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planning Connecting Oxford

Connecting Oxford is absolutely central to Oxford's transport future. The new county government had been quiet about it until recently, but has made a clear commitment to it in the last few months. It is unclear how much of the details on the old web site are still current, but some of my thoughts on how to prepare for Connecting Oxford follow.

The Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP) adopted in October 2021 said:

"Work on aspects of Connecting Oxford has already started. The aim is to have the workplace parking levy and traffic filters in place from 2023."

And the lead request for funding in the Bus Services Improvement Plan (BSIP) is for the traffic filters in Connecting Oxford.

"The 'Connecting Oxford' proposals constitute a very radical proposal to make a significant reduction in general traffic levels in the Oxford City area, within the Outer Ring Road. A series of 'Traffic Filters' are proposed at strategic points within this area, which would restrict movement by general traffic, except by buses and other permitted vehicles. These 'Traffic Filters' would be similar to the current successful Oxford City Centre bus gates, which constrain general traffic through the use of camera technology, backed by the appropriate enforcement legislation, signage and penalties for infringement. The reduction in general traffic levels on most roads within the Outer Ring Road will have a beneficial effect on bus journey speeds in this area.

The implementation of these Traffic Filters is currently scheduled for the summer of 2023, subject to the outcomes of consultation and scheme approvals."

Connecting Oxford is going to be a huge, abrupt change, with a sharp discontinuity when the traffic filters go live, and there is no way of avoiding this. It also involves considerable uncertainty, especially about short-term outcomes, and flexible resources will be needed for rapid responses to whatever problems - and opportunities - arise. So what preparatory measures can be done in advance should be, to reduce the challenges of the transition.

At the point when Connecting Oxford is implemented there needs to be as much support for modal shift as possible: safe and accessible active travel options, along with the broadest possible range of bus services. So the Quickways, the East Oxford LTNs and the Headington LTNs all need to be in place and the new bus routes need to be operational. (From my area of East Oxford, all three of the active travel schemes are necessary to create an accessible cycling route to the JR Hospital or Headington shops; there is currently no good bus route.) Pushing people out of their cars before alternatives are in place is not going to work.

The active travel schemes could potentially be implemented alongside the traffic filters, as part of Connecting Oxford, but it would be much better to have them in place earlier. It takes time to settle schemes like these in, iron the kinks out of them, and get people aware of the routes they open up. (Also, trying to do everything at once will have officers managing the sign changes, signal changes, etc. for a complete reorientation of the city's traffic flows, while at the same time installing two dozen LTN modal filters, upgrading cycle routes, and managing everything that goes with those.)

Something similar holds for bus services. It wasn't in the BSIP, but it would be really good to have the PickMeUp service brought back. This was discontinued largely because congestion reduced its efficiency at periods of peak demand, so it may be viable with Connecting Oxford in place, even without subsidies. Even if it only ran for a year or two it would help fill any unexpected holes in the bus system until regular services could be reconfigured to address them. Another possibility would be for Connecting Oxford's flagship high-frequency "Eastern Arc" bus service to have stops on the ring-road to serve Rose Hill and Littlemore/Blackbird Leys, providing those areas with circum-city connectivity. These kinds of services need to be thought about now; they should be introduced before Connecting Oxford so they have time to bed down.

Providing alternatives to driving for trips within Oxford is absolutely critical because, with Connecting Oxford as currently proposed, the larger part of the modal shift required is going to have to be made by residents. The Workplace Parking Levy is not going to deter many commuter car trips - £600/year works out at only £2.50/workday, and the Nottingham experience suggests only half of that will be passed on to employees, so the WPL will effectively be one tenth the £15 London congestion charge - and it will have no effect at all on out-of-town school-run or shopping trips. The traffic filters will immediately reduce traffic on interior routes, but will in the short-term increase traffic on the outer stretches of the Oxford radials and on the ring-road; without additional measures, traffic there is likely to remain constrained by congestion.


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