Archive for Strategy

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.

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).

Driving Short Distances

Post updated to use 2011 census data

The census data on journey-to-work can be used to analyse where and how people are travelling, based on where they live and work. This gives some important indications of where different modes are effective, and where they could be, with some support.

The data for 2011 is now available, so this analysis allows us to see the effects of the parking restrictions at the hospitals and Oxford Brookes University that have been introduced since 2001. The detailed analysis now excludes people who have no fixed workplace (shown as “mobile” on the diagram below), since we have no information on where they work.

High-level numbers (rounded)

Oxford’s congestion problem is the result of too many people driving. People who drive out of Oxford, and people with no fixed workplace are probably less of a problem – their journeys don’t tend to concentrate on key destinations, or at key times. The people who drive in from outside generally travel further overall than those who just drive inside the city, but in terms of congestion, their impact is similar. The number driving from outside is almost triple that from inside, but both are substantial. The total number of drivers is about 43000.

The driving figures include about 4000 drivers, mostly from the rest of Oxfordshire (or further afield), who use Park & Ride. Oxford’s Park & Ride system is large, and makes a significant difference, particularly for journeys to the centre. But it still only intercepts about 15% of incoming drivers.

We can also see where and how people travel to the main employment areas (the centre, Headington and the Cowley works area).

City Centre

Few people drive to the centre – forty years of parking control have had the desired effect – but driving has not been entirely eliminated. It’s noticeable that the highest source of driving from within the city is the area around the car works (Cowley), despite a bus share of over 50%.

* A fair proportion of drivers will use Park and Ride. The modal split for walking from the rest of the county and beyond is nonsense, probably due to errors in coding the employment location.

For half the city, the bus is clearly dominant for journeys to the centre (not as dominant as rail in London, but close). Cycling isn’t quite as dominant, but there are some ward-to-ward modal splits in excess of 50%, especially where there is no direct bus service. Cycling modal splits in the 20-40% range are quite common.

Buses already have substantial bus priority on many routes, particularly from Headington/Cowley (by virtue of the High St closure) and from the north (bus lanes). So there’s a limit to what more can be achieved by improving bus quality.

Parking is slowly being reduced, as businesses decide that land can be released for building. But there’s also probably an opportunity to improve the quality of the walking and cycling environment. Walking and cycling are already dominant from the inner wards, and offer the best opportunity to reduce driving further. Cycling is a substantial mode from Headington and Cowley (despite the hill), and there may well be opportunities to provide a clearer, more joined-up network for cycle commuting, relatively easily.


The next biggest employment destination is Headington (principally two hospitals and Oxford Brookes University). The situation has changed since 2001 – there has been significant hospital expansion, new bus services, and stricter parking control. Driving has considerably reduced from the Headington area and from inner districts, but also from Cowley and North Oxford. But there are still large numbers driving within the city. And there is a lot of driving from outside the city.

So in terms of policy, it looks like there’s still scope for shifting from car to walk/cycle from the immediate surrounding area. Further work may be necessary to restrict car parking, especially around Oxford Brookes.

Do the alternatives need to be improved? The main reason for improving the alternatives is to make parking restrictions more palatable. In practice there has been little improvement for walking and cycling, with most of the improvements directed towards bus users. Two new bus-only access roads were built, Park & Ride sites have been expanded, and new direct bus services provided. Some of the buses are still prone to congestion, and it’s hard to provide a service to a dispersed market. Bus use has increased, but it is noticeable that cycling and walking have both increased more.

So it would be better to do more to improve conditions for cycling. The aim should be to provide cycle-friendly routes from all directions; in practice that means making every road cycle-friendly. Cycling is more effective as an alternative for the inner wards, and just as likely to be effective from the Cowley area.

Nevertheless, there is a huge volume of driving from outside the city. That is why better bus services from the major towns, better connections across central Oxford, and more Park & Ride are all necessary. Coupled with parking restraint, it should be effective.


The third big employment destination is the area around the car works (partly still a car works, but with other similar employers and a couple of business parks as well). A large number live locally, and despite a substantial level of walking and cycling, a lot drive. Bus is almost irrelevant. There is very little parking control. Again, the most immediate opportunity is shifting from car to bike from the immediately surrounding area.

