Headington Bus Routes – guest post

Peter Headicar is Reader in Transport Planning in the Dept of Planning, Oxford Brookes University. He emailed me in response to my earlier post about the new bus routes in Headington. Rather than append his analysis as a comment to my earlier article he kindly agreed I could publish it here. He writes:

In principle I would say that the initiative of the County Council and Stagecoach in developing these services is to be welcomed. However the Osler Road issue you raise is just one example of more general difficulties likely to arise with the current back-to-front manner in which ‘improvements’ are being progressed. From a strategic perspective (particularly important if you are seeking innovative approaches) Headington’s problems are tied in with those of the City as a whole (especially the ‘outer city’) which as we know are complex and intractable. Ideally we would be proceeding

Strategy for the City-region → Strategy for the Eastern Arc → Plan for Headington → Individual proposals in Headington (bus services and other).

At the moment things are happening the other way around!

Measures in Headington need to be viewed in the context of planning for the Eastern Arc as a whole. The revised P&R services only cater for car drivers arriving from the East, North and West (via Water Eaton). At some stage the issue of access from the South also needs to be addressed (ie from the Abingdon/Didcot, Wallingford and Watlington corridors). There is also the question of catering for movements within the city between the Marston/Headington and Cowley/Littlemore areas (in both directions – there are major housing and employment concentrations in both). If origin/destination surveys were undertaken of N-S traffic through the eastern half of the city I would expect a significant proportion (including much rat-running) to derive from this combination of movements. (This is clear from the 2001 Travel to Work statistics and I doubt that things have got better since.)

On the details of the P&R services it’s worth pointing out that not all the changes are good news in terms of overall transport strategy. The frequency from Water Eaton is being reduced from 15 minutes to 20 in the morning peak and during the day and from 20 minutes to 25 in the afternoon peak. A contributory factor (but not necessarily the sole one) is the injection of additional running time into the timetable, presumably to combat congestion and improve reliability. Despite the bus priority measures introduced thus far the running times of P&R services generally remain slow – it takes 48 minutes in the pm peak for example to travel from Churchill to Water Eaton. This plus the reduced frequency do not exactly add up to a very appealing package for motorists whose main leg of their journey may only begin when they get to the P&R! The attractiveness/efficiency of the P&R services deserves to be addressed at the city-wide level but also needs to be kept in mind when considering local routeing and traffic management options in Headington.