The City Council’s Cabinet has approved public consultation on a new transport strategy for the city. The strategy sets out a long-term (15 year) vision for the way that people and goods will travel to, from and around the city in the future.
Formal public consultation on the new strategy will take place before the end of the year and a final version of the strategy will then be adopted by the Council.
The main aim of the strategy is “to ensure that Coventry has a safe, sustainable, and resilient transport system, which ensures that all of Coventry’s residents, visitors, and businesses can thrive in the future.”
Specific proposals included in the Strategy and the first five year Implementation Plan include:
Very Light Rail (VLR)
The first VLR route will connect Coventry city centre to University Hospital. However, in the longer-term the plan is to develop a complete network of routes to provide residents with a fast, frequent and affordable connection to various major employment centres and ‘transport hubs’, where people will be able to easily change between various different modes of transport.
Following the current enhancement of Coventry Railway Station, the future plans include the addition of a fifth platform there. Also Tile Hill Station will be developed as a strategic Park and Ride scheme and a new railway station will be built in the south of the city, close to Warwick University. Potential new stations at Coundon, Foleshill and Binley/Willenhall will also be investigated.
Other elements of the plan include the aspiration to maintain the current three intercity services an hour to London and six services an hour to Birmingham following the opening of HS2 and the doubling of the frequency of services to Nuneaton, Kenilworth and Leamington to two trains per hour. The council would also like to double the frequency of services to Oxford, to two trains per hour and introduce at least two direct trains per hour to Leicester and Nottingham.
The council also want to improve the integration of railway stations with the city’s broader transport network, turning them into transport hubs where people can easily change between different modes of transport for both long and short distance travel. Improvements already completed at the Coventry Station include the expansion of car parking, improved pedestrian access to the city centre and improved cycle parking, but the proposed bus station, which involved buses reversing out of bus stops, is unlikely to be popular with bus operators or the public. In the longer-term, there will also be a VLR interchange.
A separate Bus Service Improvement Plan is to be developed with public transport partners. This will set out plans to ensure that all buses operating in the city are electric buses by 2025. The aim is to develop more bus services with ‘turn up and go’ frequencies on key routes and improve journey times on key routes by introducing bus priority measures, like bus gates and bus priority at signalised junctions. Let’s hope that lessons have been learned from the last attempt to do this!
It is planned to make improvements to ticketing by expanding the use of contactless payments, multi-operator tickets and ‘fare capping’ and expand the amount of live information at bus shelters. It is also planned to improve the accessibility of buses by increasing the number of spaces available for wheelchair users and for passengers traveling with prams or pushchairs.
City Centre Pedestrianisation
The council plans to expand the area of pedestrianisation in the city centre with the aim of making the whole area within the ring road an area that is designed primarily for pedestrians. To achieve this five city centre car parks will be removed and those that remain will be easily accessible from the ring road, minimising the extent to which cars will need to drive around within the city centre.
Pedestrian access in and out of the city centre will be improved by providing crossings of the ring road at various points by re-modelling ring road junctions to provide better pedestrian and cycle access building on the successful works already completed at Friargate.
The plan is to introduce dedicated cycleways across the city, to make cycling safer and to ensure that cyclists do not have to share road space with car users on busy routes. Work is already underway on the next generation of cycleways, which will initially connect the city centre to Coundon and to Binley. However, the longer-term plans are for a complete network of cycleways spanning the city.
This new cycle network will also include strategic cycleways linking Coventry to neighbouring areas, Including connections to Solihull via Eastern Green and to Warwickshire, via Binley Woods, North on both the A444 corridor and via M6 Junction 2, and to Kenilworth in the South.
Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) and School Streets
LTNs are residential areas where a variety of tools are used to significantly reduce traffic levels and to create a more comfortable environment for pedestrians and cyclists. This might include, for example, introducing 20mph speed limits, using bus gates to restrict the movement of private vehicles, creating more green space and installing cycle parking facilities for residents. School Streets are areas immediately surrounding schools where temporary road closures are introduced around opening and closing times.
The Council plans to bring forward a community-led programme of both LTNs and School Streets, with priority given to those neighbourhoods where there is a strong appetite for these measures among local residents, and then design them collaboratively with those residents.
