Congestion Strategy Statement
This Annexe sets out our approach to congestion. Congestion is a recognised problem in the West Midlands conurbation, particularly at peak times. Traffic jams and delays affect businesses and local communities and threaten the competitiveness of the area and our quality of life. Vehicle use in the region is increasing all the time, adding to congestion and to air quality challenges. If we don’t address this issue, the future prosperity and much-needed regeneration of the conurbation will be affected and the city region growth agenda may be threatened.
It is forecast that there will be an extra 165 million car trips a year by 2011 but there won’t be enough extra road space in the region to accommodate these. Climate change and other environmental concerns make dealing with congestion all the more imperative.
Congestion in the West Midlands doesn’t only affect local people and local businesses. The region is at the heart of the national road and rail networks and holds the key to an effective national transport system, fit for the 21st century.
Government nationally has recognised that congestion is one of the top challenges facing the UK economy. It has set out plans, subject to the development of appropriate technologies and to further dialogue, to introduce a system of national road pricing for the UK, although this could not come into force until 2014 at the earliest. Clarification from Government of national plans would be welcome.
We can’t wait to address congestion, either at local, regional or national level. The problem won’t go away, it will get worse. The West Midlands conurbation is determined to face up to managing the issue by optimising the use of all forms of transport.
Our Approach to Congestion
Our strategy begins by getting the best out of what we have, by improving network efficiency and travel information, by delivering higher quality, more efficient public transport and seeking to manage demand.
We can substantially enhance highway efficiency by introducing more Red Routes. The funding for Phase 1 enables a start to be made. Red Routes involve strict controls on stopping, parking and loading. Based on the evidence from London, these should reduce travel times by up to 10%.
Our proposals to enhance Urban Traffic Control operations across the Metropolitan Area should also increase network capacity by around 3%. We will take steps to ‘lock in’ these capacity increases and use them as part of our overall Strategy. This could include tools such as High Occupancy Vehicle lanes and Bus and Freight Lanes in order to increase highway efficiency.
We will use our new Network Management powers to secure the expeditious movement of all traffic. This will contribute greatly to squeezing more out of our highway network and thus to reducing congestion.
Providing high quality travel information before and during journeys is an essential part of our approach. We are in a strong position through our investment in the ‘Help2Travel’ (MATTISSE) system, which can deliver real time information about all travel modes to the office and home and, soon, to mobile phones. Further funding of £300,000 to continue the development of Network Information and Management Systems in 2005/06 has been agreed.
A £4 million project has recently equipped six routes and more than 300 buses with real time information which passengers can access at stops, by phone, in public booths and on the Internet. We plan to provide real time information at railway stations across our Area. We want ‘informed travellers’ who can make ‘Smarter Choices’ about personal travel.
Demand on the network is already managed in a number of ways. The pricing policies of the rail and bus operators make it more attractive to travel off peak, when the system has spare capacity. Similarly the pricing policies of local authority car parks seek to support short stay parking of visitors who normally travel off peak when there is highway capacity available. With the forecast increase in trips, we will be exploring different and innovative approaches to demand management to ensure we control congestion so that the economic competitiveness and environmental quality of the Area is enhanced. Land use planning proposals will developed in a complementary manner to ensure that the travel patterns generated by different activities support the sustainable regeneration of the area and are capable of being accommodated without causing congestion.
Greater Use of Bus Services
We will also take more action to improve bus quality. A number of initiatives are underway and need to be expanded. One project to improve security for bus passengers is the new Police Transit Unit, set up with the West Midlands Police and funded by Centro.
We will continue to work to improve operational conditions for buses. The Red Routes and UTC proposals will help, alongside more local, detailed proposals. We have invested significant sums in our Bus Showcase programme and continue to do so.
Our Major Schemes programme contains a number of bus proposals. They will create a step change in the perception of buses and ensure that we can carry more passengers by public transport.
Greater use of Rail Services
The local rail network plays an increasingly important role. Passenger numbers have increased substantially. We need to make best use of existing capacity and pursue proposals such as longer trains and platform lengthening at some stations. Expansion of Birmingham New Street Station, which sometimes cannot safely handle current passenger numbers, is a Major Scheme and major regional priority. We are expanding Park & Ride facilities with more strategic, major and local sites.
Our programme for expanding light rail means that further routes are unlikely to open in the LTP2 period. Increasing the reliability of Line 1 will help meet the extra trips which are forecast by 2011.
