I confess to a long-term fascination with the difference between theory and reality, especially when it comes to town planning.
So here I present you with the computer-generated image of a new Frideswide Square — which refers to the non-square space outside the railway station. It is what every tourist sees when they alight a train from London, and if first impressions count, then its current redesign is both welcome and overdue. By the end of 2015, it will see four lanes of traffic reduced to two, traffic lights replaced with roundabouts to ease traffic flows, and more trees planted. It will have become a ‘boulevard’, according to officials, at a cost of £5.8 million.
Judging from the lively response in online comments to articles about the remodelling published in the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times, there is wide local scepticism about the project, spread across several fronts.
The most obvious trajectory of criticism concerns apparent non-inclusion of cyclists, but a broader train of critique concerns the traffic implications.
Regarding the model of the new square that you see below, someone calling themselves ‘olafpalme’ jots in the comments on the Oxford Mail:
In the drawing above there are about 23 vehicles in that area. In the current Google Earth view there are about 43 vehicles in the current layout. And it looks sparser. I rest my case that the new layout will be clogged solid.
He may have a point. In the other image you see here (top right), which I took the other day, you can see that with the traffic lights already shut down the result is no better than before, and while the remodelling takes place, quite obviously worse. Gridlocked is the land, come 5pm, every day. At other times during the morning and during the day, curiously, the traffic seems to flow more easily than before.
Obviously, we might all agree that only time will tell. But we can already judge it against our recently published Oxford Today cover story concerning what Oxford might be like in fifty years’ time, in 2065.
Obviously, within that broad, five-decade envelope, there is plenty of space for offering big thoughts that stretch us all beyond the present. One of the big ideas we presented was that Oxford might beat London and Paris to creating a car-free city centre, or at least a fossil-fuel-free car policy, implying an ultra-low emission zone such as the one planned for London as early as 2019–20. Given how much talk there always seems to be about Oxford’s ‘world-class status’, it is perfectly reasonable to expect visionary planners and planning.
County cabinet member for transport David Nimmo Smith was recently quoted on the new Frideswide project:
Ideally we would prefer it if people didn’t bring their cars into the city centre but we have to be realistic and we know that lots of drivers use this junction every day, with car parks at the station and at Oxpens.
So he knows that cars are not the solution, but he sponsors a project to ease traffic flows. The results are anaemic and confused, in a muddle-headed, very classic Oxford sort of way. By appeasing everyone a bit, nothing much at all is achieved, and at great expense.
It is a step entirely in the wrong direction if we look at where the city ought to be heading to be anywhere near its global peers (Copenhagen, Geneva, Amsterdam, Berlin, smaller equivalents such as Seville). There is no real vision for Oxford for the next fifty years, and no governance structure to achieve it, as we have told it in Oxford Today. If I’m not mistaken, this Frideswide Square remodelling is more evidence for that.
The Oxford Today Trinity issue feature on Oxford in 2065 can be read
Graphic © Oxfordshire County Council, reproduced with permission. Photograph by Richard Lofthouse.