Botley Road Corridor Improvements – consultation response

submitted by Oxfordshire Liveable Streets
contact Danny Yee <danny@oxlivsts.org.uk>

The scheme is basically a refresh of the existing layout, with some improvements but no change in fundamentals. In particular, it assumes as a primary goal the maximisation of motor vehicle throughput in peak hour, prioritising that over safety and accessibility for people walking and cycling.

The county claims to adhere to a hierarchy of transport modes in which walking is at the top, followed by cycling, then public transport, and then private motor vehicles. This design, like the existing road layout, clearly inverts that in many places.

The approach also seems to be quite “backward looking”. Some kind of management of motor traffic volumes is clearly necessary in Oxford, implemented through a congestion charge, further use of bus gates, or other controls. When this happens, it is likely to leave Botley Rd mis-designed for the resulting traffic flows, with space allocated to the wrong modes.

Given the last “refresh” of Botley Rd was over twenty years ago, the current redesign also needs to be considered in the light of the recent pledge to make the UK carbon-neutral by 2050. It is most unlikely that that the emissions reductions necessary to achieve that target can be made without significant reductions in car movements happening well before 2040.

In so far as the proposed improvements will smooth out motor traffic flows, that will only serve to attract more traffic, undoing most of the congestion gains on Botley Rd and making congestion worse elsewhere. Conversely, reducing motor traffic throughput here would increase congestion less than expected, because it would discourage people from driving, and would reduce traffic volumes elsewhere.

Cycling standards

The proposed design may be compatible with the Oxfordshire Cycling Design Standards, but if so that is only because those are much weaker than alternatives. Two more widely used documents are Highways England’s “Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network: Interim Advisory Note 195” (henceforth IAN195) and Transport for London’s “London Cycling Design Standards” (henceforth LCDS).

Looking at the space needed for cycling, IAN195 concludes: “The dimension of the cycle design vehicle shall be assumed as 2.8m long and 1.2m wide”. This is to allow use of infrastructure by vehicles such as cargo bikes and tandems and tricycles and bicycles pulling trailers.

Side-entry treatments

The proposed treatment of minor side road entries is one part of the proposals which would provide a qualitative improvement, not just on the existing layout but indeed on designs elsewhere in the county.

An essential feature is that the area of distinct pavement — the “brickwork” pattern in the illustrative drawings — extends, as shown in the drawings, well beyond the road entrance on both sides, to make it clear that it is pavement. Otherwise these entries will retain the problem the mid-sized road entries have, where the red-brick rectangle only covers the conflict area and thus marks some kind of intermediate “confused priority”.

Without access to traffic measurements it is hard to know, but Church Way and Binsey Lane could perhaps be treated as “minor” entries instead of mid-size ones. The more of these kind of entries there are, the quicker people will become used to them. (It is not clear that any problems would arise if the “minor” treatment were applied to (say) Charles St in East Oxford.)

The implied turning radii on some entries and exits (for example at Mimms Business Park) seem too large, with the likelihood that motor traffic will use the space provided by cycle lanes to make broader and faster turns. Consideration should be given to using physical barriers such as bollards to protect the cycle lanes on either side of the side-roads, and to impose sharper turns and thus lower speeds on entering and exiting motor traffic.

Consideration should be given to requiring a one-way entry-exit system for any West Way development, to allow narrower and less dangerous entries and exits for people walking and cycling, as well as simpler motor traffic movements. Such a one-way system could also work for the Retail Park and Lamarsh and Earl Sts.

Right-hand turns

While motor vehicles wanting to turn right into side streets have often been provided with extra turning lanes, there is in most cases no or very poor provision for people cycling wanting to carry out right-hand turns.

How does someone cycling eastwards on the north side of Botley Rd get into the Retail Park? They either have to cross four lanes of motor traffic, with no protection or signalling, or cycle past the entrance, cross two lanes of traffic to an refuge island and then another lane of traffic. Similarly, someone exiting the Retail Park and wanting to cycle eastwards needs to either cycle across four lanes of motor traffic, with no assistance, or cycle contraflow on the south side of the road to use the uncontrolled crossing via the refuge island.

Crossings

Multi-stage pedestrian/cycling crossings are inconsistent with the claimed modal hierarchy. They clearly prioritise motor traffic flows over safety and accessibility for people walking and cycling. And uncontrolled crossings are not appropriate for multi-lane roads carrying large volumes of fast-moving traffic.

Not only does the provision of bus lanes and right-hand turn lanes for motor traffic take the space that could have been used for adequate width footpaths and cycle lanes/tracks (see below), but by increasing the number of lanes of motor traffic at pedestrian crossings it directly reduces safety and accessibility for people using them.

Both the multi-stage signalised and the uncontrolled crossings need islands wide enough to accommodate people pushing double buggies and using wheelchairs or mobility scooters, and to fit larger bicycles.

