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stable a unicorn at the Plain: fantasies about Oxford transport

Oxford, Transport — April 2024
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"The county should buy a unicorn and stable it on the Plain roundabout, where it will magically stop any collisions, alleviate all congestion, and make walking and cycling safe and accessible to all." This would probably make more sense than some of the transport proposals being bandied about - bus tunnels, removing cycling from main roads, etc. - but here I attempt to address some of the suggestions that seem sensible, but won't do what people want them to do.

Free public transport, segregated cycle tracks, School Streets schemes, traffic calming, Dutch style roundabouts, trams, and so forth are all potentially useful. But they only solve some problems, and in some cases require other measures to make them possible. They are not magically going to obviate the need for traffic removal and reduction - for low traffic neighbourhoods and measures such as traffic filters and the Zero Emission Zone.

free public transport

There is no funding for this, and if there were bus funding available it's not clear this would be the most effective use for it - expanding bus routes to serve disconnected villages might be higher priority.

And while free buses would help address transport poverty, it might not do much to alleviate congestion. Finland, for example, looked at the evidence and concluded: "According to research and trials, free transport systems offer no significant reduction in personal vehicular traffic, and its impact on cutting transport emissions has been limited".

segregated cycle tracks

We do, but in some places (e.g. Iffley Rd) that is impossible, due to spatial constraints, so we have to make do with cycle lanes. In other places (e.g. Woodstock Rd) cycle tracks are only possible with removal of the bus lanes, which the bus companies will only accept if general traffic is reduced enough that buses don't get congested -- so the traffic filters and ZEZ and other traffic reduction schemes are necessary if we want segregated cycle tracks.

Road rebuilds with separate cycle tracks are also really, really expensive: the Woodstock Rd scheme was going to cost over £4 million per kilometre. And provision of segregated cycling infrastructure on main roads is going to require removal of parking on them; anyone calling for segregated cycle infrastructure is, ipso facto, calling for all the parking on e.g. Cowley Rd to be removed.

People also need to be able to get to main road cycle tracks, which requires low traffic neighbourhoods.

School Streets schemes

School Streets schemes are great, but they are designed to reduce road danger in the immediate vicinity of schools, or on key walking and cycling routes, not to reduce traffic. They may do some of that, incidentally, but are most unlikely to remove more than 10% of school-run traffic. (What does reduce school-run traffic are LTNs in the areas around schools, because they provide safe routes for children all the way to and from school.)

traffic calming, chicanes, etc.

There's certainly a place for traffic calming, but it is not an alternative to traffic reduction. Howard St, for example, has speed humps that are probably too severe to be installed now, while Rymer's Lane has fourteen sets of hump-chicanes in 1.3km, but both of these were terrible when they carried 3000+ motor vehicles a day. (Without low traffic volumes, chicanes are horrible for cycling, as they force repeated merges with motor traffic; Dutch practice is to use speed humps for traffic calming.)

off-road cycling routes

More cycling routes would certainly be useful, but the easy ones already exist. And nowhere in Oxford do or would such routes preclude the need for cycling provision on main roads. Shifting any significant fraction of peak hour flows on Magdalen Bridge (1200+ cycles an hour) to the Thames path, for example, is not even remotely feasible; nor is shifting cycling from Longwall St to Queen's Lane.

a separate peripheral cycling track around the Plain

This is a great idea, but a redesign of the Plain with a Dutch-style peripheral cycle track would reduce its motor traffic throughput by perhaps 40%, so this would need the traffic filters, ZEZ, Workplace Parking Levy and probably more put in place first.

trams

Trams might make sense on some routes in Oxford, but tram lines are really expensive (£10 million a kilometre would be cheap, £25 million is probably more plausible) and since there's no separate space for them they would require a major reduction in private motor traffic to operate.

Some not at all plausible suggestions

bus tunnels

These made an appearance in the Local Transport Plan 4, but thankfully seem to have disappeared. Apart from costing hundreds of millions of pounds, if not billions, there's no space to put in entry and exit ramps, not to mention the lifts needed to get bus passengers to and from the surface.

remove all the LTNs

Allowing through traffic through side streets unsuitable for it would, in most cases, fail a road safety audit. Consider the historical collision clusters at the bottom of Southfield and Divinity Rds, for example.

