By Scott Urban, Oxfordshire Liveable Streets
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets worked with several partners to support a Healthy Streets survey in Oxford. The location was Florence Park in the Eastern side of the city. The surveys took place in July 2019. They were designed and led by three MSc students of Oxford Brookes University under the guidance of Dr Tim Jones of the School of the Built Environment.
Other partners included the Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Transport (CoHSAT), Co-CAFE at Oxford Brookes University, and the Florence Park Traffic Group.
The surveys were based on the Healthy Streets methodology used extensively by Transport for London.
The surveys were conducted partly through letterbox-drops and partly online. Every household in the estate was covered. This is an area of approximately 1000 households.
One dimension of the surveys sought to illuminate to what extent respondents' views were potentially consistent with application of the 'low traffic neighbourhood' (LTN) concept. This has been deployed in the Waltham Forest borough of London, for example.
As depicted in the graphs below, sentiment in the surveys is consistent with concerns about the amount of vehicular traffic using the estate as a cut-through. There is also support for the view that more short-distance trips currently done by car could be done by walking or cycling.
OLS propose a number of learnings from this survey that could be taken into a future iteration.
One copy of the survey was delivered to every address in the estate, which is 2.1 miles south of Oxford city centre. It is bounded by Iffley Road / Henley Avenue (A4158) to the west/southwest, Church Cowley Road (B4495) to the south, Oxford Road (B480) to the west, and Florence Park itself to the North. Respondents were requested to drop their completed survey at a local pub or a local cafe. Householders were also provided with the alternative of completing the survey on-line.
There were 91 responses to the survey. It is difficult to know to what extent the survey responses represented a random sample of the estate's population. It may be the case that only households motivated by the survey name or the survey questions bothered to complete it. If so, then the sample is biased and cannot be held as reflective of the estate's population.
59% of the sample were women, 36% were men and 4% did not indicate a sex.
The average age (median and mean) was 51 and ages were normally distributed.
Figure 1: Distribution of respondent ages. The normal distribution is indicated by line.
12% of respondents stated their day-to-day activities were limited due to a health condition or disability.
62% of the sample had one car at the household, 23% had two cars and 1% had three or more. 13% had no car at the household.
In terms of transport choices, walking was the most frequent with 72% of respondents indicating that more than 10% of their weekly journeys were taken on foot. Private car (as a driver or passenger, e.g. in a taxi) was the second most frequent with 57% of respondents indicating this was the method of more than 10% of their journeys. 53% of respondents indicated using a cycle for more than 10% of journeys.
Figure 2: Mode choice (% of respondents on y axis)
A number of the questions provided insight into the degree to which the area might be suitable for development as a low-traffic neighbourhood (LTN).
A large proportion of respondents disagreed that the amount and speed of traffic was appropriate for the area's streets. An even larger majority disagreed that sufficient steps had been taken to reduce the attractiveness of residential streets as short-cuts for motor vehicles.
An even larger proportion indicated that they felt more could be done to restrict traffic and that local trips, currently being made by car, could be made by cycle or walking.
Q11: "The amount and speed of traffic and driver behaviour is appropriate for the type of streets in the area" (N=90)
Q15: "Sufficient steps have been taken to reduce the attractiveness of residential streets as short-cuts for motor vehicles" (N=91)
Q54: "It is possible to reduce the amount of traffic using the street or restrict access to low polluting vehicles" (N=83)
Q52: "People drive short trips, when they could walk or cycle." (N=82)
The surveys uncovered some very interesting information, both about the modes that people currently use and the way that people feel about their streets.
As the response rate was quite low (less than 100 out of a potential population of 2,685 people aged 15+ in mid-2015), it would be useful to repeat the survey and try to achieve a larger and more representative sample.
There are several ways that a larger sample might be achieved and that are worth considering. These include:
* Fewer questions
There were 59 questions in the survey. These were necessary to cover the spectrum of Healthy Streets indicators (Figure 3). It should be established in a pilot or test setting whether this is too many questions for many people to engage with. It may be preferable, for example, to focus on only a subset of the Healthy Streets indicators.
* Door-to-door survey
Response rates might improve if sufficient people can be recruited to distribute and collect the survey or to administer the survey on the doorstep directly with householders. This would have to follow careful scripting in order to avoid biasing the results.
* Street/event surveying
People could be interviewed on the street, in local cafes, outside of shopping areas, in parks, and other locations in and around Florence Park. There are also several 'key dates' on the calendar of the community where a stall or table could be set out with a few volunteers, to help explain the survey and encourage people to respond to it. These include Flo Fest, Elder Stubbs Festival, FPCA Street Party, City Farm Open Day, and others.
