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Does University Parks cycling ban matter? Oxford cyclists say it’s a non-issue

One local claims that those criticising Oxford University Parks’ no cycling policy are “making mountains out of molehills”

An Oxford cyclist has claimed that those criticising a ban on cycling through the city’s University Parks as “petty and discriminatory” are simply “making mountains out of molehills”.

Yesterday we reported that Oxford University Parks’ no cycling policy was condemned by active travel proponents as “ridiculous and disgusting” after a photograph of a sign banning cycles, “whether ridden or not”, was shared on Twitter.

The cyclist who posted the photo, which was taken at the access from Parks Road/Northam Gardens, described the no-bikes policy as “petty, discriminatory and inaccessible”, and said that it is a “ridiculous restriction in a so-called cycling city”.

Ben told road.cc: “It’s been there a little while; I first noticed it and tweeted about it back in April 2020. I don’t live in the city but visit family.”

> No cycles whether ridden or not: "Ridiculous and petty" sign banning bikes in Oxford University Parks slammed

The ban, which is believed to have been in place for at least 15 years, prompted a backlash on social media from cyclists, who described the policy as “bizarre” and “out of touch”, while vocal cycling advocate and radio and TV presenter Jeremy Vine called the signs “disgusting”.

The University Parks, commonly known simply as The Parks, is a 70-acre site in the heart of Oxford, overseen by a superintendent and maintained by a team of gardeners who also work on 200 other green spaces across the city.

As per The Parks’ rules, enforced by University of Oxford security services, no cycling or cycles are allowed, but Oxford University Security Officers and University Parks staff “have the authority to cycle through University Parks to enable them to carry out their duties.”

> "One month, two dead cyclists": Oxford's cycling city sign defaced after second death

While the no-bikes policy was lambasted online, an Oxford cyclist got in touch with road.cc to argue that the ban has little affect on the bike-riding habits of locals and that those criticising the ‘no cycles’ signs were “making mountains out of molehills”.

“I’m an Oxford cyclist and no one I’ve ever spoken to has complained about the cycle ban,” said Ben Gordon.

Gordon pointed out that “there is a cycle path on the north, west and south sides of the park. The cycle path on the south and west side is fully separated from the road, although it joins the carriageway around the junction of Parks Road and South Park for a short section (which is necessary but also is the most dangerous spot).

“The north side is a cycle route along a minor residential street that really doesn’t need separation from the carriageway.

Oxford University Park no cycling signs

“Following the recommended cycle route around the edge of the park adds about two or three minutes to a north-south journey,” he concluded.

Our own Simon MacMichael also lived in Oxford for several years, and shares his thoughts here:

One thing the story – and the reaction from people outside Oxford on social media to the original tweet of the picture – does illustrate is that what might strike those from elsewhere as a big deal, an affront to those who ride bikes, is often nothing of the kind to people who actually cycle there.

I lived in Oxfordshire from 2006-15, the first few years in the city itself, with my commute taking me across the city centre from Lower Wolvercote to St Clements. There were plenty of options to vary my route, one of those being to come down Parks Route then turn left onto the shared path that would take me towards and over the Cherwell.

And not being able to take a bike into the park – ridden or otherwise – made no difference to that journey time-wise, so it just wasn’t an issue (had this been in a place where the park itself provided the only traffic-free route from A to B it would be a different question altogether, of course).

It’s a situation that will have parallels in towns and cities across the UK – taking the example of Oxford again, purely because I’m familiar with it, there’s the daytime ban on riding through Cornmarket, one of the main shopping streets, but most local cyclists will do a slight detour and take the streets running parallel to it either side.

Especially given the recent fatalities in Oxford, clearly there are more important issues for local cycling campaigners to focus on, such as calling for proper cycling infrastructure on the main commuting corridors and particularly at known blackspots such as The Plain roundabout – within the past decade made ‘safer’ with money from the government’s Cycle City Ambition fund, but the location of the latest death of a cyclist in the city.

The other thing I think the story, and the reaction to it, highlights is this – in the early days of road.cc, when we had a handful of staff mainly based in Bath, our collective on-the-ground knowledge of actual conditions for cycling in towns and cities around the UK was pretty limited.

Our expansion over the years has meant that we, together with our sister sites, now have a team who have lived, worked and studied in a whole host of places across the country and when working on a story we can call on that experience to help inform our approach.

But we can’t be everywhere. So if you see a story on here about somewhere you regularly ride, and you think perhaps something is missing from our coverage, or needs clarifying, please do as Andy did and get in touch, whether by email or in a comment to our story, and share your views with us, we do listen.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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6 comments

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mdavidford | 1 year ago
7 likes

This is all rather missing the point that the issue isn't about people cycling (or wheeling bikes) through the park to go somewhere else - it's about people arriving by bike wanting to make use of the park itself.

And it's not even really just about this park - it's a kind of synechdoche for the whole UK attitude towards bikes, cycling, and the people who choose them. The signs are annoying because they're emblematic of that wider attitude.

Edit: Also, 'Oxford cyclists say it's a non-issue' is a bit of a misleading claim when what you really mean is 'the two Oxford cyclists we've quoted here say it's a non-issue'. And in this case not even accurate, since one of them's an ex Oxford cyclist.

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Rendel Harris | 1 year ago
9 likes

It's always interesting to see comments such as "it only adds two or three minutes to your journey". Our commute takes us through a new London development where occasionally security guards will attempt to say there's no cycling despite it being a condition of planning permission that cycle lanes should be provided. When I bother to stop and talk they always say "It's only three minutes for you to walk your bike through here," to which my answer is that I ride through four times a day (escorting Mrs H morning and evening), so an extra three minutes each time adds up to an extra hour over the working week or nearly two days wasted out of my year...what seems a minor inconvenience and not worth arguing about can, over time and especially when combined with a few other unecessary restrictions en route, add up to a major incubus.

 

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Benthic | 1 year ago
1 like

Ignore them and calmly carry on.

Avatar
brooksby | 1 year ago
4 likes

Is it a serious issue? No.

Is it annoying that they're saying you can't even wheel a bike through there?  Yes: very much so.

Avatar
Sriracha replied to brooksby | 1 year ago
4 likes

I thought that was the issue, rather than that you could not cycle in the park, which seems fair enough.

I think the outrage is generated by the implied message that people who rely on cycling are not welcome in the park.

Avatar
Secret_squirrel replied to Sriracha | 1 year ago
2 likes

And that's actually the bigger problem. Assuming it's permitted to use the grass to relaxing/picnic and sun bathing it should be fine to arrive by bike, push it into the park and sunbathe away. 
If the park is a "keep off of the grass sort" then cycling is irrelevant. 

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