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.

2 Thoughts on “Revamping the Plain – or not

  1. Paul M on 23/04/2014 at 1:12 pm said:

    Does this have Sustrans’ fingerprints on it? It certainly seems to have remarkable similarities with the Bedford roundabout scheme which I believe has now been abandoned following the outcry.

    In that scheme they also talked of the speed of vehicles approaching the roundabout but they were apparently unable to conceal the real source of their concern about that speed – the number of collisions occurring between motor vehicles on the roundabout.

    For this they elected to bid for some £300k in cycle safety scheme funding – and they got it, because Sustrans and CTC, among others, approved it!

    Part of a long an inglorious history of misappropriating cycling-specific funding to finance schemes which are primarily for the benefit of motorists and only peripherally of benefit to cyclists, if at all.

  2. alistair on 23/04/2014 at 1:19 pm said:

    Narrow the road too much and there is no contingency room for occasions where a bus/lorry breaks down,etc. – with enough road space cyclists and other vehicles can more likely get by such obstructions, saving far worse inconvenience and economic cost of traffic jams.
    On a bike I’d prefer a wider space to provide more leeway to avoid collisions.

    Do I sense the Council plans to repeat past errors in relation to paving? Small blockwork.. In the beautiful historic German city of Heidelberg poured concrete pavement is very commonly used and looks good (albeit with granite kerb stones)… it is cheap and quick to lay, cheap and quick to relay, can be coloured sympathetically to the locally traditional stonework, and colours can be used to guide pedestrians etc. for instance, to indicate the route of cyclists on a mixed use pavement.
    Such blockwork on sand is slow and expensive to lay, maximising the inconvenience and cost, it also suffers with subsidence and causes trip hazard to pedestrians. It is the worst choice.
    We could be using latest innovation – poured surface that is permeable to rain; this would be a good reason for added scheme expense, making sense in relation to Oxford flood risks by allowing rain to enter the ground as quickly as possible.

    If we accept that this roundabout and junctions is not going to see segregated cycle routes this time, then the key question is what speed limit will apply; 10mph for vehicles into and through the roundabout might make it safer for cyclists and improve traffic flows too.

    Will there be room for signs facing all drivers reaching the roundabout reminding them that they are a minority road user? — that the majority of travellers are on bicycles.. thus cyclist safety is the priority..

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