There's an approach to cycling which my friend Scott Urban calls "urge and merge". The first part of this involves encouraging people to cycle, through providing information, training, and so forth. The second part involves then getting them to "merge" with the motor traffic, to share space with dense traffic flows, perhaps even to "take the lane" and cycle as if they were a vehicle — or in some cases to "merge" with people walking. This is an approach that has dominated thinking about cycling in the UK for decades, despite the fact that it clearly hasn't worked. Things are changing, but these ideas keep being used as an alternative to avoid more effective but harder changes.
Three lists illustrate how how this works, with a focus on Oxford, where decades of "urge and merge" have moved the cycling modal share nowhere. more
I suggest that 1981 was the absolute nadir of utility cycling in Britain. As evidence for that I present, courtesy of Graham Smith, this diagram from the December 5, 1981 issue of the The Economist.
I'm not trying to reform transport in Oxford for myself. Personally, I find Oxford remarkably easy to get around, and indeed one of its attractions for me has always been that, while it has the "cultural capital" of a city many times its size, it feels like a village because getting around it is so easy. more
Central Oxford is severely space constrained. It suffers from bus and vehicle congestion, and not enough space is provided for people walking or waiting for buses or admiring the buildings, for proper bus layovers, or for safe cycling routes. Creating more space is not an option, so there is no way to do anything about these problems without shifting people from the least space efficient mode — private motor vehicles — to more efficient modes — buses, bicycles, or feet. One key tool for achieving this would be an access charge for motor vehicles. more
The recent Phil Jones Associates' "Oxford City Centre Movement and Public Realm Strategy", commissioned by the city and county councils, proposes a radical reworking of Oxford's core in favour of public space and active travel. This offers an escape from the transport "swamp" the city is currently stuck in: the alternative is stumbling along, flailing about but sinking deeper into the quagmire. Everyone concerned about air pollution, congestion and barriers to walking and cycling in Oxford should push the councils to take the proposals in this report, give them flesh, and put them into (respectively) their Local Plan and Transport Strategy. more
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. more
One of the big advantages of cycling is that, like walking, it has predictable journey times. There are many trips where driving may be faster on average, but in Oxford at least driving times are highly unpredictable. This is a particular problem if one needs to be somewhere at a particular time - for a school drop-off, say, or for work, since one then has to leave earlier to allow for contingencies, obviating any speed advantage. more
The Gilligan report Running out of Road: Investing in cycling in Cambridge, Milton Keynes and Oxford offers an excellent analysis of the potential cycling has to help Oxford fix its transport problems. And its suggestions are on target. But it has some weaknesses, largely the result of considering cycling in isolation from other transport modes. more
Oxford's transport system is trapped in a local optimum; it has already been heavily optimised for this and there is no way to improve it by making small changes. more
Six years ago I was inspired by a story about how Groningen had controlled its motor traffic by blocking routes through its centre, and suggested the same thing be done in Oxford. Richard Mann pointed out that the Groningen "ring road" was 5km long where Oxford's was 25km, however, and there didn't seem much enthusiasm even in CyclOx for the idea. more
In so far as there is any cycling infrastructure in Oxford it is substandard, but some of it is so bad it is actually dangerous and should be removed. more
As with transport in the UK more broadly, in Oxford a lot of work sometimes seems to be done for very small improvements, in what I call "expensive incrementalism". To illustrate this, consider the rebuild last year of Oxford's Warneford Lane-Gypsy Lane-Roosevelt Drive-Old Rd intersection (which was on my route from work to nursery). more
On Saturday I went on a tour of the Waltham Forest "mini-Holland" project, organised by CyclOx and hosted by the WF branch of London Cycling Campaign (thanks Paul and Dan!). We caught a mini-bus into London, then used Urbo dockless hire bikes to do a 14km loop around the borough, looking at what they've done and are doing. more
Like most urban primary schools, Larkrise has a reasonably small catchment area (and out-of-catchment children are selected largely based on distance), so walking or cycling to school, accompanied or independently for the older children, should be an option for almost all children. But there are some serious failings with the transport infrastructure around the school, and a little investment here could make active travel to it significantly more attractive. more
Here are some comments on the options for transport surveyed in "Movement and the Public Realm in Oxford City Centre". more
Some thoughts on Amsterdam, mostly about transport. (For comparison, the population of Amsterdam is about 900,000 - say 5 times the population of Oxford, but 1/10 the population of London.) more
I realise that ranting on this blog is a pretty ineffectual way of actually achieving change. But when I contemplated requesting a meeting with my local councillors (city and county), I had trouble working out what I was actually going to request from them. Two-way cycling on Howard St, or the removal of parking in cycle lanes on Donnington Bridge Rd, were asks too small to be worth the trouble. Requesting anything as abstract as "Dutch-style infrastructure" seemed too waffly, while if I was going to lobby for Broad St to be turned into a square, that was going to require more than me acting in isolation.
