Oxford’s new Zero Emission Zones

Oxford’s new Zero Emission Zones

By Alison Hill

Next Monday, several streets in the centre of Oxford will become Zero Emission Zones. These include Bonn Square, Cornmarket Street, Queen Street, St Michael’s Street, Ship Street, New Inn Hall St, and a section of Market Street. Only fully electric vehicles and taxis will be able to enter these streets freely. Owners of hybrids, petrol and diesel vehicles, may be charged (or fined) if driven into the zone between 7am and 7pm, unless exempted. These streets are largely restricted to traffic already, so this first step is quite a small one, but it is very significant in improving the health of residents and workers and as part of a wider long-term strategy to keep Oxford moving and the economy of the city vibrant.

It is being undertaken as a pilot to test how the scheme will work and to test the technology, with the streets being monitored by Automatic Number Plate Recognition. Oxford leads the way as it is said to be the first zero emission zone in the UK! 

Even on this small scale there is a modest gain to be made for people cycling. New Inn Hall Street is part of the National Cycle Route 5 and anyone who travels by bike along there finds it blocked regularly by delivery vehicles. Another important gain that this change will promote is an increase in cargo bike deliveries. Many of the businesses will be exploring the use of cargo bikes – a zero-emission and relatively inexpensive way to get deliveries. 

For now, very few people will notice a difference in their journeys by motor vehicle through the city centre as the affected streets are mainly used by traders and businesses. But the big change comes when the zone is extended. The intention of both the City Council and the County Council is to extend the Zero Emission Zone to a much wider area in the city centre taking in Oxpens Road, Hythe Bridge St, St Giles, Parks Rd and South Parks Rd, the High St and St Aldate’s.

The timescale for the wider area has not been announced but will be subject to a further round of assessments and consultations as part of the wider zero-carbon transport plan for Oxford announced on Friday 18th February. This will mean that many current journeys in higher emission vehicles will be subject to charging, in a similar way to the London Congestion Charge and, if Oxpens Road is included that will help reduce the terrible traffic jams that occur at weekends when drivers are trying to access the Westgate car park.

Of course, the numbers of low-emission or zero-emission vehicles will be increasing steadily over the next few years so drivers of vehicles that are exempt, or subject to a lower charge for entering the zone, could build traffic up again.  

For this reason, it is imperative that new proposals for transport in the city are implemented at the same time. These should result in a big reduction in traffic coming into the centre along the main roads. Just think of the jams along the High Street from the Plain created by people wanting to turn right into Longwalls. Those jams should disappear instantly.   

So, why is all this important for people wanting to cycle? One of the main reasons people give for not cycling is the fear of traffic. Oxford city is heavily congested, and many find cycling in traffic an unpleasant, even frightening experience.

Once people see that our city centre and main arterial roads are quieter, they will feel safer to cycle, and those people that would have driven will feel safer to get out of their car, reducing the number of cars on our roads and adding to the number of people cycling, creating even quieter streets!


2 Responses

  1. […] remains sadly dominated by cars. Can I hope that this parking will be removed soon, the tiny zero emission zone will expand, and we will finally create similarly attractive central spaces here in […]

  2. […] not. For example, if we continue to build more housing around Oxford, will people still be able to drive into the centre? Can we fit more vehicles in our limited space during peak times? Can we tolerate the air pollution […]

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