We welcome ideas for conducting the next survey and volunteers to help administer it.
Oxfordshire Liveable Streets
Figure 3: Healthy Streets Indicators
This is the first of a series of blogs about people’s experience of ebiking. Firstly we must thank Wheels For All for running the ebike loans. This blog is about the experience of Sobia Afridi’s two weeks of using an ebike in November 2019. Sobia is a councillor at Oxfordshire County Council and has worked at Oxford Brookes University for 22 years.
Sobia was born in Marston, Oxford and has lived there all her life. Sobia had a bike when she was younger but didn’t really use it as she suffered from bullying at school and so her mother would walk with her. As an adult, Sobia got back into cycling when she had her daughter, who would ride on the back of the bike to the nursery. Sobia wanted her daughter to understand bikes and helped her learn to cycle, along with her son.
Motivation to use an ebike
Sobia’s cycling stopped completely last year due to a back injury and has since struggled to step onto her bike. This meant Sobia put on weight and was getting overtired when she did cycle occasionally. Sobia was motivated to try the ebike as cycling was previously her main form of exercise and she thought the power assistance would help her get back into cycling.
Experience on the ebike
Sobia’s initial concerns were that the bike would shoot away from her with the added power and that she wouldn’t get much exercise from riding the bike. However, Sobia described her experience as very positive and she had been using the ebike more than she would use her normal bike.
The ebike was changing her transport choices for longer distances: ‘I used it to go campaigning in Iffley which I usually would have taken the bus.’ Compared to her normal bike, Sobia’s journey times on the ebike were much quicker and left her feeling more relaxed: ‘I was always out of breath and stressed I wouldn’t make it to work on time.’ As well as enjoying the speed of the bike.
Other challenges noted were the weight of the bike when pushing it around to lock it up and the road infrastructure around the University. ‘I tend not to go on the road, I tend to go on the pavement. I don’t feel safe with the buses so close to you. The [cycle lane] lines are really narrow, and you have to be careful of pot holes.’ When asked about Oxford being a ‘Cycling City’, Sobia replied ‘we have the name the Cycling City but we’ve got a long way to go.’
Future plans for cycling
Sobia had already begun looking to purchase an ebike for after the loan period. Not only for herself but also for her daughter to get to school, who has a chronic illness that prevents her from cycling easily.
When asked how the ebike experience may influence her work as a councillor, Sobia replied ‘Any opportunity where cycling or infrastructure is talked about I will certainly talk about ebikes and promote it. I have already told all 41 people in my office. We talk infrastructure and cycling quite a lot. Some of the councillors are a bit anti cycling. It’s good to have Councillor Susanne Bartington as the cycling champion who does a lot of cross party work and is always on her bike.’
Sobia concluded by saying ‘there are so many cars coming into Oxford every day, but not everyone can go on a bike. More people who are less able could ride an ebike’. Sobia would like to see more loan schemes allowing people to ride ebikes, particularly for older people.
In this blog I have written about my parents first experience of riding ebikes and may be of interest to those considering ebikes for getting themselves, or their parents, back onto a bike. My parents Helen and Mike are both retired, aged 70 (roughly), walk their dog as daily exercise and have not ridden a bike for years. The roads surrounding their house are hilly and are a mix of country roads and main roads, neither having pavements and offering no protection from cars, a real barrier for my mum's confidence. Fortunately I live near a park and a traffic free cycle route in Oxford so I thought to take them for a ride. This is how it went.
After my mum established that I wasn't joking about going for a cycle ride, we spoke through her initial concerns. These were about the weight of the bike, followed by the idea of the power assistance running away with her, and lastly that she did not want to be anywhere near traffic.
Firstly, I took my parents to a calm open space where they could see other park users at all times and went through the basic controls. The electric bikes do weigh more and this is only really an issue at stand still when there is the tendency to topple over, which my mum did do on her first stop. Enjoying a roll around in the grass, I helped her up and we spoke through how to stop safely, using the brakes gently and finding the ground with your feet. When the bikes are going, there was no complaint about the weight due to the electric motor assistance. The bikes offer varying levels of assistance which gently come in to help you as you pedal, meaning no jolty starts and stops. As soon as I showed my dad the turbo button he was off like a dog after a tennis ball, tongue hanging out and all, while mum shouted 'show off' and insisted on letting other people in the park know that she doesn't normally ride bikes, but today she is.
