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).