Squeezing out cycling with two-tier provision

The Frideswide Square redevelopment in Oxford has got me thinking (again) about the ways in which current road design – even in places with relatively high levels of cycling use – continue to treat cycling as a mode of transport that doesn’t exist, and why.

To recap, although this is a ‘Square’, it’s a busy junction, with around 35,000 vehicle movements, per day.

The Frideswide Square area, from above. The station is to the left, the city (roughly) to the right.

The Frideswide Square area, from above. The station is to the left, the city (roughly) to the right. Note the amount of bikes parked by the station (just above the trees)

This is, clearly, a vast area, but the plan is to create what amounts to a carbon copy of Poynton.



A ‘shared space’ scheme, with narrow carriageways and ‘informal’ roundabouts.

Where does cycling fit into this design? Answer – it doesn’t.

As with Poynton, people cycling will either have to share the carriageway with those tens of thousands of motor vehicles, combined with buses moving in and out of the bus stops, taking an ‘assertive’ position along the road, and through the roundabouts,  or if they don’t fancy that, they are going to be ‘tolerated’ on the footways.



The Cycling Embassy, along with the CTC, strongly objected to these proposals. This was covered in the Oxford Mail. The response from Oxfordshire County Council’s spokesman is worth quoting in full –

Council spokesman Paul Smith said: “We’ve had numerous discussions with cycle groups throughout the planning of this scheme and listened carefully to concerns.

“One of the most important things we’re trying to achieve is to keep vehicle speeds down to enable the whole place to feel more welcoming for pedestrians and cyclists as well as helping to keep traffic flowing more smoothly than now.

“If we provided cycle lanes on the road, the width of the road overall would increase to the point where we feel that vehicles will start to travel at higher speeds. This would make things less pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

“We have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road in Frideswide Square even if speeds are low and that is why we are proposing that some space in the paved pedestrian area of the square is shared between cyclists and pedestrians.”

Unfortunately nobody was asking for ‘cycle lanes on the road’; both the CTC and the Embassy were asking for cycle tracksphysically separated from motor traffic. The point about the ‘width of the road’ is therefore completely irrelevant. The road could be whatever width Oxford choose to make it, because cycling would be physically separate from it. (This basic misunderstanding isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring).

The final paragraph pretty much encapsulates the dead-end philosophy of catering for two different groups of ‘cyclist’. There are plainly many, many people who don’t want to cycle on busy roads; this is the main reason why cycling levels are so suppressed in Britain. Why this is apparently some kind of revelation to the council – ‘we have heard that there are still people who may not want to cycle on the road’ – is beyond me. These people are not being considered in these designs. They are being treated like pedestrians.

These kinds of proposals are a failure because they do not explicitly consider cycling as a mode of transport in its own right, designing for it in a way that responds to the needs of people actually using bicycles. What cycling that is taking place (and in this location, even with the existing poor conditions, quite a lot, several thousand movements a day) will continue to be bodged into a walking/driving model – that is, being treated as a motor vehicle, or as a pedestrian, neither of which is particularly attractive, to anyone. Cycling gets nothing, even in a location where it is reasonably dominant in an existing hostile environment.

I think this is why it is really important that a two-tier approach of catering for cycling – allegedly slow, less confident people on the footway, while the confident continue to use the road – is explicitly ruled out as a design strategy. It provides a mechanism for ignoring cycling completely, even in schemes that are being funded with cycling money.

The Perne Road roundabout in Cambridge, and the ‘Turbo’ Roundabout in Bedford, have both been funded with several hundreds of thousands of pounds of cycling money, yet what has been produced are roundabouts that do not design for cycling. At these roundabouts, you either continue to cycle on the roundabout itself, with motor traffic, like a motor vehicle, or you use the footway, like a pedestrian. This is fairly extraordinary, given the source of funding, but it remains possible because we allow cycling to be divided up this way, offering up a bit of what’s needed to different kinds of user, simultaneously watering down cycling to the point that it can safely be ignored, as it is in a multi-million pound scheme in Oxford. The two-tier approach is a complete disaster, and it has to be killed off.

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17 Responses to Squeezing out cycling with two-tier provision

  1. A says:

    Note that Oxford doesn’t control its own roads. This is not the city council, it’s Oxfordshire County Council’s doing. The same lot that, allegedly, wouldn’t let the city council spend available cycling money on any highway changes because of a pending local transport plan (it’s still pending).

    The county council is Conservative controlled. Guess where their wards are, guess what their electorate cares about.

    This is awful, and responses to the initial consultation said so, but it seems like they just don’t care.

    • “The county council is Conservative controlled. Guess where their wards are, guess what their electorate cares about.”

      But that still doesn’t make any sense. The carriageway width is going to be the carriageway width regardless, according to the council, so we’re not talking a capacity issue here.

      They are ensuring that some people on bikes remain on the carriageway because the pavement alternative will be slow (and I suspect leave people on bikes with more complicated/dangerous junction movements than the road). So the people on bikes will still be ‘in the way’ of those people driving into Oxford from the county.

      It’s a lose-lose-lose for users whether in a car, on a bike or on foot.

      Want cyclists out of your way? Give them somewhere else they want to be.

      • A says:

        Want cyclists out of your way? Make it so nasty they stop cycling and get the bus instead.

        • Given the population profile of Cambridge and, I suspect, Oxford, I would expect they’ll drive (no pun intended) more people back to cars than to buses. Transport system came to a standstill a couple of weeks ago on a particularly wet Monday. I heard a number of usual cyclists curse their decision to try to avoid the rain.

