Oxford is set to implement two temporary bus gates, restricting cars from entering certain parts of the city centre.

Backed by both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council, the measure aims to reduce congestion and support Oxford’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

One bus gate will be located on either Hythe Bridge Street or Worcester Street, and the other on St Cross Road or South Parks Road. A third bus gate will be kept under review and implemented at a later date.

They will only be accessible to buses, taxis, blue badge holders, disabled tax class vehicles, and emergency services.

The temporary bus gates will be installed at the end of September at the earliest, but the timescale will reflect the consultation with stakeholders and the public, government guidance, and the spread of COVID-19 in Oxford.

Councillor Tom Hayes said: “Oxford’s narrow medieval streets are routinely clogged up with stop-go traffic, with vehicles cutting through, using the city centre as a permanent rat run.

“Right now we need to support businesses and support people to shop in the city centre, and supporting travel by buses, cycling, and walking is how we can achieve this. We can’t afford to have vehicles cutting through that don’t stop, don’t spend, and don’t support local jobs and businesses during the toughest time they’ll ever know.”

A City Council Residents Panel found that 80% of residents supported restricting private vehicle movements in the city during the daytime.

Only 10% of residents surveyed travelled into the city by car, and a 2017 survey found that 70% of shoppers arrived by bus.

The Council has asked for residents’ views through an online consultation.

The Oxford branch of Build Back Better, a Coronavirus Recovery Campaign, has backed the measures and called for a total of seven bus gates in a petition to the council.

Charlie Hicks from Build Back Better Oxford told Cherwell: “Bus gates are key to a better Oxford. By cutting congestion massively through the city centre, we will be able to redesign the public spaces for people, air will be cleaner, more people will cycle and walk, we can have more open-air markets, trees, benches – you name it”

“Broad St. and St Giles could be some of the most beautiful streets in Europe, if they were not car parks!”

Build Back Better Oxford has also created a series of photos of a car-free Oxford.

What Oxford could look like, proposed by Build Back Better’s #BetterOxford

Oxford Brookes University and the Oxford University Student Union have joined residents in supporting the bus gates.

Ben Farmer, VP Charities and Community, Oxford SU said: “We…welcome the proposed temporary bus gates in Oxford City centre, as a good measure to reduce traffic in central Oxford and provide safer streets for walking and cycling.”

The University of Oxford supports the gates, but has concerns that they could harm the operation of the University if implemented in isolation.  

“Colleagues across the university are concerned about how they will get to work as the new term starts and we believe this will be made more difficult – and that it could adversely affect the operation of the University – unless mitigating measures are taken in parallel with the introduction of the new bus gates,” said David Prout, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Planning and Resources).

“We want to express again our long term support for integrated measures (bus gates, parking charges and improvements to public transport and walking and cycling) to reduce congestion, improve air quality and enhance the sustainability of the City of Oxford.

The proposed bus gates come as part of wider measures to aid economic recovery after the pandemic. Oxfordshire County Council has committed to investing almost £3 million to support safe pedestrian and cycle spaces in cities, whilst the City Council is working to allow pedestrians and cyclists to maintain social distancing.

The bus gates will be in operation between 7.30 am and 6.30 pm. The City Council says: “Bus gates do not prevent access to areas of the city, however aim to redirect traffic through a different route and aims to reduce the use of the city centre as a through-route.”

The Councils have not set a duration for the bus gates, but Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders have a maximum time limit of 18 months and full public consultation is required before they can be made permanent.

The city centre already has bus gates at High Street, George Street, and Castle Street.

Images provided by Build Back Better UK – Oxford.