High Street Issues

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Bracken Van Ryssen
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High Street Issues

Sustrans has recently released their plans for the revamping of King's Heath High Street in Birmingham. The high street is a busy shopping area with high pedestrian footfall, decent cycling numbers (due to nearby Rea Valley route), and a busy and congested A-road running right through the middle (from motorways to the south to Birmingham city centre)

The current plans reduce the width of the traffic lanes, remove on-street parking and widen the pavement. Unfortunately this means that cyclists are expected to 'take the lane' (through the use of sharrows) on an extremely busy road which has very high numbers of HGVs and buses. Segregated cycle lanes have been ruled out by the design team on the basis that it will mean relocating street furniture ('over budget') and limiting or even reducing pavement space ('it isn't a cycling scheme'). Bicycle lanes have also been turned down due to 'space constraints'.




  • Narrowest point building to building is 14/15 metres, with average being 17 metres.
  • Busy bus and HGV route; is severely congested for much of the day.
  • Community wants more pavement space and better crossing facilities as well as more 'place making'.


So basically we have a scheme that provides some very nice pedestrian realm improvements, unfortunately at the expense of cycling. The new design would effectively remove the high street as any sort of cycling route indefinitely. Personally I think that a big issue is that if it is completed it will be held up as good practice and many other high streets will follow their example (see B'ham's Green Travel Districts). So as campaigners is it best to block the scheme despite the ped improvements, push through lanes or just chalk it up as a lost cause as neither motorists nor pedestrians will accept a loss of space?



The plans I have been given, show 17m as the narrowest, but even 14 or 15m is still wider than Nobel Straat in Utrecht, which has a carriageway, cycle lanes and a pavement. Nothing is ideal when your width is constrained, but most of KHHS is much wider than this, hence they are keeping on street parking, which I think would just disrupt through traffic. There's plenty of parkig in King's Heath in car parks off theside streets - I make it about 500 spaces.

The simple reality is that Sustrans haven't even considered segregated lanes - they know this, and we know this, and they know that they haven't offered anything else in the consultation, making the whole process a sham:

My earlier comparison:


I've also FOI'd the full contract, especially in reference to the Equality Act 2010, in respect of vulnerable cyclists, who have so far been forgotten in the name of "balance." This is all double speak,and of course, such balance can only exist when full protection is provided:



pete owens

The rationalle for improving the public realm, re-balancing the place and movement functions of the street, creating more space for people is spot on. And this is incompatible with building cycle paths along the high street.  The objections of the local campaigner effectively amount to taking back all that space from pedestrians and allocting it exclusively to their preferred class of vehicle. This would effectively destroy the entire rationalle for the scheme. In any case - cycle paths will always work badly on a high street situation, with lots of kerbside vehicle movements, loading, unloading, stopping and so on, frequent interruptions with side roads, bus stops, lots of pedestrians and so on.

However, this does not mean the design cannot be improved for cyclists. This means constructive  engangement with the schemes proposers (who are afterall sympathetic to cyclists) - and working to complement the overall aim of the proposals.

While the proposals for improving and expanding the pavements are good, the carriageway would still be just a bog standard road. The proposed carriageway width - with 3.5 m traffic lanes - is almost optimally bad for cyclists; it is too narrow for vehicles to overtake safely, yet too wide to make this obvious to drivers. Lane widths should ideally be wide enough to allow safe overtaking  (>4.25m) or narrow enough to prevent it (<3m). They seem to be suggesting  the latter with the use of sharrows, but if that is what they are aiming for then they need a very much more constrained design. I would suggest (since you are talking to Sustrans) that they look at their own design manual: http://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/file_content_type/sustrans_handbook_for_cycle-friendly_design_11_04_14.pdf. On page 11 it describes 2.5m wide traffic lanes flanked by 0.5m overrun strips - which would occupy the same space. They have done this to good effect at a town near me: https://goo.gl/maps/nW4aE.

As Easy As Ridi...

"cycle paths will always work badly on a high street situation, with lots of kerbside vehicle movements, loading, unloading, stopping and so on, frequent interruptions with side roads, bus stops, lots of pedestrians and so on."

That's simply untrue. There are countless examples of cycle tracks running along Dutch high streets with bus stops, side roads, and loading bays. These streets function very effectively, for all users.

See here, or here, for instance. 

pete owens

Actually, what I see there is pedestrians squeezed to the periphery of an area dominated by vehicles (including cycles and mopeds as vehicles). And that is where you have plenty of width to play with;  just a short virtual ride down that Utrecht street brings you to this farcility:


A 1m wide door-zone cycle lane is not going to work well for cyclists - even when it is not being shared by an unloading truck.


I'm sorry, but I have to strongly disagree: I lived in Utrecht for 13 years and I've cycled and walked on the Biltstraat (where these streetview images are taken) plenty of times. It's not perfect, as it is somewhat cramped when busy, both for pedestrians and cyclists, but nowadays my cycling commute leads me along High Street Kensington, and I'd trade that in for the Biltstraat any time, even though High Street Ken. has a way wider pavement for pedestrians.

First, as a cyclist: there is no big dooring issue, because (if you look carefully) there is a 30-40cm separation between the parking spaces and the cycle path; and I suppose Dutch drivers are more careful opening their doors. At least I've never had or seen a (near) accident there. Secondly, cycling there during rush hour, you do get slowed down due to a cycle traffic jam, but it's still faster and a lot more pleasant than swerving through a completely car-jammed High Street Ken, say.

As a pedestrian, yes, there's not that much space there, and you have to be aware of the cycle path. If you get used to that though, then you can also make use of that extra bit of space when there are no cyclists to pass other people. On the other hand, crossing the street is so much easier with only a single car lane each way with relatively slow moving traffic.

Regarding your streetview link: that's indeed a small stretch along the Biltstraat which is the narrowest and possibly worst bit. First, that truck is stopping or unloading there illegally (see articles 23 and 24 here: http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten-en-publicaties/brochures/2012/02/...). Although cyclists and motor traffic share the road there, it does work ok-ish because all traffic is slow.

Still, if there is a little more space available, like on the streetview images posted by As Easy As Riding a Bike, then I find that layout much more preferable as a cyclist, and even as a pedestrian, I'm happier to walk in a bicycle-vehicle dominated space, than in a car-vehicle dominated space.

As Easy As Ridi...

Your comment was about cycle paths. I fail to see the relevance of pointing to a poor cycle lane, somewhere else. 

Cycle paths do work well on these high streets, for all users, not just 'cyclists'. It is simply mistaken to assert that they will always work bady. It would be sensible for you to acknowledge your error.


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