          • A says:

            Sounds about right. I think the county does appreciate that the cyclists help keep demand for other modes down, but it seems to have been bitten by the dual network/20mph bug which local campaigners have promoted.

            Anyway, the answer to rain is waterproof trousers and shoes 🙂

  2. Tim says:

    And of course, as well as not working for cycling, it winds up pedestrians and drivers alike because despite having no cycle-specific place to be, essentially cyclists can go where they like and “get in everyone’s way”. This is a terrible “solution”.

    As to the why, this occurred to me reading your previous post on bias. I’m sure some would argue that cyclists don’t warrant dedicated provision since it’s a minority form of transport. You wouldn’t provide dedicated facilities for pogo stick users, and to spend a lot of money on doing so might be considered bias. But, as you point out here, cyclists already exist in large numbers (true in Oxford and London). And even if they didn’t there’s a clearly stated intention to encourage cycling and a growing understanding that the lack of dedicated infra is the main reason there aren’t more cyclists – catch-22. In addition to which, we’ve seen before that good cycle facilities also work for other important users ( http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/who-else-benefits-from-the-dutch-cycling-infrastructure/ ). It really scares me just watching mobility-scooter drivers trying to get around on busy roads. God knows how they feel.

    Most readers of this blog know all this already, but I guess I feel it’s important to re-state that cycling is often already popular enough to deserve dedicated infra (well beyond anything it currently has). And even where it isn’t popular enough yet, cycling has form, in other locations and historically, so it has potential. Plus the manifold benefits of more cycling mean it isn’t just worth pursuing, but stupid not to.

  3. Andy says:

    Unfortunately you’ve missed the important question.

    Just what are the sculptures going to be that will inevitably be placed in the middle of those roundab…ahem…roundels to make drivers circulate as if they were roundabouts? Which, of course, they plainly aren’t. As any fool can see.

    (BTW, shared space with full upstand kerbs = traditional footway and carriageway, just done in block paving).

  4. Chris R says:

    Calling this junk ‘2 tier provision’ is generous. It’s really 0 tier provision. Nobody on a bike is adequately catered for here. The misuse of DfT cycling money continues…

  5. Danny Yee says:

    The Frideswide Square redevelopment isn’t going to get any of my non-cycling friends cycling through it – and they’re fit adults in their 30s http://wanderingdanny.com/oxford/2014/11/not-cycling-in-oxford/ There’s no way most potential cyclists, in the full 8 to 80 range, are going to find this practical either, and being given the right to cycle on the pavement isn’t really going to help, given they’d still have to exit the “shared space” pavements direclty into moving traffic.

  6. Liz says:

    Apparently there will now be dedicated bike lanes on the roads approaching the square, although I don’t know of any specifics. I cycle through Frideswide Square pretty regularly and it is not particularly fun as it is, I don’t think this redesign makes it any better and it might be worse for bikes and pedestrians as well, depending on how well the informal crossing points work. How do they expect a cyclist to get from Hythe Bridge Street to the train station? I guess if I’m feeling confident I cross two roundabouts instead of negotiating two sets of lights, only now have to mix with buses as well (which you don’t in the current layout as they have a separate bus road). Otherwise I get off, cross over two informal crossings, cycle across the shared space, and cross a third informal crossing, unless I can cycle over the informal crossings to reach the shared space.

  7. Pete says:

    Completely and utterly mind bogglingly frustrating! In the oxford example they have an opportunity like never before to do cycling infrastructure properly since they are going to rip up all of the paving any way and they have acres of space.

    How on earth has this happened? There is no way you can’t fully segregate through here!

  8. cyclestrian says:

    I hope:
    (a) sustrans.gov.uk doesn’t rubber stamp this
    (b) no cycling money is earmarked for this scheme (look what happened in New Forest)
    (c) the plans are redrawn according to best practice from NL/DK.

  9. urbangrit says:

    What is incredibly disappointing is that this is the best that can be done in a location where there a very many cyclists. Cycling in to Oxford from the west is a nightmare. Yes, there’s a cycle route most of the way, but deflects on to the road near to the city centre, and disappears just before the bridge in the west of the picture. Cyclists get squeezed because the carriageway is given over to two lanes for vehicles approaching the square. What a shame.

  10. Philip says:

    Cycle tracks shouldn’t really be necessary there, though. If the city centre bridges were closed to through motor traffic (other than some service buses – not tourist coaches – with rising bollards), the reduction in the square would be enough for anyone to cycle through it quite happily. (And according to Google Maps, the difference for drivers from Magdalen Bridge to the station going round the ring road would only be an extra 8 minutes).

    • Ed says:

      You’re right that removing traffic from the centre would be a sensible thing to do. The city is set to expand significantly, and is already very crowded with people, so we need to create proper pedestrian spaces in the centre. However, cycle tracks will always be necessary at Frideswide Square because of the large number of buses, who will be making turns that conflict with bikes to get into the station, and the new bus terminal when it’s built in a few years.

      Buses are a major deterrent for many would-be cyclists, although certain members of Cyclox have denied this in their campaigns because it’s difficult to resolve in places such as Cowley Road.

  11. fonant says:

    The diagram does NOT show shared space. It shows a road with roundabouts instead of traffic lights, just made out of significantly more expensive materials than normal.

    Through motor traffic just doesn’t belong here, as Philip says. Do the Dutch thing, and allow through routes for cyclists, pedestrians and buses, but not private motor vehicles. Oxford would instantly become a much nicer place to be.

  12. Pingback: Taking back the Square, part 2 | Cargobike Dad

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