Four years into Oxfordshire’s latest transport strategy and here we are embarking on another multi-stage consultation for Local Transport Plan 4. The official reasoning makes a case for it but can the goals and objectives of a strategy covering two decades really have changed so much that it warrants starting from scratch? We’ll be taking a look at the detail following tomorrow’s Connecting Oxfordshire meeting at 7pm in Henry Box School.
Connecting Oxfordshire conjures up the idea of places joined together, settlement to settlement, Carterton to Witney, Witney to Oxford, but that’s only one level of local transport. The hyperlocal is at least as important – how we move around within settlements – and it’s the one we consistently fail to make more efficient, pleasant and healthy. Travelling along better local transport links is one part of the solution, not having to sit in 15 minutes of congestion at either end is the other.
The only major road project during four years of LTP3 to be planned, signed-off and (soon to be) built in Witney is the Ducklington Lane junction improvement. It started out with a £2 million budget and a brief to future proof it for a predicted 2030 level of motorised traffic. When the engineering contractor Atkins ran the junction through its capacity modelling software ‘computer said no’; it didn’t have enough lanes for stacking. That’s a technical term for temporarily parking vehicles at a junction so a queue doesn’t back up so far that it adversely effects the next junction upstream.
What to do? Quite a large area around the junction is deemed highway land and during a site visit Atkins’ engineer noticed the B&Q corner “doesn’t go anywhere” (the business park being hidden behind a very large hedge) so no crossings or pavement to it would be required. That was a boon to a modeller of motor traffic because it meant:
- the pavement removal would give more space for traffic lanes,
- more time could be retained for traffic movements.
Stacking traffic is only part of the equation for a signalised junction, there also needs to be a enough time available to clear the stack during each light sequence so a growing remainder doesn’t back up over time. Adding a proper Toucan crossing to reach B&Q would scupper the junction’s maximum capacity in the traffic model.
Despite bikes being regularly parked at B&Q, and people beating paths through the bushes to it, the traffic counts showed low numbers of people walking and cycling on the western arm of the junction, supporting the removal of the pavement along with the potential to cross there. If you’ve tried it you’ll know why; it’s relatively risky and far from pleasant. It’s so unpleasant and off-putting in fact, a sympathetic observer might conclude that the people counts ought to be multiplied by a factor of about 100 to take that into account. Traffic models can’t empathise neither can they model people walking or cycling.
During the consultation bike users requested better access which resulted in a 2m shared path along Thorney Leys to an informal pedestrian crossing, with a refuge, to Thorney Leys Business Park. Oxfordshire County Council could not provide an official, safe and convenient bike route for the employees and visitors to B&Q and the rest of the businesses there. ‘Encouraging’ people to cycle and relieve congestion doesn’t yet stretch to giving them a place to do it.
I don’t think we’ll get another chance to put that right for a very long time and this corner of Witney will continue to be cut off from the bike network for now, and will remain so when the junction eventually starts to operate at its designed capacity in the late 2020s. All that tarmac poured, rolled and marked out, sat there through rain and shine, developing potholes, waiting for that day. Does that sound innovative to you?
So perhaps Ian Hudspeth, the architect of Connecting Oxfordshire, is right, the Local Transport Plan does need a revamp from the top down. I’m not so sure. Cycling and walking were high priorities for all settlement types in LTP3, including Witney, but that had no influence when it came to providing people with a safe and convenient option to cycle to Thorney Leys Business Park. Not considering walking and cycling until after the road layout for the junction was complete was a failure to plan for walking and cycling; good policy made no difference to an old process.