Cycle hire and “micromobility”
In addition to the infrastructure improvements described above, Transport for the West Midlands has recently introduced a cycle hire scheme and the Council would like to increase the size and coverage of that scheme, and to extend it so that it also includes e-bikes.
The e-scooter rental scheme that was not successful in the city centre is proving to be more successful on the University of Warwick campus and the Council may seek to extend this to other parts of the city in due course. The current scheme is one of several national trials which are backed by central Government and which could lead to a change in the law to legalise the widespread use of e-scooters. Further progress is therefore dependent on the outcome of those trials.
Specific road improvements to be delivered over the lifetime of the Transport is strategy include various junction improvements on both the A46 and A444, a new strategic link road connecting the A46 at Stoneleigh Junction initially to the South of Coventry, and then ultimately to either Solihull or the West of Coventry, a further new strategic link road through the planned new development at Keresley, new roads, and the improvement of some existing ones, in the vicinity Friargate. The London Road corridor is to be improved including junction improvements, traffic management and cycle routes.
The Council says that it will seek to maintain all of the city’s highways, including roads, footpaths and cycleways, to a high standard. They plan to do this through a separate Highways Infrastructure Asset Management Strategy. If this actually happens it might be the most significant and useful part of the new Transport Strategy.
Traffic management and enforcement
The Council plans to increase traffic management enforcement to assist with the roll of autonomous vehicles in the city. This will include 5G monitoring and preparing the road network for the rollout of Connected Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs). This will include enabling testing to take place on a newly installed CAV testbed.
Testing and developing autonomous vehicles in our city is perhaps the most fool-hardy elements of the new transport strategy. It is hard to understand why so much money is being spent on something of little or no benefit to Coventry citizens. The gantries along the A45 will hardly improve the appearance of the city.
The expansion of enforcement action in the city is likely to be extreme. The strategy calls for the expansion of the existing average speed cameras to all of the main radial routes in the city over the lifetime of the strategy. The move from controlling speed through physical measures to camera enforcement is not likely to be a popular change.
In addition to average speed cameras the Council plans to strengthen enforcement of moving traffic offences, such as drivers making banned turns, stopping in yellow boxes and passing through bus gates. On street parking offences, such as parking on double yellow lines and perhaps most controversially ‘pavement parking’ are also to be targeted. The Government has recently consulted on options to give Councils new powers to take action against drivers who cause an obstruction for pedestrians, and so the approach to this will depend on the outcome of that consultation.
Zero Emission Vehicles
To support the take-up of electric and other zero emission vehicles by the Council will substantially expand the city’s existing network of public electric vehicle charge points and create super charging hubs and a multi-fuel hub. These will be service station style facilities located on the Strategic Route Network which will provide rapid charging/refuelling facilities for owners of zero emission vehicles.
The strategy also encourages local businesses to switch to electric vehicles via the Try Before You Buy E-fleet scheme. The city will also pilot innovative methods of electric vehicle charging, including static induction (wireless) charging and dynamic charging (charging of a moving vehicle). These technologies could help to support operators of different types of vehicles, including larger vehicles and vehicles with very high mileage, to switch to zero emission alternatives.
The Council will also electrify Coventry’s public transport services. As well as replacing all buses with electric vehicles by 2025, the will also begin only granting taxi licenses to zero emission capable vehicles from 2024.
The strategy does not have much to say about freight, only the hope of reducing congestion and emissions from freight travel, such as home deliveries, by encouraging and supporting companies to switch to zero emission vehicles and introducing innovative technology such as using drones to transport both passengers and goods.
The Council wants to explore options to establish freight consolidation centres where goods travelling into and out of the city can be collected and transferred to a sustainable mode of transport for the first/last few miles of their journey. This could be, for example, a zero emission van, an e-cargo bike, VLR or a delivery drone. It seems unlikely that this idea will prove beneficial.
Encouraging behaviour change
The physical improvement strategy is to be supported by a programme of actively encouraging a change in residents’ behaviour. This will include providing better information to residents about the full range of travel options that are available.
The strategy has some very good elements which will improve transport in the city. However the inclusion of daft ideas such as using drones and autonomous vehicles detracts from what is otherwise a very sound set of proposals. If the Council really can improve the quality of road maintenance they will certainly get a thumbs up from Coventry citizens.