"We must first improve local bus and cycle routes and continue to promote electric car and van use. Only then should we think about traffic filters and LTNs"

There is no way to significantly improve bus services or cycling infrastructure without reducing motor traffic. LTNs are cycling infrastructure. And vehicle electrification will do nothing to help with congestion (in fact it will make it marginally worse, by reducing the per-kilometre costs of driving).

the future of Broad St

Oxford, Transport — April 2024

The legal changes to Broad St have been made permanent, but the current layout is clearly still temporary, in the sense that many of the features of the area no longer reflect its actual use. Most obviously, most of the existing kerbs are now redundant, or in the wrong place, and serve only as a trip hazard.

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sitting around

A proper plan for Broad St needs to be part of a redesign of the entire area of the city centre north of High St and east of Cornmarket, as envisaged in the Oxford Preservation Trust's proposals twenty years ago, and any such plan will be dependent on funding which is not yet available. But there are possibilities in the management of vehicle access and parking for improvements that could plausibly be implemented in the shorter term. more

Sydney public transport

Transport — February 2024

We used the trains quite a bit on our mid-2023 trip to Sydney, and Helen learned the order of stations on Sydney's North Shore line, from Central to Hornsby (including the three Ws at the end, which surely exist only to make this a challenge). more

1980 and 2023 primary school reports compared

Books + Ideas, Children — February 2024

Going through memorabilia, I found some old school reports. So here is a comparison of my "Report of Progress" from Year 5, in 1980 at what was then Lindfield Demonstration School, in Sydney, Australia, and my daughter Helen's "Annual Learning Journey Report" from Year 5, in 2022-2023 at Larkrise Primary School, in Oxford, England.

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lower speeds on Oxford's ring-road

Oxford, Transport — January 2024

The speed limit on Oxford's ring-road (excepting the A34 outside Botley) should be reduced to 40mph and that should be enforced by average speed cameras. This would help with road danger, congestion, community severance and barriers to walking and cycling, noise pollution, air pollution, and carbon emissions. more

our footways are falling into (the) cracks

Oxford, Transport — December 2023

At the moment, footways in Oxfordshire fall into the cracks between different county teams. Parking, Road Agreements, Transport Development Control, Active Travel, Maintenance, and different Localities teams all implement or oversee schemes that affect footways, but no one has overall responsibility for them. A single county team should be given responsibility for footways, with a watching brief over all schemes that affect them. That could be a beefed up Active Travel team, or a Parking team with an expanded mandate. more

20mph to make key links accessible

Oxford, Transport — December 2023

The Oxfordshire policy on 20mph speed limits says that to be eligible an area must "be within the extent of the built-up environment of the town or village where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner" and "be in an environment that explains and justifies a lower speed limit to the driver".

A small addition to this would I think make sense. There are sections of road which are not within a built-up area, but which are key walking or cycling links. They may link a village to a bus stop or a strategic cycling route, for example, or an outlying housing cluster (hamlet) to a village centre, or a school to a town centre. Where such sections of road are relatively short and lower speeds would make a significant difference, perhaps because there are no footways or cycling infrastructure, or because crossings are necessary, I think they should be included in the scope of the 20mph policy. more

timeline of OX4 traffic changes

Oxford, Transport — December 2023

Guest post by Owen McKnight (Oxford Pedestrians’ Association)

There have been dramatic improvements in infrastructure across East Oxford in the last few years. This is a timeline of specific changes in the OX4 postcode area (which covers East Oxford, Cowley, Rose Hill, Littlemore, and Blackbird Leys). more

LTNs and inclusive mobility

Oxford, Transport — November 2023

No inclusive transport system for Oxford is possible without low traffic neighbourhoods. A genuinely inclusive transport system has to work for everyone. For eight year olds walking or cycling to school by themselves and for four year olds walking or cycling alongside their parents. For eighty year olds who want to be able to walk - or cycle slowly - to their local shops, their GP surgery, or their bus stops, without fear or stress. For wheelchair and mobility scooter users and for the blind and visually impaired. And for everyone else.

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Charles St in the East Oxford LTNs, with one mother pushing a child scooting and another pushing a buggy. Car movements are infrequent enough now to make this comfortable. Note that (legal) pavement parking means that neither wheelchairs, mobility scooters, nor larger prams or buggies can fit down the footways.

