Lozells road changes on the way says transport boss Waseem Zaffar on walking tour
Cllr Waseem Zaffar knows he won't and can't please everyone - but he's determined to press on with plans to revolutionise the traffic flow in his local Lozells ward. No longer will the side streets be the domain of the car thanks to his new breed of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) Instead, says the city council's cabinet member for transport, they will become safer, cleaner, happier places like the streets he grew up in.
"I don't expect children will be able to play out on the streets like I used to do as a child," he says, painting a picture of his mates having a knock-up at cricket opposite his childhood home.Access to the New Testament Church of God on George Street is set to be made one way only (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
"But I hope parents will feel safer so that they will walk their children to school in future. "Too many car journeys in Birmingham are (unnecessarily) short - if we could just halve that number, think of the difference that would make for the quality of air and quality of life." Although plans were originally published on a consultation site online on July 24, they were removed when Cllr Zaffar posted a video on YouTube on August 4
One of the new plans featured in that video was posted on to the consultation site on August 17.Flowers on Frances Road which Cllr Waseem Zaffar turned into a one-way road after first being elected to the council in 2011 (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
We are meeting at the corner of Lozells Road and Frances Road, a symbolic decision on his part given that one of the first things he achieved after first becoming a councillor in 2011 was to turn the latter into a one-way street with no-nonsense no entry signs facing the B4144 high street. If Cllr Zaffar can replicate that kind of thinking on many of the other side streets off Lozells Road, he feels the area will be a much better place. As we walk down Carpenters Road towards a quite spectacular view of the BT Tower - stunningly framed by two mature trees - it's hard to disagree that the world would be a much better world without so many cars clogging up the streets.Cllr Waseem Zaffar on Carpenters Road, Lozells which looks set to become one way towards Lozells Road from Wills Street, and in this direction - from Wills Street down to the B4515 Nursery Road (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Non-local traffic will still be able to drive along the local main roads, Cllr Zaffar says on the day new plans have been published online to replace those posted on July 24.
Those original plans were removed by August 4, the day when Cllr Zaffar introduced two rather different maps in a five-minute, 800-word home video posted that night on YouTube. Today, he hopes his new measures will mean drivers are much less likely to use side streets as "rat runs". Businesses would not suffer, he insists, and not only would there be more floral displays in the neighbourhood, some pockets of long term litter might even be picked up, too.Cllr Waseem Zaffar, cabinet member for transport and environment, wants to make Carpenters Road, Lozells one way along with other nearby streets (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
So off we go on our walk, with BirminghamLive not having seen the new plans at the time - they've seemingly published just when I was travelling over to Lozells.
Fancy that. Referencing fellow Labour councillor Lisa Trickett's chess board analogy in a previous BirminghamLive feature about similar plans for her Kings Heath pathc, he stresses how the new scheme would be a six-month trial where the "chess pieces" could be moved around. From Frances Road, we cross over Lozells Road to walk down Carpenter Road, turned right along Wills Street and then headed up Burbury Street towards the B4144.
Just like Frances Road, the corner here features lorry tyres converted into giant plant pots full of colourful flowers which soften the environment beautifully. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there's a splash of road rage. The driver of a large, 4x4 style vehicle heading towards Lozells Road hoots at the family in a much smaller city car on our side of the road, which has seemingly just left the Speedy Hand Car Wash immediately behind us.Video LoadingVideo UnavailableClick to play Tap to playThe video will start in8Cancel
The larger vehicle's window is open and the driver shouts something towards the family before making sure he gets to the main road first.
It's a something-and-nothing incident between different races which reflects the way some individuals are unfathomably short of patience regardless of how much a city is rightly championed for its diversity. Around this part of Lozells Road, several pockets of long term litter make me wonder why nobody in the locality has taken it upon themselves to clean it up if Lozells is as "brilliant" as it's about to be painted. On the New Testament Church of God corner of George Street, Cllr Zaffar explains how traffic changes there would enable good access to car parks on both sides of the side street.
But for those leaving the car parks, they would have to continue down George Street and not impede other drivers on Lozells Road by going back the way they had arrived.The August 17 'Cell One' map of proposed changes to traffic on side streets to south of the B4144 Lozells Road (Image: Birmingham City Council)
Why reconfigure the roads?
Cllr Zaffar says: "Lozells is a fascinating place and a brilliant neighbourhood, but we have got major challenges. "We've got health inequalities and inequalities of unemployment and jobs. "What we are trying to do is to recreate the road network, and particularly the residential roads, so there is less traffic.
"In particular we want to reduce rat running, make our streets safer, make it more comfortable for our children and the elderly to come out and walk and cycle and enjoy the space. "These residential roads shouldn't be dominated by cars, they should be dominated by people. "We are trying to create a series of one-way circulars, in and out of these neighbourhoods and to make it easier for people to get home and to have their visitors.
"But at the same to make it slightly harder for people to access main A or B roads. "It's about pushing that traffic on to the main roads and keeping the residential traffic for the people that live here on our side roads."Cllr Waseem Zaffar believes turning Lozells into four Low Neighbourhood Traffic cells will make local streets safer for families and cyclists to enjoy cleaner air (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Would the system be understandable so that people don't end up driving twice as far? "In the coming six months there will be a number of phases to the experiments that we are carrying out," says Cllr Zaffar.
