Transport Network receives an exclusive briefing on how the Midland Metro Alliance teamed up with key partners to keep Birmingham moving during major road closures.
With Five Ways underpass being one of the busiest routes in and out of Birmingham city centre, orchestrating its closure was no mean feat for the Midland Metro Alliance and its partners Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) and Birmingham City Council (BCC).
The scheme required meticulous planning months before implementation to ensure the travelling public were made aware of the changes well in advance through clear and consistent messaging.
The closure of the underpass signifies a landmark step in the Midland Metro Alliance’s Birmingham Westside Metro extension, which, when complete, will transform public transport in Birmingham city centre, providing step-free access to some of the city’s most popular attractions including the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, the International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall.
The communication model was based on the alliance’s award-winning campaign for the closure of Paradise Circus in summer 2019 – which recently won the Institution of Civil Engineers West Midlands area award for communication – albeit on a bigger scale.
Planning is everything
Since the spring, the Midland Metro Alliance, TfWM and BCC, have been working hard to ensure those living, working and travelling to Birmingham were aware of the upcoming closure, able to plan their journeys around it and could consider a change to their day-to-day travel, like using public transport or setting out at a different time.
These regular collaborative meetings in the months leading up to the closure were focused on delivering effective engagement with stakeholders of all types, ensuring consistent and joined-up messaging was provided that allowed residents, businesses and visitors to be kept informed and more importantly, kept moving during the works.
Consistent face-to-face-communications, including regular events on an exhibition vehicle in strategic locations; visits to residents and businesses, and meetings with the Business Improvement Districts helped ensure those affected were aware of and properly consulted on the closure and had opportunities to seek clarification or additional information from representatives from the joint project team.
In a further attempt to reach all those who might be affected, more than 50,000 letters were sent to residents and councillors as well as to every school, college and university in the city and community groups in the surrounding areas, while information including FAQs, a business toolkit and social media assets were created and shared ahead of the works to further enhance the joint messaging on the closure.
This was followed by a comprehensive social media campaign, which helped highlight alternative routes and transport options, while a dedicated page on both the Midland Metro Alliance and TfWM’s websites was created to provide the public with further information about the work.
The closure campaign also saw the launch of TfWM’s regional travel disruption brand, which introduced distinctive yellow and purple billboards and posters to the travelling public for the first time.
With the West Midlands seeing unprecedented levels of investment in transport, this new branding is being used to warn of potential congestion caused by road closures, major events and construction projects, as well as highlighting where to find travel advice and latest traffic updates.
It is the first time the transport body and a partner have teamed up to use the new brand, making it easier for people to understand where to go for more information about major changes to the road network.
As part of the joint campaign, billboards were erected along major routes in and out of the city centre and were instrumental in warning motorists of the closure prior to it being enforced, encouraging commuters to follow the travel advice:
- Plan their journeys in advance.
- Use public transport if they can.
- Ensure they allow extra time.
- Or re-time their travel, wherever possible.
The messaging programme was informed by the result of a travel survey of almost 2,000 people and based on the public’s feedback. The results were invaluable in helping TfWM and MMA understand peoples’ journeys.
What was encouraging about the data is that it showed the majority of commuters (45%) would change their journey, while 27% would consider changing the time they travelled, tying in with the overall aim to keep Birmingham moving during the works. The results further showed that 29% of commuters would change the way they travel to and from work, while 30% of respondents would potentially work from home or at a different location.
After a small number of respondents (16%) said they found public transport along the Hagley Road corridor ‘unreliable’, changes such as introducing new bus lanes and giving buses priority at lights, were made to improve journey reliability. In addition, temporary changes will also be introduced in the Five Ways area such as suspending parking bays to keep buses moving.
Anne Shaw, director of network resilience for TfWM, says: ‘We’re grateful to all those who took the time to complete our survey. The data has been invaluable in helping us to understand peoples’ journeys and to shape the advice campaign so that people will be able to keep moving during these major Metro works.
With the help of our partners, we have created a campaign which is instantly recognisable, signposts to one place to find out more information and help the general public to easily plan their journeys.’
The closure of Five Ways underpass went ahead as planned on Monday 3 June with minimal disruption to traffic.
Traffic marshals from the MMA were placed in congestion hotspots to ensure that the traffic around the Five Ways roundabout continued to flow smoothly as drivers adjusted to the change, while TfWM monitored the road network at a Regional Transport Coordination Centre (RTCC) based at Birmingham’s urban traffic control centre, allowing them to provide passengers with real-time travel advice.
Social media activity continued with the sharing of TfWM’s journey planning campaign, which ramped up during peak travel times to encourage drivers to make the necessary changes before the morning and evening rush hour. The engagement team were in the office from 5am to ensure they were on hand to deal with any issues that occurred and to give instant alerts and updates to the travelling public.
Overall, the strategy, which set out clear aims, objectives and priorities for communication updates and channels, ensured the information of the closure was received by the target audience. It went without a hitch and minimal complaints were received, with the travelling public using the alternative routes that were communicated effectively.
The Birmingham Westside Metro extension is being designed and built by the MMA working on behalf of the West Midlands Combined Authority, which has embarked upon an ambitious plan to regenerate the region and to provide new opportunities for residents and businesses. Central to this plan is the expansion of the Metro network, which will triple in size by 2026, providing high quality, safe and dependable travel across much of the region.
Once complete, the new city centre route will follow on from the current Grand Central terminus, operating between Grand Central and Hagley Road in Edgbaston, improving transport links in the heart of Birmingham, making journeys faster and more accessible, in turn helping businesses and supporting more jobs.
Five new tram stops at key spots will connect passengers to Victoria Square, Centenary Square, Brindleyplace, Five Ways and Hagley Road allowing more people to use the Metro in this area for day-to-day travel, reducing road congestion in the city centre, as well as improving sustainable transport options along Broad Street and beyond.
The first phase of the works will take the route from New Street Station to Centenary Square, with services expected to commence in late 2019.
The second phase will continue to Edgbaston, and is planned to open in 2021, in time for Birmingham’s hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games, for which transport improvements in the city, including the Metro extension, will play an important part in delivering a successful event