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Balancing the tensions between city navigators
5:00pm Monday 2nd December 2013 in News
Buy this photo » Simon Hunt, left, is taking over from James Styring, right, as the chairman of Oxford cyclists’ campaign group Cyclox
NOW that James Styring has stepped down as chairman of Cyclox, he is able to look back and assess the past decade for cyclists in Oxford.
And he counts the 2009 introduction of 20mph limits in the city centre, new cycle stands and improvements to The Plain, among his biggest achievements.
Not that it’s been easy, given the city’s often acrimonious relationship between vehicles and cycles as both attempt to share its winding, packed streets.
The East Oxford resident, 46, moved to Oxford from teaching in Spain in his mid-20s and soon fell under the spell of two wheels, helping to form Cyclox in 2003.
He said: “Buying a car was expensive and there was all sorts of congestion and I realised cycling was going to be my best option.
“I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was 15 or 14.
“Like a lot of people I hadn’t cycled for an awful long time.
“I was looking at my options and realised it was cheaper.”
Mr Styring said he “became quite militant about it” but admits he has “calmed down a lot”.
Mr Styring, whose group holds free monthly meetings, said: “It seems the British are more wedded to their cars and habits than I ever realised and it has been a slow burn.”
Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for the bulk of roads, “hasn’t always in the past made it easy”, he says, but it has come to realise that “for some people in the city, it really makes sense”.
One of the group’s most eye-catching activities brought in under Mr Styring were Top Gear-style challenges between cycles and other modes of transport.
In 2006, we reported how then-Lord Mayor of Oxford Jim Campbell took 21 minutes to cycle four miles from the Water Eaton park-and-ride to Cornmarket Street, compared to 30 minutes for a car.
And a 2011 challenge saw 10 cyclists beat buses and cars in a race from Eynsham to Radcliffe Square, Oxford.
The fastest cyclist was 21 minutes with the first car in at 44 minutes.
Mr Styring said: “We wanted to raise awareness with the public about cycling and how easy it is to get around on a bike.”
“That was all fine and we got older and some of that campaigning faded off and we have become more involved in talking to the councils.”
Cyclox is now “more partner than problem” as the group recognised the will to make changes such as the controversial introduction of 20mph limits.
This is the “single most important” achievement of his 10 years, he said because, although many cars were found to be going above 20mph, it still cut speeds.
He said: “It has really raised awareness, speeds have come down.
“Previously, people were doing 32, 33mph in side streets, now they are doing something like 22, 23mph.”
The Plain – a notorious cycling blackspot at the intersection of St Clement’s and Cowley and Iffley Roads and The High – is set for a £835,000 improvement through the narrowing of lanes and widening of pavements.
Other plans include wider cycle lanes on Cowley Road and Oxford Road between Magdalen Road and Oxford Business Park High Street, to allow cyclists to go both ways at the eastern end of High Street and over Magdalen Bridge.
A redesign of Frideswide Square, by the city’s train station, will see new provisions for cyclists along with three roundabouts, one by the station and two at Hythe Bridge Street and Park End Street.
And plan to introduce cycle lanes to Iffley Road, completed in June last year, highlighted the ever present tension between residents and drivers and cyclists.
While most Iffley Road residents backed the 700m lane – between The Plain and Bullingdon Road – many opposed the loss of 47 parking spaces.
Mr Styring’s successor is Simon Hunt, 68, a retired immunology lecturer at Keble College, who also helped found Cyclox ten years ago.
He said: “James’ energy and commitment to cycling advocacy as leader of Cyclox have materially helped to ensure that Oxford compares pretty well as a cycling city in UK terms.”
20's plenty campaign a huge success
Campaigned successfully, in conjunction with Oxford Pedestrians’ Association, for 20mph on most city roads – makes cycling feel safer
Hundreds of new cycle stands in Broad Street and the city centre
Six widely-reported ‘commuter challenges’ proving it’s quickest to cycle to the city centre from all the park-and-rides, and from as far away as Witney
Creating a cycle map of Oxford (transportparadise.co.uk/cyclemap).
Long-asked-for improvements at The Plain – £1m project under way – but Botley Road railway bridge still a problem
Requesting Iffley Road and Donnington Bridge Road cycle lanes
Removal of cycle barriers at Donnington Bridge, Parks Road, and North Hinksey Lane
Toucan crossings, notably at both ends of Jack Straw’s Lane, Headington
Lobbying for better cycle provision in major projects including Cowley Road, London Road Headington, and St Aldate’s
Arguing for ‘shared-space’ arrangements in New Inn Hall St and Queen Street
‘We want anyone in region to feel safe’
NEW Cyclox chairman Simon Hunt said his key ambition is to extend its activities outside the city boundary.
He said: “We want to enable anyone in the Oxford city region to feel safe cycling here, using proper joined-up bicycle infrastructure.
“This includes the five miles reach-out beyond the ring road in every direction, taking in Abingdon, Eynsham, Woodstock, Kidlington, Islip and Wheatley.
“Cyclox’s mission is to persuade the councils to turn our aspirations of cycletopia in the Oxford city region into reality.
He said cyclists still “face big discouragements”, adding: “There are actually some high-quality, if intermittent, bike routes in and around the city but every cyclist has their own long list of pot-holed, traffic-choked and disconnected cycle routes.”
He said: “A cycling city like Oxford deserves much better.”
Its work to set up a “dual network” for proficient cyclists on main roads and a “quieter, backstreet network for less confident cyclists” is falling into place he said.
Issues on Mr Hunt’s wishlist include:
Improve the present network around the Oxford city region, to cater for and attract both more-confident and less experienced cyclists
Optimise access by walkers and cyclists, especially noting the needs of families and the disabled, to and within the Frideswide Square/New Westgate/Science Oxford cluster. This has to include a good solution to the Botley Road Railway Bridge problem
Include a bike hub and plentiful cycle parking as an integral part of the Covered Market/Turl Street future opportunities
Incorporate improvements to cycling infrastructure at little or no extra cost as part of the regular road and pavement maintenance programme
Promote responsible cycling, and the thank-you culture for shared space
Highlight, especially to transport authorities, how street-space can be a first-class community resource in addition to its role in moving people and goods. This applies equally to ordinary residential streets as to the grander historical legacies that Oxford enjoys
Ensure physical infrastructure will welcome families and the disabled. Tandems and tagalongs, tricycles, bikes with trailers, cargo bikes and so forth should all be able to pass through unobstructed, as well as conventional two-wheelers
When someone starts a new job or moves into new accommodation, or a child starts a new school or patients and visitors work out their routes to healthcare sites, provide brief one-to-one advice how to make their journeys sustainably
Celebrate Oxford as a premier cycling and walking city by public artworks, of all kinds
Expand and dynamise Cyclox to beat Cambridge Cycling Campaign
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