More need to start cycling

Monday 3rd May 2010       By James Styring in the Oxford Mail.

For all its vibrancy and variety, the chronic traffic on Cowley Road in East Oxford is unbearable. Over the years, Oxfordshire’s love of the car has gone stratospheric.

Most of Oxford’s arterial roads, and those in the market towns, have heavy traffic at commuter times. A few, like Cowley Road, are rammed all day long.

The crawling queues start at 8am and stop-start traffic appears endlessly, car after car, all day until mid-evening. Certain events such as the Friday afternoon mosque time paralyse the local transport network for an hour, and school and Brookes terms make a big difference, but otherwise traffic is slow but relentless.

The preponderance of cars with single occupants is astounding. The cost of car driving has plummeted annually since the 1970s. Way too many people can now afford to drive, and they do so way too often.

Heavy traffic is stressful, but the invisible spectre of air pollution should not be forgotten. Even modern vehicles emit a lethal cocktail of gases such as nitrous dioxide.

Poisonous gases are at such toxic levels on the congested arterial roads that Oxford may become an Air Quality Management Area (AQMA). County Hall applauds the individual’s choice to drive, but when that choice renders the road network useless and we all choke on the fumes – what kind of choice is that?

The AQMA means the county council will have to come up with special anti-pollution measures. What measures?

The obvious answer is fewer drivers, more cyclists. All the evidence shows that no one measure works in isolation. The approach adopted by the first six cycle demonstration towns, including Aylesbury, using a range of “soft” and “hard” measures has resulted in a huge rise in cycling.

The soft measures are the most effective but time-consuming. Council officers go door-to-door offering tailored “personal travel plans”. When people realise how quickly and cheaply their three-mile commute or school run can be done using a bike, it is amazing how many people make the switch from car. Eighty per cent of UK journeys are shorter than five miles and 50 per cent are shorter than three miles, so you can see the potential for increases in cycling.

The hard measures mean putting bikes first at junctions, giving bikes filters at traffic lights and making the cycle route network properly joined up and suitable for novice and regular cyclists. Proper mass-cycle parking systems are needed in the city centre.

In Oxfordshire, the big institutions should play their part. A huge number of cars in Oxford belong to students. Brookes in particular needs to do more to discourage students from driving. It should enforce the rule that students in halls can’t bring cars – hundreds flout it.

Oxford University should find a way of making its colleges relinquish hundreds of their car parking spaces.

The Post Office seems to be going backwards. It should encourage posties to use those lovely red Pashley bikes to do their rounds, instead of phasing in vans.

The city council has a pathetic record for ensuring that new properties are built with the legal number of cycle stands. Some worshippers do cycle to the Manzil Way mosque, which has parking for 100 cars, but there is not a single cycle parking stand.

How long must we wait for the cycling nirvana?