Active travel campaigners in favour of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Oxford have released footage of bollards being driven over, removed, and even set alight by opponents of the traffic-calming schemes.
LTNs have been in place in various parts of Oxford since March 2021, though the scheme has been blighted by what some have described as a “civil war”, with activists opposed to the measures frequently staging protests and submitting petitions to the local council, while some have resorted to carrying out vandalism on the traffic-calming planters and bollards.
Bollards and planters put in place in the Divinity Road, St Clement’s, and St Mary’s areas of the city in May were immediately targeted by vandals, less than 24 hours after they were installed, while in July a group of people in hoods melted a bollard on Howard Street in an arson attack.
The attempt to disrupt Oxfordshire County Council’s supposed ‘anti-car agenda’ has often had the opposite effect, however. The melted wreckage left as a result of the Howard Street arson attack made the street impassable, while firefighters in another part of the city were delayed by a bollard which would not unlock as it had been damaged by vandals.
Previously unseen CCTV footage from Howard Street, released today by the pro-LTN groups Oxfordshire Liveable Streets and the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel (CoHSAT), shows that the bollard subjected to the arson attack in July was also targeted on 20 different occasions in the space of just three weeks over the summer.
Aside from the hooded fire starter and one disgruntled resident who removed the bollard and walked away it, most of the damage inflicted on the barrier stemmed from motorists – including a taxi driver and a DPD deliver driver – forcing their vehicle straight over the top of it.
“My main concern is that by vandalising bollards they put vulnerable road users like kids cycling to school in danger, as they don’t expect a car barrelling towards them where they expected a filter,” said Howard Street resident Josie Proctor. “I’ve seen so many near misses, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt.”
She continued: “I recognise the LTNs are a contentious issue. Protesting is one thing, but these mindless thugs have cost taxpayers £100,000 to replace the barriers with steel bollards and many hours of police and council workers’ time which could be better used.
“We have submitted the unredacted footage with number plates and faces visible to the police so they can tackle this criminality and get some money back to the public purse, as well as deter others and make the roads safer.”
Despite the vocal opposition to the scheme and the consistent acts of vandalism, in July councillors voted to make the original Church Cowley, Temple Cowley, and Florence Park LTNs permanent.
Oxfordshire County Council also confirmed last week that it will spend around £100,000 installing new steel bollards to replace the destroyed plastic ones after what it described as “unprecedented levels of vandalism”.
A consultation regarding the trial in the Divinity Road, St Clement’s, and St Mary’s areas will end on 30 November, with the council set to decide whether the scheme will be made permanent in February.
“Damage to highways infrastructure presents a significant safety risk to all road users,” a council spokesperson told the BBC this week.
“Oxfordshire County Council is working closely with Thames Valley Police and with highways engineers to monitor and respond to the unprecedented level of incidents targeting low traffic neighbourhood filters.”
Responding to the clip showing one of its drivers damaging the Howard Street bollard, a DPD spokesperson said: “It is unacceptable behaviour, and I can confirm that the local depot is investigating that particular incident.
“We will also remind all drivers in the area to respect the low traffic neighbourhood initiative and route accordingly.”
While the scheme has provoked strong feelings on all sides of the debate, a recent YouGov survey, carried out on behalf of Oxfordshire Liveable Streets, found that 50 percent of respondents support the introduction of LTNs in Oxford, compared to 29 percent who oppose them.
“One thing we shouldn’t forget is that the criminal action we see being perpetrated here is by a small number of nasty criminals,” CoHSAT’s chair Robin Tucker said in response to the recent spate of anti-LTN vandalism in Oxford.
“A minority of people oppose these measures, and an even smaller minority of those people commit these acts of vandalism. It’s worth remembering that independent polling conducted by YouGov showed that residents in Oxford support the low traffic neighbourhoods by a majority of two to one.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.