Dick Wolff is Oxford City Council councillor for the St Mary’s ward in East Oxford. This letter is his response to a letter from a resident, who was unhappy about plans to introduce LTNs in the area. 


 

Not long ago I did a Google map directions search from Bedford Street (Iffley Fields) to the hospital and it gave a time difference between cutting through Magdalen Road and Divinity Road or going round The Plain of between one and two minutes. I don’t call that “totally taking away connectivity”!

As I’ve said, cutting off the Magdalen/Divinity Road cut-through would transfer that cutting-through traffic on to the Cowley or Iffley Roads. But the increase in traffic round the Plain that results – which I agree may happen – is unlikely to be any more than the increase that’s happened over the last five years as a result of the sheer increase in the volume of overall traffic, and the fact that the bus companies are having to run a third more buses than they need to. ‘Gridlock’ is a word being used a lot, but gridlock is when the system actually locks up and no one can move in any direction, so you have to bring a crane in. What you are talking about is traffic delays, not ‘gridlock’. By far the best way of preventing that congestion is by people who don’t need to use a car to make short journeys in our congested city finding another way of getting around, or car sharing. It is car drivers who are ‘imposing’ problems, because nobody voted for the traffic congestion we’ve had in recent years. Except, I suppose, car drivers themselves.

Businesses always complain they’ll lose business – but I’ve yet to hear a true story of one that has. The best thing business owners could do to make their case is to have a clipboard at the checkout and get customers to tick by which means of transport they got to the shop. Business owners often imagine that >80% of their customers come by car. In East Oxford I’d be surprised if it’s as much as 10%. Generally – as we found during lockdown – people not driving around drives up footfall to local businesses.

I had to grin when I saw the reference to people being able to get to the mosque. I’m a religious man – a retired church minister. An imam friend once told me that there is a passage in the Holy Qur’an that says that every footstep someone takes towards the mosque will be rewarded :

“He who purifies (performs Wudu’) himself in his house and then walks to one of the houses of Allah (mosque) for performing an obligatory Salat, one step of his will wipe out his sins and another step will elevate his rank.” (I can’t find the reference – I think it’s in the Jannah sura). Actually, on those occasions when I’ve attended the mosque I’ve rarely seen anyone arrive by car (other than taxi).

The one way system proposal — I imagine you mean the one that [a local taxi firm] has produced — would actually make matters worse. (1) it wouldn’t actually take any cars off the road or stop them driving through my ward, so it wouldn’t create a ‘low traffic neighbourhood’, which is the whole idea (2) it would encourage speeding because there would be nothing coming the other way, and a lot of people have told me they’re worried about speeding. We had a car on its roof in James Street last week, after it had hit residents’ cars speeding. (3) and when confused people make a mistake and go up a one way street the wrong way, or if a cyclist decides to chance it doing the same, I foresee road rage incidents and serious accidents. No thank you! Imagine Divinity or Southfield Road being one way and a cyclist bombing down it at 30 mph to find a car coming round the midway bend the other way (4) many residents would actually have to drive further to get to or from their house than they would with the LTN in place.

In St Marys, the ones you’re calling ‘lobby groups’ are elected councillors (both Labour and Green), and we’ve just been re-elected. We try to represent everybody, but in a world where there will never be consensus and yet decisions have to be made, we are also called to lead. Sometimes that means asking people to make concessions for the greater good, and for the weaker amongst us. One of the things I have resented in the criticisms is the accusation that disabled people and the poor will be more disadvantaged by the LTN. The exact opposite is the case. In a low traffic neighbourhood, people in wheelchairs, unaccompanied children walking, children on bikes, people who don’t have cars and so use a bike, can get about safely. With the East Oxford LTN in place, a twelve year old could cycle safely, unaccompanied, from James Street right through to the Kassam or Blackbird Leys on quiet roads (if they made a safe crossing at Church Cowley Rd). Yet only yesterday I had someone explaining that they “had to” drive their children to school when all they had to do was walk across Florence Park! School surveys show that children would much rather go to school under their own steam. No, the only ones disadvantaged are those rich enough to have cars, which in St Marys Ward is actually the minority. (Car ownership in the 2011 census was only 30% of households in some streets, 50% in the most streets).

There’s a selfishness in driving a car around for short journeys when you don’t need to: apart from the air pollution it creates, it clogs up the streets and makes journeys more difficult for those who actually need to use cars. That means some disabled people (I say “some” – my 93 year old father in law with knee replacements, a bad hip and macular degeneration, who struggles to walk 200m, doesn’t think twice about cycling up to the JR on his ebike), professional carers visiting clients, tradespeople trying to earn their living, taxi drivers likewise, delivery drivers . . . we need to get out of their way and let them get on with it. But unless those with the power to make those decisions actually do, individual drivers are not necessarily going to make that decision voluntarily – although many have done. I drive a car, but never within the city (other than to get out of it). I would challenge all those who use a car to make short journeys by car within the city to think about the impact it has on other people. If they think about it, they may conclude that the reason they prefer the car is because cycling is too dangerous, the bus is too slow. And the reason for that is . . . too many cars! It’s a self-created problem and it has become a vicious circle.

Please think about this and share the thinking with others. It’s not as simple as many think. I hope the East Oxford schemes go in soon, and let’s hope the trial works. When they did an LTN in Waltham Forest some years ago there was massive angry opposition from a minority (with coffins being paraded around in demonstrations!) and in the consultation it only got 54% support. A recent survey revealed that less than 2% would want to go back to how things were – and it hasn’t caused much increase on the arterial roads.

Peace to you.

Councillor Dick Wolff
St Mary’s Ward, Oxford

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