More thoughts on Access to Headington

The latest consultation on Oxfordshire County Council’s “Access to Headington” (A2H) scheme is now closed. It was technically a consultation on a batch of Traffic Regulation Orders needed to implement the scheme. You can find all the drawings and details here. There’s a secondary set of Orders covering the building of road humps at the junctions of side roads with the main roads in the scheme (did they forget they needed these?). This consultation closes on 8 April.

I went to one of the exhibitions of the revised plans and was pleased to see that a genuine attempt seems to have been made to overcome some of the problems people had with the initial outline scheme. The original objections were mostly to do with the loss of on-road parking on Headley Way and Windmill Road, and a general loss of trees and green verges. I collected as many sets of these original comments as I could which you can find on the link.

I had originally planned to write some detailed comments of my own. Partly due to time pressures but mostly because it seemed too daunting a task to cover the whole length of the scheme in detail I didn’t manage to do that. But I have read others’ responses including those on these links:

There has also been a discussion on the Headington & Marston e-democracy forum. I have seen the response from the Oxford Pedestrians Association, and have been on the circulation list of a lengthy and well-reasoned email debate between Valerie Seagroatt (a resident in the Widmill Road area and a statistician) and Simon Hunt of Cyclox.

While there will have been many comments about specific local design details, the one general issue that stands out is the removal of on-street parking. The Council has produced survey evidence that extra parking in side streets will more than compensate for the spaces removed – though as ever there are questions about the precise location of the new spaces. In Headley Way the issue is about people who have to park in the Lakes having to cross the busy road to get to houses on the west side.

In Windmill Road the crux of the debate is about whether removing all the parking will make the road safer or more dangerous. Cyclox and others point out that parked cars are a danger to cyclists, and welcome the building of continuous cycle paths as an improvement. The opposing camp claims that parked cars are a traffic calming measure, that higher vehicle speeds will make the road more dangerous for all users including both cyclists and pedestrians including schoolchildren. As Valerie Seagroatt put it, “The principle point of disagreement is whether or not removing parked cars from the road, and moving cyclists into cycle lanes and so moving obstacles from the traffic flow will lead to increased speeds (and so increased accident rates and increased severity). I say it would but you … say it will not.”

I think we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. Traffic congestion is a big problem not just in Headington and Oxford but cities everywhere. More and more people are coming to recognise that motor vehicles are killing our cities, and through their pollution are killing us too. We have to find ways of changing people’s behaviour so that they don’t see cars as the best way of getting from A to B. To do this we need to make other modes of travel easy, accessible, affordable, safe and attractive. This will be done by many different changes – proper cycle provision, convenient and affordable public transport, banning cars from city centres, creating new spaces (‘places’) where people can live their lives without needing to own a car. Other countries are far ahead of us and can show us the way. It won’t happen in a year, or ten years, but over a generation or two.

So I ask, is the Access to Headington scheme a step in the right direction? I think it is. It won’t solve all the problems and like all solutions to messy real-life problems it might create a few problems of its own which will have to be solved in turn. But if cars travel too fast down Windmill Road, parked cars are not the right traffic calming measure. If too many cars doing the school run clog up Margaret Road it’s not because there are too many parking spaces. Today’s cyclists may duck down side-streets and cut through hospital grounds, but that’s because today those are the quickest/easiest/safest routes. Provide better ones and they will use them. Arguments based on how people behave today assume that behaviour doesn’t change, but we know that given the right conditions it can and it does.