Address to Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet
on behalf of
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets
26th May, 2020
When it comes to transport, there is no longer a status quo. The population does not expect the usual procedures to apply. The government did not consult the people of Britain before implementing lockdown, and over 80% of the population consented to it, and now feels that it was the right thing to do. The reason was clear: public health.
The government is now telling you to do the same thing.
1st July is the watershed, when cafes, bars, even cinemas could open for business. People are scared about the uncertainty of the end of lockdown. They are more apprehensive than ever about coming into a city or town centre. They may come in once, but if they feel scared, unable to socially distance or breathe clean air, they will not come back. The government’s advice is to avoid public transport, and to drive where walking and cycling are not possible. For Oxfordshire, where the roads were at capacity since long before Covid-19, a sudden upswing in private car usage will present a challenge. Oxford and the town centres will choke, physically and economically.
As the local authority for Oxfordshire, you have the power to protect our businesses and our futures. Create an environment that puts people first, reassuring their fears by unequivocally prioritizing their health: in this case, protecting public space for social distancing, and protecting air quality to prevent exacerbating the impact of Covid-19.
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets (OLS) urges you to bring forward the implementation of a “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford, so that it is in place by 1st July. This is in line with other leading cities such as London, Manchester, Glasgow, Leicester, York, Brighton, and Bristol. On 21st January this Cabinet endorsed Connecting Oxford and we commend you for doing so. However, in their report officers noted that,
“Other traffic restrictions and other traffic management schemes, including ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’, might be required to ensure traffic is not displaced and residential roads are not used as rat-runs.”
The “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford achieves this instantly. It also creates room for walking and cycling now – while bus usage is discouraged – and will improve bus performance in the future. We know this is true from other authorities that have taken the leap – most recently Ghent in Belgium.
The good news: the “Plus” version of Connecting Oxford is only two bus-gates away from the original.
We further urge you to work closely with Oxford City Council and with the district councils to provide public space for city businesses to restart as lockdown eases; secondly, to fast-track ‘liveable neighbourhoods’ schemes; and thirdly, to commit to segregated and continuous cycle lanes along the lengths of the city’s main arterial routes, to allow those whose confidence at cycling has been growing during lockdown to continue their good habits, and make a permanent shift to active, healthy travel.
We commend you all for the outstanding work you’ve been undertaking so urgently with district councils and with Oxford City Council. We appreciate the extreme pressure you are under.
We’ve all seen the images of car-choked Wuhan, as residents replaced bus journeys with car journeys. Could that happen here? In January, the world looked at the quarantine of Wuhan, and thought, “That would never happen here.” In March, Boris Johnson told the nation that he was going to have to do the unimaginable and stop Britons going to the pub. Now, the government is telling you to act, and we urge you to act as well, to ensure that this county remains open for business.
Dr. Liz Sawyer
On behalf of
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets