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Care company turns to bikes to beat railway station roadwork congestion – and gets a pleasant surprise

Turning to two wheels makes it easier for Oxford-based Bellevie Care’s staff to reach patients – and also provides boost to staff recruitment

A care company in Oxford has turned to bikes to help its staff beat congestion caused by major roadworks around the city’s railway station, currently undergoing a £161 million modernisation programme – and has discovered that getting its employees on two wheels has had a transformative effect on the business.

A 500-metre stretch of Botley Road has been closed since April and works will continue until late 2024, with Network Rail also replacing the bridge that carries the railway line from London to Oxford over it.

The city’s location on a floodplain means that there are a limited number of routes for motor traffic into and out of the centre, and Botley Road is the sole one to the west, its long-term closure meaning that drivers have to use the ring road instead, adding time to their journeys and creating more congestion on the outskirts of Oxford.

ITV Meridian News reports that Bellevie Care, which employs carers to look after patients across the city, found that the delays caused by the ongoing works were affecting staff recruitment and retention – until it hit upon the idea of encouraging staff to get in the saddle.

Emma Pithers, who is a Wellbeing Support Leader at the company, said that the change of focus also widened the pool of potential employees.

“We’ve managed to recruit people much easier than we did when we were just looking for drivers,” she said.

“It also means we’ve  been able to focus our attention on those specific areas, and people know exactly when they’re going to turn up, they haven’t got to worry about parking,” she added.

One of the company’s employees who has been given a bike, Julie Nicholls, said that being on two wheels made it much easier for her to get to patients, reaching them in half the time it would take if she were driving.

“It's so much easier because you can get through the traffic,” she explained. “If I wanted to go to Botley from here I could go past the train station, if I drove I’d have to go all the way round [the ring road], and it’s easier to park a bike and much more efficient these days.”

Richard Griffiths of Network Rail acknowledged that the ongoing works are proving inconvenient to many people, but said that the project would bring long-term benefits, including for active travel.

“It’s going to benefit so many different forms of transport,” he said. “We’re improving some of the road junctions so it will be better for motorists, it will be better for the buses that go up and down Botley Road.

“We’re going to have these big four metre-wide paths for pedestrians and cyclists to use, and of course we’re going to deliver a bigger, better railway as well, ultimately.

“So that’s going to be really good news, but we know it can be painful for some local people as we get there,” he added.

Local cycling campaign group Cyclox has long campaigned for safer provision for cyclists around the station, with the existing, single-span Victorian bridge creating a dangerous bottleneck as it passes beneath the railway lines, as well as elsewhere on the Botley Road corridor.

In 2004, cyclist Lisa Harker sustained serious injuries and lost her unborn child when the driver of an 18-tonne lorry crashed into her immediately to the west of the railway bridge.

And in 2017, the father of Claudia Comberti, killed when she was run over by a bus driver after it is believed that her foot slipped on the pedal of her bike, called for segregated cycle lanes to be installed along Botley Road.

> Oxford cyclist killed by bus fell after foot slipped off pedal

In 2012, Sustrans named Botley Road as one of the ten roads and junctions across the country where urgent attention was needed to make conditions safer for cyclists.

> Sustrans highlights ten of Britain's worst roads and junctions for cyclists

National Cycling Network Manager Martyn Brunt said at the time: “Cyclists have to give way on shared use path at multiple intersections, culminating in an accident black-spot at the railway bridge and a six lane motorway outside the station.”

The latter is a reference to Frideswide Square, to the east of the station heading into the city centre which has since been completely overhauled, although the original plans for the layout were much criticised by Cyclox.

Meanwhile, in a blog post earlier this year on the Cyclox website, Lois Muddiman, who sits on Oxford City Councillor as the Green councillor for Osney and St Thomas Ward, wrote that once the works around the station have been completed, “the new road layout will offer a choice of raised cycle/footways or cycle lanes on both sides.”

