Office Location

Commuting patterns are the result of where people live, where they work, and how they travel between the two. Workplaces may only take up a fraction of land, but their location is clearly critical to the transport system. Do we want offices to be concentrated in a few locations, spread about evenly, or something in-between?

The dominant economic force seems to be to concentrate offices in a few locations. Businesses like to be near customers and suppliers, and like the flexibility to grow and acquire staff and space that comes from being part of an agglomeration. Staff like the flexibility, and also direct access to shops, banks, and places to eat and drink. This is why offices have traditionally located in city centres. Above a certain size of city, there needs to be public transport, but this works reasonably well, given all-day demand, and priority over cars. But it can be difficult to get enough priority over cars.

The public transport priority problem is particularly acute where a city’s expansion has been restrained by a green belt. It is harder to make public transport from outside the city competitive, because the higher speeds in the countryside mean that urban priority has less impact. Railways can be competitive, if the distance is far enough (maybe 10 miles), but buses will need very clear priority to be competitive.

In recent decades, there has been a growth in business parks, where cheaper offices are offered on an out-of-town site, sometimes with some form of tax incentive. Almost all access is by car, and people drive from miles around. On a small scale this works well-enough, but as the business park expands, the road network becomes unable to cope, leading to chronic congestion (and demands for ever more capacity).

There have also been large-scale developments on suburban sites, particularly hospitals and universities. These also tend to be accessed by car, but the congestion effects are usually more immediate. In Oxford it has proved possible to impose parking restrictions at the large institutions. Many people live close enough to walk (or cycle), and many others can use public transport or Park & Ride. The restrictions are unpopular amongst the staff, but can be made to work.

The dominant tendency seems to be for employment locations to agglomerate. As such it makes sense to focus on city centres, and to make them work in public transport terms. Employment growth should also be focused on city centres, even if that means more people commuting from outside; at least then there is a fair chance that they will commute by public transport.

This does not mean that all jobs should be in the city centre. A reasonable concentration of jobs in smaller towns will give people access to local employment, and the number who drive in from outside will probably be tolerable. What should be avoided is creating concentrations of employment with a wide catchment, and not particularly drawing their workforce from adjacent settlements; that will overload the road network.

The data for Oxfordshire shows how Oxford dominates (even though Headington and Cowley have been separated out), but there are other significant centres of employment.

Oxford is distinguished by having an unusually low driving share, markedly lower than any other location. Headington is also noticeably low. The internal driving modal shares vary, dramatically, from 12% for Oxford to 60% for Didcot/Harwell/Milton. The external driving modal shares are almost uniformly high, with only Oxford and Headington differing from the norm.

I have calculated a self-sufficiency ratio – the percentage of a town’s employees who live locally. If you combine the three Oxford areas, their joint self-sufficiency is 48%. The most striking result is that all the other towns are as dependent or even more dependent on commuters from outside. People aren’t just commuting into Oxford, they are commuting in large numbers into every employment centre (and most of them are driving).

Does this create a problem? We know there are horrendous congestion problems around Oxford, so there needs to be further improvements to public transport. Where else is it a problem? The worst concentration is around Didcot/Harwell/Milton, both because it is large, but also because a lot of the traffic is concentrated on the A34. The other location with a particular problem is Kidlington, where the self-sufficiency ratio is very low. In both cases, major employment sites have been developed outside the town, rather than organically.

The solution for both Didcot and Kidlington is to actively seek to integrate the employment sites into the towns, with excellent walking and cycling provision, new housing conveniently placed for the employment site, and new public transport links. In the case of Kidlington, it would probably be better if some of the employment land was converted to housing.

Housing Growth

Oxford is one of the most expensive places to live in Britain. It is very successful, economically. The local population is expected to grow and grow – where are they going to live? Should we just let people commute in from the surrounding towns, or should we build on the green belt?

More than half of Oxford’s workers commute from outside the city. Public transport isn’t good enough and many people drive, resulting in terrible congestion. There are (far) too many commuters to re-house them in new estates on the edge of Oxford, even if we wanted to. So whatever else happens, the commuting problem must be tackled, by improving public transport.

Do we need to put housing in specific places to support fixing the commuting problem? Probably not. Bus services operate commercially and can provide for a high proportion of the demand, to the city centre at least, if they are given priority over cars. Some rail services are viable, but only as part of services running through to Reading, Birmingham and London. So the main solution will be bus priority.

Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to put new houses around existing towns served by rail, or along existing bus corridors. It’s certainly not a good idea to put housing in places that are poorly served by public transport – that would just add to the congestion.

