented, but many are falsely assuming that car journeys are safe. A car is an even more enclosed space than a train or bus, so the only way it’s going to be safer is if you travel alone or with people you know for sure to be virus free and take precautions.

Hordes of people avoiding public transport by travelling in cars alone is a scenario we must avoid for obvious health and environmental reasons. The virus may just be Mother nature’s wake up call, reminding us of our biggest problem – global warming.  We absolutely need to take this fleeting window of a chance to do better.


1. Widen and improve existing bike lanes and cycle-superhighways now while we have less traffic in order to enhance cycling safety and allow greater social distancing. Any cycle superhighways should have at least two lanes in either direction (slow and fast) with clear barriers to divide the two directions and further enhance safety. All efforts should be made to separate cyclists from vehicle traffic and pedestrians – even if it means elevating the cycle pathway over some or all roads. See a good example from Beijing HERE.

2. Legalise electric scooters as a matter of urgency and other allow them to be used on the improved bike lanes and cycle-superhighways – henceforth ‘cycle-scooter ways’.

3. Make ‘Urban Greenways’. Rather than peppering a city with inadequate bike lanes, simply take a small number of roads and devote them entirely to green lightweight transport devices by banning cars: minimal to no infrastructure required, maximum safety and social distancing, maximum encouragement to get people out of cars and onto bikes and scooters, massively enhanced air quality for residents on those roads, maximum fun and completely reversible in future if need be. North-South and East-West routes converging in the city centre would be a perfect start to allow speedy and safe long distance travel!


If local governments do this now there will be far less pushback than if they wait. This is what we should have done long, long before anyway, but we’ve been blinded by our obsession with cars for so long that it hasn’t happened in most places. Smoke gets in your eyes. Nevermind, we can do it now, we must do it now.


In Germany, Paris, New Zealand and elsewhere local governments have created pop-up cycle lanes using various removable materials. Later on these widened bike ways could be made permanent. 

In Birmingham, UK, pollution has risen with excessive car use in recent years. The local government created two high-quality cycle superhighways which have been criticised for hardly being used. As soon as we legalise electric scooters it’s obvious that they will become well-used and this will help to clear the air. The existing two cycle-superhighways form a disconnected South-to-North pathway – we now need an East-to-West path as well please.

In London various cycle-superhighways are now becoming victims of their own success and are far too busy to allow for safe social distancing. They’re also often quite unsafe given that they’re bi-direction without separation – so cyclists pass each other at high speeds. Identical paths parallel to or elevated above the existing ones should be created without delay. Then each cycle-superhighway can  become one way only – safer in every respect. If parallel, then we could simple allocate one of the traffic lanes for now, and later on make the change permanent.


We need to:

  1. Improve and widen cycleways/bike lanes – then give them a new name such as ‘greenways’ or ‘greenlanes’.
  2. Legalise electric scooters & some other non-polluting lightweight portable transport tools & allow the scooters on the ‘Greenways’.
  3. Devote just two or three long roads in each city to green transport gadgets to allow safer faster travel across the city.

Let’s do this now please. If we do, we may look back one day and see that in fact it was the virus that saved us.

To see our letter written in early March 2020 to the Future of transport team in the UK click HERE

Elevated Pod Cars for Birmingham


In Birmingham, UK, car traffic has increased in recent years leading to increased pollution and congestion which pose a threat to health and well-being.[1]

This is a proposal to use small lightweight vehicles known as pods or pod cars on elevated tracks to help resolve the city’s transport problems.

Hanging Pod Cars For Birmingham

Ultra Prt For Birmingham

Pod car proposals for Birmingham

Pod cars

Pod cars are a form of personal rapid transport (PRT). They are automated pods which move on a track. The passenger simply steps in a pod at a station and selects the destination station. The pod will then move continuously to the destination without stops at other stations along the way. This is possible because stations are set alongside the main guideway track. Despite low speeds (often between 10 and 25 mph), journey times are quick thanks to the continuous motion. The pods are generally small and may accommodate only several people at once.

