Cycle-path diversion through University Parks
By Alison Hill
Alison is Chair of Cyclox
The Marston cycle-path bridges across the River Cherwell were built more than 30 years ago. Both are in urgent need of repair, and are now being worked on. As a bit of back history – how do we have this wonderful and essential Marston cycle path? The University of Oxford Congregation approved the lease of land across Marston water meadows to the County Council. The County now operates the path and is responsible for the upkeep of the cycle track itself and the bridges on which it crosses the river.
Lemond and Fignon
The bridges, named Lemond and Fignon, have not had much maintenance since the route was created. Refurbishment is now needed to avoid unscheduled emergency closures in the future.
How did the bridges get their names? In 1989 Laurence Fignon, after 3,285 km of cycling and 21 stages plus a time trial, lost the Tour de France by 8 seconds to Greg LeMond. This is the smallest margin in the history of the Tour. And as the bridges are separated by an 8-second cycle ride someone had the whimsical idea of naming them after the two rivals.
Closing a key ride-to-school route
These repairs were meant to be completed over the summer but the delay in obtaining approvals means that they are taking place now schools are back. The closure of the route raised concerns from cycling groups, including Cyclox, and from Marston residents. They worried that the alternative routes across the Cherwell from Marston were too challenging. They involved either going round the Plain and across Magdalen Bridge (which many people are fearful of doing), or taking the quieter route along the Marston Ferry cycle path which adds 2 or 3 miles to the journey.
Because of these concerns the County Council has negotiated with the university and the University Parks management to allow people on bikes to cross the river at the Rainbow Bridge (confusingly called High Bridge in all the notices about the diversion). They can then push their bikes along the River Cherwell through University Parks from the bridge to Cox’s Corner near Parson’s Pleasure. This is permitted between 7.00 and 9.00, and 15.00 and 17.00, on weekdays.
It is a welcome concession given that cycling, and even pushing bikes, is not normally allowed at any time in the University Parks.
Marshalling the route
The University Parks authority requested that the diversion be marshalled to ensure that people with bikes keep to the designated route and don’t cycle through the park. An urgent call went out 2 weeks ago for marshals, and 17 people have come forward to help. There is a 2-week pilot to see how workable the marshalled route is, with a decision about whether to continue with it at the end of the pilot period.
Five marshals met at 7.00 on the misty morning of 5 September, the first day the diversion was operating. They were greeted by Cllr Andrew Gant, who helped negotiate the arrangement with the university. The marshals positioned themselves along the route to give directions to cycle riders and request them to dismount and push their bikes over the bridge and along the path. On the first morning 62 cyclists used the diversion, some heading towards the city centre and Jericho and others heading towards Marston. Most were commuters but there were six children, and the numbers will increase as more schools go back. There was much grateful thanks from cycle riders, and buoyed up with coffee made by the Parks Superintendent, it was a cheerful launch.