Bike tourism: a missed opportunity for Oxford

By Roger Symonds

My partner and I are recent Oxford residents and we love the city. We moved from Bath at the beginning of August 2019. One of the main reasons for the move was that Oxford is flat. We were also impressed by the number of people riding bikes and the bike infrastructure. In fact, Oxford is the second most popular UK city for cycling with 24% of journeys made by bike. Cambridge is first with 38%.

Therefore, it was disappointing to find that bikes did not get a mention in the tourism report commissioned by Oxford City Council’s Scrutiny Committee, published in May 2019. Much was made of the lack of overnight visitors, yet nothing was said about encouraging visitors on bikes, despite the fact that they carry little with them (and will consequently spend more), are more likely to stay overnight and make no adverse impact on the environment.

There was no encouragement to use Oxford as a base to tour the area. The many quiet roads and timeless little villages with cafes and pubs are a great attraction for bike tourers. For those who prefer hills to flat rolling countryside, the Chilterns are close.

Oxford has more to offer than beautiful buildings and museums. The diversity of restaurants on the Cowley Road, the Covered Market, the Botanic Gardens, river and canal walks/rides. Villages such as Thrupp, Woodstock and Brill with its windmill, (admittedly just over the border in Bucks) are within easy reach for bikes. However, I have yet to see any sign of bicycle tourists in the city. The report has missed an opportunity to promote Oxford as a bike-friendly city for people to use as a cycle-touring base. A small booklet, with basic circular routes, might help. All interested parties in the city and county, including universities and businesses, must be brought together to provide a vision for the development of Oxford attractions if the city is to retain and improve its place as one of the premier visitor cities in the UK.

Public transport connections – and therefore the number of visitors – are good from London and from the west of England. Most trains from Bristol and beyond, since the recent timetable changes, stop at Didcot, but from South Wales, nearly all the trains to Oxford involve 2 changes. There used to be a direct service between Bristol and Oxford, so perhaps the Councils should lobby GWR to restore this service and improve the connection with the west of England and South Wales.

I wonder what has happened to the Scrutiny Committee’s report, after it was presented to the council cabinet on 29th May 2019? How much progress has been made on implementing the recommendations?

Oxford can promote itself as a sustainable city. Already, many people accessing Oxford walk and ride bikes, use public transport and the Park & Rides. Future development, visitor strategies and action plans should aim to embrace and enhance this sustainable accessibility.

For more of Roger’s writing, check out his blog: Two Wheels Good and read his thoughts on Riding a bike in Oxford.

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