Benefits of pod cars on an elevated track

• Light

Given the relatively light weight of the pod cars an elevated track can be made using less materials than used for an elevated track for trains, trams or other large vehicles. Therefore the design can be less conspicuous, more elegant and the track can even be designed to let light through.

• Safety

Once elevated or separated from other traffic, pod cars are a far safer alternative to any other form of transport that shares the same road space with other kinds of transport. Rail transport such as trams and trains, are known to be a very safe mode of transport, however; when they share the road space with other vehicles this can cause accidents and delays.[2] Furthermore, the tram tracks are a serious risk to cyclists and those on scooters.

• Good views

An elevated track brings good views along the way.

• Air Quality

Air quality usually improves with height [3] – so the air quality for passengers on an elevated track is likely to be far better than on the ground.

• Security

With regard to crime and security concerns such as terrorism, pod cars offer one of the very safest forms of public transport. Given the fixed routes on a track there is no threat of them being used as weapons (as with cars or trucks). The small size of the pods also means there is no potential for attacks among large groups of people on the journey. Safety is further increased by the fact that the pods do not stop along the way. Areas where the pods run (such as canals) are likely to experience enhanced safety owing to the increased visibility, especially if the pods are raised above the ground allowing passengers a good view of surroundings.

• Long-term utility

An elevated track is more future proof because we avoid future interference when ground-level infrastructure undergoes repair or change. Also whether or not innovations such as driverless cars become very popular, the elevated pod car network will retain its value as a way to reduce congestion on ground level – and the capacity of the network can be adapted to suit the city’s changing needs.


Transport on a well designed elevated track is less likely to be influenced by leaf fall, trespassers and so on.

Benefits of pod cars in general

Environmentally friendly

Pod cars are a sustainable and pollution free alternative mode of transport.

• Cheap

Pod cars are relatively cheap to build and offer higher rates of return than many other transport modes. The cost of constructing the pod car network is far lower than for the equivalent length of subway or elevated rail track.[4]


Once a destination is selected, the pods move with no driving necessary, so the passenger can relax and enjoy the view.

Even more Safety

The low but continuous speed enhances safety yet further.

• Efficiency

The continuous motion saves energy – starting and stopping is hugely wasteful in terms of energy. They are also more energy efficient than large vehicles or mass transport tools at times of low usage. This is because running a whole train, bus or tram with few people on is obviously inefficient and wasteful. Usually only those pod cars with passengers are in motion, while the other pods remain at stations ready for other passengers, however; empty pods can be directed to busy stations if need be.

• Tried & Tested

The ultra PRT pod car network in Heathrow airport has been running since 2011 and has proven itself to be efficient, reliable and highly popular.[5] The system was ‘‘voted by customers as their favourite airport passenger service’’.[6] Other systems are running elsewhere, such those in Masdar city, Suncheon, Korea and Morganstown, United States.[7]

• Simultaneous entry

A number of pods can wait for passengers at every station so that potentially several groups of people could get on at once. So wait times would likely be far less than for many bus, tram or train services. In the Heathrow pod car system the average weight time is around 10 seconds. [8]


The pods are far quieter than most trains or other large vehicles.

• Novelty

The novelty and convenience of the pod cars would help boost the fame of the city and bring in more visitors.

• Gradual construction in stages

The pod car network could be built in stages allowing for a trial period before a full scale network is constructed. Likewise, we could add more pods to the network if or when the demand rises.

• Compatibility

Given the relatively low cost of the network it can be built in addition to other transport solutions. So it need not, and should not, replace other recent worthwhile initiatives such as the cycle superhighways, the tram network and so on.[9]

Disadvantages of pod cars

• Large numbers of pods required

Because pod cars are small, many pods are required to provide a high-capacity service. This increases likelihood of mechanical failure or some other problem with a given pod on the network. However, the technology has already proven itself to be extremely reliable and if a pod car breaks down on the main track then there is a way to ‘‘push failed vehicles from behind to the nearest station.’’[10] Furthermore, given the small size and relatively low cost of each pod compared to a train or tram, each pod can be moved, taken away, serviced or even replaced with far greater ease than many larger transport tools.