We rode out on a leafy cycle route, away from any roads and then along the canal path. The main learning points here were that they must avoid other path users, much to my dads disappointment, by staying left and looking into the space where they want to go. Then we were off, away from all the people and buildings and they were loving it! Looking around, chatting away, noticing the autumn colours in the trees, seeing all the kids come out from school with their funny hair styles. Their favorite bit was seeing the swans and their cygnets with my mum giving David Attenborough style commentary. I was hit with a nostalgic feeling of being taken to feed the ducks when I was a kid, but this time I had facilitated the experience for my parents. It seemed a big deal for them to see the swans that I often see, but it made me ponder. A simple interaction with wildlife. Letting us humans know we aren't the only occupiers of this world, a point easily ignored in urban landscapes.
They were chatting away over dinner very proud to tell my girlfriend Christie what they had learnt and achieved, my mum showing through her jeans where her bruises will be! The next day I cycled with my dad into the city to get a hair cut. We followed the narrow cycle lane on the main Botley road into the city and although I could see he was a little more nervous with the traffic, he made it all the way without a problem. He even cycled off to the cash point on his own.
Getting back on your bike
If you would like to try an ebike or get assistance in learning about getting back on your bike, our friends Wheels for All at Horspath Athletics track, Oxford may be able to help. To read more about the research on well being benefits of ebikes for older generations, click here.
September 7-9 was Oxford Mini Holland Weekend. The weekend comprised three events, ending with an evening presentation at the Florence Park Community Centre.
The weekend exceeded expectations. Not only were all the events well attended, but there was just not as much pushback as had been expected. After all, the actual 'Mini Holland' scheme in Waltham Forest has been contentious. So much so, that some feel the name itself is tainted. I disagree but I do understand the objection.
But we should be wary of overdoing that contention. High-volume? Yes! Visible? Yes! A majority of public opinion? Hardly. As I've mentioned elsewhere, the voters in Waltham Forest returned their governing party to power with a bigger majority. If the voters there were upset about Mini Holland, they have a funny way of showing it.
Back in Oxford, we ran simultaneous workshops morning and afternoon as part of the Cyclox-Brookes 'Like Riding a Bike' conference. While one workshop was presenting on the concepts of LTN, the other was doing an on-site inspection of liveability changes envisioned for Florence Park, Oxford. Both elements worked fabulously.
People really enjoyed hearing about the LTN and the Waltham Forest journey, particularly as it was co-presented by Paul Gasson, a person intimately involved in getting and implementing the scheme. The presentation covered a number of elements, from basic terminology through to a detailed costing of one example application of an LTN in Oxford.
The groups visiting Florence Park engaged in big discussions about the opportunities to improve liveability by tightening traffic junctions, neighbourhood entrances and installing modal filters and parklets to take out through-traffic and enhance the public realm. One of the more exciting elements was picturing the area in front ot the Jolly Postboys as a plaza, abuzz with patrons of the pub, or farmers' market stalls, or just passersby.
As important as the workshops were, the stall in the conference hall was a big hit. People gathered around the imagery and maps on easels, with an idea and costed budget of how Florence Park could be made into a low-traffic neighbourhood. Great conversations were had and one or two OLS t-shirts were shifted.
Those same easels were on display at the Nursery at Flo's - The Place in the Park in Florence Park from 2-5 pm. Tireless volunteers discussed the images and the budget for a low-traffic neighbourhood with people visiting the easels.
Numbers doubled when a 30-strong 'cycle bus' arrived from Headington -- the 'Headington Bike Bus' in fact. And then the gathering of large bicycles, called Oxford Maxi Holland, took shape in the former bowls area. Soon we were knee-deep in cargo bikes, bakfiets, trikes, tandems, triples and trailers. The weather was immaculate and people found themselves staying and chatting in until sunset.
Among them was Oxford East MP the Rt Hon Anneliese Dodds, there to judge the children's drawing competition.
Children were asked to draw their ideal street. The winner managed to smuggle an ice cream cone into his drawing. Over a dozen prizes were awarded, which had been kindly donated by an OLS member.
The OLS video was on display inside the nursery, along with videos showing the 1972 children's fightback against cars in the De Pijp neighbourhood of Amsterdam, a Living Streets video about Donald Appleyard's research documenting the way car traffic tears communities apart, and a Streetfilms video about life on a Dutch woonerf.
A crowd 60-strong gathered at the Florence Park Community Centre to hear about the Waltham Forest Mini Holland and how its principles of low-traffic design could be adopted in Oxford. Despite some severe AV glitches, the presenters got their messages across and had a great reception.
