Why here, why now?
We have known for a long time about the serious effects on health and quality of life of motor traffic cutting through our streets – too noisy, too fast, too polluting. The last few decades have seen a dramatic rise in car ownership and the proportion of journeys made by private car. Our roads are simply not designed to cope.
A study published in 2019 showed that roadside air pollution in Oxford stunts lung growth in children by 14%. Lowering air pollution in the city by just one fifth could lead to 83 fewer cases of coronary heart disease and 28 fewer cases of lung cancer. Aside from the long term health risks, massive increases in traffic and ‘rat running’ in recent years mean that many people feel that it is not safe for their children to walk or cycle in their local neighbourhood (for example to get to school), and it’s just not very pleasant to spend time in the streets we live on.
For many of us, the silver lining of lockdown was the glimpse of what a neighbourhood with minimal motor traffic looked like. Suddenly walking, biking, scooting was much more enjoyable! However, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, there is a concern that if many previous bus users transfer to private cars (given advice to avoid public transport), the situation will be even worse than before and our roads will not be able to function.
It doesn’t have to be like this.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department for Transport (DfT) has made it a statutory duty for Highways Authorities to improve cycling and walking conditions, including re-allocating road space from general traffic to walking and cycling. One way of doing this is to create Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), and many cities have done this using initial funds released through central government’s emergency Active Travel Fund.
Even before the pandemic hit, Oxfordshire County Council was actively considering introducing LTNs to Oxford to address the specific problems we face here. The County has now passed a Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP) for Oxford that includes LTNs as an explicit component.
Church Cowley, Temple Cowley and Florence Park have been chosen as areas that are likely to benefit from being made into LTNs, based on:
- previous high bus use (before COVID-19, around 50% of journeys into town from Cowley were made by bus)
- the fact they are on main cycle routes
- the fact that they suffer from high levels of through-cutting by out-of-area drivers
Although the changes required to introduce LTNs would normally take years to design, consult on and implement, this timeframe has been somewhat sped up, in order to address the specific situation we face with COVID-19. Oxfordshire County Council has committed to implementing the three Cowley LTNs at the end of March 2021 on a trial basis (within a legal framework called an experimental traffic order). These will be funded through a £2.9m active travel grant they have now secured through tranche 2 of the government’s Active Travel Fund.