Is there a case for building in Oxford’s green belt? The main virtue of doing so is that most of the people would commute into Oxford, so it addresses Oxford’s shortfall of housing more directly. Many would probably walk, cycle or get the bus to work. The diagram shows what happens with existing developments on the edge of the city, and how that compares to commuting from the main towns.

The bars from Wolvercote down to Barton/Northway are in rough order around the city starting from the north and going anti-clockwise. The proportion driving into the city is 15-20% for the areas with concentrated development and frequent bus services, rising to 37% for the Horspath and Wheatley areas. By comparison, the proportion driving from Abingdon is 33%. When buses are given better priority, we’d hope to be able to get the figure for the main towns down to about 20%, so the case for building in the green belt for city centre workers isn’t compelling.

There is probably a case for building in the green belt for Headington workers, however. The nearest equivalent area is Barton/Northway, and the effectiveness of the parking restrictions at the hospitals and university sites is very clear. The proportion driving to work in Headington is only 19%, and markedly better than anything that is likely to be achieved from the county towns. This bodes well for the Barton West development. The Barton West site could sensibly be extended over the city boundary, as long as it stays within easy walking distance of the main Headington employment sites. Such housing might attract some commuters to Cowley, but the numbers will be fairly small.

It is harder to make a case for building in the green belt for Cowley workers. The nearest equivalent area is Greater Leys (including part of Blackbird Leys), where the driving rate to Cowley is 45%. With public transport improvements, it might well be possible to match that from places like Bicester and Witney. The problem with car-based development is that it will also generate car-based shopping, leisure and educational-escort trips. The best strategy for the moment is therefore to stick to redeveloping sites in the Cowley area, gradually increasing the density, and improving walking and cycling facilities (preferably backed by parking restrictions).

The other site where house-building is often considered is to the west of Kidlington. The proportion who would likely drive to central Oxford is reasonably low (about 22%), but sites beyond the green belt could probably be just as good. The main reason for building in that area is to serve the major employment site just to the north of Kidlington. This results in substantial in-commuting, almost all by car. Any development should therefore focus on that employment site.

Overall, with the exception of Headington, the case for building houses in the green belt for Oxford workers does not look strong. It would be just as good to develop around existing centres further afield, and concentrate on improving their public transport links to Oxford. Those public transport links need to be improved anyway. There might be a case for development east of the car works, but this should only be developed if parking restrictions are introduced.

Driving into Oxford

There are a large and growing number of people commuting by car into Oxford from beyond the city fringe (the big red 19000 arrow in the diagram below). We haven’t provided public transport of sufficient attractiveness to get people out of their cars. The consequence has been severe congestion on the outskirts of Oxford, on Botley Road and Abingdon Road, and around the hospital.

Oxford has successfully used bus lanes on several corridors to give buses priority. The closure of the High Street to through traffic in 1999 had a similar effect, making the cars go the long way round. Coupled with parking restrictions, and cycling and walking, this has been very successful in reducing car use within the city, especially to the city centre – where the car modal split is 10%.

There are two other major centres of employment in the suburbs: Headington and Cowley. The main employers in Headington are the hospitals and the universities, and they have only been allowed to develop on condition that they limit parking. This has been reasonably successful, mostly as a result of people walking and cycling from within the city. In Cowley, the major employment site is the car works, and the business park that was developed on part of it, both next to the ring road. There is little parking restraint, though a fair number of people walk and cycle.

In terms of commuting from the rest of Oxfordshire, beyond the city fringe, the three main employment sites are all important:

Some of these drivers will be using Park&Ride, but there are only about 4000 spaces available, and they have to be shared with drivers from the fringe, and from further afield. People driving to the Park&Ride are also contributing to the congestion on the outskirts of the city. We need a significant increase in the number of people using public transport from further away.

The first chart shows where people are commuting to central Oxford from the rest of Oxfordshire, beyond the city fringe. The origins are in rough order, going anti-clockwise around the city, with the principal towns separated out (Cherwell, West Oxon, ValeA420, ValeA34 and South Oxon cover the remainder).

There are respectable levels of public transport use, particularly from Didcot and Banbury (half-hourly rail), Abingdon and Witney (buses every 10 minutes or better) and West Oxon (hourly train). But many still drive, despite the congestion: public transport is far from being dominant, though it is definitely a contender.

The second chart shows the situation for Headington. While some people use conventional public transport, it’s mainly from Abingdon (there are three buses per hour direct from Abingdon to the main hospital, plus parking restrictions to support its use). The third chart, for Cowley, shows how public transport is almost irrelevant.