Larger bicycles are disproportionately used by people unable to accelerate rapidly enough to safely cross four lanes of motor traffic to reach a cycle lane on the other side of Botley Rd: elderly people on tricycles, parents with child trailers or tandems, and couriers moving multi-hundred kilogram loads. Using the
unsignalised crossings may be the only option for these people to get across Botley Rd safely.

None of the proposed islands appear to be wide enough to fit the 2.8m of a bike plus child trailer; it is not clear whether they are long enough to fit two cargo bikes or wheelchairs side by side. If there is insufficient room to increase island widths, a second-best solution would be to increase the island lengths — that would make it possible to stop a longer bicycle, lengthways, facing the traffic, while waiting for a chance to complete the crossing.

Cycle lane widths

Botley Rd carries very high volumes of motor traffic, including significant numbers of buses and trucks. Census data suggests on the order of 500 people commute by cycling from west Oxford to central Oxford, and there will be significant volumes of non-commuter cycling as well. It is also to be hoped that improvements in this scheme would increase the number of people cycling along Botley Rd. Given these volumes of motor and cycle traffic, 1.5m width tracks or lanes are substandard by every modern cycling standard. LCDS gives 2.2m as the minimum width for a cycle lane under these conditions. IAN195 suggests 2.5m as the absolute minimum for a 1-way stepped cycle track — if peak cycle flows pass 150/hour, which they almost certainly do on Botley Rd — and 2m as the minimum otherwise — with 1.5m only acceptable for sections up to 100 metres.

The two major concerns here are overtaking and close-passing by motor traffic.

It is simply not safe to overtake another person cycling in a 1.5m wide lane, especially when directly adjacent to motor traffic. This is a particular problem with wider bicycles. Using the adjacent carriageway may be possible, but introduces safety problems of its own.

Of particular concern when it comes to close-passing is the narrowness of the traffic lanes, with the proposal including large stretches where these are only 3m wide. LCDS (page 52) says:

“Lanes of 1.5 to 2 metres may be acceptable provided that the
adjacent traffic lane does not have fast-moving traffic and a
high proportion of HGVs and is not less than 3.2 metres wide.”

A 2.5m wide bus in the middle of a 3m bus lane, passing a 1.2m wide bicycle in a 1.5m wide cycle lane or track, will be passing only 0.4m away. (Assuming both bus and bicycle are centred in their lanes, which they may have to be given the presence of other vehicles and pedestrians.) This is simply not safe! Recommendations for minimum safe passing distances vary, but the Highway Code recommends 1.5m — and that for speeds under 30mph.

Being passed by motor traffic 0.5m away leaves absolutely no room for error, and while it may be tolerated by the more confident it will deter most from cycling at all and is not safe for children or anyone even the slightest bit wobbly. (This layout will also force unreasonable choices on bus drivers, between safely overtaking — requiring use of the other lane and delays that may ruin their schedules — and endangering people cycling.)

1.5m cycle lanes directly abutting 3m lanes carrying buses and HGVs at speeds often approaching 40mph (the situation with the current 30mph speed limit and road layout) are manifestly unsafe.

The cycle lanes and tracks on Botley Rd should be 2.2m wide and separated from the carriageway by 0.5m. The removal of one motor traffic lane would provide space for this, as well as wider pavements. Where possible, some kind of ‘light’ physical barrier should be included, permeable to cycling but marking a clear barrier to motor traffic — the possibilities include wands of some kind, or stones such as on Donnington Bridge. As well as clearly separating the space for cycling, this would deter parking on the cycle lanes, which is a major problem elsewhere in Oxford.

Short stretches of 1.5m cycle tracks are acceptable away from motor traffic. Or with 0.5m separation from traffic, an adjacent traffic lane at least 3.2m wide, and a 20mph speed limit (with engineering and/or enforcement to keep almost all vehicles under 25mph).

Colouring cycling lanes and tracks

Both the on-carriageway cycle lanes and the stepped cycle tracks need to be coloured so they stand out from the main carriageway and the pavement and provide clear and consistent guidance to people driving and walking. Painted bicycle symbols are not sufficient: they have low salience at the best of times and a symbol is not always going to be directly in view of a driver turning into or exiting from a side road, or someone walking along the road or crossing a cycle track to a bus stop. Even the very faded colouring of parts of the existing cycling infrastructure on Botley Rd still provides useful guidance, so removing the colouring here would be a regression.

Given infrequent repainting, the colour should be integrated into the asphalt or bitumen and not simply painted-on. Any extra costs here need to be weighed against increasing safety risks as painted colour fades.

If there is limited money for colouring road surfaces, then colouring the cycle lanes and tracks should take precedence over colouring the bus lanes. Colouring of bus lanes mostly serves to prevent people driving accidentally getting fines, but colouring cycling space makes a significant difference to the safety of people cycling, and to a lesser extent of people walking.

The use of orange on the plans makes the cycling infrastructure seem much clearer and more distinct than it would be in any implementation without colour, or even with a less striking colour.

Major junctions

Colouring of cycle lanes at major junctions is critical, as they are often confusing. Guidance here — for people walking and cycling as well as people cycling — needs to be clear and immediate.