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Iffley Rd cycle lanes

Oxford, Transport — October 2023

What is the road layout on Oxford's Iffley Rd and how is it supposed to work? The key features here are the use of advisory cycle lanes around a narrow central traffic lane with no centre line; between Donnington Bridge Rd and the Plain the cycle lanes are mostly 1.575m wide and the central lane ranges from 4.66m to 5.93m wide. (This was implemented on Iffley Rd as part of the "Quickways" schemes in 2022. A similar scheme was implemented on Magdalen Bridge in 2020; there the cycle lanes are 2m wide and the central lane is 5m.) more

Jericho cycle hangars

Oxford, Transport — September 2023

It's great to see Oxford's first cycle hangars appearing in Jericho.

green half-cylinder cycle hangar with small yellow car next to it

Great Clarendon St
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Nelson St

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Enabling contra-flow cycling in Oxford

Oxford, Transport — September 2023

Contra-flow cycling should be allowed on all the one-way streets in Oxford. From LTN 1/20: "There should be a general presumption in favour of cycling in both directions in one way streets, unless there are safety, operational or cost reasons why it is not feasible." more

Peter Green Memorial Split Pawn Award

Life — September 2023

Does anyone who played chess in New South Wales in the early 1980s remember what the Peter Green Memorial Split Pawn Award was? Won by Peter Green, R.Colman, Marcus Pesman, Charles Zworestine, S.Twigg, Tim Reilly and yours truly. I vaguely recall it was for the worst performance in a tournament, or possibly a particularly bad game?

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An East-West foot-cycle route for Oxford

Oxford, Transport — August 2023

This outlines a plan for a direct, coherent east-west foot-cycle route across Oxford's city centre. That would run from the railway station across the north of Frideswide Square, along Hythe Bridge St, George St, Broad St, Holywell St, and Longwall St, ending at Magdalen Bridge.
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stop destroying our footways! a pedestrian manifesto

Oxford, Transport — June 2023

Fixing all the problems with footways and pedestrian infrastructure across Oxfordshire would involve a huge and expensive program of works, which the county doesn't have the resources for. But we need to stop making things worse — current procedures and processes for new transport schemes and developments and ongoing maintenance are progressively destroying our footways. more

school cycle training needs to be universal

Children, Transport — May 2023

The current cycle training provision in our primary schools is inadequate and inequitable.

Imagine if primary schools ran a course on finance for Year 5 children, provided for free and taught in school time, but only offered to those children who already have an understanding of the basics - who already know what an interest rate is, say - and who already have a bank account of their own. That would, rightly, be condemned as hugely regressive, teaching children who are already privileged and knowledgeable even more, and exacerbating existing inequalities.

But this is exactly how cycle training works, certainly in Oxfordshire and I think across most of the country. more

mental, social and community health gains from traffic reduction

Oxford, Transport — May 2023

Despite the research, I had always downplayed the psychological and social gains from traffic reduction, thinking of them as secondary to health improvements from increased physical activity - and perhaps as a bit "soft" and hard to measure. But my experience with the East Oxford Low Traffic Neighbourhoods has made me rethink this. more

traffic noise pollution in Oxford

Oxford, Transport — April 2023

Motor traffic noise pollution is really two separate problems. The first is local spikes in noise from individual vehicles, sometimes deliberately driven - and even modified - to make noise. The second is high levels of ambient noise from motor traffic generally.

Noise pollution is one of the "invisible problems", often neglected in comparison to the other harms created by motor traffic. Oxford City Council's noise pollution information, for example, only covers noise from venues, private parties, building works, etc. and doesn't even mention traffic noise. The County Council gets noise complaints logged to FixMyStreet, but appears to have no general information about traffic noise nor any plan or guidelines for addressing it. And noise pollution doesn't feature in the Low Traffic Future campaign.

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the iceberg of road danger harm

Oxford, Transport — April 2023

Deaths and serious injuries — the target of Vision Zero — are just the tip of a much larger iceberg of road danger harm. In addition to the 20 road traffic fatalities and 450 serious injuries in Oxford over the last decade, there were 2800 reported slight injuries (all of those from the STATS19 police database) and (for cycling injuries, across Oxfordshire) ten times as many hospital admissions and attendances (this includes non-collision injuries which are rarely reported to the police). And there will be many minor injuries and collisions which are neither reported to the police nor result in hospital presentations. (Following Ling Felce's death at the Plain, I heard several people make comments like "Oh yes, I've been knocked off my bike twice at the Plain" and "No, I didn't report it either time.") There are even more near-misses and other incidents perceived as threatening. more

20mph speed limits on Oxford's main roads

Oxford, Transport — March 2023

Oxfordshire County Council has allocated £8 million to its 20mph speed limit programme (to be spent over three years). But none of that money has been spent - or looks like being spent - in Oxford, even though lower speeds there would have the greatest effect on road danger reduction. (The 20mph speed changes on Iffley Rd, Cowley Rd, etc. were not part of this programme, but were part of the Quickways schemes, funded by the central government Active Travel Fund.) more

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