Kicking off the evening, host Tom Sinclair said, "Our streets used to be places where cars interrupted play. Today, in order to play we have to interrupt the cars."
Our guest from Waltham Forest, Paul Gasson, spoke about the benefits of doing an LTN but also the challenge of asking people to think differently about what extent cars should be given free rein in their residential environments.
Simon Pratt of Sustrans and OLS discussed the concept of traffic evaporation and the likelihood that neighbouring areas would not be 'gridlocked' simply because rat-runs in Florence Park were closed. The concept was certainly not left unchallenged, and the public will have to investigate for themselves whether 'evaporation' is a myth or reality. I myself showed the bus-performance timetables I'd downloaded from Transport for London that very day. These showed Waltham Forest bus-timetable performance every bit as good as Lewisham's, to use one example.
Apart from one anxiety over traffic displacement, the crowd was very supportive and indeed enthusiastic. The biggest voices of concern were simply scepticism that the highways authority -- a rural-dominated county council -- would spend money on the Flo Park estate. I expressed the view that the county council were actually pretty keen, of course with a public consultation, and that the money would be found. In the context of transport budgets, the envisioned numbers are not very big. And nothing can compare with an LTN in terms of return on investment. The public health benefits are already demonstrable in Waltham Forest.
The weekend simply would not have happened without the energy and help of dozens of people. They range from our constituency MP Anneliese Dodds to the architecture firm Original Field to the many who contributed to the Spacehive crowdfunder, which unlocked a costed budget for an LTN, useable by anyone who wants to think through these solutions where they live.
Special thanks go out to Paul Gasson, who gave so generously of his time and enthusiasm. He joined us on the Saturday and Monday, coming up from Waltham Forest on both occasions. OLS members and directors were also hugely generous with their time and energy, along with OLS supporters and friends. Last but not least, we are grateful to Cyclox and Oxford Brookes for inviting us to participate in the Saturday conference and to the Brookes Co-CAFE / Cycle Boom! team for being our partner in helping promote an 8/80 (or 9/90) world in our midst.
So the question now will come to a combination of making the budget decision and winning the public's qualified support for a scheme. A consultation on LTNs as a concept may come out soon. And the county council has just launched a consultation on a traffic filter on Walton Street in Jericho, having learned how well it worked when the road was closed for a long period for water main repairs. I have no idea about Florence Park. I can see how it might be delayed now that the county council, along with the city council, has launched an ambitious proposal for traffic remedies across the city. When and if a specific LTN proposal for anywhere in Oxford or Oxfordshire does come out, I hope that Oxford Mini Holland Weekend will have gone some way toward creating a favourable environment for it.
The views shared in this blog article are that of the author Scott Urban and may not represent Co-CAFE
Councillors from Oxfordshire and Waltham Forest passionately describe the journey to more liveable neighbourhoods. Video by Al Kinley-Jones and Oxfordshire Liveable Streets.
You can see the Budget for a Low-Traffic Neighbourhood in Oxford here. The budget was drawn up by C Proctor Engineering Ltd. The firm’s proprietor, Chris Proctor, is the lead highways engineer overseeing implementation of Enjoy Waltham Forest, the suite of liveability improvements colloquially known as Mini Holland.
The cycle safari ran in the morning and afternoon of the Like Riding a Bike conference, taking participants by bicycle to the highlights of the proposed Florence Park Mini Holland. The aim of the workshop was to discuss practical elements of liveable neighbourhoods for ages 9 to 90. The ride was guided by professional cycle leaders on a quiet route and attracted eight participants in the morning and twelve in the afternoon, fortunately the weather was kind to us.
On arrival to Florence Park, the group was greeted by local residents and members of Oxfordshire Liveable Streets (OLS) to look at road junctions and areas where change was being proposed to deliver a low traffic neighbourhood. Participants discussed a report created by OLS looking at solutions for modal filters, gateway junctions and public realm enhancements, each ranked by low cost, medium cost and high cost options. Local resident and architect, Joelle Darby had prepared illustrations to help participants visualise how the future layouts could look and feel.
The cycle safari was part of the Oxford Mini Holland Weekend, a celebration of the remarkable changes put into place in Waltham Forest, London. There, several 0.5 to 1.0 square kilometre areas have been converted into no-through-traffic zones. Residential street junctions into larger roads have been narrowed, making it much, much easier for people to negotiate on foot and with a pram, scooter, wheelchair or cycle. The net effect of these changes is to create a welcoming environment for people — an environment where people feel safe to leave the car at home.
