Society is not using its “finite” road space responsibly and needs to change, a councillor in charge of highways management told Oxfordshire County Council yesterday, as the local authority voted to make permanent three controversial low traffic neighbourhood schemes in Oxford, despite angry protesters claiming that the traffic-calming measures have increased congestion and that they “can’t get on bikes”.
Andrew Gant, Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for highways management, was speaking at an often heated and rowdy meeting as the local authority voted to approve and make permanent the Traffic Regulation Orders for the three LTNs introduced in east Oxford in May 2022.
Implemented to prevent rat-running motorists from driving through residential streets, making them safer for cyclists and pedestrians, the LTNs in the Divinity Road, St Clement’s, and St Mary’s areas have instead become the epicentre of what some have described as a “civil war” in Oxford, and the subject of protests, conspiracy theories, vandalism, arson attacks, and television documentaries.
Following yesterday’s vote, the planters and bollards that signalled the entrance to the LTNs – and which have been driven over, stolen, and set on fire over the past year – will be replaced by Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras, while taxi drivers, emergency services, bin lorries, and post van drivers will be permitted to use the streets.
A recent report into east Oxford’s LTNs found that the schemes have led to an increase in cycling numbers by 20 percent, with one boundary road even seeing the percentage of cyclists increasing by 51 percent, while car use is down by 10 percent.
While air quality has improved for the most part, the report also found that congestion has increased overall, with bus journey times towards the city centre and the busy Plain roundabout rising.
“The LTNs are not a silver bullet,” Green councillor Chris Jarvis told yesterday’s meeting. “But we need to take meaningful action.
“Air quality has improved, cycling is up, road collisions are down, walking is more pleasant, teenagers are playing football in the street. These are real, tangible benefits.”
James Schumann, from the Divinity Road Area Residents Association, said that the LTNs had created “quieter streets and better neighbourhoods”, and that residential streets – which were “not designed for high traffic levels” – were now “safe for pedestrians, people on mobility scooters, cargo bikes, and cyclists, who can now use these narrow streets to get to school, work, and the shops”.
“Until the LTNs went in I was too scared to cycle to work in Marston,” added resident Katie Mills.
“The Cowley and East Oxford LTNs have made it safe. I have two children at schools in East Oxford, and I now have the confidence to cycle on the roads with them. The LTNs have been transformative.”
However, other residents were scathing of the impact the LTNs have had on congestion and local businesses, arguing that they can’t simply “get on a bike” to take advantage of the traffic-calming measures.
Some protesters gathered outside County Hall yesterday, meanwhile, were pictured clutching signs which appeared to conflate the LTN debate with the much-discussed – but entirely separate – issue of 15-minute cities, an urban design policy which aims to ensure that all residents live within a short walk or cycle from daily necessities and the subject of a demonstration in Oxford in February.
Criticising what she deemed a “mock show of democracy”, resident Anne Stares told the meeting that “the people and businesses of the city will not forget your disregard of their pleas and suffering in favour of a selfish minority of idealists who whine that they want to amble in the road.”
“I want to look Andrew Gant in the face and tell him there has been no thought for the elderly,” said Maggie Brown, who was pictured holding a sign labelling the council’s transport chief a “tyrant”.
“We can’t get on bikes and scooters.”
“I’m not young enough to go on a bike,” 81-year-old Jane Buckland added. “I’m past my sell by date.”
“I recognise that there remain concerns,” Liberal Democrat councillor Gant said at the conclusion of yesterday’s meeting.
“As a council we are prioritising measures to reduce bus journey times. We have also heard from businesses operating in a complex commercial environment, and residents struggling with difficult personal circumstances.
“However, an increase in dangerous congestion with no plan for change helps no-one. As a council, we are committed to offering people meaningful choice in how they travel.
“We are working to preserve essential journeys by car, while also encouraging safe travel for all by walking, scooting, biking, and greater use of public transport. LTNs are one step towards less reliance on private car journeys.”
He continued: “Should we take a large amount of Oxford’s congestion and put it back on residential roads? No. Going back is not realistic.
“There is a lack of any alternative vision from those who oppose LTNs. We have all got too used to the idea that road space is something we can help ourselves to, as much as we like, whenever we like.
“It is a finite resource, and it is full. It comes at a cost. As a society, we are not making responsible use of it. We need to change.”
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.