By Tom Turton

THE new Westgate opened on October 24. There were bigwigs, razzamatazz, and crowds of people keen to explore what was on offer.

But beneath the glitz and glamour something was amiss. There was nowhere to park a bike.

Westgate’s website boasted of 1,000 cycle parking spaces, and the ‘Cycle Hub’ – covered, secure bike parking with a workshop run by the Broken Spoke Cooperative. But where were all those spaces? Where is the hub? People took to twitter to ask. “There is supposed to be masses of cycle parking all around the Westgate, but I couldn’t find it. People were locking bikes to street signs.”

Westgate replied: “Hi there, there are around 1,000 spaces available to securely store bikes in the vicinity of Westgate.” This just wasn’t true.

The following day people started asking about the Cycle Hub. They were told it would “open soon”. Someone tracked it down and found “loads of spaces, but empty as locked. No signage or directions to either”. Broken Spoke distanced itself: “Just to confirm, we’re not part of the Cycle hub. There might have been an internal miscommunication between the folks organising the hub.”

Cyclox did an audit and reported “only three per cent of the promised 1,000 net extra cycle parking spaces have been installed”. After the weekend the city council stated: “The installation of the majority of the new bike racks has been delayed. Westgate reassured the council that it will install all the bike racks and meet the planning requirement”.

Why does all this matter? It matters because Oxford’s roads are choked with traffic. St Aldate’s and the High are often literally full of buses. Emergency vehicles have a hard time getting through. Air pollution is well over legal limits. The county and city councils trumpet their policies of encouraging people to switch from cars to public transport and cycles. Time and again we are told Oxford is a ‘cycle city’. This is true only in so far as determined people use bikes because it’s quicker, cheaper and healthier than other options, and despite the grossly inadequate infrastructure and the clear objective dangers. Encouraging cycling means spending money on physical infrastructure, not just paint. So far this hasn’t happened.

What happened at Westgate reinforces the view that despite the fine words, making ordinary everyday journeys by bike is seen by our planners as a marginal activity which can be slotted in as an afterthought. The truly telling point is that despite all the meetings between the developers, the city and the county that must have happened as opening day approached, when it came to bike parking nobody bothered to check. But it’s no surprise that the 1,000-space car park in Westgate was fully operational.

Since the opening some new stands – Westgate say 185, or 370 spaces – have been installed. They can’t say when the rest are going in, nor when the Hub will be open.