Oxford Pedestrians Association (OxPA)
31 March 2015
Oxford Pedestrians Association response to the consultation on the Local Travel Plan 4
and Oxford Transport Strategy 2015 – 2031
We welcome the emphasis in Section 4 of the OTS on promoting Walking and Cycling. Clearly, encouraging people to adopt these modes of transport must be seen as critical to the success of the whole strategy.
And yet, whilst there is a wealth of detail and many specific proposals for development of the infrastructure for cycling, we feel the document shows good intent, but lacks detail on encouraging walking. This is further emphasised in Volume 4, which sets out in great detail ‘Cycle, Freight and Bus Strategies’ without mention of walking and its requirements.
Other than some anodyne comments on pages 19 – 20 about ‘walking in the city [being] a comfortable experience’ and ‘cycling and walking [being] at the heart of continued and sustainable growth’, the text on walking is confined to something less than two columns on pages 22-23. But this text is almost entirely lacking in specific proposals, in marked contrast to the detailed plans for cycle routes. Such detail as there is, is almost entirely based on pedestrianisation of City-centre streets. We agree that is important and will add to the quality of the experience of walking in the City centre, but what is needed in addition is more encouragement for people to walk into and out of the City centre and between neighbourhoods. There is brief mention of improvements to ‘public realm’ in Cowley and Headington, but no detail. Our points below regarding transformation of Broad Street and St Giles into beautiful public spaces to encourage walking are amongst many examples where we would want to see more specific plans.
A key issue in making the experience of being a pedestrian more enticing is to remove adjacent traffic. Of course the proposals for more pedestrianisation are welcome as a part of this, but they do not go far enough: we are disappointed not to see mention of the transformation of St Giles from a 4-lane dual carriageway into a beautiful public space, with some traffic of course but much more space for walking and ‘just being’. We would also like to see pedestrianisation of Broad Street mentioned, and some plans for transforming the presently ugly triangle of Magdalen Streets East and West: this should not be used as a bus park.
Reducing the impact of adjacent traffic
To improve the experience of walking in the City Centre, it is essential to remove, or at least seriously reduce, traffic. The experience of walking along the potentially beautiful High Street, for example, is marred by over-crowded pavements and juggernaut buses thundering by a metre or so away. Walking in the streets of central Oxford needs to be transformed by removal of large Diesel-powered buses. It is not for us to say how this should be achieved, but we note that there are already too many, too large, buses in the High Street, not quite up to Oxford St levels, but sometimes almost. We need to reduce this volume even before we go over to BRT (which we assume will be instead of, not as well as, buses along the High Street). London/airport coaches should be re-routed at least on the return journey, preferably both directions, and a shuttle should be provided to take people to P&R from several inner-city points. The number of local buses that go in both directions along the High could also be reduced if some were replaced by an inner-city shuttle between The Plain and the railway station. We recognise that the proposed bus tunnels will do much to remove this bus traffic, but there seems to be no ‘Plan B’ if these should prove impracticable, as many believe they will.
There is also a need to reduce traffic speeds: 20 mph was a good start to making Oxford a lower speed city, but it was too timid and partial to be easily enforced or to make a real change to drivers’ attitudes. We need 20 mph to be the established norm everywhere within the ring road. This would also seriously reduce the street clutter of 20 and 30 signs that have proliferated.
There is a great need to lower traffic volume to encourage walking and to improve the experience of walking. The OTS plans recognise the need to reduce private car use, but we believe the County Council will have to show greater determination to effect it against undoubted stiff opposition. Both workplace parking levies and road charges may be needed to make an impact on how people behave.
We would also strongly support an aim that is not very explicit at present, that of eliminating through traffic from the City. We would strongly support closure of Hythe Bridge Street, Oxpens Road and Longwall Street to through traffic. This would mean that people could drive into and out of, but not through, Oxford, which would tackle air pollution as well as making the city a much nicer place. This would all be part of working to achieve a modal shift.
We are also disappointed not to see specific mention of the much-discussed and universally-acknowledged need to provide a pleasant and easy pedestrian route between City centre and railway station. Much lip service has been paid to this with little (if any) action, and no proposals in the OTS document. Yet if we want visitors to arrive in Oxford feeling a desire to walk in this City, we need to provide them with a pleasant experience as they arrive, not one that will make them feel that actually pedestrians are at the bottom of the hierarchy, as at present.
Improving the pedestrian experience
More generally in Oxford, pedestrians need to feel that they are not second-best to vehicular traffic: this means improved road crossings, better timing of pedestrian crossing lights (the delay period needs reconsideration), and freedom from noxious exhaust gases. Also walking needs to be a pleasant experience rather than an anxiety of crossing roads and dealing with badly-surfaced pavements. Pavements should be level, uncluttered, maintained in good condition, and kept free of ice in winter.
Connecting the neighbourhoods to the City Centre
Walking between outlying centres (e.g. Headington, Summertown) and City Centre would be facilitated by good, well-maintained and well-lit footpaths. Cuckoo Lane from Headington is a good example: at present, especially in winter, the section of this between Franklin Close and Pullens Lane (also used by cycles) is so muddy that it is not suitable for people in business attire – hardly an incentive for people to commute by this route. Summertown is potentially connected to the City Centre by the Cherwell riverside path, but this is mired in deep bog for much of the year. Such routes need investment to make them pleasant and easily-used walking experiences. There is also a well-recognised need (it is in the City Council’s strategic plan) for a path along the left bank of the Thames to connect Iffley to the City centre via Christchurch Meadow.