ROADS could be closed, pavements widened, new one-way restrictions imposed and Broad Street pedestrianised in a bold package of improvements planned by Oxford City Council today.

The authority is exploring the opportunity to make what it calls “once in a generation” improvements to transport and public space in the city centre as part of measures to help Oxford recover from the coronavirus lockdown, and to better protect public health.

It hopes the measures will help kick start the city centre economy, encouraging people back in as the lockdown is progressively lifted.

While some measures may be temporary, others could be retained, transforming the city centre, cutting traffic, improving air quality and making better use of public space.

Ideas being explored include:

  • Pedestrianising Broad Street with the removal of on-street parking bays, new seating and space for market stalls for displaced street traders and businesses limited by social distancing in their own shops.
  • Plans for an outdoor café culture, with temporary tables and seating areas outside restaurants and takeaways to maintain capacity, while adhering to social distancing and more space for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Temporarily re-allocating road space through road closures, traffic light controlled one-way streets, and wider pavements, to allow people to walk and cycle safely into and around Oxford.
  • Supporting and improving cycling for commuting and daily journeys through the creation of a segregated network of cycle routes, improved cycling infrastructure and more on-street cycle parking.
  • Re-organising bus routes to create additional road space for pedestrians and cyclists
  • Suspending all loading bays during business hours to increase space for pedestrians and cyclists.

Oxford Mail:

The city council is already in discussion with Oxfordshire County Council – which is responsible for transport and roads – and the University of Oxford on measures to support businesses and help build confidence among local people, commuting workers, and tourists in the reopening of the city centre.

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The proposals follow what is seen as a relaxation of lockdown and social distancing measures measures announced by Boris Johnson last night, see page 2.

A council spokesman said: “The city council recognises that public spaces such as city centres, shops, and cafes must consider how to maintain public safety whilst also returning to operation.

The potential measures would run in conjunction with existing transport projects such as the Oxford Zero Emission Zone being developed with Oxfordshire County Council, see page 4.

Since the start of lockdown, the air pollution monitoring station on St Aldates has seen a 59 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxide levels – the cleanest city centre air in several generations, and, according to the council, perhaps not previously seen since the days of the horse and cart.

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Alex Hollingsworth, city council cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport, said: “This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our city centre towards a cleaner and more pedestrian friendly environment whilst allowing us to support businesses and the local economy to return to operation.”

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He added: “At a time when our daily news is filled with stories of heroism and tragedy it seems strange to be thinking about what Oxford and Oxfordshire might be like when we finally emerge from lockdown. Even so, things will be different. And if things are going to be different, we need to start thinking about how they might be better.

“When it comes to our roads, the Covid lockdown has brought unforeseen benefits. Without most of the traffic, streets that are usually noisy, fume-filled spaces dominated by motor vehicles are now places where pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy clean air and hear birds sing.

Oxford Mail:

“With all the indications are that the lockdown will only be lifted gradually, and that measures like physical distancing will stay in place even as the economy restarts, it means that pedestrians and cyclists will need space not just to stay safe, but to stay healthy.

“I look forward to working with our partners on continuing to develop our current projects, as well as exploring new ideas which will help to make our roadways and public spaces safer and cleaner after lockdown.”