So the best prospect for modal shift is still for city centre workers. The strategy is probably to try to crack the congestion issues for buses to the city centre, to really make public transport dominant. The prospects for public transport direct to Headington and Cowley don’t look very good – the market is too dispersed. Public transport works best when it focuses on key centres of demand, preferably all-day demand. So the only sensible strategy is to link the key employment sites to the public transport hub at the main railway station.

While there has often been talk of reviving the railway line to Cowley, a bus service would be the starting point, probably running fast to Cowley Centre, then via Garsington Road to Blackbird Leys. This would give it an all-day market. For Headington, a bus service along London Road almost to Headington shops, then into the hospital and on to Northway and Barton West might work better than the existing indirect service via Marston.

But doesn’t this mean yet more buses in the city centre? Yes a few, though partly it is about rearranging existing services. The key problem with buses in the centre is boarding times, and that can probably be tackled by increasing use of smartcards and off-bus ticket purchase.

By looking at where people currently travel by public transport, and where people drive, we can see where and how public transport is most likely to work. It takes a lot of people travelling for a variety of purposes throughout the day to make a successful public transport service. Oxford has an excellent bus system for a medium-sized city, and with a bit more traffic management, it can be adapted to work well for journeys from the rest of the County as well.

Housing Crisis

Oxford is one of the most unaffordable places to live in Britain, if you compare average house prices to average wages. That makes for a good headline, but that’s not the whole story.

First, Oxford has quite a lot of large houses. North Oxford was a very early suburb, and the properties were built with married dons (university lecturers) in mind, probably with a servant or two, and not to the minimum allowed by the byelaws of the time, as was the norm elsewhere. This distorts the average house price. There may also be differences in how frequently properties are sold (the more expensive houses may change hands more frequently). So I would advise against basing any analysis on average house prices. There are a large number of rather cheaper houses in the less leafy parts of Oxford.

Second, Oxford has a large rented sector. There is still council housing, and a high proportion of new developments have to be for social rent. The colleges own and rent houses to their staff, and there are large blocks of student and nurses accommodation. Young professionals generally live in shared houses. The rents are undoubtedly high, and linked to house prices, but the links are indirect.

Third, for decades, the housing strategy has been to direct new housing development to the second tier of towns in the county. Oxford and Abingdon are surrounded by green belt, and the bulk of the housing development has been concentrated on Witney, Bicester, Didcot and Banbury. So looking at the Oxford housing market in isolation gives a distorted picture. Of people who travel to work in Oxford, roughly 42,000 live in the city, and 45,000 commute in from outside.

While housebuilders tend to focus on where to build houses, the reason we have a green belt is that there are two other big factors: where people work, and how they commute. If we just let the market take its course, we’d get more and more low-density housing and employment on the outskirts of the city, and the only feasible way to commute would be to drive.

So, how well has this “Country Town” housing strategy worked? Lots of houses have certainly been built, and lots of people commute. But the country towns aren’t full of Oxford commuters, by any means; only about 15-20% of their commuters travel to Oxford. Their existing housing stock could do much more to provide for Oxford workers. Why doesn’t it? Why do people try to live in Oxford rather than commute from Bicester? Oxford doesn’t really have a housing crisis, it has a commuting crisis.

As I’ve previously described, the time has come for a radical improvement to public transport, by blocking one of the roads into the centre to private cars, and giving the buses a clear run from Abingdon and Witney. It perhaps also suggests that concentrating development on rail-served towns (Didcot, and soon, Bicester) might be sensible.

But it’s not just a commuting problem – Didcot has long had a half-hourly rail service to Oxford. Perhaps the rail service is too infrequent – maybe there needs to be a bigger concentration of demand to help justify a more-frequent service. Perhaps onward connections in Oxford (to the large employment centres in Headington and Cowley) need to be faster, by allowing buses to run two-way through Queen St. Perhaps we need to do more to discourage driving, probably by further restricting workplace car-parking. And perhaps Didcot and Bicester could do with being larger, and having a bit more city-appeal.

So rather than build on the green belt, Oxford needs to crack its commuting crisis, so that people who live in the neighbouring towns can commute easily. New development should focus on Didcot and Bicester – these are the only places that are ever likely to have frequent rail connections to Oxford. Didcot, in particular, could expand and integrate with neighbouring employment sites, though Bicester currently seems to be keener. The more that workplace parking is restricted, in every location, the quicker we are likely to get to a well-functioning public transport plus walking and cycling model. As Oxford has shown, this approach makes for a very popular place to live.