"They are temporary measures and I'm not saying we are going to get this right first time - there will be an opportunity to move some of those interventions around and to move the flow of traffic around. "Come the end of the six months, we will sit back down and review whether we want to review these measures on a permanent basis and at the at time there will be a very, very robust statutory consultation. "In the coming six months we want communities to join hands with local stakeholders, the local council and transport officers to co-design and co-produce these experimental measures
"Take ownership of it all, tell us what what you want. "Talk to your neighbours. Talk to your visitors.
Think about your day-to-day journeys and tell us what you think about it and respond on the website. "Every single resident will be receiving a letter through the post and if they can't use online measure, they can deliver it at their local church. "In the next six months these plans will evolve and evolve and at the end of the six months we'll have one final scheme - or not scheme at all.
"If it doesn't work, we'll go away and look at other things. "But if it works we can say this is the one we want to go forward with and all the residents will be able to have a say on that."Most streets of Lozells Road are packed with cars parked on both sides (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Are you confident the measures will not damage the businesses on Lozells Road, the local high street? "Lozells high street is a very creative, vibrant economy and we will support that," says Cllr Zaffar.
"We are confident that the more people we get accessing those shops, the more benefit there is. "They create employment in our neighbourhood, they employ local people and most of the are run by local people. "This afternoon talking with some businesses about how we can improve the parking at the back of their buildings.
"We want to get the balance right by working with local businesses and faith institutions which play a huge role in the DNA and culture of Lozells. "They are accessed not just by Lozells residents, but by people from elsewhere, too, and we want to work with them to enable and facilitate worshippers to come to these institutions and come in and out of Lozells in an effective way. "I'm confident through these measures we will improve that."The size of the lettering hammers home the 'No Parking' message outside of these gates (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Will the measures help road rage issues, too?
"On these kinds of roads where you have got cars parked back to back on either side of the road, there's not enough room for two cars to get past safely," says Cllr Zaffar.
"That's where you get tensions because you need a space to pull in. "Residents have been wanting one-way roads for years. "So I'm confident that by introducing one-way circulars we will see an improvement in the flow of traffic so that people can live happier, healthier lives here in their lives."Locals in Lozells have used large tyres to create plant pots to soften the environment (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Can you stop parents driving their children short distances to school?
"This is one of my biggest bugs - it's not just Lozells," says Cllr Zaffer.
"I've yet to come across a neighbourhood that has resolved this particular issue. "I see parents at times when I am walking my son to school who live closer to the school than I do, who are using a car - and it takes longer to do that. "The schools we are looking at are Anglesey Primary School and Heathfield Primary School, the management there and the school community have been longing me to improve the roads around the school to make it safer.
"The two early interventions we are bringing in are to create one-way circulars around the schools to make it safer. "But if you live within walking distance, you should be walking to school and there are things like 'walking buses'. "I want every single school in this city to be a safe haven, for the roads to be safe and to have clean air outside of those schools.
"We want our children growing up healthy and fit in every single neighbourhood rather than growing up disadvantaged because they've grown up in Lozells, or Birmingham because we've got poor air quality and haven't got a safe environment around schools." Could Lozells take on Moseley as a Britain in Bloom contender? "I am biased," Cllr Zaffar admits, "but Lozells is ahead of the game in many areas and some of the planting we have got here is phenomenal.
"These are activists. We've enabled it to happen as a council. "It's phenomenal.
It's brilliant. I want to see more residents in Lozells taking greater pride in the neighbourhood, having a greater sense of identity and sense of stake within Lozells, too.Many side streets in Lozells have already had their speed limits cut to 20mph (Image: Darren Quinton / Birmingham Live)
Will any of these measures help with pockets of long term litter problems in the area? "People are already starting to have conversations about their neighbourhood and, when they realise things can change, and people out there - decision makers like me - want to help facilitate and make that change, they will start to take greater interest.
"Last year we launched an initiative in local schools to recruit Lozells clean-up leaders. "More than 150 young people were part of this workshop we delivered with local community groups and local schools, to give them a better understanding of their neighbourhood and to help them to challenge and educate their parents about the importance of putting out the rubbish on the right day, recycling and just to stop fly-tipping and to call out fly-tipping, too. "As a council we need to do more enforcement and we all agree on that.
"But we want to go back to the preventative measures so that people have a greater sense of identity, a greater sense of belonging and sense of pride. "Many of these people, like me, have lived here for decades. "Their parents have lived here, they've lived here for generations.
"They are part of the Lozells DNA, absolutely in love with this place and I'm confident they will do that. "It's the vast majority of people who do play a huge role in keeping Lozells clean, it's a very, very small minority (who litter). "I hope they will get the message that things are changing here in Lozells."Carpenters Corner - this garden at the junction of Carpenters Road and Lozells Road was funded by Urban Living Fund and supported by the Street Champions Project, backed by financial support from the EU's Regional Development Fund (Image: Graham Young / BirminghamLive)
A second opinion
Accompanying us on our walk was Ridhi Kalaria, a local networker from Sustrans.
The registered charity for sustainable transport tries to "make it easier for people to walk and cycle" and its current job vacancies include one for the GBP24,600 a year role of "behaviour change officer". Ridhi says: "We think if it's easier and safer for people to walk to the high street shops on Lozells Road, then more people will do that. "A scheme in Walthamstow has worked really well, but the trouble is this kind of thing hasn't been tried in enough places yet, so we'll see how this trial works in Lozells.
"It's a trial and changes can be made as we go along."