Oxford City Council has recently begun to prepare the city for employees returning to work. Last week, the Council announced that it would commit £234,000 to kick start businesses for when shops can reopen in Oxford.

This comes as Oxford University Pro-Vice-Chancellor Dr. David Prout calls for preparations to facilitate the transportation needs of employees returning to work. The University stated that they anticipate around 5,000 of 14,500 employees will begin commuting to work during the summer. However, as around 60% of employees live outside of a reasonable cycling range the release expressed the needs of Oxford employees for safe transportation.

A letter from the University to the council stated that employees will need to use Park and Pedal – they will drive to the park and then cycle or walk the last few miles of their commute. This practice will become essential until the pandemic ends. For this plan to work, the Pro-Vice Chancellor expressed that more secure areas for employees to leave bikes overnight need to be established and safer, traffic regulated cycling routes from Park and Pedal sites to employment sites need to be increased.

The Council has surveyed businesses in order to gain a better perspective on the measures needed for employees to safely return to work.  In the City Council’s survey, to which 191 organisations responded, they found high levels of support for more secure cycling and road closures. Additionally, survey respondents highly favoured road closures and new zones for outdoor tables and chairs. Respondents of the survey include small and large retailers, NHS institutions, and University colleges.

“Local businesses have sent a very clear signal,” said Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon. “We’re seeing very high levels of support for more secure cycle, road closures and safety measures outside schools, new separate and safe cycle ways, and new zones for outdoor tables and chairs. Our clear aim is to make changes in the areas where we exercise control and to continue influencing our partners to use their powers in the interest of public safety.”

The Council’s new changes will focus on making spaces for cyclists and pedestrians more secure as citizens are being encouraged to avoid public transportation whenever possible. The focus of the Council’s efforts will be to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians can maintain social distancing while traveling.

“When shops reopen on 15 June, the city centre will become busier,” said Councillor Hayes. ”Social distancing protects public health, so we have to move quickly to ensure people minimise contact with others. We’re moving quickly because there isn’t a lot of time left before the city centre reopens, but we’re moving forward in cooperation, listening to and working with local businesses to get things right.”

Efforts to maintain social distancing include things such as increasing the number of bicycle parking spaces and in the city centre and temporarily reallocating road space for pedestrians to have more room.

The Council is also placing an emphasis on ensuring that disabled people have access to shopping areas in the city centre. The Council has already hosted a workshop with disabled people to discuss this issue and are in talks with disability groups in Oxford.

In response to Oxford University’s statement on the transport needs of employees returning to work, Councillor Hayes expressed the urgency to implement social distancing measures in the city: “We have a tight deadline of 15 June, when the shops will be reopening, to prepare the city centre for an easing of the lockdown,” Hayes said.

“The return of a minimum of 5,000 University and Oxford college employees to work during the summer creates an additional pressure to put in place social distancing measures. We’ll continue to do all we can, committing significant funding to cycling and walking to prepare for 15 June. In line with Government guidance, heeding the calls of the University, and exercising influence over the local transport authority, Oxfordshire County Council, we are determined to ensure that the city centre and the people using it aren’t left unprepared for 15 June.”

Image credit to Tejvan Pettinger