Major changes to traffic in Oxford came into force today, writes Matt Childe.

Shoppers flooded Cornmarket Street this morning after it became the first fully-pedestrianised road in the city.

High Street was closed to through-traffic at 7.30am and many more roads were turned over to buses, taxis and cyclists.

Traffic engineers said the change-over had gone more smoothly than expected and reported no major problems. But many motorists - particularly those entering the city from the north - complained of long delays and scores of confused drivers found themselves in roads where they were no longer allowed.

John Harwood, chief executive of Oxfordshire County Council, led a team of council officials celebrating the arrival of the £20m Oxford Transport Strategy in Cornmarket Street.

He told the Oxford Mail: "This is a great day for Oxford. We have at last got a proper pedestrianised, modern shopping centre. "Overall it has gone very smoothly and I think everyone in the new pedestrian area realises what a tremendous achievement this is."

The changes were deliberately brought in during a school holiday when there is less rush-hour traffic. Many motorists were believed to have stayed away, fearing traffic chaos.

The longest queues were in the new two-way Hythe Bridge Street, Worcester Street, Beaumont Street and St Giles as motorists sought alternative routes to High Street.

Engineers changed the timing of traffic signals at the new £1m road junction in Park End Street in an attempt to solve the problem. Commuter Colin Palmer said his daily journey from Headington to Osney Mead took half an hour longer than expected.

He said: "The traffic was terrible. When the children go back to school next week it could be a disaster."

Antiques dealer Robert Miller, from London, was stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes. He said: "The traffic was bad but it moved enough so you did not despair."

John Reynolds, on holiday with his family from Merseyside, found the traffic 'a breeze'. He said: "It seemed to panic everybody but we found it quite easy." Mark McArthur-Christie, of the Association of British Drivers, said: "This strategy is anti-car rather than being pro-public transport. The city council should remember that drivers at times are pedestrians too."

Alex Hollingsworth, chairman of the city's Highways and Traffic Committee, said the next step was to pedestrianise Queen Street.

He said: "I was down in High Street during the rush-hour and there was no rush. I think there is a strong possibility that Queen Street will be pedestrianised soon."

Story date: Tuesday 01 June

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