Oxfordshire County Council’s Cycling Champion
By Councillor Andrew Gant
A few years ago, Park Lane in central London had four lanes of cars noisily coughing north on its western carriageway. Now there is just one. The road space freed up forms part of a transformational network of cycle and active travel infrastructure.
That’s the kind of vision we need for Oxfordshire.
It’s easy to list the problems: cycle into Oxford from, say, Woodstock, through my county council division of Wolvercote and Summertown, and you face the terrifying prospect of negotiating the A34 slip-roads without a controlled crossing. Make it round the glacially slow pedestrian lights at the Wolvercote roundabout and you join the Woodstock Road cycle lane, which moves on and off the pavement, from one side of the road to the other, in and out of the bus lane, then, just as it approaches access points to several schools, stops altogether. Easily commutable cycling distances like Woodstock-Oxford become impractical and off-putting. Parents put the kids in the car because they feel safer. So much for “Welcome to Oxford, A Cycling City”.
Other often-encountered barriers to cycling (literally) might include things like a badly-designed gate or crossing, poorly-maintained markings, and inconsiderate and illegal parking rarely enforced. When contractors need to take over space for legitimate reasons of access, they can seem more willing to inconvenience cyclists than drivers.
We need to do better. The new Oxfordshire Fair Deal Alliance leading the County Council is committed to real change. I am thrilled to be taking on the role of County Cycling Champion and working alongside my counterparts in the city and districts to deliver that change.
But let’s be clear about the challenges. We can’t change everything all at once. Schemes happening now are the implementation of policies and permissions agreed some time ago. We need to embed our vision of the future shape and character of our county in key initiatives like Local Plans, Oxfordshire 2050 and the Arc. Policies need to be joined up, not stop at some arbitrary boundary of site or local authority. Good quality consultation and engagement is hard work, but absolutely vital. Climate change, and physical and mental well-being, must be at the top of our aims and priorities. Cycling has a key role to play in all that.
Central government needs to play its part. Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, have made some very welcome noises about the importance of cycling. At the same time, short-term schemes on tight timescales don’t always allow for the most strategic approach to planning. We have some of the best and most dedicated transport officers in the country right here in Oxfordshire, not least because they, like your elected councillors, use our transport networks every day to get themselves and their families around. It would be great to see a really substantive gesture of trust and confidence in Oxfordshire from central government, to design our own future, under local democratic accountability.
The day-to-day benefits and convenience of cycling are incalculable. As a resident and parent I’ve always tried to make cycling the default choice, when it has been the safe and reliable thing to do.
So let’s make it the safe and reliable thing to do. Provide decent infrastructure, and people will use it. Make our towns and cities, and the routes between them, nicer places to be, and people will come. It’s about making the right choice the convenient choice.
Let me know how I can help your community achieve those benefits. There is a huge prize to be had.