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the Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan: what's missing

Oxford, Transport — October 2022

The Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan (COTP) is a fairly comprehensive plan to make transport in Oxford and its surrounds better and more sustainable. I support the goals of the plan and the actions proposed to achieve those, but feel that some things have been neglected or omitted. (I don't consider the three "core schemes" here, since there are few surprises there and each is going to have its own consultation, but instead focus on the other nineteen actions.)

If it were up to me, I would replace the Zero Emission Zone with a general access charge, taking into account size and weight as well as emissions. I would also put in an outer (ring-road) congestion charge instead of the Workplace Parking Levy.)

walking

While the plan reiterates a transport user hierarchy with walking at the top, that isn't reflected in its content. Walking continues to take a back seat, with pretty much no mentions except alongside cycling — there is one mention of "continuous footways" and a concern that "Pedestrians are too often squeezed into narrow, cluttered pavements". Some suggestions:

  • Improving pedestrian (and cycle) crossings should be an action in its own right, alongside junctions.
  • At signalled junctions and crossings, the assumed walking speed for pedestrians should be dropped from 1.2m/s to 1m/s.
  • There should be a commitment to improving pedestrian provision at key bottlenecks: Folly Bridge and Hythe Bridge St are obvious ones; crowded city centre crossings are another.
  • Junction designs need to provide for pedestrian flows without requiring pedestrians to jump red lights. (If pedestrians didn't "walk on red" heading north from Cornmarket across George St and Beaumont St, those footways would lock up completely in peak times.)

junctions

Action 10 on junctions is mentioned as supporting walking, cycling, and Vision Zero:

Action 10 – To help meet Vision Zero, deliver junction improvements for active travel users where there:

  1. is a poor road safety record for those who are walking or cycling
  2. is insufficient dedicated infrastructure for those walking or cycling
  3. is significant severance for those walking and cycling

This just refers to "improvements", however, when what is actually needed in most cases is a complete redesign. We need a lot more than the minuscule changes made in 2022 to the Headley Way-London Rd junction after Jennifer Wong's death, for example, or the "actually improvements for motor traffic" changes to the Old Rd-Warneford Lane junction in 2016.

We also need junctions redesigned not just with safety and Vision Zero in mind, but for accessibility and modal shift. Unless it's possible for people with younger children, older children, and frailer and slower adults to walk and cycle across and through key junctions, the modal shift necessary for the Travel Plan to work will not happen.

Junctions are where the real test of the county's commitment to active travel is going to be. The only way to make Oxford's main road junctions safe and accessible for walking and cycling involves reallocating significant amounts of space and/or time from motor traffic. In most cases it will require removing separate turn lanes for motor traffic.

cycling

There is support in the plan for inclusivity of cycles but not of people, so there is no mention of 8-80 cycling — and indeed only one mention of children in the entire Plan — or of making cycling accessible. We need to enable cycling for everyone who wants to.

The plan mentions priority and consistency and continuity of cycling provision, but not legibility — there is nothing on colouring cycle lanes and tracks, for example, or on marking separate space for cycling in "shared space" areas where pedestrian-cycle conflicts are a concern.

As well as destination parking, the plan needs to address resident cycle parking, for those living in flats or otherwise without off-street storage options.

buses

While Demand Responsive Transport (like the PickMeUp) gets a mention it is: "operating conditions would need to be radically improved to enable commercial operation". This is somewhere where "decide and provide" should operate: the core schemes in COTP should be implemented in such a way as to provide the necessary "radical improvement".

Even if DRT doesn't make sense inside Oxford in the long-term, in the short-term it would provide support for unexpected challenges brought by the Travel Plan, as well as data on where new bus routes should run and how existing ones need to be modified.

the city centre

Plans for the city centre are put off to a vague "City Centre Movement Framework". Which is perhaps reasonable, with the plan being to wait and see what the options are with reduced traffic. But it would have been good to specify the key aims of that, perhaps centred on a goal of only allowing essential and unavoidable motor vehicles into the city centre.

low traffic neighbourhoods

Headington and Marston form the largest of the traffic "cells" created by the traffic filters. This area is poorly provided with safe routes for walking and cycling, either on main roads or on side streets, and the Headington LTNs have an essential role in enabling active travel by reducing traffic on the latter. They should be expedited as part of the Travel Plan.

speed limits

There is only one passing mention of 20mph speed limits, despite the county's focus on that elsewhere. 20mph speed limits within the ring-road, along with a commitment to enforcement (ideally by average speed cameras) should be part of the package of measures in the Plan.

ring-road severance

Oxford's ring-road is a major barrier to active travel connectivity both to its outer suburbs and settlements (Risinghurst, Barton, Barton Park, Kennington) and planned housing (Bayswater, PR6a, etc.) and to areas further afield (Begbroke, Kidlington, etc). It is disappointing to see nothing in the Travel Plan about addressing this. Dropping the speed limit on the 70mph sections of the ring-road to 50mph will make no difference. Dropping some stretches to 30mph might help, but the only way to genuinely enable walking and cycling here is to provide grade-separated crossings.

While funding constraints may make this impossible in the short-term, this should still be in the Travel Plan as a goal. The county should commit to requiring new developments to provide grade-separated crossings of the ring-road and other trunk routes, and to seeking funding for grade-separated links to existing housing (and for upgrades of sub-standard underpasses or bridges).

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