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Traffic light failure hints at danger to cyclists of proposed new road layout

Drivers welcome switch-off but it's a different story for those on bike or foot...

An unexpected rush hour power outage that turned traffic lights off at a key junction in Oxford has polarised opinion among road users in the university city just weeks ahead of publication of a report on the future of the road system involved.

Traffic lights stopped working at Frideswide Square, close to Oxford railway station and the key approach to the city from the west, on Thursday and Friday last week, when traffic flows at peak times would have been lower than usual as a result of school half-term.

As reported on last year, Oxford City Council plans to redevelop the junction, which in the past has been described by local cycling campaign group Cyclox as “the worst place for cycling in the city."

The council itself admits that proposals for the redevelopment of the square – which in reality is a junction possessing a confusing layout to the uninitiated – including replacing traffic lights with mini roundabouts, might mean that “Some pedestrians and cyclists may perceive that the improved square is less safe than it is, due to the removal of push button crossings and the introduction of roundabouts.”

Last week’s power failure provided an early taster of what might happen, with Richard Mann, vice-chairman of campaign group Cyclox, telling the Oxford Mail: “It was a bit hairy for cyclists. We had to look in five directions at once. You could edge your way through but you felt distinctively nervous.”

That trepidation was not shared by drivers, however, nor by Keith Mitchell, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, who posted a message to his Twitter stream saying: “Frideswide Square at Oxford station working well this morning with no traffic lights. Long may it continue!”

However, cabinet member for transport Rodney Rose said that a member of council staff had seen a cyclist narrowly avoid an accident with a car, adding: “If the argument is to leave them off for good then the answer is ‘no’.”

Mr Rose went on to say that the council would bid for some of the funding for the estimated £5 million cost of changes to the junction from the £560 million Local Sustainable Travel Fund.

That would appear to confirm fears among cycling organisations that local authorities will look to siphon money off from that for general road schemes, thus reducing the total amount available to truly environmentally friendly schemes.

“It fits the criteria quite well and its impact on Oxford makes it even better from a sustainable transport point of view,” Mr Rose claimed.

Taxi drivers said that the failure of the traffic lights supported their calls to remove them, with Alan Woodward, secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, saying: “It flowed perfectly. The only hold-ups were going out of town in the evening because of the traffic lights further up Botley Road.”

Motorist Ian Beesley also welcomed the impromptu new arrangements, saying: “It was running really well, they should leave the lights switched off.”



Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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skippy | 13 years ago

Anyone remember how the junction outside the Royal Oxford hotel was in the 1960's ?
Doesn't matter because in those days people in cars were friendly towards each other !
These days they would rather have a punchup than help one another .
Remember visiting Oxford and having a bus swing into the kerb outside Queens College taking me with him . Told me that i should know that it was a bus stop and since his nose was alonside me i should be observing his signals !
Two bus companies competing at being as bad as they can be towards all other road users !
Inspectors watched and said they were there to police the time table not the driver's conduct !

Simon_MacMichael | 13 years ago

They certainly didn't spend much in Chipping Norton. We have, um, two bike stands here.

Doctor Fegg | 13 years ago

Exactly what Simon said.

I weep to see that they're planning to spend £5m on redesigning this junction just 10-ish years after the last time they tore it up and redesigned it. I can tell you how much money Oxfordshire County Council has spent on cycling since then in the 90% of the county that isn't Oxford, and it's a whole lot less than £5m.

Simon_MacMichael | 13 years ago

It's difficult to convey exactly how poorly thought out this junction is the way it's currently laid out. Before we moved to Oxford in 2006, the missus and I paid a visit with our bikes and almost got side-swiped by a bus coming out of the station that turned left across us, when everything about the road layout suggested it would go straight on.

It definitely needs improving, but prioritising cars over everything else is not the way to do it.

If you know Oxford, you'll know that because of the river and the floodplains, there are in effect only four roads into the city centre - not too bad during the day, but at rush hour and school run time it can be a nightmare getting in or out.

Two bus companies provide a reasonably decent service, there are Park & Rides on the outskirts, and once you're in the centre of town, wherever a bus drops you off you're probably no more than a 10 minute walk from where you need to be.

The problem is, that for as long as you have people 'happy' to sit in a traffic jam, one to a car, that causes delays for those who are using the bus. My wife can be flexible with her hours, so leaves here before 7 t get into work before 8 - any later and her journey is immediately another half hour or more sitting in traffic on the Woodstock Road (which you can cycle down in ten minutes).

John_the_Monkey | 13 years ago

That's my suspicion about these schemes too - they might work for a little while, but sooner or later drivers will bully the other traffic into giving them priority.

No wonder the buggers are so keen on them  7

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