Commuting Trends

Driving Short Distances looked at the pattern of commuting within and into Oxford, using data from the census. The overall conclusion was that many car journeys are very short, and there was a strong case for making better provision for them to be made on foot or by bike. It was also evident that driving levels were lower where parking was restricted.

Of the main routes that still have severe congestion, it was difficult to see how small improvements to public transport would be sufficient to get people out of their cars. People were coming from too diverse a range of places, and from too far away for bus to compete.

Detailed data is now available for both the 2001 and 2011 census, so we can see how things have changed. What are the trends – which policies have worked, and what’s been happening despite the policies?

The main change since 2001 is that more people are cycling and walking (+5000). There was also a reduction in driving to a specific workplace, but that was balanced by an increase in the number with no fixed place of work. Bus commuting has increased slightly. However, more people are driving from outside the city, from beyond the fringe. The roads are severely congested, as a result.

Looking in more detail at internal commutes, there has been a dramatic reduction in the proportion driving to work in Headington (from 41% to 25%). The parking restraint introduced when the hospital sites were amalgamated has proved very effective. There has been an increase in commuting to Headington by bus (+4%pts), but most of the increase has been in cycling (+6%pts) and walking (+7%pts). Walking and cycling now account for more than half of commutes within Oxford to Headington.

There have also been reductions in driving to other parts of Oxford (from within the city). However, the reduction was fairly small to workplaces in Cowley, and the level of driving remains much higher than for other parts of the city (44%). This reflects the lack of parking restraint in the Cowley area, and also the patchy state of cycle provision.

The increases in cycling and walking have happened despite a lack of substantial improvements to provision; it seems likely that further increases would be possible with a little investment.

More concerning is the increase in driving from further away: public transport has not been able to compete effectively. Something substantial is required, both to improve the public transport service, and actively discourage car use.

In recent years, the County Council has focused on easing traffic flow at a number of ring road roundabouts. Occasionally some bus priority has been included in these schemes, but it has only been small-scale, and the overall effect has probably been to facilitate traffic growth. Rail services remain fairly limited, with only Didcot having a reasonable (half-hourly) service. Bicester services are currently suspended while the line is rebuilt. The line speed will be much improved, but the new service will only be half-hourly. Witney and Abingdon largely rely on bus services, which are frequent (every 10 minutes), but get stuck in the traffic.

There have been various schemes mooted to improve the bus services, principally by providing bus lanes on the fast roads approaching the outskirts of Oxford (by widening the roads). This is expensive, not least because each route has to be done separately. With the volume of traffic, it’s hard to give buses a clear run through all the bottlenecks. The best overall result requires a clear route in for public transport, to maximise the transfer to public transport, and minimise the amount of car-congestion at the new equilibrium.

So, how do we make a clear route for the buses from Witney and Abingdon? Perhaps the time has come to be radical, and to block one of the main roads into Oxford to through traffic. The short route in from the west (Botley Road) is the best option, since it provides a good route from both Witney and Abingdon. The main complication is that Botley Road provides access to a number of large retail outlets, and an industrial estate. It should be possible to use numberplate-recognition cameras to allow access from both sides but stop through traffic. Failing that, Botley Road can be closed at the city end.

There is a risk that closing one route will lead to havoc on the remaining routes. It would be sensible to ensure that a robust package of alternatives is in place, including improvements to cycle routes in south Oxford (cycle lane on Abingdon Road, easier ramps up to the river bridge), and more bus services. But there are a very large number of journeys that could switch to public transport if the service can be made competitive, so the long term effect should be an overall reduction in congestion. Which would be a lot better than the current trend, where congestion is almost intolerable, and getting worse.

English & Dutch modal splits

Comparing the proportion of trips done by different modes of transport is fraught with difficulty. Different countries measure it in different ways, and it’s hard to get datasets that match. Some datasets are for all journey purposes, some just for work journeys. Some are based on where people live, some on where they work or go to school.

However, the Dutch National Travel Survey on page 108 has a chart for internal work journeys in seventeen Dutch cities which can reasonably be compared with English census data.

The four graphs cover work (werk), education (onderwijs), shopping (winkelen) and leisure/other (vrije tijd + overig). There are lines for car (auto), public transport (ov), bicycle (fiets) and foot/other (lopen + overig).

A few points to highlight: cycling is huge for education trips, walking is quite low for work trips, and public transport is only significant inside the major cities (and not that significant, even there). Remember that this is for trips inside the cities. A large proportion of trips are inside cities, but not all, by any means.

