The Red Zone Zero Emission Zone

There’s a consultation out on the Red Zone Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) in Oxford city centre. This is the start of a substantial programme to tackle city centre air pollution over the next few years, which with the Connecting Oxford plan will make a dramatic improvement to Oxford’s air quality. We should support this tentative first step to a better environment for us all. With fewer cars and cleaner air, more people will be happy to walk and cycle.

Air quality is at unsafe and illegal levels in many places in our city. The two councils, Oxford City and Oxfordshire County, are consulting until the end of January on a plan to remove polluting vehicles from Queen Street, Cornmarket, St Michael’s Street, Ship Street and New Inn Hall Street between 7am and 7pm. Low emission vehicles and disabled badge holders will be allowed in but others will have to pay £10 or be fined £120.

As in the High St at present, monitoring will be by number plate recognition. As motor vehicles are already banned from Cornmarket and Queen Street you may ask will the ZEZ have any effect? Delivery lorries will either unload at night or change to low emission vehicles so the many walkers and cyclists who currently use these streets for their daily commute will have much cleaner air – for that bit of their journey.

New Inn Hall Street presents the biggest chance of improvement and the biggest challenge. Cyclox surveyed van drivers, shop staff, walkers and people on bikes in New Inn Hall Street on two wet and windy mornings in November. The street is a major thoroughfare for cyclists and walkers. 3,500 people walked and 250 cycled in 2 hours on the Saturday morning survey, squeezing between delivery vans and lorries parked near Bonn Square. If deliveries were between 7pm and 7am the street would be much more pleasant for all. We recognise that this change will be very difficult for the shops and the van drivers and there will be lots of complaints. The city needs to be imaginative to help this transition – perhaps a loading bay on Norfolk St so that deliveries can get close to the shops and cafes. Cargo bikes will have a central role too.

Cities all over the world are tackling congestion and air pollution in much more radical ways than this. The ZEZ alone won’t make a difference to the High Street, St Aldates, Beaumont Street, Hythe Bridge Street but this is just the start – next year the ZEZ expands significantly. Fewer cars means buses can move more quickly through the city, helping everyone move more quickly.

Use the consultation to say that you support the proposals but want to see the councils be more ambitious. We must have a healthy city for all to enjoy. Air pollution is a health emergency affecting everyone, the old and young particularly. And we can tackle the climate crisis by using cars less. The ZEZ will help to reclaim our streets for people whether they are cyclists, or walkers.

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