But can we get more people to cycle without parking control? It will probably require cycle facilities that are more attractive than the Oxford norm, but perhaps more importantly, a substantial cultural shift (more positive about cycling, less accepting of the need to provide parking for short-distance commuters). Fortunately, there are some pretty good cycle tracks along the ring road (it’s how people got to the works before they owned cars), but the tracks need to connect up better. The useful bits of main road need to be made cycle-friendly as well, so that people feel that they can easily go everywhere.

Can buses (or other public transport) play a significant role for travel between suburbs (eg from Headington to Cowley)? Public transport is only likely to be really effective if it is linked to parking restraint. The ring road provides a fast route between the suburbs, so it’s almost impossible for public transport to provide a comparable service. So the focus has to be on dealing with local journeys first, where it is much easier for the alternatives to be comparable.

As with Headington, there is an increasing volume of driving from outside the city. Unlike Headington, there is no Park & Ride. It is hard to see how public transport could compete without severe parking restraint. The employment locations are scattered, and not easy to serve in multiple directions by public transport.

It would be possible to upgrade the freight railway line to serve most of the employment locations, thereby linking them quickly to Oxford rail station. However, the economics of this are likely to be poor, unless it is directly subsidised by the offices and linked to parking restraint. It would probably be cheaper to build offices near the main railway station instead.

So the immediate objective has to be to focus on short-distance trips, within the Cowley area, and make it easy to walk and cycle to all the employment sites. We may just have to put up with a high level of traffic on the ring road.

Congested City Centre Approaches

Even though the proportion of drivers to the centre is fairly low, there is still congestion on Botley Road, Abingdon Road and through the science area, with Botley Road being the worst. The data allows us to look at who is probably driving on Botley Road, and what alternatives to driving are most likely to be acceptable.

* As an origin, JerichoOsney is split, with about half the population in Jericho – thus having no peak impact on Botley Road. To take account of that, the driver numbers have been halved. This also needs to be taken into account when looking at the modal splits.

Botley Road carries about 1000 cars in the peak hour in the peak direction. Some journeys to work will be outside the peak hour, but clearly the census journey-to-work data gives a good indication of the origins and destinations of a lot of the peak traffic.

Journeys to the centre are the largest source of driving, despite a comprehensive bus service. But note that about 500 of these drivers use Park&Ride. Driving to the rest of the inner wards (Jericho & Osney, Other Inner) is also substantial. For these areas around the centre it is noticeable that bus use is markedly lower than to the centre, partly due to the availability of parking (especially on Osney Mead industrial estate), but also partly due to the difficulty of interchanging between buses in central Oxford.

For the shorter journeys, cycling is a substantial mode, and often as important as the bus. While the cycle lanes along much of Botley Road are clearly valuable, the gap under the railway bridge, the problematic side roads further out, and the fairly poor conditions through Frideswide Square could all be keeping people driving.

Bus use from Botley/Cumnor to the centre isn’t as high as many of Oxford’s outer wards, and cycling is higher – it’s more like Wolvercote than Cowley. Given the hill, that is a little surprising, but reflects the different demography, and the lack of clear high-frequency bus routes. The bus service is divided between four routes (one of which has two operators). Some rationalisation of services may be required, perhaps incorporating a new link between Elms Rise and Harcourt Hill.

The lower level of bus use, and the inherent poor competitiveness when coming from any distance, makes it hard to make a case for further bus priority. Bus priority could be enhanced by holding back traffic at Binsey Lane, or by removing the turning lanes and installing an outbound bus lane. Buses are certainly being severely delayed by congestion. But because many drivers come from too far away, there aren’t likely to be enough switchers to make queue relocation or a reduction in car capacity feasible. It is probably more sensible in the short term to improve the quality of provision for cycling, to rationalise and coordinate the bus services, and to improve city-centre interchange.

General Lessons

While this has looked specifically at Oxford in 2011, in the context of a long policy of parking restraint, there are some general lessons to be drawn. A lot of people drive quite short distances, and in many cases the most likely alternative to driving will be cycling. Buses work particularly well from outer council estates to the centre, especially when supported by parking restraint and bus priority, but are less effective from between-the-wars estates, or from towns outside the immediate urban area.

Tackling Congestion in Oxford

The most effective policies for tackling congestion in Oxford are likely to be a mixture of parking restraint, providing a more cohesive network of cycle routes, particularly in the suburbs, and improving bus interchange in the city centre.

