Published: Friday, 12 June 2020

Oxford City Council is introducing one-way pavements and a raft of other measures to help pedestrians maintain social distancing in Oxford when shops reopen on Monday (15 June).

The Government has announced that many ‘non-essential’ shops can reopen from next week, providing they implement measures to meet social distancing and hygiene standards.

To support businesses, and help shoppers maintain social distancing, the City Council will introduce a raft of temporary measures for Monday:

  • One-way pavements in the busiest and narrowest streets in Oxford city centre and on Cowley Road
  • New signs and stencils to help inform people of the changes
  • Designated rest areas to keep the thoroughfare moving
  • Stewards in the city centre to manage the crowds during the daytime and provide help to people in need
  • Support, guidance and posters for businesses
  • Removal of advertising A-boards and other obstructions from pavements
  • Upgraded cleaning regime and hand-washing and hand sanitiser at both Gloucester Green and Market Street toilets

The new systems are being introduced using some of the £234,000 of City Council funding, including £134,000 of Government grants and £100,000 of Community Infrastructure Levy funding. The £134,000 of Government grants has been funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

The City Council is also working closely with Oxfordshire County Council, the transport authority for Oxford, to widen pavements and cycle lanes to enable people to maintain social distancing as part of a next phase of interventions planned in the coming weeks.

The new measures, which have been designed after engaging with businesses and disabled people, are temporary will be reviewed every two weeks. They could be scaled up or down, or amended, depending on need and whether or not social distancing is still necessary.

The City Council is also following the High Streets Task Force’s 10 key objectives to support the recovery of high streets, which includes reallocating road space to enable social distancing, stewarding, consistent signage, enhanced cleaning, inclusive design, identifying pinch points, and communicating with businesses.

One-way pavements in busiest streets

The one-way pedestrian flow system will be installed on the busiest pavements in Oxford city centre: Magdalen Street, Magdalen Street East, Broad Street, Cornmarket Street, the west end of High Street, north end of St Aldate’s, Queen Street, Hythe Bridge Street, and George Street.

They will also be installed in the busiest part of Cowley Road, between The Plain Roundabout and Magdalen Road.

The pedestrian flow system, which will ask people to stay on the left-hand side of the road, will be temporarily marked on the pavements using stencils. About 2,500 markings are expected to be applied to the pavements across Oxford ahead of Monday.

The one-way system aims to act as a guideline to enable shoppers to maintain social distancing in Oxford’s busiest streets. It cannot and will not be enforced, but it is hoped people will respect the one-way system to protect themselves and those around them.

A survey of 191 businesses in Oxford, which was carried out by the City Council last month (May), found that 76% were in favour of “implementing some one-way footways (through temporary signs and barriers) to support social distancing on heavy footfall streets".

The left-hand side of the road has been chosen partly for simplicity – as people in the UK are used to driving on the left-hand side of the road – and because it works better with the majority of bus stops in the city centre and Cowley Road.

New posters to encourage social distancing

To help people understand the new guidelines, the City Council will install posters across Oxford.

The posters will include:

  • Maps explaining the new one-way system in Oxford city centre and the Cowley Road, which will be installed at Oxford’s park and rides and in bus shelters
  • A range of posters – installed on lampposts in the city centre and Cowley Road – asking people to keep to the one way system, avoid blocking the pavements, and queue responsibly

Posters asking people to maintain social distancing will also be installed everywhere in Oxford with five or more shops.

All the posters feature the message: “Keep your distance, look out for each other, protect your community”.

In total, more than 600 posters will be installed around Oxford before Monday.

Designated rest areas

The City Council has designated Gloucester Green, Bonn Square and Broad Street as rest areas.

The aim of these rest areas is to encourage people to avoid stopping in busy thoroughfares, such as Cornmarket Street, and instead move to the rest areas.

This is being done to enable people to maintain social distancing. Even a single person stopping in Cornmarket Street will block the road, and will make it harder for others to maintain social distancing.

The City Council is installing benches in the Broad Street rest area, which will be in the western section of the road.

Signs will be installed to mark out the rest areas, and other signs will be used to encourage people to keep moving in the busy thoroughfares.

Public toilets in Gloucester Green and Market Street have remained open throughout the lockdown.

Stewards to provide help and support

City Council stewards will patrol the busiest streets in Oxford city centre, and the Cowley Road, to help people maintain social distancing.

The eight officers will be on hand to help whoever needs support, but it is anticipated that they will be needed most to help businesses manage queues; provide assistance and guidance to members of the public, especially those who are more vulnerable; and monitor the impact and effectiveness of the changes in order to recommend improvements.

They will not enforce social distancing, but will remind people to keep a safe distance to protect themselves and others from coronavirus.

