Oxford City Council is exploring what it calls a chance to make ‘once in a generation’ improvements to transport and public space. The aim is to build on the openings presented by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown while continuing to protect public health. Measures now being considered by the city council would be designed to help kick start the city centre economy by encouraging people back in as the lockdown is progressively lifted.
A number of the schemes might be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic in order to transform the city centre by maintaining Oxford’s improved air quality, quieter streets, and ensuring safer movement around the city and better use of public space.
Since the start of lockdown, the air pollution monitoring station on St Aldates has seen a 59% reduction in nitrogen oxide levels compared with pre-lockdown measurements. This represents the cleanest city centre air in several generations, and perhaps not previously seen since the days of the horse and cart.
The city council is now in discussions with its partners, including transport authority Oxfordshire County Council and University of Oxford, to consider a range of temporary and more permanent measures to support businesses and help build confidence among residents, commuting workers, and tourists in the reopening of Oxford’s city centre.
The Government is indicating that while the lockdown may be gradually lifted, social distancing measures will continue. The city council said it recognises that public spaces such as city centres, shops, and cafes must consider how to maintain public safety whilst also returning to operation.
Possible arrangements being explored with partners include:
The potential measures would be supported and informed by the joint transport projects – Connecting Oxford, and the Oxford Zero Emission Zone – being brought forward jointly with Oxfordshire County Council.
Oxford is following the lead of other cities across the UK and beyond, including Milan, Manchester, Hackney, and Auckland as part of experimental measures to protect residents and visitors as coronavirus restrictions are gradually lifted around the world.
Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, Cabinet Member for Planning and Sustainable Transport, said: “At a time when our daily news is filled with stories of heroism and tragedy it seems strange to be thinking about what Oxford and Oxfordshire might be like when we finally emerge from lockdown. Even so, things will be different. And if things are going to be different, we need to start thinking about how they might be better.
“When it comes to our roads, the COVID lockdown has brought unforeseen benefits. As so many people have said to me, without most of the traffic, streets that are usually noisy, fume-filled spaces dominated by motor vehicles are now places where pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy clean air and hear birds sing.
“With all the indications are that the lockdown will only be lifted gradually, and that measures like physical distancing will stay in place even as the economy restarts. It means that pedestrians and cyclists will need space not just to stay safe, but to stay healthy.
“This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our city centre towards a cleaner and more pedestrian friendly environment whilst allowing us to support businesses and the local economy to return to operation. I look forward to working with our partners on continuing to develop our current projects, as well as exploring new ideas which will help to make our roadways and public spaces safer and cleaner after lockdown.”
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