Connecting Oxford Plus
Connecting Oxford is the city and county councils’ proposal to improve transportation in Oxford. It (1) takes through-car traffic out of the city centre and (2) takes through-traffic out of the inner ring-road (B4495). Both of these would be accomplished by ANPR cameras to allow transit of permitted vehicles (in particular, buses, hence “bus gates”). A workplace parking levy would apply to larger employers along the B4495. This would simultaneously discourage car use and help pay for a new bus route along the B4495, linking the northern park and rides to the park and ride at Redbridge in the south.
The proposal survived a public survey in autumn 2019, clearing the way for more detailed planning in winter 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
The novel coronavirus pandemic makes Connecting Oxford all the more important — but also unworkable in its current form.
Put simply, the plan is an incomplete version of one that could enable far greater use of COVID-19-ready modes of transport — cycling and walking — plus massively increased bus usage in a public-transport-ready state of the world.
The logical improvement to is to upgrade Connecting Oxford by adding two more bus gates in East Oxford. We believe both councils need to review this with urgency. We believe this modification will be consistent with the Autumn 2019 Connecting Oxford survey results and with both councils’ cabinet endorsements given that all of these were qualified by language to the effect that ‘additional restrictions may have to be considered to deal with excessive displacement of traffic’. Moreover, the councils can cite Department for Transport instructions to take such action with urgency.
Two more bus gates
Two additional bus gates are needed to prevent heavy use of south-east Oxford corridors Iffley and Cowley roads to avoid the Hollow Way bus gate. The locations of these two gates are:
- London Place and
- Warneford Lane.
As shown in the map below, the current drive-time reported by Google Maps between A34/Southern-bypass and the JR Hospital is 12 minutes by Iffley Road versus 14 minutes by London Road. Without bus gates on St Clements (just south of Marston Road) and Warneford Lane, these will be default options once Hollow Way is bus-gated.
The existing version of Connecting Oxford has five bus gates: three to remove through-traffic from the city centre and two to prioritise bus passage along the B4495. The proposed version has seven, adding gates east and west of South Park. This effectively segments the city within the outer ring road into four zones as shown in the maps. The councils need not adopt an explicit “zoning” element in the language of Connecting Oxford if this is too big a departure from the Connecting Oxford plan that was put to survey in autumn 2019. Explicitly “zoned” or not, this seven-gate approach will have the virtues of zoned systems put to use to great effect elsewhere.
One of the key virtues is massive increment to cycling modal share, which is exactly what the central government is calling for right now. The city of Ghent in Belgium discovered that its zoned system, implemented in 2017, induced a cycling modal share by 2019 that wasn’t expected until 2030. Put simply: When private cars are comprehensively discouraged, the added space for other modes induces the use of them. But Ghent drivers also discovered they could get to their destinations faster because the reduced congestion more than made up for the more circuitous routes. Zoned systems give space to drive for those who need it.
We describe the seven-gate plan as “win-win” because this plan not only helps enable COVID-19-ready forms of sustainable transport right now, it also sets the scene for an even better bus network in future. The numbers 4, 8, 9, and 13 bus routes pass through the anticipated extra bus gates, as do several routes further afield. Moreover, bus travel along Cowley and Iffley roads (routes 1, 3, 5, 10 and 16, as well as routes further afield) will be massively enhanced by the reduction in private-car volume on these two roads if bus gates are introduced on London Place and Warneford Lane.
The map below shows in detail the location of the two additional bus gates needed in Connecting Oxford.
Connecting Oxford and other elements of transport improvement
We recognise that both councils are pushing ahead with a wide array of transport improvements with sustainability at their heart. We applaud them for this. Examples include the adoption of an Oxford LCWIP (pdf) (which has been cited nationally for its ambition), application to central government to fund the LCWIP, expansion of the Zero Emission Zone, deployment of cargo-bike delivery prioritisation, and many others. Below, we highlight two more.
City council “Wish list”
On May 11, Oxford City Council published a wish list of public-realm improvements to help kick-start the city centre economy and to contribute to public health in the long term. These include the decades-overdue de-motorisation of Broad Street. We urge the county council to add some of these “wish list” improvements to Connecting Oxford and, if necessary, re-run the survey. Experience shows that the public are more amenable to grand transport plans when they are seen to give significant public realm improvements to the public whilst also making demands of the public in terms of upending decades-old patterns of travel.
In addition to having endorsed the best LCWIP in the country, the county council have just finished an engagement exercise on the long-term vision for transport. Among the many concepts in the long-term vision is the “Low-traffic neighbourhood” (which we call a liveable neighbourhood, or LN). The final form of Connecting Oxford has particular relevance to the prioritisation of LNs:
_ Adoption of the seven-gated version of Connecting Oxford makes Headington Quarry the priority for LN treatment. This area is already overrun by extra-neighbourhood car journeys — journeys that neither originate nor terminate in the Quarry area. An LN here should cover a roughly 1 sq-km area and will be even more crucial given the added pressure to reach Headington workplaces and the JR hospital by private car. Such journeys need to be routed onto the proper through-route arterial infrastructure. Traffic evaporation will prevent such routes from experiencing the ‘gridlock’ that many will fear will result from a Quarry LN.
_ Adoption of the existing five-gated version of Connecting Oxford means LN treatment will be urgent in several East Oxford neighbourhoods, in addition to Quarry in Headington. Already, in East Oxford alone, LN campaigns are springing up in: Divinity-Road area; St Marys Ward area; Florence Park, and Church Cowley area. Each of these will need modal filtering to deal with the increased pressures of through-traffic trying to reach Headington and Marston from the south of Oxford (and vice-versa).
The moment for leadership
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets and our partners in the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT) enthusiastically welcomed the councils’ ambition when Connecting Oxford was unveiled in summer 2019. As of now, spring/summer 2020, the context has changed in ways that we will only begin fully to appreciate in the months and years to come. We urge our leaders to revisit their pre-COVID-19 plans, upgrade them in the key ways we’ve outlined, and if necessary re-engage the public on them. The situation demands nothing less.