An Excellent Bus Network

Oxford’s buses are excellent – for getting to the city centre. Based on the inner cordon counts, over 40% of journeys into central Oxford are by bus. Buses run at least every five minutes on all the main corridors.

A large part of this success is due to bus priority, most notably the closure of the High Street to general traffic in 1999, blocking the only direct route from east Oxford.

But all these high-frequency routes don’t add up to a network. If we want a truly excellent public transport system, the individual routes need to connect – and the system needs to be clear and easy to use. At the moment, Oxford can’t really be said to have a joined-up network. In fact, as is typical in the UK, the local bus map doesn’t show what happens in the city centre at all.

There are particular reasons why the centre is too complicated to map. There are two major bus companies and several smaller ones. Bus services are profitable in Oxford, and this has led to competition and duplication. In the last few years, the two main companies have agreed joint operation of some of the busiest services, but there remains a huge variety of low-frequency services. Despite some joint-ticketing, services are still designed around route-specific ticketing.

In most of the rest of Europe, tickets are valid for a fixed time, so services can be designed for interchange. In the UK (outside London), there’s little coordination between services, even between services run by the same company, and pretty much everything runs into the city centre.

Even if low-frequency services were excluded, the situation in the centre would still be too complicated. This is because the high-frequency services take a variety of routes through the centre, with some running through, some looping round, and some doing both. By comparison, in a Swiss city such as Basel, one-way loops are rare, almost all the routes run two-way, and most of the main services run through.

This pattern is partly the result of operating trams, but it also applies to cities such as Winterthur which operate buses. The lack of loops makes it much easier to create a network map. There are fewer lines, and interchanges are clear and simple. It’s easier to understand the services as a network, and the usage reflects that – it’s not just a service into the city centre, but the normal way of getting anywhere in the city. This is one of the key reasons why car use in Basel is remarkably low (under 20%).

The Swiss even stick to two-way operation in quite narrow streets: they just run non-stop. As we’ve found in Queen Street in Oxford, buses have very little impact if they just run through a street slowly. Buses and trams only really get in the way when they stop.

How can we make Oxford’s buses simpler for people to use, for a wider range of journeys? It would be great if we had trams instead of buses, but since buses are cheaper to run, it’s probably better to stick with what we have – fares are high enough already. But even without trams, we can make significant improvements, by learning from the Swiss.

It’s difficult to run services through from one side of Oxford to the other, because demand is much higher on the eastern side, requiring bigger buses. So a lot of services do have to terminate.

We also have to cope with fairly slow loading, with every passenger having to pay the driver or show a pass or ticket. This has led to a situation where each main service has its own stop, and stands there for several minutes loading. Through journeys are tediously slow, and interchange generally requires a walk across town.

Some ticketing reform would certainly help. The central stops could have ticket machines, so the driver only has to check tickets. Tickets above a certain value could be valid for interchange between SmartZone services, for say 30 minutes. Smartcard ticketing could be extended to these 30-minute passes, rather than being limited to day (and longer) passes.

But the real solution is to run the main eastern services two-way, non-stop through Queen Street, to the railway station. This will give those services multiple credible boarding stops, no reason to stand at any stop for very long, and facilitate interchange with other services.

Only the main eastern services would run through Queen Street – the rest would turn down St Aldates and run through to the south, or terminate at Speedwell Street. Most southern services would run via Castle Street to the railway station, and northern services could run to the railway station as well. This would provide clear interchange between services, and allow a proper network map to be drawn.

More space would be required for buses at the station, but that’s achievable by moving the taxis to the short-stay car-park.

There would also need to be a clear bus priority route through Frideswide Square. That can be achieved by running the buses along Hythe Bridge Street, switching the general traffic to Park End Street, and crossing over at Worcester Street (a potential layout is shown below).

Unfortunately, the latest proposals for Frideswide Square rely on crossing over at a sequence of three roundabouts, which is almost bound to gridlock in the evening peak.

Two-way buses in Queen Street inevitably means compromising space for pedestrians. But if we want to have excellent public transport in Oxford, and get people out of their cars, we need to give the buses the space they need so they can operate as a network.

Maps from Oxford Bus Company (pdf), Basel On The Move (pdf), and Google Maps.