The case for Birmingham Crossrail, revisited

The crowded approach to Birmingham New Street station. Image: Getty.

This is an edited version of a post that appeared on the author’s website, which was, in part, in response to an earlier CityMetric article.

I have written about a proposed Birmingham Crossrail before, but it is time to revisit for two reasons:

1. HS2 is now moving into delivery phase, and local and regional connectivity is vitally important;

2. The northern cities are making the case for major investment, and we need to see the same in the West Midlands.

So here we go, some basic drawing on a map screenshots…

Firstly, the city centre core – new underground tunnels connecting from all four points of the compass:

  • From the north, after Duddeston heading into the city, diving underground and into a new low level station at Curzon Street for the HS2 station and Midland Metro interchange;
  • From the East, after Adderley Park heading into the city, diving underground and connecting with the northern spur into Curzon Street;
  • From the South, after University heading into the city, diving underground into a new low level station at Five Ways for the Midland Metro and providing better access either side of the ring road towards both Edgbaston and Broad Street/Brindleyplace;
  • Ffrom the West, a new low level station at Ladywood serving that inner city quarter and Arena Birmingham.

Click to expand.

The southern and western spurs connect and head into a new low level station at New Street.  A new underground tunnel then connects New Street and Curzon Street, creating the Central Birmingham Rail Hub.

Now, from a wider strategic planning perspective:

  • The Western spur could also stay in tunnel beyond Ladywood to serve new stations at Icknield Port Loop and Cape Hill – areas of significant interest for regeneration and in need of improved connectivity and catalyst to boost economic activity and investment.
  • The other three city fringe stations – Duddeston, Adderley Park and Five Ways – could also act as the catalysts for significant investment into those quarters to boost them given their good locations and potential to provide good quality housing that is well-served by public transport.

 

Click to expand.

From a rail network perspective, this opens up three Crossrail- or RER-type lines:

  • The current Cross City from Lichfield to Bromsgrove/Redditch, running north/south
  • A new Cross City from Wolverhampton to Birmingham Interchange for HS2, running west/east, with a new spur from Birmingham International round to the HS2 Interchange station and serving the UK Central development;
  • A Rugeley (fast) into Birmingham and then back round to Walsall (slow) loop service and vice versa.

This project would have six strategic objectives:

  • Creating significant additional train capacity through central Birmingham;
  • Unlocking major sites for development with much improved connectivity;
  • Simplified route network with standardised service patterns;
  • Much improved connectivity into HS2;
  • Improving the central Birmingham rail hub concept;
  • An opportunity to grow the city centre out to the city fringe stations.

Alex Burrows is a Birmingham-based transport specialist.


Read Jonn Elledge on the case for Birmingham Crossrail here.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.