Still Birmingham’s biggest roundabout

Alan Clawley takes issue with the plans for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus.

Visitors to Birmingham sitting on the steps outside the Central Library could be forgiven for not realising that they were sitting over one arm of Birmingham biggest traffic roundabout, Paradise Circus Queensway.

If they knew their history they would thank the planners of the 70s for elevating them above the traffic which was once described by 21st century planner Clive Dutton as “thundering past the Town Hall” below.

The idea of building pedestrian ‘decks’ over city roads was popularised by Professor Colin Buchanan in his report Traffic in Towns in 1963. Here in Paradise Circus in the early 1970s, John Madin and the city planners seized the opportunity of the drastic remodelling of the traffic island to do it for real.

Madin realised that a traffic roundabout the size of Paradise Circus would cut off the ‘old’, largely 19th century, city centre in the east from the ‘new’ civic centre in the west that the city fathers had been developing since the first decade of the 20th century. For some reason, probably financial, the job was only ever half completed. Whilst pedestrians could now walk freely across Chamberlain Square and between the ‘piloti’ supporting the new Central Library with its open atrium, when they reached the other side, they faced the western arm of the traffic island.

The problem was dealt with in the 1990s by lowering the road at that point and building a footbridge to Centenary Square. Although the footbridge does an adequate job it is hardly the elegant, comprehensive solution to the traffic problem of the kind that was designed for the eastern arm of the roundabout – nor was it what was originally intended. The effect is to funnel pedestrians across a noisy polluted ‘moat’ rather than carry them over it without their even knowing any traffic was there as they can over the eastern arm.

Now Argent’s plans, recently submitted for planning approval, grapple with the same problem.

They propose to cut off the eastern arm of the roundabout, the one that works best for pedestrians now, and divert its traffic onto the existing western arm where traffic is already more intrusive. Not only will this increase the density of traffic on the western arm, but the tall new office buildings that will line the road will make it even more of a canyon than it is now. Centenary Square will be no more ‘connected’ to Chamberlain Square than it is now and the environment for pedestrians will be no better because the existing footbridge will stay as it is.

It seems somewhat perverse to move traffic from the eastern arm where it is least problematic and transfer it to the western arm where it will make matters worse.

Argent could have cut off the western arm and retained the eastern arm as it is. That would have at least opened up the possibility of filling in the unpleasant canyon of the western arm and connecting the pedestrian deck of Paradise Circus to Centenary Square. That they have not done so flies in the face of their much-trumpeted commitment to improving ‘connectivity’.