Why we support bus gates

By Alison Hill

Last summer (how long ago that now seems) our two councils published “Connecting Oxford”, proposing radical changes to the city transport. It included bus gates, better bus services connecting centres of employment in the east of the city, and a workplace parking levy to support these changes. The plan involved three city centre bus gates (also called traffic control points).

Bus gates are a short section of street through which only buses and other authorised vehicles can travel. The bus gates prevent private motor traffic driving through the centre, reducing traffic by an estimated 40% on the main roads. Removing through traffic means that all other journeys will be faster, there is no need for bus lanes, and the space released can be reallocated to provide space for people walking and cycling.

But then there was Covid-19 and at the height of the pandemic we saw what our city streets were like without traffic jams and with air you could breathe safely – one small silver lining in very dark clouds. Many people took advantage of the empty streets to get on their bikes. Now motor traffic is building up again and as people are reluctant to take public transport, the risk is that there will be even more congestion as people get into their cars to avoid travelling by bus.

In recognition of this the government has asked councils to implement emergency measures in towns and cities that will encourage people out of their cars and onto their feet and onto bikes. The city and county council are consulting on temporary bus gates as an emergency measure to cut
traffic in the city.

One bus gate will somewhere between Frideswide Square and Beaumont Street to prevent west-north traffic, and one will be somewhere between Longwalls and Parks Road to prevent east-north traffic. A third in Thames Street will come a bit later.

You can still drive to and park in the city centre, but the bus gates stop short cuts through the centre. This isn’t about banning cars and people who have to use cars can still drive from one location to another though journeys may be longer. By creating a safer environment, bus gates will help people choose to make short journeys by walking or cycling.

This is a bold step to make, and because it will inevitably affect people’s journeys, residents and businesses are anxious. The evidence though from the continent is that removing motor traffic so that people feel safe to walk and cycle creates a much more attractive and liveable environment welcomed by all. We know that some people will be inconvenienced but we also know that the bus gates will benefit many more people as they find that their journeys are faster, they breathe cleaner air, and they take more exercise. Evidence too shows more people walking and cycling is good for local businesses.

The closing date for the consultation is 9th August. Cyclox will be writing in support. It is essential that our councils hear your voice – so please go to the county council website and let them why you want to see bus gates in Oxford city.

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