Almost simultaneously to the start of the Wolvercote Roundabout improvement works Swindon Borough Council started working on one of the town’s major roundabouts, the Greenbridge one. To all intent and purpose it’s a very similar layout to the Wolvercote one, see picture, and the cost is more or less the same (£4m ca for Greenbridge and £9m for two roundabouts in Oxford).
But there is a huge difference. If you travel into Swindon at rush hour you’d barely be affected by the works. Lanes have been left open in all directions and repairs proceed at lightening speed. As early as 7 am there will be workmen beavering away and progress is noticeable from one day to the next.
Try travelling at rush hour using Wolvercote roundabout… and as for work progress many people have taken the trouble to write to the Council and to the local papers describing the speed of work as an embarrassment.
Before you ask, both authorities are Tory led , so there is no difference in their political make up either. When it comes to transport infrastructure we must be down at the bottom of the pile. People often complain to us of how poorly maintained roads are once they get into Oxfordshire, as for buses and other public transport we all know well the kind of predicament we are in.
The editor of the Oxford Mail has recently added his voice to the chorus of concern on local transport when it was reported that the previous day it had taken commuters over three hours to reach Oxford from Witney.
For those who are commuting daily on that route the misery has only exacerbated due to a combination of crumbling infrastructure, roadworks around Oxford and simply increased traffic. Matters will not improve substantially either by simply extending a junction or adding a new lane here and there. Oxfordshire, and West Oxfordshire in particular, has been starved of real investments for far too long.
Council planners had identified potential problems way back in 2001, yet thirteen years later we are still waiting for a solution. It has now become an emergency.
Quick fix risk
The risk now is that officials may be tempted to rush into a quick fix, throwing a few millions here and there, not enough for a well planned long term solution, but just sufficient for palliative measures. We cannot afford to go down that road. We don’t need a sticky plaster, but a robust and future proof transport infrastructure project.
While we have always advocated an agnostic approach to transport modes we cannot remain silent when we see that things are heading in the wrong direction. There are non negotiable elements to any transport plans for our region and these are:
Reliability and proven track record
Integration with other transport modes
Low visual impact
Proven ROI over a medium/long term period
The next few months will be crucial. Expect a flurry of interest especially as we approach general elections. Expect some harebrained proposals too, as the smell of big money will inevitably attract unscrupulous entrepreneurs. If you feel strongly about what we stand for join us so that we can have an even louder voice on the decision making process.
At long last our politicians have awaken to one of the major problems affecting our District: there can be no further economic development around Witney/Carterton unless something is done to alleviate congestion on the A40 to to Oxford.
In between the totally insane (like providing monorails or cable cars) there has been some decent debate too, but it’s disappointing to hear that our own MP has come out in favour of ‘dualling the A40’. (Note that in his maiden speech in 2001 Mr Cameron said “I will always support moves to examine reopening our railway to Oxford and extending the line to Carterton…”)
You don’t need to be a transport engineer to understand that even if you quadrupled the A40 you would only just get to the Wolvercote roundabout and then abruptly stopped there. Any solution, no matter which, is only as good as its weakest link. In the case of transport in and around Oxford the city itself is that weakest link. Whether because of historical neglect or bad planning – there is no time to discuss this matter in such a short blog – you can’t easily drive through the city of Oxford, in fact not even around it. So what would be the point of attracting even more car traffic to it (as this is what dualling roads create, by the way)?
No, what we really need and deserve is something much more intelligent and cost-effective. We don’t need a bigger road, we need an alternative. We need to offer people the ability to commute knowing that their journey will take a set amount of time, every day and regardless of weather or anything else, except real force majeure. We need to enable people to reach the main hospital on time for their appointment and without having to park there. We need to be able to connect with the rest of the country. We can achieve these many goals through fast and efficient public transport, but not of the kind that has to share the same space with cars as this would be pointless.
A few weeks ago we met up with representatives of the CPRE. One of them, a retired architect, had spent some time planning a number of alternative tram/trains routes joining the Cotswold line from the north of Eynsham with a number of ‘hubs’, or convergence points, where commuters from neighbouring villages would drop their cars or get off local buses, or bikes, and jump on the tram/train to Oxford and beyond. This is the kind of solution we need (but extended to Carterton of course). A solution that encompasses multi modal transport, not just a single one. For those who live in rural areas cars are still essential, but they should not be used to reach congested urban areas.
So the argument for dualling the A40 is a specious one. We have no time here to discuss evidence, cost benefits and so on though in the short span WOT has existed we have already amassed a vast amount amount of information. All we need now is the support of the people of our District and to get a few heads around the table, with an independent study aimed at joining up the dots, as well as using new evidence to back up our argument. This is what we at WOT are now fighting to achieve. As we say in our publicity – doing nothing is not an option.
This blog was written and edited by Maurizio Fantato and it therefore expresses his own views and not necessarily the official ones of WOT