IT IS one of the busiest junctions in Oxford and a gateway to the city centre.
So when Frideswide Square’s traffic lights failed at rush hour, you may have thought it would cause an outcry.
But what you might not have expected was motorists saying the complex junction ran much smoother than when the signals were on.
The accidental experiment came just three weeks before Oxfordshire County Council publishes a new report on the future of the square – and sparked a debate about how best to make traffic flow through the busy junction.
Even Keith Mitchell, leader of the county council, was impressed after the lights went out last Thursday and Friday. He wrote on social networking site Twitter: “Frideswide Square at Oxford station working well this morning with no traffic lights. Long may it continue!”
But city cyclists described the light-less junction as “a bit hairy”.
The signal failure, caused by a cable fault, acted as an impromptu test for the council’s long-term plan to overhaul the junction.
It wants to remove the lights and replace them with a system of roundabouts to improve what is regarded as one on the city’s worst bottlenecks.
A fresh report on the plan will be made public on Thursday, March 24, but although the authority has £300,000 for the design work, it has not yet got the estimated £5m needed to carry out the work.
County cabinet member for transport Rodney Rose said the signal failure was not a fair test as it happened during the school half-term break, when city traffic is lighter.
He said a council worker had witnessed a near-miss between a car and cyclist, and added: “If the argument is to leave them off for good then the answer is ‘no’.”
But he did stress that remodelling the junction was “pivotal” to solving the city’s chronic congestion.
Mr Rose said the council would bid for any available funding, including the Government’s £560m sustainable transport fund, launched in January.
He said: “It fits the criteria quite well and its impact on Oxford makes it even better from a sustainable transport point of view.”
Taxi drivers have called for lights to be removed since they were first installed about a decade ago.
Alan Woodward, secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, said of last week’s signal failure: “It flowed perfectly. The only hold-ups were going out of town in the evening because of the traffic lights further up Botley Road.”
Motorist Ian Beesley added: “It was running really well, they should leave the lights switched off.”
But Richard Mann, vice-chairman of campaign group Cyclox, said: “It was a bit hairy for cyclists. We had to look in five directions at once.
“You could edge your way through but you felt distinctively nervous.”
Thames Valley Police spokesman Chris Kearney said there were no reported road accidents in the area when the lights failed.
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