I have produced similar figures for work trips from the English census – this uses the MSOA dataset, to restrict it to journeys that start and end in the same city, and excludes home working. London is defined as the whole Greater London area; for other cities I have used the district-level authority (which doesn’t always cover the full built-up area). The graph shows the 15 cities with the lowest level of car use, in order of the number of internal commuters. The Dutch graph is shown beneath, for comparison.

It is clear that public transport is much more significant for internal city journeys in England. The difference is that England has much more bus use. London is exceptional, but a typical value for large cities is around 30%, and smaller cities can be as high as 20%. Car usage is similar (though remember that these are the best in England in that regard). Walking is much more significant in England, cycling (with a couple of exceptions) much less so.

In terms of strategy, the normal policy in England is to reduce car use, and promote the alternatives. Dutch driving levels appear to be similar, and English policy is to promote public transport (and walking) rather than scale it back. So rather than directly copying the Dutch, it looks like we’re going to have to find a slightly different approach, which continues to give a large role to buses and walking, alongside trying to provide more widely for cycling.

I’ve also calculated the same figures for the London boroughs individually, restricting it to journeys within the borough. Given the prevalence of work in central London, this needs to be used with care, but it does perhaps give an indication of the situation for short (non-work) journeys within each borough.

(Not) Going the Distance

Cycling in Oxford is a fairly short-distance activity. Most workplaces are within a couple of miles of home. Secondary schools a mile or so, the shops somewhere in-between. These distances are slightly-annoying to walk, but easy to cycle. There’s no need for special cycling gear, and the chance of getting caught out in the rain is fairly low.

Some people will happily cycle further, but it becomes a different activity when you go more than a couple of miles, and rather fewer people are prepared to do it. You get much the same pattern in the Netherlands – for journeys more than a couple of miles, the modal share for cycling drops off, and people drive instead.

So if you want a high modal share for cycling, it’s really important to have origins and destinations fairly close together, in a “compact” city. The optimal situation is to have shops and offices concentrated in the city centre, with inconvenient car-parking.

Is Oxford particularly unusual? We can look at the average bike-commuting distance in the census, to make some comparisons. While commuting only accounts for about a quarter of journeys, it gives some idea about the character of cycling in each area.

These figures are for England and Wales, excluding London, ordered by the number of cycle commuters in each area. Oxford and Cambridge are quite similar, with average distances about 2.4km (about 1.5 miles). The two highest figures are for authorities which cover the outer suburbs of Bristol and Cambridge, respectively. The other high figures are for larger cities (and York). The value for Oxford seems to be near the bottom of the range, but not at all untypical. The overall conclusion is that – outside the major cities – short distances are the norm.

London presents an interesting contrast.

Some of these average distances are very high, and it would be fair to say that cycle commuting has a rather different character in London. But if you look at the outer boroughs, where the numbers of cyclists are lower, there seem to be two different effects. For some boroughs the average distance is very high: these are boroughs where the dominant destination is central London. In contrast, some are very low: these are places where cycling to central London hasn’t become fashionable, and you just have some very local commutes. Slightly more encouraging is somewhere like Kingston, which has a reasonable volume of cyclists and a fairly “normal” average commuting distance.

My impression is that cycling in London has become too dominated by unusually-long commutes. Such commutes aren’t representative of the mass of short journeys that are characteristic of a high-modal-split situation. London needs to refocus on a dispersed pattern of short-distance trips closer to home, if its revolution is to succeed. This will require a much more dispersed pattern of interventions, rather than focusing on a handful of routes. In effect, pretty much every road needs to be cycle-friendly.

Perne Road Roundabout

Perne Road roundabout has recently been altered to tighten its geometry. This idea of tightening roundabout geometry has been around for a couple of decades, featuring in a DfT traffic advisory leaflet as early as 1997. The idea was particularly promoted by the Swiss, who have a very “on-road” tradition of providing for cycling. See Resources for more info.

This diagram shows what has been done at Perne Road (on the three arms to the left and bottom), and what I suggest would be closer to Swiss practice on the top right. The red dashes show the kerb line before the alterations.

The key feature of the Swiss design (and indeed of Dutch designs) is that the approach is perpendicular to the roundabout. This means that at the point where the driver is giving way, their wheels are straight. This substantially reduces entry speed. The Swiss stop the cycle lane before the roundabout, to indicate that road users really ought to enter the roundabout in single file. But in practice, cyclists remain alongside the kerb. So in Oxford we continue the cycle lane up to the give way line. This does not seem to cause any problems, nor have any impact on cyclists’ positioning on the roundabout itself.