Given the large number of pods required, the track will likely experience a high volume of pod traffic. So the pods will probably pass by people’s homes and offices with more regularity than trains or trams. However; the fact that the pods are relatively quieter, small and pollution free should help them to gain acceptance or favour.

• Ugly?

Some may find them visually unappealing especially if on an elevated track. Hopefully the lightweight construction and light permeability of the design will help increase acceptance. A strategically located track above a pedestrian path, canal tow path or bike lane, could even serve as a very useful rain shelter while allowing enough light in from the sides and a good view of the surroundings.

Recommendations for Birmingham – pod cars over canals & rivers

We propose putting a pod car network above the canals, and possibly the rivers, in Birmingham. This would bring yet more benefits in addition to those already mentioned.

Benefits of pod cars above canals

• Space & ownership

There is enough space so no infrastructure needs to be moved. Also none of the space is privately owned.

• Less negative impact

The canal boat traffic is far less than vehicle traffic, so any inconvenience caused by the elevated track or construction will influence far fewer people than if the track were constructed above a road.

• Direct routes

The canals offer extremely direct routes into the city centre from various locations – many not served by trains.

• Regeneration

The small size of the stations means they would be numerous and be built in various neglected parts of the city, helping regeneration.

• Serving new developments

The main areas of large scale building projects such as Broad Street, Eastside, Smithfields and Paradise Circus will all need improved public transport access. Luckily these areas are all in close proximity to canals so would be served by the pod cars. This will then reduce pressure on other the transport services.

Map of canals (2020 Google Maps Data)

Image taken from 2020 Google Maps Data & highlights added. A map showing some possible pod car routes above canals in blue and major building projects in yellow. The river Rea route (narrower) could be a future extension pending demand.

Map of canals (2020 Google Maps Data) (2)

Image taken from Google maps data (2020) & amended. Map showing a possible initial pod car network in blue. Extensions could be added in future, perhaps going over rivers or some roads like the A4540 to form a loop around the city centre.

• Improving canal-side safety

Thanks to the resurfacing of the canal towpaths, the canals are now used regularly by cyclists and pedestrians. However; this brings obvious safety issues when there is competition for space.[11] It’s likely that many of the pedestrians and some of the cyclists would use the pod car service thereby reducing the canal side congestion and improving safety.

A very helpful addition to the city, even without the pod cars, would be an elevated walkway for pedestrians running over the canal towpath. This would separate cyclists and pedestrians. The pod car stations would be easily accessed from this walkway using stairs and ramps or lifts (for disabled access).

• Enhanced security on the canals

There have been various reported incidents of robberies on the canals in Birmingham. The enhanced visibility the pods would bring, will increase personal safety for those walking or cycling along the canals as well as for those in canal boats. It may be that the canals outside the city centre even become pleasant places for a night stroll, presenting new business opportunities such as canal-side cafes and so on.

• Less disruption

The construction of the network above the canals would bring less disruption to traffic than if it were constructed above roads. In addition, air quality for construction workers will be far better than alongside busy roads.

• A major tourist attraction

The canals are a scenic attribute of Birmingham and an important tourist attraction. Riding along the canals in a pod car will likely become a popular activity for tourists and residents alike.

• Integration into existing infrastructure

Bridges over the canals can support the structure of the track and lead to pod car stations. This could potentially reduce construction time, costs and materials.

Disadvantages of pod cars above the canals

• A high track

The track would need to rise over the canal bridges such as road and rail crossings so would need to allow safe passage for all vehicles driven over the bridges. Either the entire track is made high enough or gentle rises can take it over the bridges. Where space allows, the track could also be diverted under the bridges although the height may actually add to the novelty and enhance views from the pods.

• Peace and tranquility of the canals

Some may view the pods as an ugly distraction from the peace and tranquility of the canals. But equally many may regard the pods as a welcome visual addition that adds life to otherwise dull areas.

