Cycling in Oxford: better than Bath

Cycling in Oxford: better than Bath

By Roger Symonds

When I was a lad at school, riding a “racing bike” with dropped handlebars was the ultimate thrill. With three-speed gearing I could tackle steep hills. Now I can still just about ride hills, but with mountain-bike gears — 27 of them. During a period of about 25 years, I was seduced by driving cars, mostly Minis. I came back to cycling in the 1980s, no longer able to run because of an arthritic knee joint, and was able to use cycling as part of a fitness regime by commuting by bike.

My partner and I have been in Oxford for just over 2 years. Before that we lived in Bath. One of the reasons for moving to Oxford was that there is at least some infrastructure for cycling here and the city is mostly on the flat. In Bath, we were living at the top of a hill which meant a ride of 1.25 km with a rise of 200 m, so cycling home became increasingly difficult. But here in Oxford bikes can be our main mode of transport.

How is Oxford better?

One of the main differences between Oxford and Bath is the cycling infrastructure here. There are also, perhaps because of this, many more cyclists on the roads. Drivers are used to people riding bikes and appear to be much more patient than their counterparts in Bath, where there are fewer cyclists.

It is comforting to see the high number of people riding bikes in Oxford. We no longer feel like aliens on the roads.

When I was knocked off my bike by a car in Bath I was fortunate to be unhurt. I was not so lucky when I came off my bike after turning left and sliding along a “dropped” kerb, breaking my femur. I was unable to move out and do a proper left turn owing to heavy motor traffic.

Some drivers are hostile to cyclists. It is difficult to tell whether this is because bike riders are seen as delaying drivers, because drivers dislike the fact that bikes are able to pass them when they are stuck in traffic, or because of a deeper resentment that drivers may not be able to enjoy the fitness levels and wellbeing provided by riding a bike.

And how will it be even better?

My own experience of being overtaken at speed by cars, particularly on hills, is that it is frightening and dangerous. It led me to ride on pavements in Bath when going uphill. Cyclists will feel safer once the proposed “Quickways” project is implemented, removing parking spaces from main roads to allow space for protected cycle lanes.

“Quickways” should make using a route to school or work safer and more direct.

Even reducing through-traffic in residential areas is proving controversial in some places, but in Oxford these Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) are going ahead. In East Oxford some are already completed. In an LTN one end of a road is blocked off, allowing only local traffic, wheelchair users, walkers and bike riders. This idea is not new and there are long-standing examples already in place, for instance in Fairacres Road and Tree Lane in Iffley. With growing concerns about climate change, more sedentary lifestyles and increasing pollution in our cities, most local and national decision makers are looking to fund more cycle infrastructure, even though there is some noisy opposition. The County Council must hold its nerve.


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