Panorama on BBC1 this week was called Road Wars: Neighbourhood Traffic Chaos. It described the disputes that have arisen over traffic restrictions in cities. Much of it focussed on Oxford which seems to have become the epicentre of this conflict as a result of policies which OCC has implemented or plans to implement. These include firstly a zero emission zone or ZEZ under which all vehicles other than purely electric ones are restricted in entering an area in the centre of the city. This is quite small but may be expanded.
Secondly there are low traffic neighbourhoods where side streets which are used as rat runs have been closed. Unsurprisingly, this is welcomed by residents of those streets but not by those on the main roads to which the traffic is diverted. In particular it showed Howard Street which links Cowley Road and Iffley Road where a bollard has been regularly attacked or removed by irate motorists.
Thirdly there is the plan for traffic filters. Under this scheme there will be filter points on six roads with traffic monitored by ANPR cameras. Drivers will not be allowed to pass these points without a permit. Oxford residents will be allowed 100 permits per year. Other Oxfordshire residents can get 25. If you go through one without a permit, you will get a penalty notice. So to drive from one part of Oxford to another without a permit you will have to go out to the Ring Road and round it until you can go in to your destination. In the programme the presenter drove from Cowley Road to Oxford station. This took around 25 minutes. OCC say the filters are "intended to reduce traffic levels in Oxford by targeting unnecessary journeys by cars". There will be various exceptions for taxis, buses, motor cycles etc.
This has linked in with another idea, that of the 15 minute city. The idea is that cities should be organised in such a way that all the places you need to go to for day to day life - home, shops, schools etc - can be reached within 15 minutes. In some countries efforts to implement this idea are already in progress. However this has caused a furore. The objectors seem to be the same sort of people who subscribe to conspiracy theories and were anti-vaxxers and who objected to Covid lockdowns. They seem to think that it is intended to use this idea to keep people under effective lockdown. This all went viral and people travelled to Oxford from other places to take part in a big demonstration which featured Laurence Fox, the actor-turned-libertarian activist. Rumours became so wild that apparently worried Oxford residents rang the council to ask if it was true that there would be checkpoints with armed guards at the filter points.
Basically this boils down to a conflict between two groups, both of whose views were represented in the programme. The first is motorists who want the freedom to drive where they like. The other is residents who want to reduce traffic and the attendant pollution which can seriously damage health. How can you square this circle? Well, perhaps we should bear in mind that the majority group on OCC were elected and we do live in a democracy, or so we are told.
We asked friends who live in Oxford what they thought about this controversy . They said that Oxford is completely clogged up by traffic and that something needs to be done to reduce this. However they criticised OCC for not ensuring that there are enough buses. There used to be buses going past their home very four or five minutes but the service was cut back during the pandemic and has not been restored. If you want people not to use their cars for short journeys, you have to provide an adequate bus service.
The programme is available to watch on BBC iPlayer. Strongly recommended.