Oxford City Council is exploring the opportunity to make ‘once in a generation’ improvements to transport and public space in the city centre.
The aim is to build on the openings presented by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, and to continue to protect public health.
The potential measures being considered would be designed to help kick start the city centre economy, encouraging people back in as the lockdown is progressively lifted. A number might be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic, to transform the city centre, maintaining Oxford’s improved air quality, quieter streets, and ensuring safer movement around the city and better use of public space.
The City Council is already in discussions with its partners, including transport authority, Oxfordshire County Council, as well as University of Oxford to consider a range of temporary and more permanent measures to support businesses and help build confidence among residents, commuting workers, and tourists in the reopening of Oxford’s city centre.
With the Government indicating that lockdown may be gradually lifted, with social distancing measures will continue in a relaxed form, the City Council recognises that public spaces such as city centres, shops, and cafes must consider how to maintain public safety whilst also returning to operation.
Possible arrangements being explored with partners include:
- Temporarily reallocating road space (through road closures, traffic light controlled one-way streets, and wider pavements) to allow people to walk and cycle safely into and around Oxford
- Supporting and improving cycling for commuting and daily journeys through the creation of segregated network of cycle routes, improvement in cycling infrastructure, and additional on-street cycle parking
- Re-organising bus routes in order to create additional road space required for pedestrians and cyclists
- Suspending all loading bays during ‘customer’ hours to increase space for pedestrians and cyclists
- Pedestrianising Broad Street with the removal of on-street parking bays and redesignating the space for social distancing-compliant mix of activities, including seating, but also potentially e.g. market stalls for businesses limited by social distancing in their own unit plus displaced street traders
- Exploring an outdoor café culture, with temporary tables & chairs zones outside food premises to maintain capacity, whilst adhering to social distancing and maintaining a balance with additional space for walking and cycling
The potential measures would be supported and informed by the joint transport projects – Connecting Oxford, and the Oxford Zero Emission Zone – being brought forward jointly with Oxfordshire County Council.
Since the start of lockdown, the air pollution monitoring station on St Aldate's has seen a 59% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels compared with pre-lockdown measurements. This represents the cleanest city centre air in several generations, and perhaps not previously seen since the days of the horse and cart.
Oxford is following the lead of other cities across the UK and beyond, including Milan, Manchester, Hackney, and Auckland as part of experimental measures to protect residents and visitors as coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted around the world.
“At a time when our daily news is filled with stories of heroism and tragedy it seems strange to be thinking about what Oxford and Oxfordshire might be like when we finally emerge from lockdown. Even so, things will be different. And if things are going to be different, we need to start thinking about how they might be better.
“When it comes to our roads, the COVID lockdown has brought unforeseen benefits. As so many people have said to me, without most of the traffic, streets that are usually noisy, fume-filled spaces dominated by motor vehicles are now places where pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy clean air and hear birds sing.
“With all the indications are that the lockdown will only be lifted gradually, and that measures like physical distancing will stay in place even as the economy restarts. It means that pedestrians and cyclists will need space not just to stay safe, but to stay healthy.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our city centre towards a cleaner and more pedestrian friendly environment whilst allowing us to support businesses and the local economy to return to operation. I look forward to working with our partners on continuing to develop our current projects, as well as exploring new ideas which will help to make our roadways and public spaces safer and cleaner after lockdown.”
Councillor Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainable Transport