Cycling in my City: Oxford

James Styring

Cyclox: The Cycling Campaign for Oxford

Cycling in Oxford has bumbled along for decades. The city is synonymous with it and in the main, cycling here is easier and more popular than the rest of the country, bar Cambridge and (recently) central London. Just shy of 20 per cent of commuting journeys within the city are by bike, and 30 per cent of adults in Oxford cycle at least once a week, according to a 2011 survey.

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Oxford is a Labour/Lib Dem/Green-voting city, but its transport budget is controlled by a Conservative County Council. It’d be fair to say that most of the difficulty that cycle campaigners have with getting anything done is down to this political schism. There is no cycling officer or champion in County Hall, and until earlier this year, there was zero budget for cycling projects. Cycling was accommodated, comfortably but not into all road projects in the city, with bus and car access receiving the greatest bites of the cake.

The County Council’s leadership was for years antagonistic towards cycling. A change of cabinet in spring 2013 has ushered in a much more sensible attitude to cycling, and spending on cycling. Oxford’s MPs (one Labour, one Conservative) both maintain regular contact with and support Cyclox, the city’s cycling campaign group.

There are continual, piecemeal improvements to the infrastructure and Cyclox’s vision for a dual network is falling into place – slowly. ‘Dual network’ means a coherent and joined-up network for ‘fast’ cyclists on main roads and a quieter, back street network for less confident cyclists. Just a small amount of both networks now needs to be completed.

Two pinch-points remain massive barriers on major routes into the city: under Botley Road railway bridge and the Plain roundabout. The County has successfully bid for almost £1m to make the Plain roundabout cycle friendly. Cyclists have been relatively unanimous in asking for Dutch-style segregation, and we are waiting to see how far the County can accommodate this wish – space is at a premium in this medieval city.

Our ‘20’s Plenty’ campaign succeeded in 2011 in getting most streets made 20mph. This was more of a triumph on paper than in practice because for two years the police refused to enforce the limits, although this policy has just changed. Even slower, quieter streets will encourage many more residents to try cycling.

We are lucky to have the pro-active Broken Spoke Bike Co-op to provide all sorts of bike maintenance classes, cycle training, rides and movies. Maintaining a cycling culture requires the energy and enthusiasm that outfits like theirs can provide.

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