The first Phase 1 extensions of Midland Metro, due to open in 2011, will ease congestion in Birmingham city centre and the A461 corridor in the Black Country between Wednesbury and Brierley Hill. These light rail extensions will attract car users. Traffic pressure will ease in Dudley and Brierley Hill, in the Black Country, and congestion at important junctions will also reduce.
Increased Walking and Cycling
We aim to make improvements for pedestrians, cyclists and businesses. Substantial sums have been invested in many centres in recent years to transform the pedestrian environment, much of it from non-LTP sources. Town and city centres are now attracting more homes and jobs, which means opportunities to make more trips on foot are increasing. Similarly, we will continue to develop and integrate cycling facilities to provide for both local and longer trips. Improving personal safety will also contribute to growth in both walking and cycling.
Our accessibility planning work will identify opportunities to reduce journey distances and to improve the ability to get to work and other key facilities without using a car, helping to reduce congestion. ‘Safer Routes to Schools is an important element of our programme, devoting considerable resources from the DfT and local authorities to measures that will make it easier and safer for children to travel in ways that reduce the ‘school run’. More walking and cycling will also improve child health.
Our aim is to ensure we can cater for the extra trips generated by economic growth and regeneration, without increasing congestion. Based on the evidence of previous investment, we can achieve this challenging aim — providing we are successful in delivering the Major Schemes for which we are bidding as part of our £1 billion programme.
We believe halting the rise in congestion to be achievable because we have land use planning policies that focus new housing in accessible locations, with new job opportunities close by, and a balanced investment programme in transport infrastructure that is being successfully delivered.
Tackling congestion is a controversial topic. Cars are an important part of modern life and many of us rely on our cars to get around to school, work and to leisure activities. Business has to move vital goods around, both across our region and through it.
But most people are agreed that we must act urgently to come up with solutions to the problem. Solutions to the problem of congestion will work only if they are integrated properly with other transport plans and with growth and spatial strategies in the West Midlands. This LTP2 sets out the overall vision and plans for transport across the region over the next five years. Tackling congestion requires a long-term strategy, which will run well beyond the current LTP period.
Moving the debate on
The conurbation is determined to deal with congestion. Debate is needed about whether current transport measures are sufficient to address the anticipated growth in congestion. The Provisional LTP2 marks the start of a process of research, debate and consultation that is designed to lead to effective solutions to congestion. Solutions will be for the medium-term but strategic decisions need to be taken in the short-term.
In November 2004 the conurbation committed to working out with DfT ways in which innovative approaches to demand management in the West Midlands could be progressed. In parallel with debates in the city region, we wish to work in partnership with the Department for Transport on new approaches to tackling congestion, the conditions under which such approaches might be tried out and, correspondingly, the investment that will be required in public transport and our road network. We are determined to find solutions that enable the West Midlands to meet its aspirations for future growth and regeneration.
There are many approaches to dealing with congestion and the solutions must be right for the West Midlands. The cordon scheme of congestion charging that was introduced in central London in 2003 is just one way of approaching the problem, and there are many alternatives including for example:
- Targeting of peak time travel behaviours e.g. school run
- Electronic road pricing by locality and time of day
- Home-working and variable workplace hours
- Parking standards
The conurbation is clear that no form of road pricing could be introduced unless certain conditions are in place. In particular:
- Any schemes must improve and not detract from the region’s competitiveness
- Appropriate transport alternatives must be significantly funded and coming on stream to provide choice
- The factors affecting the conurbation’s ability to deliver quality bus services must be addressed
- There must be discussions about possible ways of hypothecating of revenues for reinvestment in transport in the WM
- The innovation and knowledge base of the West Midlands should be fully utilised in taking any initiatives forward
Any solutions must also:
- Take account of any national road pricing scheme(s), given the West Midlands’ proximity to key motorways and its place at the heart of the country’s road network
- Be responsive to specific local conditions in the conurbation both in terms of location and time of day
- Be integrated with the overall transport strategy for the conurbation
- Be consistent with the conurbation’s economic growth, regeneration and social inclusion strategies and align with regional transport strategies
The West Midlands deserves a world-class transport system that meets the needs of local people and that reflects the significance of our position at the heart of the country. Ignoring congestion is not an option if the West Midlands is to stay competitive and see jobs and housing grow. It is time to start looking longer term at all the potential solutions to our traffic problems.