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Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre - comments

Books + Ideas, Oxford — January 2018

Here are some comments on the options for transport surveyed in "Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre".

I agree with the underlying idea, that drastic changes are necessary and that incremental modification of the existing transport system in central Oxford is going to produce only minor improvements at great expense. It is also good to see the analysis treating cycling as a fundamental transport mode, and not as something to be considered after "more important" modes have been provided for.

Of the options presented, I support Option 2a, with an "outer" one-way loop, largely because it allows for "de-motorisation" of the largest area of central Oxford. (Slide 21 shows the loop running clockwise, which seems more sensible to me than the counter-clockwise direction shown on Slides 22 and 24, given the need to connect to bi-directional radial routes.) The comments that follow assume adoption of this option (and to some extent argue for it), but many would apply to the other scenarios.

The "traffic control points" would presumably restrict general motor traffic on Worcester St North and Longwall St, otherwise adding all the buses will create terrible congestion there. Even if the residual local access traffic here is light, however, these both have pinch points that are too narrow for two-way motor traffic and safe walking, let alone safe cycling provision. So both of these should be included in the one-way system. (Both streets have sections that are currently unpleasant or even unsafe to walk or cycle along, even without any significant bus traffic; they don't carry as much foot traffic as High St or St Aldates, but are considerably narrower.)

Hythe Bridge and Park End Streets should also be turned into a separate one-way loop (with contra-flow cycling), with Worcester St South two-way so the car park is accessible without circumnavigating the city centre. This would allow provision of safe, comfortable walking and cycling routes between the city centre and the railway station.

The default use of space within the central city, inside the one-way ring, should be for walking and cycling, with space/time given to other modes as needed. The opportunity to pedestrianise significant areas of the city centre should not be used to exclude people cycling. All the newly pedestrianised (de-motorised) areas should support cycling, with marked cycle lanes where appropriate to reduce conflicts. Also, the current ban on cycling either Queen St or Cornmarket creates a barrier that makes many routes unnecessarily long and complicated; the expansion of pedestrian areas should be used as an opportunity to make these existing routes accessible to cycling as well, with marked lanes to reduce conflicts.

Cycling infrastructure needs to be of a high standard, suitable for mass cycling by a wide range of users: parents with six year olds doing 6mph and fast cyclists doing 15mph, people pulling child trailers or delivery loads, people riding mobility tricycles or box bikes, and so forth. Cycle paths need to be wide enough to allow easy, safe overtaking. They need to bypass bus stops or loading layovers. They need to be continuous across side streets, with clearly marked priority. And so forth. (Wide cycling paths will also provide routes for emergency vehicles to bypass potentially blocked single-lane carriageways.) There are places, notably some severe pinch-points, where space constraints will make this unachievable, where narrower footpaths or cycle paths may be necessary, or shared carriageways with motor traffic, but these should be kept to a minimum.

Removal of on-street parking from the central area would be a good thing, not a bad thing, as it takes up valuable space, both directly and through requirements for access. All public parking should, instead, be in marked car parks on the periphery of the central area (as indeed almost all of it is already). Broad St, for example, should be reconfigured as a public square; the loss of the 25 public parking places in its centre would be a small price to pay for that. The entire central area of the city could then be marked "local access only, no public parking", to prevent visitors driving around while hoping to "get lucky" in a hunt for a handful of parking places. The only exception should be for disabled parking.

Loading access should be subject to time and weight and emission restrictions, with rules applied uniformly across a clearly delineated area of the city centre. There should be better provision, and clearer marking, of spaces for loading vehicles. (Loading access needs to include provision, on six weekends a year, for undergraduate students to move in or out of colleges.) Last-mile delivery by cycle should of course be allowed at any time, and the cycling infrastructure built with that in mind: the goal should be to have most of the small-medium size deliveries in the city centre provided by cycle services.

If the city centre becomes a coherent area with a uniform, consistent set of access rules, then it should be possible to move almost all signs about parking, loading, etc. restrictions to its edge, and to remove almost all yellow lines, kerbs, etc. within the centre. If the layout of the space - most importantly, spaces must not look or feel like roads or parking areas - makes these restrictions natural, then enforcement might be possible without requiring too much in the way of bollards.

Even with the extra space gained from making the central bus loop one-way, large buses will continue to be an unpleasant intrusion into the confined environment of the central city, most notably in places where tight turns are necessary in confined spaces. In the longer term, consideration should be given to (as suggested in the Alan Baxter 2025 suggestion on slide 11) providing transit around the central loop with a high-frequency single-service electric mini-bus shuttle (potentially a tram system further down the line), connecting to other bus services at bus terminals at St Giles, the railway station, St Aldates, and the Plain (or space taken from the bottom of South Park). As a key bottleneck, the only motor traffic allowed over Magdalen Bridge would then be buses and emergency vehicles.

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