Oxford's Magdalen Bridge is plausibly the second busiest cycle route in the United Kingdom; it is also one of the busiest bus routes in the country and a major walking route. It is probably the most critical link in the city's transport system.
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.
"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. more
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. more
Oxford's "Quickways" schemes may make cycling some trips faster for some people, but the biggest gains from them will be making cycling safer and more accessible. I will cycle some routes more slowly if these schemes are implemented!
So "Quickways" is a misnomer — "Saferways" would be much better. My previous post about these schemes focused on technical details. Here I want to focus on the basic road safety argument for them. more
Oxfordshire County Council has proposed a range of "Quickways" measures designed to improve cycling on some of Oxford's main roads — Iffley Rd, Cowley Rd, Marston Rd, Between Towns Rd, Morrell Av, Warneford Lane, Parks Rd, Banbury Rd and St Giles — using Active Travel Fund money from the Department for Transport. These measures are limited in ambition and in many ways sub-standard, but some of them are major improvements and others are reasonable if seen as temporary measures to be put in place until funding is available for more substantial engineering, or as derogations that are unavoidable because of physical constraints.
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).
Last Monday I needed to cycle with Helen from Cheney school, where she'd had a morning summer school session, to the county library in Bonn Square. The difficulties involved doing this - and planning it - illustrate just how hostile Oxford is for people who want to cycle and aren't able or willing to share with dense traffic flows. (My challenges cycling with an 8 year old are similar to those faced by less confident adults cycling by themselves.)
The cycling infrastructure on Osney Mead, put in only this year (2021), is seriously dysfunctional.
I was pretty critical of the plans for the Botley Rd rebuild, but at least for cycling the results from the first works to be completed seem even worse than I had feared.
The cycle lanes/tracks are too narrow - in places even narrower than the inadequate 1.5m that was promised. This is aggravated by the use of unforgiving full-height kerbing to the carriageway, which prevents easy overtaking and creates a serious hazard if something forces a swerve. The cycle tracks are often directly adjacent to narrow 3 metre motor traffic lanes carrying 30mph traffic — a pedestrian suddenly stepping into the cycle track, debris, or anything else, and someone cycling might be straight under a car or bus. And the cycle tracks lack consistent priority over side entrances and are not flat, going up and down over driveway entrances (where keeping very occasional vehicle movements smooth has been prioritised). more
Modal shift in action! Seeing individual children at Larkrise taking up cycling or walking is great, but this photo gives a feel for the broader picture. I did a count and there were twenty bikes more than would fit into the school's cycle parking: this rack was eighteen over capacity and the other was two over! (Normal was fewer cycles than spaces.) And it's still happening: there are still people planning cycle training for their children, trying to buy bikes, and so forth. There are also families who have switched from driving to walking, and increasing numbers of older children being allowed to walk to school by themselves. more
Various things have been proposed as alternatives to LTNs. Some of the proposals are complementary to low traffic neighbourhoods rather than alternatives to them. Others rely on technology that doesn't exist, funding that doesn't exist, or are otherwise fantastic. None will achieve the core active travel and liveability goals of a low traffic neighbourhood. more
One way to see how little consideration walking and cycling are given in Oxford is to look at the main road junctions. So stealthily and incrementally, over decades, have time and space at these been reallocated to motor traffic, at the expense of other modes, that people have become habituated to it and are mostly oblivious to how bad they are. We need all of Oxford's junctions rebuilt to prioritise walking and cycling safety and accessibility over motor traffic throughput.
The three examples I use here are chosen because I know them, but a similar analysis would hold for most of the major junctions in Oxford. more
One common objection to low traffic neighbourhoods is that reducing motor traffic isn't necessary, and that all we need is traffic calming to stop speeding. But even if traffic calming measures worked perfectly in reducing speeds — which they don't — high volumes of traffic are still a huge deterrent to walking and cycling, and are especially dangerous for children and slower or frailer adults. Traffic calming measures such as chicanes also tend to induce stop-start movements, with rapid speed changes that are dangerous, and force people cycling to repeatedly merge with motor traffic.
As an East Oxford example, consider Cricket Rd and Rymers Lane, which together run 1.3km from Howard St to Between Towns Rd. There are fourteen sets of traffic calming measures here, mostly speed humps combined with chicanes but in a few places just one or the other. more
I went to take a look at the changes to Abingdon Rd, and cycled and walked the stretch from the Weirs Lane (Donnington Bridge) junction to St Aldates, in both directions. I'm not sure cycling here is any worse than before — it was always pretty bad — but I can't see how it's the least bit better in any way. So to be honest it seems a waste of £20,000, or whatever the changes cost. more
Parcelforce tried to deliver something to me at work and left a card. Rather than paying for redelivery I decided to get some exercise cycling up to their depot in Langford Locks, on the NW outskirts of Kidlington. Rather than braving the Banbury/Oxford Rd and the A4260, which looked a bit hairy on Google Streetview, I cycled up the canal instead. more
As part of the emergency active travel funding, the cycle tracks on Magdalen Bridge have been widened. On Wednesday evening (August 5) I went and had a look at the changes for myself. There I ran into Chris (Pedal&Post) and we watched the interactions between motor traffic and people cycling for maybe half an hour, from 5.30 to 6pm. more
Cycling advocates sometimes seem to get themselves into a knot trying to distinguish subjective and objective cycling safety. How can it be safe to cycle, while at the same time improving safety is a key priority?
I see two things that are central to resolving this apparent inconsistency. The first is that there is no dichotomy between safe and unsafe, and that safety profiles vary between people: in particular there is a difference between the people currently cycling and the people who could potentially cycle. The second is that there are longer-term dangers that appear neither to immediate observation nor in accident statistics — in particular, it is critical to take stress into account.
It is quite safe for me to cycle into central Oxford, either by myself or with my seven year old on a tandem. But it would be unsafe (at most times) for me to cycle that same route accompanied by the same seven year old on their own bicycle, or for most twelve year olds to cycle it by themselves. And I can cycle that route without much stress. But for some people, even some fitter and more experienced at cycling than me, that identical route may be really stressful, to the point where repeated, long-term exposure to it would be detrimental to their health. more
In the light of government directives to reallocate space to walking and cycling, what should Oxford prioritise? more
Bicycles have featured a lot in my blog, but the other key to sustainable transport, in Oxford as in much of the world, is the bus. Buses are central to Oxford's existing transport and will need to play an even bigger role in any sustainable future. More generally, such a future requires the world to transition away from private motor vehicles, with perhaps an 80% reduction in car miles in the UK, and the bulk of that transport "hole" will have to be filled by bicycles and buses. more
Widespread take up of e-bikes requires broader measures to make cycling accessible. E-bikes are not, by themselves, going to do much to enable most people to cycle.
In the Netherlands, e-bikes help to increase the distances people will cycle and enable people to keep cycling as they get older, but this is dependent on the infrastructure enabling those people to cycle already. In most of the UK, e-bikes will enable people to not cycle 4 mile trips as well as not cycling 3 mile trips, and enable 70 year olds to not cycle at the same rates as 40 year olds don't cycle. more