Alternative or complementary transport solutions

1. Greenways over the canals

To help combat pollution, big cities around the world will need to cater to the increased popularity of small electric transport devices such as scooters and electric bikes, as well as bicycles. An alternative to having an elevated pod car track would be to have elevated ‘greenways’ – green gadget super-highways reserved only for small lightweight non-polluting transport devices such as bikes and scooters.[12] This could also be built over the river Rea, and perhaps along some roads, while the pod cars run above the canals.

Bike Lanes Over The Canals

A greenway over a canal

Birmingham’s population is rising, so it’s likely that in future we would benefit from a combination of both elevated pod car and greenways. The hanging pod cars network could be adapted so the space above is used as a greenway or walkway. This may require further bolstering of the structure to support the increased weight but is a clear advantage of this design and ensures yet further future-proofing (long-term utility).

Hanging Pod Cars & Bikescooter Lane For Birmingham

Dual purpose pod car track & greenway (bike & scooter path)

2. Turning roads into greenways

In addition to the pod cars and other ideas we strongly believe that a necessary solution for many cities around the World is to take a select few roads leading into the city centre and convert them into greenways. In 2019 the local Birmingham government wisely chose to build two cycle-superhighways instead of six bike lanes. Likewise, several greenways with complete segregation from vehicular traffic would be far safer and more worthwhile than a myriad of bike paths alongside roads. A greenway would be entirely reversible if need be, but if popular then more infrastructure could be added such as pedestrian bridges enhancing safety and allowing continuous flow for pedestrians and those on the greenway alike. See HERE for more information.

Above: A proposed greenway with pod car track as an optional later addition 

3. An elevated light rail system


DCC Doppelmayr Cable Car / CC BY-SA  (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

An elevated monorail, or tram system could also be built. For example, Birmingham airport’s people mover (see image) would be a good option for the city because elevated, but this would require heavier more costly infrastructure and the trains/trams would have to stop at every station along the way. Therefore we believe it makes more sense to use elevated pod cars while reopening unused railway lines or transforming them into tramways, greenways or a combination.

A conclusion

Whatever we choose to do, we need to segregate pedestrians, bikes and other vehicles wherever possible. We believe that pod car tracks over canals and possibly rivers is clearly a very good answer to Birmingham’s traffic and transport problems. Even if built over roads many of the benefits would be kept. By looking logically at the various aspects of this idea the potential benefits become clear. We have shown how this is a low cost, sustainable and safe transport option. Even the main design issue of how we can incorporate the bridges into the design are entirely resolvable. So the greatest hurdle to overcome will be people’s apprehension towards new ideas. In Birmingham, the traffic has now become so busy, with air quality so poor in certain areas, that we now need to overcome our apprehensions and look for solutions urgently.

If you also feel this is a valuable proposal, for Birmingham or any other city, then please do share with others. If you have any recommendations, comments or queries please get in touch and help get our transport on the right track!

[1] https://www.greaterbirminghamchambers.com/research-campaigning/hot-topics/transport-and-congestion/.

[2] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/623366/light-rail-tram-ending-march-2017.pdf

[3] http://www.wsp-pb.com/PageFilesn/80156/WSPPB%20City%20Air%20Quality%20at%20Height.pdf

[4] https://www.ultraglobalprt.com/how-it-works/costs/

[5] https://www.ultraglobalprt.com/wheres-it-used/

[6] http://www.futureairport.com/features/featuremy-pod-heathrows-capsular-travel-system-4377991/

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit

[8] http://www.bbc.com/autos/story/20140910-hands-off-with-heathrows-pods

[9] https://www.business-live.co.uk/opinion-analysis/dont-think-birmingham-solving-traffic-10914789

[10] https://www.railway-technology.com/projects/personal-rapid-transit/

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/jul/27/on-roads-cyclists-are-vulnerable-but-on-towpaths-theyre-the-menace.

[12] https://peacemakerfoundation.com/category/world-health/urban-flow-plan/

To download this proposal in PDF form please click HERE

All images & writing by Luc@Peacemakerfoundation.com unless credited otherwise