We hope that the event has inspired people to think about how their residential areas could be made more ‘liveable’ and motivated them to do something about it
Pictured below is a 'traffic filter'. It's a place where cycles, buggies, wheelchairs, scooters and people on foot flow through freely and comfortably -- albeit at the cost of cars doing so. That's why it's called a filter. This one's got a lot of charm. But a few bollards will do. In Oxford you can see them on East Avenue, Clive Road, Meadow Lane and elsewhere.
It was at this particular filter that I met Fran (not her real name). I was asking passers-by what they thought of the filter and the overall changes to the neighbourhood.
"Me?" asked Fran.. "I love it. I supported it from the start. But my husband didn't. It meant he had to drive 500 metres out of his way to get to work. And the through-streets were more clogged. But then he decided it made more sense to walk to work. And he did, and he's lost weight -- and I fancy him more!"
That is traffic filtering. For driving, an added inconvenience. For health and social well-being, a major boost. It's a carrot and a stick. Fran's husband is getting a stick from the added nuisance of having to drive further to get out of his neighbourhood. But he has a carrot too.
So what's the big deal if we already have these in Oxford (like this one on East Avenue, pictured below)?
The big deal is that where I interrogated the passersby -- in the Blackhorse Village neighbourhood of the borough of Waltham Forest -- filters have been used to keep through-traffic out of neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods range from ½ to one square kilometre.
These are 'low traffic neighbourhoods' or LTNs (also known as 'liveable neighbourhoods'). The other characteristic of LTNs is that the whole area is taken into consideration. If, by closing one rat-run you would inevitably create another, you close that one too. The whole LTN is non-rat-runnable.
To be clear: these are not street closures. All homes and addresses in an LTN are accessible by car. But it is no longer possible to drive through the LTN, from one side to the other -- as you can currently do on Littlehay/Cornwallis in Florence Park, for example. There is also no pedestrianisation necessary in an LTN. Waltham Forest did two high-street pedestrianisations as part of its overall programme, and those seem to have been the most controversial elements.
The process of getting these LTNs implemented in Waltham Forest has been challenging. Such a major change to accustomed practice is understandably upsetting for many. In Walthamstow, there seems to be a kind of received wisdom about them. It goes like this: "Well, I like x, y, z aspect of [LTN], but...
"if you lived on a perimeter road you'd hate them" or
"if you were a trades person you'd hate them" or
"they make me feel less safe".
I asked Fran if the traffic behind us -- in the picture above -- was so bad. It seemed incredibly quiet. "That's the thing!" she said. "Everybody bangs on about the added traffic but actually some people must have changed their habits [like her husband!] because it's not that bad anymore." She's describing a phenomenon known as 'traffic evaporation'. Traffic is not a liquid that needs to go somewhere -- squeeze it out of one place, and it appears somewhere else. A portion of it just goes away as some people substitute into other modes. And indeed, at least at that point in time -- bang-on midday on a Thursday -- the roads flowed fine.
So why Florence Park? On 2 April, 2019, a local resident posted the following message on a neighbourhood-oriented discussion platform:
'Hi neighbors, a car almost hit me and my girls this week at the junction between Rymers, Littlehay and Cornwallis, and I was inspired to write to our County Councillor to ask him to make Flo Park safer for its pedestrians, cyclists and car drivers. Below is my letter - feel free to copy and then obviously change it to make it true to your own experiences..'
The very next day, a local resident was knocked off her bike amidst a car collision in that very junction. She was hospitalised with multiple fractures to her pelvis.
That's when the Florence Park Traffic Group formed, to hold a meeting in the community centre and discuss solutions. I've summarised that meeting here.
The fundamental question is whether rat-running traffic has any business avoiding the main roads intended to be used for through-traffic. The view of Waltham Forest borough council was 'no' and, fortunately for them, they had a £29 million grant from Transport for London to start making changes.
That figure is sometimes cited as a reason why LTNs cannot be done elsewhere. But it's not quite so. The £29 million funded a variety of improvements, of which the creation of LTNs via traffic filters was a small part. The figure for an area the size of Florence Park is likely to be between £50k-100k depending upon the types of filters used, approach to the Number 16 bus route, and other details.
