|18 Nov 2007.
For immediate release.
"The scheme will prioritise journeys on the basis of vehicle occupancy rather than the importance of the journey itself. The council have openly stated that there is no need for any congestion reduction measures on this road, and that the only reason they've chosen it is that it will be easy for the police to prosecute drivers. This proposal is blatantly not about reducing congestion; it is about subjugation and persecution of the driving public. The police really should have more useful ways of occupying their precious time."Birmingham City Council built the section of the Heartlands Spine Road between Chester Road and Saltley Viaduct in the late 1990s at a cost of £14 million. It is a two-lane dual carriageway. If the council really wanted to reduce congestion why didn't they make it three lanes? It runs through former industrial land and has no housing alongside it and consequently has few bus services. This would have made any proposal for bus lanes laughable, so the city council has dreamed up this nonsense instead.
According to cordon count data from Birmingham City Council, there were 94,648 inbound morning peak trips in 2003, a decline of 11.9% on the 1995 figure of 107,435. Car user numbers dropped by a staggering 29% over the eight-year period in question (down from 62,122 to 44,119) and this fall was only partially compensated for by significant percentage increases in rail and light rail traffic (up from 13,619 to 19,000 - a jump of 39.5% - and from zero to 1,278 respectively) . Bus patronage remained relatively static between 1995 and 2003.
In terms of overall road traffic levels across the road network, Birmingham has experienced an increase of 7.6% in vehicle kilometres over the past decade — a figure significant lower than the national average of 18%.
According to Chris Haynes, transportation strategy policy manager at Birmingham City Council, the trend of declining numbers entering the city centre (during the morning peak, at least) is something that the council is eager to reverse. "In terms of overall policy we want to increase the number of people coming into Birmingham for economic reasons," he says. "But our intention is to increase the overall 'market' without increasing the car market." One possible means of achieving this is the introduction of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in the city because, Haynes acknowledges, "our current car occupancy rates are not particularly good".
"We have always said we want to attract people to Birmingham and if they want to come by car (we want them to come by public transport but if they insist on coming by car...) we aren't going to turn them away," Haynes adds, "but they'll have to pay high prices to park." Indicative of this attitude are the car parking arrangements at the newly reopened Bullring shopping centre. "The Bullring has 3,500 car parking spaces but it is half empty," he says. "We imposed certain conditions to ensure that the parking was short-stay and the developer is also charging high prices... The big increase is in visitor numbers coming in by rail."
In terms of accommodating workers travelling in during the morning peak Haynes concedes that the city is going to have problems accommodating significant increases in passenger numbers because the rail network is already close to capacity and the bus network is unsuitable for the relatively long ("six miles on average") commuting distances that are typical in England's second city.