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Oxford's Pembroke St upgrade a lost opportunity

Oxford, Transport, , — November 2016

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).


the old layout: Pembroke St in 2011 (photo Graham Smith)

the new layout still looks like a road

two preschoolers abreast

The basic problem is that Pembroke St still feels like a road, albeit a more attractive one. Given its actual use, it should feel like a pedestrian area with a cycle path through it, a space in which motor vehicles are welcome only as temporary guests.

There are two major things I would do differently (obviously it's too late for Pembroke St, but similar thinking would apply when it comes to upgrade Catte St or any of the other lanes in central Oxford).

1. The carriageway should be narrowed so it is clearly a bicycle path first and foremost; it should also given a surface clearly different to that of the main roads (St Aldates) to which it connects - this could be some kind of standardised blue or reddish brown "cycling" colour (except that neither the UK nor Oxford(shire) appears to have any standardisation here). The pavements/footpaths should be correspondingly widened.

This would serve two purposes. Firstly the space would no longer look at all like a road, discouraging lost tourists from driving into it at all and encouraging loading vehicles to drive slowly (the speed limit could also be dropped to 10mph, and the street could be marked "access only"). Secondly, pedestrians would have more space on the "pavements", and so would rarely need to enter the central "carriageway/path", making pedestrian/cyclist conflict less likely and priority clearer.


10.30am in November, so not crowded - those bus-stops are completely jam-packed in peak hour, or tourist season

2. The pavement on St Aldates should be continuous across the entry to Pembroke St. St Aldates carries a colossal amount of foot traffic, so pedestrians here should have clear right-of-way over the occasional motor vehicles needing to exit Pembroke St, and over people cycling. This would also, by breaking carriageway continuity, help to distinguish Pembroke St from a normal road (There should be something similar at the other end, but really St Ebbes should be given the same treatment, and the change in surfacing should come at the entry to a much larger pedestrianised area.)


  1. Looks too much like a road still - quite right. (But it's a symptom of a general problem, as you imply)
    The new side-entry treatment favours vehicles, not pedestrians - quite right. (But this is a general problem throughout Oxford - the design standards are inadequate. Should campaigners with minute resources deal with each specific instance, or attempt to change the design standard?)
    How to help peds and people on bikes southbound to cross St Aldates to use the new Pembroke Street - priority problem not addressed (the most important one, in my view)
    Failure to co-ordinate re-opening of Pembroke Street with signage of and publicity about the bike contraflow (this eventually happened about a month later) - significant missed opportunity
    Large artics that service M&S rear entrance - problem not addressed either in this blog or by highway authority
    Van and recycling lorry traffic that service Pembroke Street buildings - problem not addressed
    Additional costs of (i) including coloured chippings embedded in tarmac (ii) realigning subsurface drains (to widen footpaths as proposed), when this single project already swallowed roughly two-thirds of City's total annual cycling budget - problems not addressed
    On-street cycle parking for residents - problem not addressed
    Possible use by bikes of cut-through via Pembroke Square around the back of St Ebbe's church into and out of Pembroke Street - issue not approached by anyone

    Where should unpaid campaigners focus their limited resource? The specific, like Pembroke Street, or the general underlaying malaise?

    Redevelopment of the courtyard and buildings currently occupied by Broken Spoke Co-op is on the cards. New-build here will be a trip-generator. Who will monitor and intervene in the plans for this?

    Comment by Simon (Chair, Cyclox) — November 2016
  2. Simon, I think we need to address all individual works such as this one, partly because that's the last chance for a decade or more to get improvements to the specific roads being upgraded or renovated, but also to set a broader precedent. The general underlying problems - and potential fixes for them - can only really be demonstrated by concrete examples. (Possibly by examples in other cities, but ones actually in Oxford are much stronger.)

    If Pembroke St were directly opposite Blue Boar St, some kind of prioritised cycle crossing might be possible (though I suspect even then it would be incompatible with the bus flow), potentially accompanied by de-cobbling of Merton St. But as that's not the case, I can't see any way to do anything useful here, given the density of buses and bus stops.

    Comment by danny — November 2016
  3. I agree that the pavements remain far too narrow - a serious missed opportunity. The 'policy' is always that vehicles are given the carriageway space they 'need', while pedestrians have to make do with what is left. How about reversing that position: demanding clear pedestrian width of at last 1.2m in all circumstances, and widening it according to footfall. Then only what's left goes to vehicles.

    Comment by Oliver Tickell — November 2016

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