Even though there’s a cycle lane, I have narrowed the entry down to 4 metres, in accordance with Swiss designs. This should discourage undertaking of large vehicles, and overtaking by large vehicles.

I have marked the cycle lane straight, with an overrun area on the corner, based on a design used in Münster in Germany. The overrun area is textured to discourage use by cyclists. Cyclists need to approach the roundabout perpendicularly and give way, and not leave room for drivers to enter the roundabout in parallel with them. I’ve drawn it tighter than the Münster design (maybe too tight).

I have moved the outside kerb line by about a metre. This imposes the Dutch 12m radius, but drawn from the edge of the traffic lane, rather than the edge of the road. This would have to be tracked to ensure that large vehicles can get round, but it should be approximately correct. The rear wheels of large vehicles overrun the cycle lane, obviously.

Following the Swiss, the exit has been left unchanged (except for the marking of a cycle lane). The openness of the exit reduces the likelihood that a cyclist will get cut-up, and should make it clear whether the cyclist is exiting or continuing round. This arrangement also provides a good-sized triangle for use as a crossing island. This does risk excessive exit speed, making it doubly important that entry and circulation speed is kept low.

Crossrail for everybody

London’s new railways – Crossrail, Thameslink – will not only improve journeys from the suburbs, they will also massively improve short journeys in the centre of London. The new, high-frequency railways will allow fast journeys across the centre, particularly east-west, but also create a new high-frequency link north-south. The effect should be large enough to take traffic off some of the central roads, notably Upper & Lower Thames Street and Farringdon Street. The big question is how do we use the space that this frees up: let the traffic build up again, or put the space to better use? Perhaps we should use the situation to make a step-change in the function of these routes, while we have the chance?

A lot of traffic is necessary in central London, but that does not mean that all of it is necessary. Around three-quarters of the motor traffic on the Embankment and Thames Street is cars/taxis and motorcycles. The route has relatively few junctions, and is undoubtedly attracting through traffic, despite the congestion charge. The overall level of traffic is high, at around 50-60,000 motor vehicles per day. The North-South route is less busy – about 27,000 at Blackfriars Bridge and 20,000 elsewhere. Again, cars/taxis and motorbikes account for about three-quarters of the motor traffic.

So how roughly, do we want these streets to function in future? There seems to be an opportunity to turn the north-south alignment, particularly New Bridge Street and Farringdon Street into a “city street” – wide pavements, some retail frontage, 20mph, single approach lanes at junctions, fairly easy to cross on foot, using medians and formal crossings at junctions. The typical arrangement for cyclists in such a street would be painted cycle lanes, kept clear by provision for loading.

The east-west alignment is likely to remain busier, though we could perhaps be aiming to reduce traffic by enough that a single lane in each direction is sufficient between junctions. There is a fair amount of office frontage at the eastern end of the route, but the number of pedestrians is relatively low (partly of course due to the current volume of traffic). The exception is the area by the Tower, where there are a lot of pedestrians. There is little by way of frontage along the Embankment, though the trees and the river make it visually attractive. The section in the middle is a 250m tunnel with buildings on top, and no frontage at all.

The most appropriate street type for the Embankment is “city boulevard”. This isn’t a common street type, so it’s a bit hard to say what that means. I think the main aim would probably be to widen the pavements, reduce the road to one lane each way, and generally slow the traffic down, both to reduce noise, and to reduce the barrier between the city and its river. Ideally, pedestrians should be able to cross at frequent intervals, with a median and lots of zebra crossings. Given the lack of junctions, the road is likely to remain fairly fast, so there would be an argument for separate cycle tracks, for general comfort, to support right turns, and to avoid conflicts with parking. Internationally, the normal arrangement would be to have one-way cycle tracks on both sides of the road.

The route through the City is trickier. The frontage would suggest it becoming a “city street” but there is likely to be too much traffic for that. The best that can probably be achieved is a version of the “city boulevard” treatment. The basics are that there should be one lane each way, between junctions, and that the fence on the median needs to be removed.

How does this compare with the current proposals for a “Crossrail for Bikes”?

By starting with the Roads Task Force street types (city street, city boulevard), we reveal the choice that exists between providing for traffic and making city streets. So instead of trying to minimise the impact on traffic, we ask how much the traffic needs to be reduced to deliver one of the preferred street types. There needs to be a definite reduction in traffic, and the advent of Crossrail and Thameslink provides the opportunity for this to happen. In some ways, the half-hearted approach is just asking for trouble: people will still think of Thames Street and the Embankment as a through route, and it will just be more congested. Instead we need to make a definite leap to something different.