Wherever possible, the cycle lanes and mid-carriageway cycle and pedestrian waiting areas should be physically protected, to prevent or at least deter overruns by turning traffic.

Turning radii should be tightened to reduce speeds. Lanes should be narrower at junctions, not wider, to encourage lower traffic speeds and reduce crossing distances for pedestrians.

At signalised junctions, consideration should be given to providing cycle early starts, to assist slower people getting across the junction without in-junction overtaking by motor traffic.

The Eynsham Road junction is marked as “undergoing further development” and clearly needs some work. Most notably, there appears to be no pedestrian crossing of the main road on the plans. Turning left into Eynsham Rd, the indicated geometry — a wide entry lane with a sweeping curb — would encourage drivers to cut into the cycle lane and take the corner at speed. A physical barrier along the cycle path would prevent “cutting the corner”, that plus a kerb line that approximates a 90-degree turn would reduce speeds, and narrowing the entry lane would make crossing easier for pedestrians. Clearer marking of space, and clearer routing, is necessary for people turning right onto Eynsham Road.

The Westminster Way junction is somewhere cycle early start signalling would help, particularly with the right turns. The cycle lane on the southwest could be physically protected and the turn tightened, to try to prevent conflict between bicycles and vehicles trying to turn left at the same time. Westminster Way southbound has only one traffic lane, so the entry at the junction only needs to be one lane wide, not the one and a half lanes on the plans. Tightening this, and the West Way to Westminster left turning radius, would make pedestrian crossing faster and safer, and might release enough space on the southeast to allow a separate cycle track instead of a shared cycle-walk area.

There is no assistance for people cycling at the Seacourt Retail Park Entrance, so the right-hand turns entering and exiting are likely to be a major problem for many people. A proper cycle and pedestrian entrance to the Retail Park directly from the pedestrian-cycle crossing just west of the A420 junction would help here, especially if that crossing were fast and easy to use (not two-stage).

The A420 junction itself appears to have been designed on the assumption that no one cycles on the A420 slip road. This is probably reasonable, especially if there is better cycling access to and routing inside the Seacourt Retail Park. Some signs might help people trying to get to (say) Wytham.

Shared space

The introduction of bus stop bypasses (“floating” bus stops) for people cycling is another major improvement of the scheme, but the implementation as depicted has a major problem.

The scheme includes “shared space” areas behind all the floating bus stops, and at all crossings. While in some cases this is unavoidable — because otherwise there is nowhere for pedestrians to stand waiting to cross the road — in many places it is unnecessary and separate space for walking and cycling should be provided.

All the bus stop bypasses and some of the shared space areas at crossings are well away from motor traffic, so a brief stretch of sub-standard width cycle track and footpath, possibly as narrow as 1.2m, would be acceptable to reduce walking-cycling conflicts. Clear separation of space for cycling — this is another area where colour would help immensely — will reduce decision-making stress for both people walking and people cycling.

For example, at the uncontrolled crossing near Lamarsh Rd, on the north side there is separate space for pedestrians to stand waiting to cross. So instead of a shared space area, here there is no reason not to continue the cycle track and mark a crossing over it for people walking.

Similarly, at the eastbound bus stop just before Binsey Lane it would be much better to maintain a continuous cycle track and provide a pedestrian crossing from the footpath to the bus stop.

Speed limits

As mentioned, anywhere the cycle lanes/tracks drop below 2m in width and are directly adjacent to motor traffic, the speed limits should be reduced to 20mph, with either camera enforcement or some kind of traffic calming to make driving faster unattractive.

20mph speed limits should in any event be in place at pinch points such as Frideswide and Osney Bridges and at side entries such as the Retail Park where people cycling may have to cross four lanes of traffic.

Making all of Botley Rd 20mph may be more practical than changing speed limits several times.

General recommendations

Right-turning lanes and bus lanes should be considered only after adequate footpaths and cycle tracks are provided. The removal of one of the four traffic lanes along the length of the scheme would allow (at least as far as Binsey Lane) for wider footpaths and 2.2m wide cycle lanes with 0.5m of separation from motor traffic.

If this would result in unacceptable bus delays with current traffic volumes, then those should be reduced through road-pricing, perhaps some kind of congestion or access charge, or modal filtering, perhaps blocking Worcester St North to through traffic. Even if this can’t be implemented in time, the scheme should assume they are going to happen, and until they are rely on congestion being self-limiting.

Some changes that would help and which could be done without rethinking prioritisation of peak-hour motor traffic throughput: clear colouring of cycle lanes and tracks; 20mph speed limits, with enforcement; use of shared space areas only as a last resort; expanded island refuges; and single-stage signalised crossings.

1 reply
  1. Stephen Thomas
    Stephen Thomas says:

    I hope the consultation will be genuine. There is a real opportunity for change and improvement here. Oxford has a history of squandering such opportunities (how is the Plain working out for you all). Surely with a self-declared Climate crisis occurring in Oxford and beyond, it is time to look to the future. I hope this is the case and I will be loving it if the council listen and appropriately

    Reply

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