d) Frideswide Square

Frideswide Square is currently a traffic-filled horror. The layout tries to cope with being the busiest traffic junction in Oxford, giving buses and cycles some protection and priority, and being the access to the railway station.

The County Council wants to improve the square, under its Transform Oxford programme, which aims to improve the pedestrian experience in the city centre, moving the buses out of the way where necessary. It’s also part of the County’s Access to Oxford project, which seeks to make substantial improvements for journeys into Oxford, in this case by improving pedestrian/cycle/bus access to the station.

The County are considering a three-roundabout solution (see diagram). Cars would be allowed to use Becket Street in both directions, so traffic would spread out and the roundabouts could be quite small. Cars would have to turn a slight corner on entering the roundabout, to keep speeds down to about 15mph. There would be no formal pedestrian crossings, with cars expected to let pedestrians cross at will.

This is an adaptation of a “shared-space” design from Drachten in the Netherlands (report; web-review). It will have to be heavily adapted, because the Drachten design relies on bicycles having legal priority over the traffic (which we can’t really do in the UK).

Roundabouts are good at handling large volumes of traffic, but don’t work when traffic queues back onto the roundabout. There’s a distinct risk that the roundabouts would just let more traffic into Oxford. So the idea is that traffic will be held back at traffic lights before the junction, to give buses priority. We think this is excessively complicated and unworkable. Since the only people speaking up for roundabouts are motorists, there might also be a few howls of indignation when they start getting held back by traffic lights.

After studying the plans, we felt the roundabouts could be made OK for cycling, using a mix of European best practice – and the County has agreed to talk to us about improving that aspect of the design. We’d probably keep the bicycles on the road (with cycle lanes up to the roundabout), like a half-sized version of The Plain, but with (space-permitting) a pavement route for those who really can’t face the roundabouts. But we are pretty skeptical that roundabouts-plus-bus-gates is going to give buses enough priority to get people out of their cars. See our response for more detail.

We proposed an alternative design – diverting all the Botley Road traffic along Becket Street, so only buses and cycles could take the direct route across the square. The County only really gave this idea a cursory examination, and have concentrated on trying to make roundabouts-plus-bus-gates work.

The project may well be put on hold due to funding cuts.