Cars or kids
So it comes down to free-flowing cars or kids -- you can't have a neighbourhood with both. I've written about Britain's growth in car usage, and the trouble that's causing us as a society -- even if all the cars become electric. But we know for certain that any proposal to create an LTN will be upsetting. And many people will get organised. And they'll get the attention of councils. And that's why this has happened exactly nowhere apart from Waltham Forest. Twenty-one London boroughs bid for the £29 million grants. Only three of these were ambitious enough to be accepted. Of those, only one borough has gone through with it. But that's the thing -- the majority who appreciate these changes are pretty quiet about it, while the minority who loathe them are noisier.
Why do I say the majority? Because when the Waltham Forest borough council went up for re-election in 2018, there was a real fear that voters would abandon the councillors who supported the scheme. Deputy leader Clyde Loakes as portfolio holder for environment was the most highly exposed to the protests, being the borough councillor most identified with the programme of liveability improvements. He penned his resignation letter before the elections. In the event, he was returned to office with the biggest majority in his 20-year career. Every single councillor who supported the changes was voted back in.
What we hear about Waltham Forest, from the outside, is that the changes have been controversial. That's an understatement. But do the criticisms hold up? It might just be the case that there's a conventional wisdom about the changes, along the lines that despite the many benefits they've brought, they've created problems x, y and z. I will blog about those more specifically next time. But it reminds me of something Jacques Wallage (you can find him in this article) told an audience in Oxford about the liveability changes in Groningen, Netherlands forty years ago. "The only public voices we heard were against us. The police were against us. We would never have done it except that we knew it was the right thing to do." Many political groups have assumed control of the city's administration since then. Not a single one has dared undo those liveability improvements, nor would they have any reason to. The liveability of Dutch towns and cities is the envy of the world.
This blog contains the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of the Co-CAFE team or Oxford Brookes University.
"Electric cars are the answer to today's challenges of air poisoning and climate change."
Such a narrative is comforting for society and government. After all, it allows business-as-usual, with a few tweaks here and there. And that's why it's a disaster for liveability. Business-as-usual is killing us, maiming us and severing our communities.
Even the 'green' credentials of electric vehicles don't entirely stand up to scrutiny. The government's Air Quality Expert Group last week stated that "particles from brake wear, tyre wear and road surface wear currently constitute 60% and 73% (by mass), respectively, of primary PM2.5 and PM10 emissions from road transport" (AQEG 2019). In other words, more of the particulate pollution in our brains, placentas and heart lining is due to non-exhaust features of cars than to the exhaust itself.
We are also turning a blind eye to the carbon embedded in the manufacture of cars, as well as the negative externalities associated with commodity extraction for batteries, metal and plastic.
Even if you haven't or don't question electric vehicles' green attributes, overlaying them in place of petrol and diesel ones perpetuates the liveability dilemma. Cars project an envelope of danger around them. A modest volume of car traffic transforms the street into a no-go area. For the very young and old, the public realm -- i.e. space outside, in built-up areas -- is too often a small strip on the margins of an abyss. Here's what I mean:
Cars are 3-tonne hulks; humans are squishy 10-stone things. If you are hit by a car, the probability of survival is an exponentially decreasing function of that car's speed. The figure below reports that about half of the fatally injured pedestrians in a 2010 Department for Transport dataset were hit at an impact speed of 30 mph or less.
On the residential estate of Florence Park, Oxford, I sometimes hear from our elder residents that "the streets used to be safer" or that "kids used to play in the streets". In my view, what's changed isn't X-Boxes or iPads. It's cars. I've heard many residents say it: There are simply more cars on the road today. The UK overall numbers bear that out:
Combine cars' envelope of danger and their ubiquity and you get four thousand pedestrians killed or seriously injured in the United Kingdom in a single year (see table). For the sake of convenience and business-as-usual, cars get a special exemption from society's critical thinking. It's as if we are victims of a transport-oriented Stockholm syndrome.
So the envelope of danger is real. But the casualties go further. Cities, towns and neighbourhoods are places where people are meant to mingle. That's less likely where the public realm is so dominated by danger. People don't normally like to gather or just casually hang out on the margins of a cliff.
Donald Appleyard, the UK-born academic, twigged this forty years ago. In Livable Streets, Appleyard presented his research into San Francisco's neighbourhoods. The upshot was that residents of neighbourhoods with busy roads reported far fewer social connections on their street. It's well worth looking at this video inspired by Appleyard's research and checking out people who cite Appleyard as an inspiration for their own work.
Appleyard was actually a latecomer to liveability. A decade earlier, Amsterdam kids were actively fighting the onslaught of cars, as documented in this must-see vignette from 1972.
