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Oxford street design failures 1: Howard St to Boundary Brook Rd

Books + Ideas, Oxford — November 2018

In this post I examine a "micro" example from East Oxford that illustrates how street design fails people walking or cycling: where the lane from Boundary Brook Rd meets Howard St.

I've singled this example out because it's on my school-run and I walk through it twenty times a week, not because there's anything notable about it. There are hundreds if not thousands of other places around Oxford where things that inconvenience or delay or even endanger people walking and cycling are just accepted (while hundreds of thousands of pounds are spent on micro-optimisation of junctions to cram through a few percent more motor vehicles in peak hour).

The little footpath lane on the left after the tree connects to Boundary Brook Rd, where there is both a primary school and connection to another foot-cycle path leading to Florence Park and other schools. It is quite a busy link, with a steady stream of people walking and cycling at peak times. (Note that Howard St is one way, away from the viewer in the Google Streetview above.)

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it's hard to avoid cycling on the pavement
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for quite some distance!

The problems with the current layout are obvious. There are no dropped kerbs, or indeed any routes between the carriageway and the lane, so people cycling end up on the pavement, and the space is so cramped that larger buggies, wheelchairs, box bikes, tandems, and so forth can only negotiate it with difficulty. (On bin days I've seen people forced to dismount and move bins to be able to get through at all.)There's no road crossing here, or indeed anywhere on Howard St between Iffley and Cowley Rds (the junctions with Catherine St and Golden Rd are raised but have obstructive gutters, and junctions are the least safe places to cross), so anyone in a wheelchair or blind is going to find it tricky if they are coming from or going to Catherine St.

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someone has improvised a micro-ramp

(I'd hope Oxfordshire Highways can do better)

The solution seems obvious to me. The fence should be removed and there should be a raised crossing here directly in line with the lane, offering an easy, kerb-free passage for people pushing buggies or in wheelchairs; it should be coloured or surfaced differently and there should be give way markings on the approach. The crossings at either end of Howard St aren't perfect, but could be models. The part of the crossing behind the tree would need to be protected by bollards to prevent it being parked on. There might be some risks from people cycling along the lane entering the street too fast, but a raised and marked crossing should induce traffic on Howard St to slow down; if necessary, an angled exit onto Howard St could also be included.

6 Comments »

  1. this is an excellent suggestion. I live in Boundary Brook Road and I would totally support this

    Comment by Suzette Starmer — November 2018
  2. Good thinking. I use that mini-ramp of concrete someone kindly provided to get into the lane, but coming out of it is just silly. Like your ideas.

    Comment by Liz — November 2018
  3. Danny, I totally agree with you. I use this junction most days too, and I also see a lot of people with young children struggling to cross safely there, or to squeeze through the junction on their bikes or pushchairs. I think your suggested improvement would make a massive difference to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists using that street.

    Comment by Ella — December 2018
  4. There are some wider issues here. The barriers are there to protect cyclists from going straight onto the road from boundary brook lane onto Howard St, a cyclist would be blind to a driver because of the tree impeding their vision. I agree with you and see it as a risk having cyclist coming off a side lane on to Howard st where cars do drive too quickly sometimes.

    It is a shared path in the lane? I don't see and signage to suggest it is. So if a pedestrian walkway, then cyclists should dismount by law?!

    Another route would be for the cyclist to go to the Boundary Brook Rd/Iffley road junction where cyclist have priority space in from of cars making it safer for them to navigate.

    Howard St is busy during peak hours to travel up, it narrows at points where there are trees, making it difficult for a car and a cyclist to pass at the same time. It maybe easier for cyclist to use Charles St or Percy St to cut onto Iffley rd at peak times these road are considerably quieter and it's also two way traffic. Howard St is one way, but cyclists go both ways on Howard st, I understood that cyclists can't cycle up the wrong way on a one way street and similarly shouldn't be cycling on the footpath/lane way.

    Comment by Cam — December 2018
  5. Cyclists entering Howard St is a concern. I think give-way markings for vehicles on Howard St, along with a raised table, should get traffic to slow down enough. One option would be to take a bit more space from car parking and fit in an angled exit onto the street, but you are right that realistically we have to think about contra-flow cycling even if it's illegal.

    Using Iffley Rd as an alternative is just not an option for non-confident adult cyclists, forget about children, and that junction in particular is really intimidating. It would be good to fix that, but that's a much bigger ask from the council as it would involve drastic changes to traffic flows and junctions and so forth.

    Comment by danny — December 2018
  6. (There are a lot of small children cycling here too, usually on the pavement for obvious reasons. They would presumably still cycle on the pavement if the entry were redesigned.)

    Comment by danny — December 2018

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