Oxfordshire Liveable Streets supports the Zero Emission Zone proposed for central Oxford, but we feel it is far too limited in scope, and not just in the area covered.
There are many reasons for reducing and restricting motor traffic in central Oxford. With its narrow focus on exhaust emissions, the proposed Oxford Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) risks losing sight of most of these, and of the broader picture, and as a result is likely to be limited in its effectiveness. We urge the councils to evolve the ZEZ into a Minimal Motor Traffic Zone within which all motor traffic would be restricted, and progressively reduced to the minimum possible.
Private motor traffic takes up a disproportionate amount of space for the number of people being moved and thus hinders rather than enhances overall mobility. It not only reduces the amount of public space, but impairs the quality of the space there is. It is striking that Oxford lacks any kind of significant public plaza, something most comparable European — and even many UK — cities have. Motor traffic creates road danger, endangering vulnerable users or deterring them from visiting or transiting through the city centre at all. Electric vehicles are actually worse here, because they are heavier and accelerate faster. And motor traffic creates non-exhaust air pollution, from tyre wear, brake wear, and resuspension of road dust. Electric vehicles generate less brake wear, because of regenerative braking, but because they are heavier produce more tyre and road particulates.
So controls on motor traffic in central Oxford should not have a narrow focus on exhaust emissions and electric vehicles. At low levels of electric vehicle use, a ZEZ effectively grants a small number of well-off vehicle owners special privileges to access the city centre and use the space within it. At high levels of electric vehicle use, a ZEZ would become effectively meaningless, ceasing to do anything to constrain motor vehicle traffic at all.
The ZEZ should be reworked into a Minimal Motor Traffic Zone covering central Oxford, which would constrain access by all motor vehicles, with exhaust emissions just one of the criteria used. Ideally this would work by restricting access to vehicles with explicit permits, using a combination of charges and time and duration restrictions to create an incentive for less harmful choices. This could be used not just to favour electric vehicles, but to favour less polluting vehicles more generally, smaller and lighter vehicles over larger and heavier ones, and cycle freight over motor vehicles of any kind. And it should be coupled with a commitment to progressively reduce vehicle parking in the city centre, both visitor, workplace and residential.
We understand and support taxis and buses being treated separately. This is where air pollution concerns are most pressing and electrification is most valuable, because these vehicles have high utilisation rates and spend disproportionate amounts of time in areas with large numbers of people. Here again, however, the concerns and trade-offs involve not just exhaust emissions but also road danger, road surface damage, non-exhaust emissions, and space utilisation. We urge the councils to consider implementation of the Phil Jones Associates proposals for the city centre, or to find alternative approaches to finding space to improve the public realm and enable active travel.