An unexpected rush hour power outage that turned traffic lights off at a key junction in Oxford has polarised opinion among road users in the university city just weeks ahead of publication of a report on the future of the road system involved.
Traffic lights stopped working at Frideswide Square, close to Oxford railway station and the key approach to the city from the west, on Thursday and Friday last week, when traffic flows at peak times would have been lower than usual as a result of school half-term.
As reported on road.cc last year, Oxford City Council plans to redevelop the junction, which in the past has been described by local cycling campaign group Cyclox as “the worst place for cycling in the city."
The council itself admits that proposals for the redevelopment of the square – which in reality is a junction possessing a confusing layout to the uninitiated – including replacing traffic lights with mini roundabouts, might mean that “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.”
Last week’s power failure provided an early taster of what might happen, with Richard Mann, vice-chairman of campaign group Cyclox, telling the Oxford Mail: “It was a bit hairy for cyclists. We had to look in five directions at once. You could edge your way through but you felt distinctively nervous.”
That trepidation was not shared by drivers, however, nor by Keith Mitchell, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, who posted a message to his Twitter stream saying: “Frideswide Square at Oxford station working well this morning with no traffic lights. Long may it continue!”
However, cabinet member for transport Rodney Rose said that a member of council staff had seen a cyclist narrowly avoid an accident with a car, adding: “If the argument is to leave them off for good then the answer is ‘no’.”
Mr Rose went on to say that the council would bid for some of the funding for the estimated £5 million cost of changes to the junction from the £560 million Local Sustainable Travel Fund.
That would appear to confirm fears among cycling organisations that local authorities will look to siphon money off from that for general road schemes, thus reducing the total amount available to truly environmentally friendly schemes.
“It fits the criteria quite well and its impact on Oxford makes it even better from a sustainable transport point of view,” Mr Rose claimed.
Taxi drivers said that the failure of the traffic lights supported their calls to remove them, with Alan Woodward, secretary of the City of Oxford Licensed Taxi Cab Association, saying: “It flowed perfectly. The only hold-ups were going out of town in the evening because of the traffic lights further up Botley Road.”
Motorist Ian Beesley also welcomed the impromptu new arrangements, saying: “It was running really well, they should leave the lights switched off.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.