Electric vehicles change none of this. As my friend Danny Yee says, the volume of cars on the roads should be reduced by 80%, and the remaining 20% should be electric. To worry about the latter and not the former is no solution at all. It's business as usual.
So what is to be done? I'll sketch that out in the next blog post.
Air Quality Expert Group (2019), "Non-exhaust emissions from road transport" (DEFRA)
Appleyard, D. (1981), Livable Streets (University of California Press)
Department for Transport (2018), "Transport Statistics Great Britain"
Richards, D. (2010), "Risk of fatal injury: Pedestrians and car occupants", Department for Transport (London)
The Tornado and Storm Research Organisation (TORRO)
This blog contains the opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of the Co-CAFE team or Oxford Brookes University.
Three masters students of urban planning from Oxford Brookes University are to survey the Flo Park Community in order to better understand feelings and concerns towards their local built environment.
The surveys will be based on the Healthy Streets Approach Survey. The Healthy Streets Approach puts people and their health at the centre of decisions about how we design, manage and use public spaces. The Healthy Streets Survey questionnaire asks people walking and dwelling on a street about how they perceive the street e.g. how attractive and enjoyable they find it to be there. In asking these questions the Healthy Streets Survey aims to capture the ‘real-life’ experience of people in their streets in relation to the 10 Healthy Streets Indicators
In addition to the Healthy Streets Survey questions, the students will create questions related specifically to local challenges in Flo Park and that relate to each of the student’s dissertation topics - including walking, cycling and transport. There is a possible inclusion of some qualitative questions to be considered, if the time frame for evaluation allows.
The survey is to be in a written format and to be kept as simple as possible, using the 10 main indicators as a guide from the Healthy Streets Approach. The questions are to be emailed to FloPark Traffic group for comment before being distributed.
The students are to distribute a total of 1,300 surveys to the homes of Flo Park residents, using a drop and collect methodology with addresses being selected at random. There is also the possible option of using self addressed envelopes (SAEs) to allow for a free postal returns or a return box to be set up in the Community Centre. The term ends for Oxford Brookes University students in mid July and the student’s dissertation submission date is 28th September.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved or for more information.
Around 50 people turned out to a recent meeting called by a group of Florence Park residents. The "Meeting about Traffic in the Florence Park Area" was arranged after a number of discussions on the Nextdoor social media platform highlighted the danger posed by the junction of Rymers Lane and Littlehay/Cornwallis roads. The discussions on Nextdoor started with a general word of caution, but picked up considerably after a cyclist was sent to hospital following a collision at this junction the very day after the original Nextdoor post appeared.
The meeting, on Tuesday, May 7, gave residents the opportunity to voice their general concerns and views about traffic, as well as to hear some proposals. John Sanders, county councillor for the area, presented his plan to build a 'raised table' at the junction. Raised tables can be found on Magdalen Road and Howard Street, not far from the estate. In the Q&A following the presentations, there was a basic tension aired between the need to act urgently -- before someone is hurt again -- and the need to take steps that are optimal.
A variety of concerns were raised about the use of a raised table, while also acknowledging that from Councillor Sanders' point of view it was the method recommended to him by highways officers and was also within his power to deliver, in terms of budget, and was a way to 'do something'. The concerns were about the raised tables on Magdalen Road and Howard Street, which were said to be generally impossible to navigate with a pushchair or in a wheelchair, and make no concession to general pedestrian usage. There was also a view expressed that they don't slow traffic appreciably (though this was disputed) and that they probably contribute to kerbside pollution as drivers tend to brake hard upon approach to the table, then accelerate hard after them.
We heard a short presentation about Waltham Forest, where the council has decided to stop rat-running through residential areas. A few people from Florence Park had gone to Waltham Forest in early April to see these changes, on a walking tour led by local residents. The Waltham Forest treatment -- called 'Low-traffic neighbourhoods' -- takes a fundamental approach to rat-running and the associated maladies: street danger, pollution and diminution of social ties.
We heard two more presentations from people who had visited Waltham Forest. One of these focused on how the Low-traffic neighbourhood concept would help liberate this person from her car. A self-described 'petrol head', she said that having the right physical environment would greatly aid people like her in choosing to walk or cycle over 'jumping in the car'. She noted that having a Low-traffic neighbourhood would bring people together and boost the estate's sense of community and its social bonding. It would also relieve social isolation among many of our residents. She also said that Florence Park had a track record when it comes to big initiatives. The very community centre hall where the meeting was being held was cited as an example of the community coming together to reclaim an asset that was threatened with closure due to years of neglect. Flo's in the park was also cited as an example of this can-do spirit and record of achievement. She also cited earlier work by residents that resulted in removing bus-depot traffic from the estate and, later, getting a zebra crossing on Cowley Road near Clive Road.
