The chaos that is Broad Street

By Alison Hill

On 22nd September Broad Street was free of all motor traffic for a joyful few hours to mark World Car Free Day.  The street was open only to people travelling on foot and cycle, and with all car parking removed, people were able to wander freely in the middle of the street, and those on bikes were able to cycle without constantly being on the alert for cars and vans.  It is one of the most beautiful streets in the world, and that day it showed itself off in all its glory (despite the rain). 

Go to Broad Street on any other day and you will see unsightly trucks, vans and cars moving hither and thither, creating air pollution, noise pollution, and an uncomfortable, unattractive environment for all using the street. It is far from peaceful. Does this have to be? Could Broad Street be freed from motor traffic and turned into a city plaza, a beautiful public space with trees and even fountains, in which people can linger and appreciate the magnificent buildings, like in so many other European cities.  The car free day gave us a taste of what it could be like, but one day a year is just tokenism. This needs to be all day everyday as soon as possible.

Members of Cyclox and the Oxford Pedestrians’ Association spent Wednesday morning last week watching and recording traffic movement in Broad Street to gather evidence about who uses the street.  We wanted to understand why people choose to park there, and who is making use of the street, in order to persuade our politicians that the status quo is not acceptable. Nine volunteers stood in Broad Street for a morning watching traffic movement and talking to people who parked. And it is truly chaos.  

There are 25 metered car parking spaces where people can park for up to 2 hours (£6 on weekdays, £7.50 weekends).  The parking spaces were being used by construction workers, people on business, shoppers, and sightseers. All were happy to talk to us and explain why they had chosen to park there. By late morning the car parking spaces were full, and people had started to cruise around to find a space.  

But the car parking spaces aren’t the only place where people park. There are loading bays on both the south and north side of the street, with 30-minute parking for loading and unloading.  Drivers of private cars were using these spaces, much to the annoyance of those driving trucks and vans who weren’t able to access the bays themselves, and who had to do more cruising and waiting (and idling).  We also saw people parking on double yellow lines for much longer that the 30 minutes allowed. (It was notable too that despite all these observed infringements we saw not a single traffic enforcement officer for the whole morning.)  All this contributed to the sense of anarchy and lawlessness, a free-for-all.

Broad Street free of motor traffic can’t come soon enough.

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