Oxford City Council unveils transport improvements to 'kick start' local economy

Some of the measures being looked at include a new network of cycle routes and wider pavements.

Oxford City Council is trying to kick start the local economy, and 'lock in' the dramatic improvement in air quality - with pollution currently down almost 60% in Oxford city centre.

The authority is proposing a series of improvements to transport and public space, so that people can maintain social distancing.

It says it's looking to make 'once in a generation' improvements to transport and public space in the city centre to 'build on the openings presented by the Coronavirus' lockdown, and to continue to protect public health.

Possible arrangements being explored include:

  • Temporarily reallocating road space (through road closures, traffic light controlled one-way streets, and wider pavements) to allow people to walk and cycle safely into and around Oxford 
  • Supporting and improving cycling for commuting and daily journeys through the creation of segregated network of cycle routes, improvement in cycling infrastructure, and additional on-street cycle parking 
  • Re-organising bus routes in order to create additional road space required for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Suspending all loading bays during 'customer' hours to increase space for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Pedestrianising Broad Street with the removal of on-street parking bays and redesignating the space for social distancing-compliant mix of activities, including seating, but also potentially e.g. market stalls for businesses limited by social distancing in their own unit plus displaced street traders
  • Exploring an outdoor café culture, with temporary tables & chairs zones outside food premises to maintain capacity, whilst adhering to social distancing and maintaining a balance with additional space for walking and cycling

The measures are aimed at encouraging people back into Oxford as the lockdown is progressively lifted.

The city council says a number of them 'might be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic' to transform the city centre.  
 
It's in discussion with partners, including Oxfordshire County Council and the University of Oxford, to 'consider a range of temporary and more permanent measures to support businesses and help build confidence among residents, commuting workers, and tourists in the reopening of Oxford's city centre.'
 
The council says public spaces like city centres, shops, and cafes must consider how to maintain public safety whilst also returning to operation. 

Since the start of lockdown, the air pollution monitoring station on St Aldates has seen a 59% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels compared with pre-lockdown measurements. 

Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainable Transport, said: "At a time when our daily news is filled with stories of heroism and tragedy it seems strange to be thinking about what Oxford and Oxfordshire might be like when we finally emerge from lockdown. Even so, things will be different. And if things are going to be different, we need to start thinking about how they might be better.
 
"When it comes to our roads, the COVID lockdown has brought unforeseen benefits. As so many people have said to me, without most of the traffic, streets that are usually noisy, fume-filled spaces dominated by motor vehicles are now places where pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy clean air and hear birds sing.
 
"With all the indications are that the lockdown will only be lifted gradually, and that measures like physical distancing will stay in place even as the economy restarts. It means that pedestrians and cyclists will need space not just to stay safe, but to stay healthy." 

Reacting to the proposals, the Oxford Green party said although it welcomes them, the 'decision to shelve' the Connecting Oxford and city centre low emission zone 'makes no sense.'

Green City Councillor Dick Wolff said 'they need to be implemented sooner, not later, before we return to worse pollution and congestion than we had before.'

In March, Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County council announced that the launch of the Oxford Zero Emission Zone would be postponed until Summer 2021.

They closed a consultation on the ZEZ so that businesses could devote their time to dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak.

Councillor Wolff also warned that 'we may see a doubling of congestion as people, afraid to squeeze into a bus, take to their cars again.'

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