Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tunnel Vision: Oxford Traffic Problems Are Getting Intolerable

For years the traffic problems in Oxford have been getting worse. The main roads are overloaded with traffic, it takes hours to cross the city either on a bus or in a car, and if you take a car into the city centre you are charged more to park it than the cost of a sex-slave in an I.S.I.S. auction. Every day we experience chronic delays in trying to get into the town, or out of it, and people are justifiably angry at the handing out of punitive parking fines for a ten-minute overstay.
       Neither the City Council nor the County Council have taken any effective measures to improve things. In fact virtually everything they do is designed to aggravate an already critical situation. Oxford City Council long ago declared war on the car. It has spent millions on building bottlenecks, installing traffic bumps and deliberately planting trees in the the road to make every journey an ordeal. As for the County Council, it has inflicted a series of complicated road-schemes on half a dozen areas of the city, that do everything possible to impede traffic and thus encourage congestion, pollution and frustration. We have waited years to get the London Road re-surfaced and the state it is now in would disgrace an open gravel pit. 
    Commuters are told to find another way to get to their destination while the work is being done. What would the County Council suggest  - a flying carpet?

An artist’s impression of how the tunnel under High Street might look

     You can always trust County Councillor Ian Hudspeth to come up with some grandiose and absurd scheme. He is now suggesting that a tunnel be built right underneath the centre of Oxford so that the High Street can become a pedestrian precinct. A tunnel would mean drilling right underneath some of the most ancient, historic and prestigious buildings in this university city, buildings that are of World Heritage class. Magdalen College, University College, Queen's College, the Church of St Mary's, are all situated along the High Street and their foundations could easily be disturbed. Such a tunnel would have to go underneath the river and it would probably undermine Magdalen Bridge. We know what such schemes cost   - hundreds of millions of pounds, money that the County Council simply hasn't got. If it bumps up our council tax its budget will just be capped by the government.
          The fact is that many of Oxford's transport problems have been created by the mania for pedestrianising the centre. When traffic could go up and down Cornmarket, there was less congestion on the other roads. The time limit for private vehicles using the High Street means that these cars take circuitous routes, adding to the congestion on other roads. More problems are caused by the excessive use of traffic lights. There used to be no traffic lights on the London Road between St Clements and the junction with Windmill Road in central Headington. Now there are about ten sets. Each set costs thousands of pounds to install (the exact figure seems to be a state secret) and thousands more per year to run. There has been a lot of research into the CO2 they emit, but far less into the time they waste, which is valued at nil. No wonder with all these traffic lights it takes forever for a bus to get into the city. And if traffic trying to leave can't get out, no surprise that there is congestion.
        The City Council is determined to go ahead with the scheme to build a major new housing estate at Barton West. Unless the residents are going to be banned from working in the city or sending their children to school here, we can anticipate that traffic-wise things in Oxford will not be getting any better.

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