A SCHEME to redevelop Frideswide Square which would replace traffic lights with roundabouts risks creating “a hostile environment” for cyclists, it was claimed last night.

Four options have been set out by Oxfordshire County Council to ease congestion at the notorious city centre bottleneck outside Oxford’s railway station.

The approach recommended by the council would see traffic signals removed, creating compact roundabouts which County Hall said would bring “smooth flowing low speed traffic”.

Officers said a big reduction in road space for traffic with narrow carriageways would create extra room for pedestrians and be simpler to negotiate for drivers.

But the plan has been criticised for making too little provision for cyclists, with the multi-million pound plan simply resulting in congestion elsewhere in the city.

The council project team believes roundabouts hold the key to keeping traffic moving, but at slow speed, while creating an attractive gateway to the city.

Public space in the middle of the square, with a café, outdoor seating and grass would be among the possibilities.

Another would be for a large circular water feature in front of the Royal Oxford Hotel.

The council consultation document said: “The layout would be simple and easy to navigate for all users, removing the need for visually intrusive road markings and directional signing.”

But it adds: “Some pedestrians and cyclists may perceive that the improved square is less safe than it is, due to the removal of push button crossings and the introduction of roundabouts.”

Graham Smith, an urban design consultant and former teacher at Oxford Brookes University, warned the removal of cycle lanes would leave bike users “disadvantaged,” with pedestrians facing difficulty crossing the square.

He said: “There is a dearth of cycle provision. Greater cycling and walking measures are needed. I have to say the landscape designs in the option favoured by the council leave me cold.”

Richard Mann, vice-chairman of the cycling group Cyclox, said: “What they are proposing is for roads to be narrowed. We will see the situation that we now have under the railway bridge, where cyclists experience real discomfort and hostility as they try to find a position between cars, repeated on all the approach roads.

“There is a big risk that a hostile environment is being created for unconfident cyclists.

“If you let more traffic into the square it will just move somewhere else.”

A spokesman for the council said the proposals reduced the need for “formal cycle facilities” required on roads with higher speeds.” The council had looked at successful junction schemes in Germany and the Netherlands.

He said: Nothing is set in stone. There’s a long way to go before we reach a finalised proposal.

“The county council currently has its entire capital programme under review. This scheme will cost several millions. But funding generally will be difficult to come by because Government grants will be cut.”