So my suggestion as to what we (CyclOx and others) could request as part of a concerted lobbying campaign is first-rate cycling infrastructure along Botley Rd. more
Last night I went to a talk by Eva Heinen titled "Why, where and how people travel" and that got me thinking about the balance between walking and cycling more
The recently redesigned Pembroke St is attractive, but also seems a lost opportunity.
Previously it was a fairly traditional lane, with a carriageway and pavements. The new design keeps essentially the same layout, only replacing the kerbs with gentle "gutters" or brick edging, on as far as I can tell exactly the same line, and changing the (still too narrow) footpaths to a "brick" surface. The other substantive change is that the street is now two-way for cycling (motor traffic is still allowed to enter only from St Ebbes). more
Oxford's centre faces rigid space constraints that, even if private motor vehicles could be excluded, create an apparently insurmountable conflict between livability and active transport modes on the one hand and public transport on the other. As a long-term solution, I propose that all inner-city public transport be provided by a mini-bus (or tram) shuttle loop, connecting to city and intercity bus services at interchanges at the Plain (or the bottom of South Park), St Aldates, the railway station, and St Giles. more
Walking with Helen to the Cowley Rd Tesco yesterday made me think back on how her development and changes in transport modes have affected our experience of Oxford's geography. more
This document proposes the installation and use of a cable car system along with other measures to significantly reduce congestion and pollution in Oxford.
I've mostly discussed cycling in this blog, but I thought I'd turn my attention to walking, starting with a look at central Oxford, roughly defined as the region frequented by tourists. more
It's true that every Oxford Mail article about cycling gets the usual complaints about red light jumping, people cycling without lights, and suchlike, but I've seen no sign of any kind of backlash against cycling infrastructure. And this is easy to explain. There is no cycling infrastructure in Oxford. That is to say, nothing that gives people on bicycles any real space of their own, nothing that substantially inconveniences cars, buses, trucks or taxis. more
Southern England's transport networks are radially focused on London, leaving poor public transport options for many trips that seem like they should be quite simple. more
A dual network strategy for cycling only makes sense if we have a bimodal population of cyclists. To illustrate this, consider Frideswide Square, where the planners are clearly picturing something like this. more
The term is amorphous and vague, but Oxford's forthcoming redevelopments at the Plain roundabout and Frideswide Square continue to follow some kind of "shared space" ideology. So it's interesting to look at how previous incarnations of that have worked for cyclists. So Cowley Rd more
In the UK, the averages suggest that you are slightly less likely to be killed cycling two miles to the shops than you are making the same trip on foot, but slightly more likely to be seriously injured. more
Oxford is pretty good for cycling, at least compared to most cities in the English-speaking world, but there's huge room for improvement, those improvements aren't happening fast if at all, and I feel we need a change of focus to advance further.
In particular, I feel we need to ditch a "dual network" approach which is incapable of growing cycling much beyond its current share of transport and making it an option for everyone. Education and training, encouragement and so forth are important, but to make cycling significantly more popular than it is already we need to give people the option to cycle with minimal interaction with fast or dense motor traffic. more
The Plain is being rebuilt and ambitious plans to redesign St Giles have been floated, but for me the most obvious redevelopment for central Oxford, the one that will cost the least and deliver the most, is Broad St. All that is basically needed is to remove the car parking, remove the kerbs and resurface the entire area, drop the speed limit to 5mph and time-restrict loading access, and Oxford could have a showpiece central square. more
The Grand Canal is its greatest attraction, but the reason Venice is such a fun city to explore is not the canals but the complete absence of cars more