Friday, October 10, 2008

Routes to Power

Here's a peculiar thing.

In 2003, the then-Labour council in Birmingham proposed an experimental red route along the A34 Stratford Road, running from the border with Solihull into the city centre. Solihull continued the route down to the M42 - and actually had their red routing installed first. This experiment - intended as part of a wider plan of red routes across the West Midlands - was continued by the incoming Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and the experimental traffic order came up for review earlier this year.

This has been a controversial plan with huge local opposition from traders, who felt that it would massively affect their trade. I've driven down that road regularly and can remember the plethora of simple 'No to the Red Route' signs in shop windows.

Anyway, the review was led by the Transportation & Street Services Scrutiny Committee - chair, one Cllr Martin Mullaney - and used as evidence a pair of 'before and after' surveys conducted in 2003 and 2007. These concluded that the red route enforcement and development had led to

a. An increase in traffic speeds but little change in traffic flows;
b. Enhanced parking provisions: the number of parking spaces has increased by 202 spaces (onstreet and off-street) along the Red Route, plus 40 loading bays;
c. Improved average bus speeds and bus journey time reliability (a finding supported by TWM) and an increase in bus patronage (against the trend in the rest of the West Midlands);
d. Improved safety record;
e. Improved air quality

Not bad, eh? The report concluded that the experiment should be made permanent - despite those vocal complaints from local traders, which led to some rather rough scenes when the committee visited the Stratford Road itself. There was a slightly dissenting view from Springfield councillor Jerry Evans, who had his eye on re-election in May, so could ill-afford to be associated with such an unpopular policy and semi-detached himself from the majority.

Fast forward a few months and a proposal has been made to red route the A435 Alcester Road down towards the M42 in South Birmingham, which runs through Cllr Mullaney's own ward, Moseley. In many ways, this is similar to the A34, with a mix of commercial buildings, houses and shops along it. At the start of the month, there was a public meeting of the neighbourhood forums in Moseley to discuss this, with the result that the local residents gave it a resounding thumbs down. Martin is of the view that this has killed the project.

This is rather odd - he claims that the Stratford Road red route had to proceed because it was started under the previous administration, but that doesn't explain why it had to be continued, despite the vast local opposition, when an opportunity clearly existed this year to kick it into touch. But those protests are only ignored on the Stratford Road.

Across the city in Kings Heath, one meeting was enough to kill the project stone dead. Why one group of local protestors should be enough to stop a plan that affects many road users across the city, I don't understands. Martin blames it on a lack of support from Len 'Friend of the Motorist' Gregory - but that still doesn't explain why the Stratford Road project got to continue and the Alcester Road version will never start. Even more oddly, the scrutiny committee noted this:

Whilst local objections are particularly pertinent, we do have to recognise the regional and strategic importance of Stratford Road as a main arterial route from and to the city and – as we said in our report on Building Bus Use: “there will continue to be increasingly tough decisions to be made to tackle congestion effectively”.

Another decision has been ducked - and it looks like it has been done for local political reasons.


Fergus said...

To be fair, I think Martin was on a bit of a downer after the meeting, and was being temporarily pessimistic. Red Routes are (as Martin's report showed) successful at both sorting out parking and improving traffic flows. I have been a long-term supporter of the idea, but you've got to pick your roads.

Also, I suspect that the problem in Kings Heath is much the same as on the Stratford Road - long-term (and I mean many years) failure to properly enforce the existing double yellow lines. The step from double yellows to double reds isn't a huge one, if both were properly enforced.

This issue is by no means dead.

PoliticalHack said...

I have to agree with you, Fergus - I'm not opposed to Red Routes per se, I just want to see them applied with a sense of equality.