The mayor of the West Midlands has released a map of his £15bn transport plan and it’s so, so beautiful

A detail from the new map. Image: Andy Street for West Midlands campaign.

There are mayoral elections coming up in several of England’s biggest cities, in which the website you are reading is going to be a hugely, hugely influential player. No one gets elected in this town without the coveted CityMetric endorsement. 

That, at least, is the conclusion that Andy Street seems to have come to, based on the fact he’s just released a fantasy tube map of the West Midlands. During the Tory mayor’s first term, the Midlands Metro tram network has expanded very slightly – but let’s be honest here, three years is not enough to build a proper public transport network, even if you have the money or the power which England’s mayors do not. 

And so Street is teasing the voters with glimpes of the unattainable, in the form of a map of what the region could look like in 2040 if they’re sensible enough to re-elect him. The whole lot, he told a press conference on Tuesday, would cost £15bn. Here’s the map.

Click to expand.

So – what have we learned? Some thoughts.

This map shows several new metro lines

I’m not saying how many because, for reasons we’ll come to, it depends on how you define both “metro” and “new”.

The Midland line – from Birmingham up towards Wolverhampton – already exists, although this map shows it extended slightly on the far side of the latter towards the i54 business park. The Black Country line, better known as the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill Midland Metro extension, received funding last year; although why this map shows it with a branch running apparently non stop down the Midland line to Birmingham is not exactly clear.

The other lines are, I think, new. The MacArthur line (in red; named for trade unionist Mary MacArthur) is, I think, the proposed eastside metro extension, but extended westwards to Bearwood and beyond. The green Chamberlain line – named, one assumes, for Joseph Chamberlain, Birmingham mayor in the 1870s – from Minworth down to Longbridge isn’t something I recall seeing before. Neither is the Lee Woods line (in black, for mathematician Mary Lee Woods – this map does love its Marys, doesn’t it?) from Sutton Coldfield to Solihull.


Then there’s the Zepheniah line, named for local poet Benhamin Zehaniah, and running north-south from Walsall to the Maypole. As for  the Elizabeth line, a yellow loop around the city centre, it’s good that the authorities have resisted naming it “the Circle line” because a) that’ll annoy people when you inevitably decide it’d be better if it wasn’t a circle, and b) obviously what we need is more things named after the Queen.

At any rate: that’s a pretty extensive network. No idea if funding it is even remotely plausible, but dreaming big is good.

The plan involves 21 new railway stations, too

These include the planned re-opening of the Camp Hill line and the Walsall to Wolverhampton route, already under way; and a re-opened Sutton Park line, a freight route on the north side of the city through Aldridge. There’d be new stations in Birmingham and Coventry, too. Cool.

The Camp Hill line is the one via Kings Heath. The choice of orange for overground services is probably not a coincidence.

This is a fairly broad interpretation of “metro”

That purple line, heading east and then south from central Birmingham? That’s the proposed HS2 line to London. HS2 is many many things, but one it is definitely not is a part of the West Midlands metro network. It’s there, one assumes, to highlight Street’s support for investment in the region.

At the other end of the scale, the map also shows “automated pods” (in pink) linking Tile Hill station to the University of Warwick, and an “automated people mover” (in grey) linking Birmingham International to the HS2 Interchange and the NEC. Again: great to see a city experimenting, but it’s a bit Emirates Airline to put them on a tube map equivalent.

Coventry is a mess

The “Godiva line” – named for the 11th century Countess of Mercia, famous for riding naked through the streets of Coventry because of oppressive taxes something something – isn’t a line at all. Look at it.

No idea at all what’s going on there. Answers on a post-card.

Cars still matter

Lot of “park & ride” symbols shown on this map. This makes sense, if the plan is to get people in a car-based city off the road, but it still looks a bit odd to those of us used to London.

Street is still downplaying the whole Tory thing

His chosen colour, as with his 2017 campaign material, is green, not blue. Whatever could it mean?

Your move Labour. Best start by picking a candidate, I guess.

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

 
 
 
 

So what was actually in Grant Shapps’ latest transport masterplan?

A tram in Manchester. Image: Getty.

Poor Grant Shapps. This weekend, the UK’s transport secretary unveiled a fairly extensive package of measures intended to make sure Britons can keep moving about during the Covid-19 crisis. On Saturday, he fronted the government’s daily afternoon press briefing; on Sunday, he did the rounds of the morning political shows. 

And were those nasty mean journalists interested in his plans for bicycle repair vouchers, or the doubling of the A66? No they were not: all they wanted to ask about was reports that the Prime Minister’s senior advisor Dominic Cummings had breached the lockdown he himself had helped draw up. The rotten lot.

This is, from some perspectives a shame, because some of the plans aren’t bad. Here’s a quick run down. 

  • The government is releasing a total of £283m to increase frequencies on bus (£254m) and light rail (£29m) networks, enabling more people to travel while maintaining social distancing. 

  • It’s deploying 3,400 people – British Transport Police officers; staff from train operators and Network Rail – to stations, to advise passengers on how to travel safely.

  • It’s promising to amend planning laws to enable councils to reallocate road space and create emergency cycle lanes, using a £225m pot of funding announced earlier this month. 

  • It’s also spending £25m on half a million £50 bike repair vouchers, and £2.5m on adding 1,180 bike parking spaces at 30 railway stations.

All this sounds lovely, but announcements of this sort tend to throw up a few questions, and this is no exception. The UK is home to over 2,500 railway stations, which must raise doubts about whether a few extra bike parking spaces at 30 of them is going to be enough to spark a cycling revolution. And councillors say that £225m for new cycle lanes has been slow to materialise in council bank accounts.

As to the money for public transport: that £29m will be shared between tram networks in five English conurbations (Greater Manchester, the West Midlands, Tyne & Wear, Nottingham, Sheffield). Just under £6m each doesn’t sound like the big bucks.

Then there’s the fact that all of these pots of money are dwarfed by the £1bn the government is planning to spend on turning the A66 Transpennine route across the north of England, from Workington to Middlesbrough, into a dual carriageway. Which puts the money allocated to cycling into perspective.

That said, it is refreshing to see the government taking an interest in cycling at all. Also, Grant Shapps genuinely tried to distract the nation from a huge political scandal by talking about bike repair vouchers, and you’ve got to give him credit for that.

More details of the plan on gov.uk here.

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