While the road is closed, cyclists can push their bikes along the pedestrian tunnel through the bridge, although the councillor acknowledged that it could become congested at times and suggested alternative routes they could take.

She added: “To ensure that cyclists feel safe when the road reopens, we need further improvements to the cycling infrastructure for all of Botley Road.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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8 comments

Avatar
jaymack | 5 months ago
9 likes

Like many on this site I too am astonished to learn that cycling in an urban environment can be quicker than driving. I'm shaken to my core by this revlation; my world will not be the same again, praise be.

Avatar
chrisonabike replied to jaymack | 5 months ago
3 likes

I don't know why you're surprised - haven't you read about all the cyclists going way too fast, not stopping for red lights, riding on pavements and overtaking up the inside of traffic...?

Avatar
mitsky | 5 months ago
6 likes

Benefits if all businesses that could apply this:

1) A greater pool of potential employees, less overall unemployment

2) Employee retention

3) Word of mouth spreading the news that cycling is often/usually faster than driving motor vehicles during rush hour/in gridlocked traffic.

A while ago I had queried if there was a way to analyse commute stats during rush hour between modes of transport to show that cyclists aren't actually the main cause (or even actually a cause) of slow journeys for drivers.
(With my average speed being 12mph, which includes stopping at red lights etc, on a £50 second hand mountain bike.)

Avatar
Simon E replied to mitsky | 5 months ago
7 likes

I started cycling the 5 mile commute through Shrewsbury because driving was tedious and I guessed I could get there in roughly the same time (~20 minutes) on my old rigid MTB and save some money in the process. There is certainly more traffic now and there also more sets of traffic lights.

A couple of Fridays last summer I rode to our evening CX events after work and was relieved not to be sat in the 5 o'clock gridlock across and around the north of the town. The one week that I had to use the car it took me 20 minutes to go about 1.5 miles. I spent as long stationary as I did moving (crawling). I couldn't help wondering how people survived doing this every single day.

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mitsky replied to Simon E | 5 months ago
1 like

May I ask what Your average/normal commute times are by bike compared with driving?

When I was commuting 10 miles each way into central London my average speed was 12mph which included stopping at red lights etc.
Which we all know is faster than driving in rush hour.
Any delays due to slow moving traffic/tight squeezes would only ever add 5 minutes to my total journey time.
Any delays to driving can easily add 50% (or more) to a journey time, so cycling where and when possible is a no brianer.

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Simon E replied to mitsky | 5 months ago
2 likes

Times and average speeds are only part of it, and will only be comparable in dense traffic with lots of junctions etc. The issue with Shrewsbury's town centre is that routes funnel and converge at both sides of the one main route through in each direction. By coincidence I rode most of my old 5 mile route today. Cars that overtook me were caught and passed at least twice due to being stationary at traffic lights. There are also sections where a car is considerably faster of course, although there are also places where if a bus or HGV comes the other way then drivers have to stop. And bin lorries make excellent queue-creators.

A couple of weeks ago there was gridlock in all directions on the main routes into the town centre due to a fuel spill just before 5pm on a Friday afternoon. There were blue lights flashing outside the train station as I rode past. Although the fire crews had finished within half an hour the traffic apparently didn't clear fully until 7.30pm. I don't think it took me any longer to get home than normal.

There is a ring road around most of the town and a (mostly) dual carriageway bypass but traffic volumes are such that these are also busy and slow-moving at peak times.

The main (and seemingly insurmountable) problem getting people to cycle more is that most don't feel safe on the roads while the few shared paths that exist aren't linked up. Also some have poor surface or lots of leaves and there are the inevitable issues with sharing the limited space with pedestrians.

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HarrogateSpa | 5 months ago
13 likes

Good. It's nice to read a positive story.

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pockstone replied to HarrogateSpa | 5 months ago
2 likes

Indeed...imagine where else might benefit from safe and easy access for cyclists and pedestrians around the railway station. ( I feel your pain HS.)

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