The second main difference is that the international norm is to provide for cycling on each side of the street, rather than a two-way track on one side. The international approach relies on tight geometry and advance positioning to create safety at junctions, rather than complicated arrangements of signals. The current proposals require a very large number of traffic signals, and seem more in keeping with a high speed high traffic route. This is unnecessarily complex. Two-way tracks make sense when carving a route around a gyratory that can’t be removed, but they create too many problems to be used routinely along normal streets.

The two-way track comes from a desire to fully signal the cycle route, to allow it to cater for the widest possible audience. This assumes that it is purely the form of the infrastructure that is keeping people from cycling. Cycling in central London is peculiar, by international standards, in that it is dominated by quite long trips – the average bike commute to the City is over 6km, which is about double the Dutch norm. The reality is that this length of trip is only ever going to appeal to cycling enthusiasts, and while the demographic could be broader than currently, the real problem with the infrastructure is that it is in the wrong place. If we want to normalise cycling, we have to provide for shorter trips closer to home. Making these routes in central London 100% conflict-free is unlikely to affect cycling numbers, and just adds lights, islands and complexity.

I’m certainly not going to object to the Crossrail-for-bikes plans as they stand. Compared to the current situation, they are a substantial improvement. However, I think there’s a risk that they will produce more congestion, and not provide the scale of improvements for pedestrians that ought to be achieved. We need a Crossrail for everybody.

Local Transport Plan 4

Oxfordshire County Council is developing its fourth Local Transport Plan (LTP4) and has invited responses to an initial consultation (pdf) on the headline challenges, goals and objectives.

The consultation document shows the context in Oxfordshire quite clearly, the development pressure, and gives a reasonable portrayal of the importance and potential of the various transport modes.

Transport Paradise submitted the following answers to the questions raised. These give a brief impression of the current state of debate in Oxfordshire.

Question 1: Do you feel we have correctly identified the most important transport challenges that need to be addressed? If NO, please say what you think are the most important challenges.

I think you have identified the two main challenges, but I would express them as catering for transport demand and substantially improving quality of life.

I would agree that transport demand will increase with population, but it will mostly happen regardless of what you do. The key challenge is to improve quality of life (including delays incurred while travelling) – by directing travel demand so that transport works better for the users, and has less impact on society.

Question 2: What do you think is the best way to reduce the need to travel?

Oxford and Didcot/Harwell/Milton have substantial levels of in-commuting. Both these locations should have increased housing. In the case of Oxford this should be achieved by re-developing existing sites at a denser level. There are several outer estates that are run-down: there should be an opportunity to re-develop these and increase the population. In the case of Didcot, I would suggest a significant extension to the west, towards Harwell and Milton Park. This would have multiple objectives: to provide housing for people working at Harwell/Milton (and also inevitably to commute by rail to Oxford, Reading and London), to make Didcot a high-quality place to live with excellent internal transport, and to drive rail-service improvements.

Correspondingly, I would discourage further housing development outside the major development centres (Oxford, Didcot and Bicester).

Question 3 Please tell us your ideas for making the best use of the existing transport network.

I would strongly support the development of facilities for walking and cycling. There are a huge number of short car journeys clogging up the roads which could readily switch to walking and particularly cycling if the conditions were satisfactory. In most situations, parking can be removed from the busiest roads and cycle lanes provided. Even when cycle lanes are narrow, this corresponds to locations where traffic speed is more restrained; there is no reason not to make the cycle lanes continuous. There are similar modest treatments of roundabouts to make them slower, and for light-controlled junctions. To support walking, raised crossings of side roads, Zebras and light-controlled crossings can all be provided.

It is this consistent, widespread support for cycling and walking that have made these modes popular in Oxford (particularly north Oxford), and there is no reason why this cannot be reproduced elsewhere. The key difficulty is the politics of removing parking. The Oxford experience is that residential parking can be removed from most main roads, and short-stay parking and loading can be managed down. However this does not happen overnight; it needs a persistent long-term approach that gives the politics time to adapt.

Question 4: How could travel around Oxfordshire be made easier for you?

I would focus on improving the frequency of rail services (by increasing the size of the rail market), and providing high-quality, reliable bus connections for the principal settlements that aren’t on the railway, and within Oxford. In particular, there should be a regular all-day train service to Radley (with good cycle and bus connections to Abingdon), and priority for buses to Witney, probably by diverting the A40 to Peartree, so that buses have priority access to Wolvercote roundabout. Within Oxford, bus services ought to be simplified, with key services running directly through the centre to connect the railway station with all the main routes in East Oxford.

