Kim Barrett discusses how to make cycling safer on Oxford's Botley Road

Anyone who has driven, got a bus, cycled or walked down Botley Road knows that it needs improvement. Even if you have never been near it, you can see its congestion glowing red on any traffic data map.

Earlier this year the Oxfordshire County Council announced plans to restructure the area.

The results have just been released of a consultation on their proposed improvements. There are two phases to the proposals: the first covers the section of road between the A420 junction (which leads to the ring road) and Binsey Lane; the second section continues to just before the rail bridge near the train station.

The biggest difference is the addition of several west-bound sections of bus lane, as well as cycle and pedestrian improvements. None of the proposals directly improve the road for private car users, but encouraging more people to travel by bus or bike will reduce congestion for those unable to make alternative travel arrangements.

The council’s proposals include new pedestrian islands (including a much-needed one at the entrance to Ferry Hinksey Road) as well as refurbishing existing pedestrian crossings and two new traffic-light-controlled places for cyclists to cross, which will make joining the cycle-lane on the opposite side of the road much easier.

Cycling in Oxford is notoriously dangerous. Most people who cycle regularly have been hit by a car at some point and commuting by bike along Botley Road involves avoiding collisions with cars on a near-daily basis.

These near-misses generally occur at the end of a section of cycle lane or near large junctions where the cycle lane isn’t marked on the road. The Botley Road proposals reduce the number of interruptions to the bike lane and avoid shared spaces between buses and bikes like the one in which the tragic death of Claudia Comberti occurred in 2017. The proposed bike lanes are primarily on the pavement and go around the back of bus-stops so buses don’t have to cross the bike lane to rejoin the carriageway.

Another hazard of the current layout of Botley Road is cars on side-roads approaching the junction at speed. Some cars then overhang the cycle lane while waiting to merge onto Botley Road, interrupting cyclists’ journeys or making them more dangerous. The council’s proposals push the give-way line back from the road, making it easier for pedestrians to cross at these junctions, as well as keeping the bike-lanes clear.

The consultation produced some further suggestions to improve cycle safety, including segregated or coloured cycle lanes. This would discourage cars from encroaching on the bike lane, particularly compared with a dashed line which is often ignored during congestion or left bends in the road. The Council said they are aiming to colour the bike lane. Extending the 20mph zone westward was also suggested, which the Council have agreed to discuss with Thames Valley Police.

Oxfordshire County Council is currently undergoing surveys in the area and are expected to release updated plans soon.

Unfortunately, the main way that roads could be made safer can’t be fixed by the council’s plans. To really make this “cycling city” safe, drivers need to show a little more patience and empathy. Cars regularly overtake cyclists in unsafe situations: too closely, on roundabouts, when the cyclist is indicating to turn right. Being stuck behind a cyclist is frustrating, but losing a couple of minutes from your day isn’t worth risking someone’s life.

  • Kim Barrett can be found on Twitter at @kimbarrett92