This map shows the collisions on the north-western end of Cowley Rd (the B480) between 2005 and 2019. The purple stars are serious collisions (resulting in overnight hospital stays) and the pink ones are slight ones (that resulted in police reports).
This map includes walking casualties as well, but the vast majority (maybe 80%) are cycling casualties. The map is taken from the Bikedata Collisions tool, which displays STATS19 data. (There were no fatalities on this stretch of Cowley Rd in this period, but there were two further out but inside the ring road and one in 2004 just before this dataset starts. Given the number of collisions happening, it's only a matter of time before the next one.)
One scary thing about this map is the red text in the bottom left: "Zoom in to show all collision markers - only a selection are shown due to the volume". If we do that, we can see even more collisions (click on the maps for larger versions).
On top of this there will have been a large number of minor injuries and collisions — anything not reported to the police — and an even larger number of near-misses, some of which may have caused significant distress (assault rather than battery). And there's the invisible problem of people not being injured on Cowley Rd because it's so hostile they won't cycle there at all. That includes many fit but less confident adults, not just children, parents with children, and frailer and slower adults.
It's fairly obvious what the problems are. They are the standard hazards of cycling and Cowley Rd is only unusual in offering so many of them, at high intensity and in combination: a near-complete absence of any cycling infrastructure, high volumes of motor traffic, uncontrolled junctions with multiple movements, vehicles parking and leaving parking places, door zones, large numbers of buses blocking visibility and inducing overtaking, and a lot of pedestrians. Cycle freight firm Pedal & Post uses Cowley Rd as hazard perception training for its professional cycle couriers!
Cowley Rd is a key transport node. People need to walk or cycle across it and along it (there are only limited alternatives), and it is a major destination in its own right. Cowley Rd slices right through the catchments of two primary schools (East Oxford and SS Mary and John) and is unavoidable in trips to multiple secondary schools.
Local authorities have a duty to take steps to reduce and prevent accidents and a duty to promote road safety (the Road Traffic Act and other legislation). Local authorities also have a duty to to promote sustainable modes of school travel by children (Education Act 508A).
So what could be done about this? The following options address different aspects of the problem, and probably all of them are needed:
- The East Oxford LTNs would remove 80% or so of the traffic entering from or exiting to side streets, at the junctions with James, Rectory, Leopold, Divinity, Southfield, Magdalen, etc, where the greatest concentrations of collisions are. (Ideally this would be complemented by fully continuous/blended pavements at those side-road entries.)
- A bus gate (either on Cowley Rd itself, or on St Clements and Longwall) would remove private through traffic and reduce motor traffic volumes. (As well as reducing road danger, this would also speed up the buses.)
- Short-stay parking could be restricted to loading and delivery access, at specific hours, and to disabled users, ideally in side-street stubs. This would remove the danger from cars pulling in and out of parking, and from dooring, and would allow cycle lanes on some of the route.
There are a number of things that would help, but only a little bit.
- Speed limits are already 20mph for most of this stretch of Cowley Rd, and because it is so busy they are not exceeded too much. Better enforcement wouldn't hurt, however, and extending the 20mph area at least as far as Bartlemas Close seems obvious. But this is not going to make much difference by itself.
- Signalled junctions would help, but they are expensive and would only improve things where they are installed. If this is all that can be done, then Divinity-Leopold and Southfield-Magdalen would seem the highest priority candidates.
- Strict enforcement of parking regulations would avoid illegally parked vehicles blocking movement and visibility, and reduce parking movements, with fewer drivers trying every side-street in the hope of finding a place. But this is labour-intensive and thus expensive, and the gains from it would be minor.
Things that won't work:
- Any kind of "Shared space" approach without a drastic reduction in motor traffic. The current situation illustrates that mixing cycling with high volumes of motor traffic is unsafe. A shared space scheme (without provision of separate space for cycling) might work with much lower traffic volumes, but given there are around 600 buses a day using Cowley Rd, achieving that would require all the traffic reduction measures above.
What other options are there? Doing nothing is not an option. Quite apart from its duties of care in regard to road safety, if the county is at all serious about its active travel goals then it has to make cycling on Cowley Rd safe and accessible. And making cycling a genuine alternative to driving short trips is essential for enabling modal shift and decarbonising Oxford's transport.
Note: this is also a Twitter thread.