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.

COVID-19

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.

Win-win

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.

Liveable neighbourhoods

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.

 

11 replies
  1. Tim Fenn
    Tim Fenn says:

    I find it amazing that people still claim that businesses will die as a result of reducing car traffic in urban centres. Haven’t any of these people been to Holland, Denmark or even Belgium? Businesses still operate, children can walk/cycle to school & shoppers are able to enjoy the pleasant ambiance & therefore are more likely to spend more time and money. Who really enjoys having a coffee/snack next to a busy car rammed street? There are bound to be problems at the start since some people will take time to realise it’s quicker to cycle in rather than drive. Others will establish new businesses and employment opportunities based on sustainable transport alternatives (e.g. last mile delivery systems, cargo bikes etc). Those that have disabilities will find it quicker and easier to get into to the centre because there will be no traffic. So too will the Emergency services. Town & city centres will need to have some significant changes in order to survive the post Covid world and this definity means a move away from car focussed transport!

    Reply
  2. Stephen Thomas
    Stephen Thomas says:

    To me this puts Oxford on the template similar to European cities that have a low traffic centre and reliable public transport in and out from the spokes.

    I don’t see how we keep going with the status quo unless we trial something like this. I fully accept adjustments may be needed but most criticisms I see don’t offer a viable alternative. The status quo is not viable btw

    Reply
  3. Megan Hooper
    Megan Hooper says:

    I agree with all the comments made by Maurice Cavey. The roads to be blocked are not rat runs they are often the only routes joining neighbourhoods. I can remember similar attempts to block traffic between the Cowley Rd and Morrel Ave / St Clements in the 1980s and that had to be abandoned (apart from Union St and East Ave) because of the traffic congestion it caused.
    I am greatly disturbed by the fact that more and more bus gates are to be added – ie the latest being somewhere in Cowley Road – in haste with no real public consultation. The city traffic will simply come to a standstill as cycling, busing or walking may not be an option for these travellers. A major part of the problem in Oxford is the number of people who need to come into the city from surrounding rural areas to work where their employer is not on an existing P+R bus route. The new route joining Redbridge and Pear Tree is ridiculously long. A more serious exploration of solutions is needed to develop existing bus routes and increase parking provision all around the ring road.
    I fail to see why Oxford residents need to be penalised everyday throughout the year when actually the main problem is during the rush hour and in term time.
    I worry too that all the new housing planned around the county will simply exasperate the situation. Where are all these new residents going to work?? Will there be sufficient employers with in cycling or walking distance. How many people are gong to benefit from a P+R near Eynsham. A single bus route into Oxford is unlikely to suit many employees.
    We need more joined up thinking and schemes that incentivise uses to be green not make their lives misery because suitable alternatives have not been provided.

    Reply
  4. Maurice Cavey
    Maurice Cavey says:

    I would agree with proposals to boost bike lanes and limit car speeds in the city to 20mph, but these bus gates will just divert traffic to longer journeys, using more fuel and taking more time, and leading to massive congestion and pollution on the remaining entry roads into the city, presumably the Botley and Abingdon roads. The ring road -already very busy – will be clogged, and this at a time when traffic in the city is relatively light due to Covid. This needs a rethink.

    Reply
  5. Richard
    Richard says:

    Probably a great boon for students and fit tourists (at least those without young kids). Also a positive for a few councillors to get in the press with a couple of smiley pics, citing some selectively chosen statistics. Not so convenient for everyone else i.e. the vast majority of people who pay their taxes locally. On the bright side, it’s pretty easy to drive to decent shopping centres elsewhere, if you’re not too bothered about a bit more CO2 generation.

    Reply
  6. Karen Underwood
    Karen Underwood says:

    As this stands there will be cars from in excess of 200 householders exiting the area through Westbury Crescent and the majority along the northern (top) side of the fork.

    Westbury Crescent is not suitable for this amount of traffic, the bend gives it poor visibility and as cars come around this bend then are often in the centre of the road. Even now we have occasions when vehicles suddenly have to stop as they come across a car travelling in the other direction on the bend which they didn’t see.

    The junction of Westbury Crescent with Rose Hill is not good for turning right (which many more cars will be doing as they cannot go down Church Hill Road)

    If more than 2 cars are waiting to turn out of Westbury Crescent and there are parked cars the junction is blocked for cars turning in from Rose Hill.

    There will be many more cars coming along Kilburne Road, another Road with a bend that is blind and puts the vehicle in the centre of the road.

    If you move the modal filter in Mayfair Road to the junction of Churchill Road and Kilburne Road. This will allow that end of our ‘estate’ to exit via Mayfair Road and reduce the number of cars coming down Westbury Crescent.

    Reply
  7. John
    John says:

    This is a much needed and timely plan, which I fully support. Climate change will not wait for us, we need to act now to do all we can to ensure we have a city that we can continue to enjoy and live in. With this plan there will be disruption, but I consider this a worthwhile price to pay to improve the safety, look, condition and quality of the area and air that we all share.

    Reply
  8. PHILLIP SCAYSBROOK
    PHILLIP SCAYSBROOK says:

    How the hell will I get to my business in the High Street. I drive along Marston Road, into St Clements and along High Street, and park in my own private space in Merton Street. I need my car to get to work, to bring in supplies and do deliveries. Four employees depend on me. I have barely survived lockdown and now this. Has the council not got a grip on reality. Half the shops in the High Street are empty, the rest will follow. You are all completely clueless.

    Reply
  9. ellen
    ellen says:

    What about those that are disabled, or have chronic or genetic conditions, and cant walk, cycle, or use a bus? Driving is the only option for me, like many others that live in Oxford.

    Reply
  10. Scott
    Scott says:

    When buses are back to being a viable form of transport at full capacity, it will be imperative to add a fast number-13 service from Oxford Station to the JR, going doing Marston Rd without deviation through New Marston.

    Reply

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