Monthly Archives: March 2014

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Revamping the Plain – or not

In 2013 Oxfordshire County Council bid for, and were awarded, a Cycle City Ambition Grant to redevelop the Plain roundabout. The Plain is a pretty complicated 5-exit roundabout which lies between the major routes out of East Oxford and the main route into central Oxford over Magdalen Bridge – alternative routes are lengthy detours and/or flooded, depending on the time of year, so the Plain is a pretty key junction. The nearest DfT count, on the bridge itself, shows over 17,000 bikes use this road every day – more than all motor vehicles combined.

The original design was not terribly good:
The Plain design, original grant

Basically, it builds out pavement everywhere to tighten up the corners and slow traffic down, and reduces the High Street approach to a single lane, making it easier for cycles to take the right-hand exits. There’s no segregation, there’s nothing but some paint and the hope that making cars and bikes go round together will slow everything down and make everyone happy.

Today the county council released the final version, due to be approved at a meeting on Thursday morning:
The Plain, March 2014

It is in fact worse than the original version, as the single-lane approach from the High Street has been ditched to improve traffic flow. Instead there is a centre cycle lane, which does nothing to make it easier to pull out into traffic to turn right, but does give you a special bit of tarmac to sit on between buses. Instead of taking any measures to separate cycles from other traffic, the strategy is to build out pavements a bit, slow everything down, and hope that everyone will co-exist happily.

I appreciate that there are difficulties for this project – buses to be accommodated which you want to keep moving, a short timescale to perform the work, some historical features in the way, and I don’t even know if you can plan a Dutch-style roundabout yet or if it’s still waiting on the TRL trials. But it’s incredibly unambitious for a scheme which aims to grow the numbers of cyclists. It assumes that the only thing holding back an inexperienced cyclist is that cars are going too fast, when the problem is that they have to co-exist with cars and buses at all. I’m not aware that there is any evidence to support these claims, as opposed to the evidence supporting segregated infrastructure as a key feature of cycling in the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark – but it’s OK, we might get some segregation in the future, maybe:

However, given that this scheme is stage one of a two stage scheme (when funding allows) that would address the wider approaches to the junction, the concept of some sort of semi-segregated cycle lanes on the roundabout could be revisited at a later stage.

But not on this scheme, which will cost £965,000 for, as far as I can see, some pavement. Honestly, if this is the sort of thing they’re going to do with £965,000, they should give it back.

There is one bright spot in this scheme – the plan to remove the cycle exemption on the left turn into Longwall Street is gone in favour of allowing the few cyclists who use it to use a bit of shared footway instead, and they’re going to apply for early-start lights for cyclists at this junction. Of course, the cyclists will then be heading towards the Plain, but at least you get five seconds to get ahead of the buses.