The stewards can be contacted by calling the City Council on 01865 249811 and asking for helping navigating the one-way system.

They will be on hand between 8.30am and 5pm seven days a week. These times could change, as required.

Support for businesses to reopen

The City Council has written to businesses in Oxford to provide them with information about the changes to Oxford city centre and Cowley Road, and support and guidance on how to reopen from Monday.

The Government requires all businesses to complete a risk assessment before reopening, and the City Council has provided a template risk assessment and support for businesses – particularly small and independent traders – to try to make this process as easy as possible.

The City Council has also created a suite of posters for businesses to use in their shops. The posters explain that the business is open, where the shop’s queue starts and ends, and how to navigate the shop’s one-way system.

The City Council has engaged with businesses over recent weeks to inform decisions on how to reopen Oxford. This has included a survey of 191 businesses in Oxford, regular letters to business owners, and a ‘Town of the Town’ meeting with city centre traders.

Further changes

From Monday, the City Council will also begin removing obstructions from busy pavements to help people maintain social distancing. This will include:

  • Businesses asked temporarily not to use advertising A-boards outside their premises
  • Street trading, peddling and busking discouraged in the busiest city centre streets
  • More quickly removing abandoned bikes, particularly from the busiest pavements

The City Council’s wholly-owned company, ODS, has also started an enhanced cleaning regime in Oxford city centre, which includes:

  • Cleaning bus shelters, bins and bike racks every two hours
  • Installing hand sanitisers in Market Street and Gloucester Green public toilets from 22 June
  • Cleaning Market Street and Gloucester Green public toilets hourly, and doubling the cleaning frequency at the re-opened Cowley Road, Summertown and Headington public toilets

The City Council and ODS will also install 130 new bike parking spaces at Redbridge and Pear Tree park and rides before Monday.

The Government has told people to avoid public transport where possible, and instead encouraged them to walk or cycle, to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Inclusive social distancing

One of the key aims of the project is to ensure that shopping areas, including Oxford city centre, remains accessible for disabled people – and, where possible, that they become more accessible as a result of the changes.

The City Council initiated a focus group with a number of disabled people, including representatives from KEEN Oxford, Wheels for Wellbeing, Free Thinking Network, University of Oxford, Ruskin College Oxford and a secondary school.

Stewards will be briefed by members of the group about accessibility. A walk around of the city centre will be carried out next week with members of the group to test the changes, and a web form and phone number is being advertised for people, including those with disabilities, to seek support while in the city centre.

Going forwards

The changes will be reviewed fortnightly to determine whether or not they are working, and changes will then be made. This could be to reduce the number of interventions, or to increase them.

These are the first in what is expected to be a series of changes to Oxford city centre to enable pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing.

Later this month, the City Council will introduce zones for tables and chairs – kept socially distanced from each other – outside restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes across the city centre, where there is space. This is because, without outdoor seating areas, many restaurants, pubs and bars will not be able to reopen.

In May, the Government said the hospitality sector – including pubs, bars and restaurants – could start to reopen "no earlier than 4 July", if safety guidelines could be met.

Separately, the County Council has received £2.9m from the Government to make improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure across Oxfordshire.

The first tranche of this funding is expected to see new cycle parking, additional road space created for cyclists, and the changing of loading and delivery times.

Businesses in Oxford have shown the highest levels of support for more secure cycle parking (92% in favour), road closures and safety measures outside schools (83%), new segregated cycle ways (81%) and new zones for outdoor tables and chairs (81%).

It is hoped that a number of the changes might be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic, to transform the city centre and maintain Oxford’s improved air quality.

Oxford city centre has seen a historic 64% drop in air pollution as a direct result of the coronavirus lockdown. To put this into perspective, over the decade to 2019 air pollution levels in Oxford had decreased by 36.8%.

The potential measures would be supported and informed by the joint transport projects – Connecting Oxford, and the Zero Emission Zone – being brought forward jointly by the City Council and County Council.

“We've never entered a lockdown to know how to exit one. Now that the impossible has happened, the City Council is working to safely reopen the city centre. Our stewards will be on hand to support people moving around, we're providing rest spaces, and deeply cleaning your public spaces. In the past, some pavements have been overcrowded; now, in the interest of public safety, we can't allow them to become even slightly crowded, so we're proposing one-way pavements. 

“The Council can only do so much to ensure that Oxford's city centre and district centres are safe, and our focus very much does extend to the district centres that neighbourhoods depend on. We've put in place a framework to ensure public safety after listening to businesses and following government guidance, but it's over to the citizens and businesses of Oxford to ensure social distancing takes place. We encourage people to continue to look out for each other, be kind to one another, and perform a civic duty by keeping physically apart.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford

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