£3 million to get more people cycling and walking in Oxfordshire

By Alison Hill and Robin Tucker

Earlier this year the cycling community in Oxfordshire were dismayed when Oxfordshire County Council lost half of a government grant that aimed to help keep people cycling and walking as lockdown eased. We were therefore anxious when we heard that the announcement of the second tranche of funding was imminent. 

So the news on Friday 13th that Oxfordshire County Council won £2.98m from the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund to reduce traffic and improve cycling and walking conditions in East Oxford, Bicester, and Witney, was a relief and a cause for celebration.  

The fund was set up by the Government to retain the large uptake of cycling and walking that we saw in the first lockdown. As Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, said in May, without a major effort to keep people cycling and walking, with less public transport capacity “more cars could be drawn to the road and our towns and cities could become gridlocked”.  

The funding in Oxford will be for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods in the Cowley area, which will block rat-running through residential streets. It will also pay for two traffic filters (like the one in the High Street where only authorised vehicles such as buses and emergency vehicles are allowed through): one in Cowley Road and one in the Warneford Lane area, which will reduce traffic on Cowley Road, Divinity Road and Warneford Lane. These changes will make our streets quieter, cleaner and safer – enabling people to choose cycling, or walking instead of driving for most journeys.   

Residents in Bicester and Witney will benefit from routes connecting them to the town centre, enabling shopping trips by bike, or foot. Research studies have shown that people walking, or cycling spend more overall than those arriving by car – less per trip, but making many more trips. So these schemes should benefit the local shops as well as our lungs. 

The Department for Transport emphasises the need for consultation in the deployment of these schemes.  While national surveys find that six times more people support measures to encourage cycling and walking than oppose them, those that do oppose, raise loud voices.  Recently these were sufficient for the County Council to pause its plans for temporary bus gates.  It is vital that the residents are well engaged so they understand the full benefits and implications. The many myths around traffic filters need to be dispelled.

The details of design are important too.  Other schemes have been compromised because of posts in the middle of cycle tracks, or dangerous kerbs.  Our detail obsessed cyclists, and our friends in the Pedestrians’ Association can spot hazards that the Council’s planners sometimes miss.  The traditional ‘design first – consult later’ approach always leaves us needing to point out problems that could have been spotted earlier in the process. We hope the Council will engage us early so we can work together for a good solution.

We are excited at what changes these funds can bring about. We also know that while this is a great step forward, much more is needed to ensure that people choose to cycle rather than jump in a car.

Photo: Dawson Street traffic filter, courtesy of Oxfordshire Liveable Streets.

Alison Hill is Chair of Cyclox. Robin Tucker is Chair of Oxfordshire Cycling Network and recently elected Cycling UK trustee (2021 onwards).

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