Another person who had visited Waltham Forest gave a presentation on how any changes to the neighbourhood traffic layout would have to be 'inclusive' -- in terms of delivering meaningful change that enables people of all abilities to use the streets -- as pedestrians, cyclists, scooters, wheelchair-users or drivers.
The audience was told that, having tried and failed to solve rat running with a number of 'street calming' techniques -- from sleeping policemen to flower pots to pinch points (and raised tables?) -- the Waltham Forest council designated several residential areas as 'Low-traffic neighbourhoods' (LTNs) of approximately ½ to 1 square-kilometre each. They then installed a number of street closures (often by creating 'parklets' or other amenities like benches) which prevent the neighbourhood being used as a through route to outside traffic. All residents in the neighbourhood can still access their home and can still use and own cars just as before. The only difference is that in some case they might have to approach their house from a different direction (depending upon where the traffic barrier is placed).
The results of this intervention in Waltham Forest have been very encouraging, in terms of dramatically lower pollution levels, much higher rates of walking and cycling and social usage of the street and neighbourhood revitalisation. The Flo Park residents who went on the Waltham Forest tour all said they were "blown away" by the look and feel of the residential streets. We also learned that more than 100 delegations from across the UK have visited Waltham Forest to learn about these changes.
A member of the Co-CAFE team at Brookes University, Ben Spencer, gave a short presentation to introduce Co-CAFE and its origins in Cycle Boom. He explained how his team is offering its support for any "8 to 80" type of project in Florence Park. 8 80 refers to neighbourhoods and urban areas that are designed to be welcoming and safe for people to use on foot or cycle (or wheelchair or scooter), by people spanning roughly age 8 to roughly age 80. LTN would be such a project. This also fits with well with the principles of the World Health Organisation’s broader “Age Friendly” initiatives.
Meeting attendees were invited to read more information about the LTN concept, both in terms of the 'pros' and 'cons'. Concerns about LTN implementation can be anticipated from the experience of Waltham Forest. Some of these relate to accessibility -- to residents via cars, to people with disabilities, to the emergency services, to delivery drivers, and others. Other concerns relate to 'displacement' and whether a Florence Park LTN would be a nimby-ish effort that benefited the estate at the expense of the surrounding area or people living along other cross-town routes. I will address both of these (and other concerns) in a subsequent blog post.
Another concern related to the school-run traffic reaching St Gregs, St Christophers and Larkrise primary schools, and Spires secondary school, and how this would fare under an LTN scheme. To that end, we heard a presentation about 'walking buses' which are being organised across the UK to help people drop their children with parent volunteers at walkable distances from the school, to prevent the need to drop children at the school directly, and alleviate the nearby-neighbourhood traffic congestion associated with it.
Also placed in the room were four easels, each with a large map of the Florence Park estate and surrounding areas. People were invited to place post-it notes on the maps to indicate concerns and ideas. Among the issues posted were the lack of pedestrian crossings along Cornwallis Road, the usage of Cornwallis and Campbell roads as a link to the Larkrise primary school, the pedestrian-unfriendly junction of Cornwallis and Iffley Road and poor behaviour at the mini-traffic-circle at Florence Park Road and Cornwallis Road.
The issue of 'behaviour' triggered a lively discussion about responsibility for unsociable driving. One person urged the audience to stop describing 'cars' as the problem and instead focus on the people driving them. Another person said that in his two decades’ experience of speaking to schools about these issues, no amount of cajoling or pleading with drivers would bring lasting change. Yet another person said that "you get the driving behaviour you build for" -- in other words, if you build wide streets, you get fast speeds; if you leave through-routes, you get rat-running. Two people, both living on Cricket Road, commented on the school-run traffic problem and said this would need to be addressed in any LTN scheme. One of these people is a Scout leader, with children at St Gregs, and said there was a real appetite among parents and the school to do something about the school-run traffic mess.
City councillor David Henwood was also present and invited attendees to sign up to his Speed-watch programme, in collaboration with the police, which allows residents to speed-gun the traffic and help the police issue warnings to drivers.
Co-CAFE is led by Tim Jones (Reader in Urban Mobility) with Ben Spencer (Research Fellow) and Tom Shopland (Co-CAFE project administrator) based in the School of the Built Environment at Oxford Brookes University.