Question 5: What do you think are the best ways to meet the travel needs of people who do not have access to a car, for example younger, older and disabled people?

This cannot be separated from improving public transport for everybody. The more people use public transport, the better it gets. Specific improvements for “those who do not have access to a car” tend to be uneconomic. However, there is an advantage in providing for cycling, which has a very low marginal cost and is thus inherently attractive to teenagers (and also some pensioners).

Question 6: Where in Oxfordshire do you think future development would best be located to help reduce transport problems?

I support a strategy of concentrating development in the Didcot, Oxford and Bicester areas. I would however avoid developments on new sites on the periphery of Oxford, which will be difficult to effectively serve with public transport. Good public transport relies on proximity to housing (and all-day traffic-generators such as universities). Serving the main suburban sites at Headington and around the car works is difficult enough; other peripheral locations should be avoided.

Question 7: When trying to reduce journey times and improve journey time reliability, what (if any) types of journey should be prioritised?

We should aim for a substantial shift towards public transport, cycling and walking, since these are all potentially very reliable. Car travel can only be reliable if there is less of it, so the focus has to be on improving the alternatives. A particular concern is bus priority on corridors with limited space: it may be necessary to delay private car transport in the short term, if that is the only practical way of substantially improving the bus service. In particular, it may be necessary to delay cars by diverting the A40 to Peartree, to give the buses a substantial advantage.

Question 8: What do you think would make public transport more attractive to people who don’t normally use it?

I do not think it is necessary or financially desirable to introduce trams. Modern buses give a high-quality transport experience without the costs of trams. Instead, the key improvement is to improve frequency and interchange and make the services feel much more like a network. The core services should be marketed as a network (stripping out infrequent services to be advertised separately).

Question 9: The need for of goods and materials to be transported will increase as the population grows – how should our transport strategy address the negative impacts of increased freight transport (lorries and vans) on people’s lives and the environment?

Consolidation of freight is unlikely to develop without restrictions on the size of vehicles allowed within the urban area. I would suggest working with key distributors (probably some of the supermarkets), and a number of other urban areas to identify a suitable technology. This will probably consist of making up lorry-loads so as to be easily divisible, and requiring delivery into the city in smaller vehicles. This has to be imposed by restriction; it will always impose extra costs. The trick will be to keep the additional costs to a reasonable minimum.

While the impact of freight transport is not trivial, it is more dispersed in time than passenger travel, and is thus not a major cause of congestion. I would prioritise improvements in the passenger sector.

Question 10: What do you think are the best ways to reduce carbon emissions from transport in Oxfordshire?

Primarily by reducing congestion – by modal transfer away from the private car to public transport, cycling and walking.

Question 11: What are the best ways to encourage more people to walk?

By providing raised crossings of side roads, Zebras, quick-response light-controlled crossings, and generally by applying a 20mph speed limit.

Question 12: What are the best ways to encourage more people to cycle?

The widespread provision of cycle lanes, junction treatments and 20mph are likely to be very effective. In larger settlements, this will need to be supplemented by a network of quiet routes focused on providing for family cycling and the early years of secondary school (the age at which children tend to start travelling on their own).

It is possible that a greater degree of separation would be more effective, but there is little evidence for this (a huge amount of opinion, but not much evidence!) I would recommend a quantity-first approach, with improvements in quality to follow if they still seem necessary. The Oxford experience is that many will cycle on the road if basic space is marked for cycling, and traffic speed is kept low. So that should be the starting point.

Question 13: Overall, do you agree with the draft high level goals and objectives for LTP4? If NO, please say which you disagree with and explain why.

Yes I agree with the goals and objectives. My main suggestion would be to substitute “reduce” for “manage” in the third goal and seventh objective, so as to reduce rather than merely manage the impacts of transport on human health and the environment.

Question 14: Is there anything which the goals and objectives do not adequately cover? If YES please tell us what you think they should cover.

Yes – I would like to see a further objective (or extension of an existing objective) to cover a wider approach to quality of life, including noise, perception of danger, perception of freedom of movement, and delay.

Question 15: Finding the money to install mass transit schemes such as trams may not be possible within the current funding mechanisms (government grants and developer funding). How do you think the money could be raised in other ways?

I do not believe “mass transit” systems are necessary.

However I would recommend the use of the Workplace Parking Levy framework to require employers to record where their staff are travelling from, and to set up expectations of how that information should be used (eg not allowing parking for short-distance commuting, or where public transport is readily available).