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Breaking up Oxford

Oxford, Transport — July 2012

A View from the Cyclepath has an interesting account of how Groningen in the Netherlands came to be the world's number one cycling city.

Groningen has a population of 190,000, so it's a bit bigger than Oxford, but it's similarly a relatively flat university town. (For more on cycling in Groningen, see "At the Frontiers of Cycling: Policy Innovations in the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany" (PDF), where it's one of the case studies.)

Could we do this here? One solution for an old city centre without space for infrastructure.

"[Groningen] is now split into four segments between which it
is impossible to drive without going out to the ring-road and
back in again."

Implementing this in Oxford would be fairly straightforward, given the radial structure already enforced by the flood meadows. Close Magdalen Bridge, Worcester St, and Thames St to cars, keeping just bus lanes and allowing access for deliveries at restricted times.

An alternative might be some kind of congestion charging scheme, but using road restrictions seems more straightforward.

Note: Richard Mann pointed out to me that the Groningen "ring-road" in question is 5km long, whereas Oxford's is 25km long. See "Going Around in Circles" for my later thoughts on this.


  1. The Dutch must be very hardy people for cycling especially in those cold blustery wintry days. Could the people of Oxford be persuaded to follow? It is hard to give up the creature comforts of a car to brave the wet, cold English weather on the slippery roads.

    I hardly knew Oxford at all, I don't qualify to pass comments on the city's layout. Road closures are never popular, some of the pedestrian malls in Sydney are re-opened to motor traffic. The congestion tax is ok for London, but Oxford is too small to justify such a tax. The populace mightn't take it too kindly.

    Comment by DL — July 2012
  2. It's often overcast here and often drizzles, but it actually gets much less rain than Sydney (maybe two thirds as much on average over the year). So the number of days where cycling is really unpleasant are quite few.

    The road surface leaves something to be desired in many places, and the cycling infrastructure is pretty limited, but if we got rid of the through routes, at least for cars, that would both reduce vehicle traffic and provide room for proper cycle paths. Yes, some car drivers will scream about road closures, but they must have done that when Cornmarket and Queen St (and High St during the day) were closed, and there's no complaining about that now.

    Sydney is not a model we want to be copying! It has had years of appalling under-investment in public transport, with huge sums spent on roads to funnel more cars into the gridlock. Oxford should be looking to towns like Groningen and Basel for models.

    Comment by danny — July 2012
  3. Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore is all for a people-friendly CBD. You know her well. She pushed hard to have dedicated bike paths, and in the process irked a great many people. They claimed bike paths are expensive to build, underused, and encroached on limited parking spaces for inner city residence in places like Surry Hills, and Darlinghurst.

    Almost to a man, the shock jocks are up in arms against her. The Murdoch press is relentless in its attack of her vision. The conservative state government, an allay of the shock jocks and the Murdoch press, is trying hard to muzzle her by legislation. She can no longer be a state MP and a city councillor at the same time. She gave up her lower house seat in order to hold on to mayoral office.

    I am sceptical of the local politicians in Oxford are going to dive in and stick up for the bike riders. It takes a very bold politician to do so.

    Comment by DL — July 2012
  4. I'm a bit slow on the comments here, but I have just been to Muenster, another university town, and one of the other case studies in the PDF. Their claim to have twice as many bikes as people seems to be quite accurate, with the city centre inundated by two-wheeled travellers. The town is set up for cyclists like no other I have seen, and I live in university bicycle town. Car traffic can still get into most of the centre of Muenster and move freely, but the bicycles always have priority (as shown on the front cover), so that few artificial restrictions are needed. The locals seem to have solved the transport "problem" in a very neat way. Another view of the situation is presented at this web page: http://www.geo.sunysb.edu/bicycle-muenster/

    Comment by David Morrison — October 2012
  5. Thanks to the pointer to Muenster, David. Another inspirational example of what can be done with the right priorities! I'm just hoping that if we end up back in Sydney things will have improved there - which seems to be happening slowly but steadily http://sydneycycleways.net/the-network/current-projects/campbell-street-cycle-connection

    Comment by danny — November 2012

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