The designs proposed for Woodstock Rd will be a huge improvement for walking and cycling.
The cycling provision will be taken off pavements, allowing for 2 metre wide footways. At some minor side entries there will be fully continuous pavements giving people walking unquestionable priority. Turning radii at side entries will be tightened, shortening crossing distances and slowing motor traffic. And five additional signalled crossings are planned.
If this scheme goes ahead as designed, Woodstock Rd will have the best cycling provision on any Oxford arterial route. It is not clear from the plans, but if I understand rightly the scheme involves stepped cycle tracks. These will be 2.2m wide for most of the route, will have clear priority over side entries, and will bypass bus stops, avoiding forced rejoins with the carriageway. The fundamental change is that cycling is now neither on the carriageway nor on the pavement, but given full recognition in its own right.
It's not perfect. Due to space limitations, there are places where the pavement is under 2m wide — 1.8m at the narrowest — and there's a fairly long stretch where the cycle track is only 1.7m wide. (The pavements have been prioritised here, only dropping below 2m when necessary to stop cycle tracks being narrower than 1.7m.) There are also a few "shared space" sections, due to constrained space around bus stops, to support less confident people cycling across Woodstock Rd, and (probably) to avoid having to remove trees.
A look at some of the details, with specific suggestions for improvements.
fully continuous pavements
The fully continuous (blended) pavements at minor side entries such as Oakthorpe Rd and St Edwards Av are most welcome. But there are several other low traffic entries which should also have this treatment: surely there can be fully continuous pedestrian priority footways across Bishop Kirk Place, Ridgemont Close, and Woodstock Close. Traffic counts could be done on the other side entries to see if they could be treated similarly: Blenheim Drive and Wyndham Way seem like possible candidates, as they carry no through traffic and serve a relatively small low traffic neighbourhood.
The extension of the 20mph area is welcome, but too limited.
Speed reduction is particularly important on those sections of the route with sub-standard width cycle tracks. Narrow 1.7m cycle tracks directly adjacent to 30mph motor traffic are potentially dangerous, and off-putting for many. On the long stretch of too-narrow cycle track, it is also likely that some people who want to go faster will use the main carriageway to overtake and this will be safer and easier with slower motor traffic. Local Transport Note 1/20 recommends a 2m minimum width for cycle tracks, but also a 0.5m buffer with 30mph traffic. There's no room for that 0.5m buffer, so...
Woodstock Rd should be 20mph at least as far north as Bishop Kirk Place.
This would be consistent with the 20mph zone expansion in East Oxford accompanying the Quickways schemes, which will extend a similar distance (as far as the B4495 inner ring). It would also fit in with Banbury Rd being made 20mph between the city centre and Summertown, to join up with the latter's 20mph zone and to improve safety at the junction with Marston Ferry Rd.
The removal of trees is one of the more contentious parts of the scheme. It will also add to the costs, so I fully expect most of these removals to be dropped. In any event, each tree removal needs to be assessed on its individual merits, looking at how valuable the tree is and how much it constrains space for walking and cycling.
Keeping the trees would result in additional shared space areas, increasing the frequency of conflicts between people walking and people cycling. So this issue may need to be revisited if the number of people using the route increases.
The five new "if funding permits" crossings are important and should be prioritised.
The pavements need to be kept as clear as possible of "clutter" - posts, cabinets, vegetation, etc. - and attention paid to where those reduce the effective width.
cycle track quality and design
The plans don't show elevation profiles or details, but my understanding is that the tracks will use half-height "Cambridge kerbs", which should allow for safe movement between cycle track and carriageway on one side, while clearly distinguishing the cycle track from the pavement on the other (this is particularly important for white-cane users). There need to be kerbs on both sides of the cycle track. Otherwise it's not really a track, it's a cycle path either on the carriageway or on the pavement.
The cycle tracks need to remain flat across all driveways and side streets, with motor vehicles negotiating elevation changes instead. They need to be properly smoothed. Any poles, for signs or lampposts, need to be carefully located and not in the middle of the cycle track. And any access covers need to be properly levelled.
It is important that the cycle track be clearly and immediately distinguishable, to provide guidance for people cycling but also for people walking and driving. This is most important at junctions, but valuable everywhere. So the cycle tracks should be distinctly and consistently coloured for their full length. And the double yellow lines should be located on the carriageway, which will also help to visually separate the cycle tracks.
To my mind, the removal of the bus lanes here commits us to Connecting Oxford. Bus priority will have to be achieved by bus gates and reduction in private car numbers through "demand management". If construction on Woodstock Rd starts at the beginning of 2023, that would match the Connecting Oxford traffic filters going in in mid-2023, but getting the timing right on this is critical.
Almost no parking is being removed, so that should not be an issue.
Parking blocking the cycle tracks may be a greater concern than it is at the moment. With the existing layout, it is impossible to park without either blocking the entire pavement or blocking a bus or motor traffic lane. With the new layout, people may feel they can park on the cycle tracks (which are about the width of a parking bay). So enforcement will be important.
Consideration should be made to making the first parking bays in side-streets a combination of loading and disabled bays.
There are some places where "shared space" mixing walking and cycling is used at bus stops because there isn't room for other treatments. This may be unavoidable.
There are also quite long stretches of "shared space" footway where contra-flow cycling is allowed, to allow people cycling to access the signalled crossings of Woodstock Rd as part of "quiet" cycling routes for the less confident. This seems likely to be confusing, as well as bringing all the problems of mixing people walking with people cycling.
I think it would be better to provide additional zebra or pelican/toucan crossings of Woodstock Rd, so there is a crossing on either side of the "quiet route" junctions and the main cycle track can always be used to access these. This would combine with most of the route being 20mph: zebra crossings would be more workable and would in turn help to reduce traffic speeds.
There are no main road junctions on this stretch of the Woodstock Rd, so this rebuild doesn't test either the county council's resolve to prioritise active travel or county officers' ability to design a junction that does that. We know how to build junctions that are safe and accessible for walking and cycling, but that involves reducing their peak motor traffic throughput...
For the full benefit of this corridor upgrade, the junctions at either end need to be fixed. Some minor improvements to St Giles are envisaged as part of the Quickways schemes, but these are inadequate. The broader traffic reduction from Connecting Oxford, along with reallocation of space on St Giles itself to public realm rather than car parking, should allow for pedestrian prioritisation and proper separation of cycling and motor traffic. At the other end, there is no way to make the Wolvercote roundabout accessible for walking and cycling, given its traffic volumes — grade-separated crossings are the only way to enable active travel here for everyone.