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Source: City of Oxford

Residents and businesses overwhelmingly support pedestrianisation for George Street in the future, a new survey has found.

Oxford City Council – working with Oxfordshire County Council, the bus companies and the emergency services – part-pedestrianised George Street during August and September as a trial to enable businesses to introduce outdoor dining.

The project aimed to support hospitality businesses that needed additional space to be able to operate on a commercial basis whilst maintaining social distancing.

The pedestrianisation provided space for tables and chairs for Ask Italian, Black Sheep Coffee, Byron, Chozen Noodle, Franco Manca, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, O’Neill’s, Oxford Brunch Bar, The Grapes, and Wig and Pen.

The City Council carried out online surveys to find out what residents and George Street businesses thought of the pedestrianisation, and see whether or not it should be carried out again.

The City Council received 1,052 responses to the survey, which was carried out between 18 September and 2 October.

The key survey results are:

  • 84.1% of people said the overall impact on George Street of pedestrianisation was positive (883 of 1,052 responses), with just 7.5% saying it was negative (79 of 1,052 responses)
  • 85.1% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should be pedestrianised permanently (875 of 1,028 responses), with 10.8% saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed with this (111 of 1,028 responses)
  • 84.5% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should be pedestrianised in warmer months (720 of 852 responses), with 9.6% saying they disagreed or strongly disagreed with this (82 of 852 responses)
  • 8.8% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should never be pedestrianised again (69 of 787 responses), with 86.3% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with this (679 of 787 responses)

Separately, the City Council carried out a survey of businesses in George Street to find out what they thought of the pedestrianisation this summer.

Twelve businesses responded to the survey, of which eight were hospitality businesses that got involved in the trial, two were hospitality businesses that did not get involved in the trial, and two were other businesses in George Street.

Nine businesses (75%) said the overall experience of pedestrianisation for their business was positive, with one (8.3%) saying it had no impact, and two (16.7%) saying they were not sure. None of the businesses said they had a negative experience.

As a direct result of the pedestrianisation, two of the George Street businesses said they hired additional staff, three provided additional hours for their existing staff, and three brought staff back from furlough.

Two of the 12 businesses said they only reopened after lockdown because of the pedestrianisation.

Asked about the future pedestrianisation of George Street, the businesses responded:

  • 72.7% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should be pedestrianised permanently (eight of 11 responses), with 27.3% saying  they disagreed or strongly disagreed with this (three of 11 responses)
  • 81.8% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should be pedestrianised in warmer months (nine of 11 responses), with 9.1% saying  they disagreed or strongly disagreed with this (one of 11 responses)
  • 0% said they agreed or strongly agreed that George Street should never be pedestrianised again (none of five responses), with 100% saying  they disagreed or strongly disagreed with this (five of five responses)

The City Council was only able to pedestrianise George Street this summer because there were relatively few vehicles travelling through Oxford city centre compared to previous years.

If George Street was pedestrianised in a normal year, buses would be forced to join traffic in Beaumont Street. This would exacerbate the traffic in Beaumont Street, and cause buses to be delayed and miss timetables.

A regular or even permanent pedestrianisation of George Street would therefore only be possible if cut-through traffic was removed from Beaumont Street, as this would then allow bus stops to be moved from George Street to Beaumont Street whilst maintaining reliability.

One way of achieving this would be to install bus gates, which would stop drivers using the city centre as a cut-through and would mean only buses, taxis and a small number of other vehicles would be able to use the street.

The public survey asked people: How would your views on the bus gates be affected if you knew they would lead to more pedestrianisations in Oxford city centre, such as on George Street?

Of the 1,022 responses to the question, 72.7% (743 responses) said they would be more supportive or significantly more supportive of bus gates if they knew they would enable more pedestrianisation of streets in Oxford city centre.

The City Council and County Council recently carried out a separate survey on proposals to install temporary bus gates in Oxford. Overall, 50% of respondents thought the bus gates are generally a good idea (35% thought they are a good idea, and a further 15% stated that they think the idea is good but are concerned about the details). Conversely, 46% were against the idea, with 3% requiring more information before they can give a view (the remaining 1% stated ‘don’t know’).

In the public survey, the City Council also asked: Are there any other streets in the city which you think should be pedestrianised or part-pedestrianised?

Of the 709 responses to this question, 669 people (94.4%) said they would like to see some degree of further pedestrianisation in Oxford city centre. Only 40 people (5.6%) said they would not like to see further pedestrianisations.

People were given the opportunity to name a street in Oxford that they would like to see pedestrianised, and by far the most people – 237 in total – said that they would like to see Broad Street pedestrianised.

This was significantly more than any other street, with the next most popular suggestions – Little Clarendon Street, Cowley Road and St Giles’ – each receiving fewer than 60 responses.

“We are delighted with the response to the trial, and particularly that two George Street businesses were able to open for the first time since lockdown because of the pedestrianisation.

“The overwhelming majority of residents and George Street businesses want us to extend the trial, and we share that ambition. But we will only be able to do this, while maintaining timetables for rerouted buses, if we reduce the overall traffic levels in Oxford city centre.

“Businesses need urgent solutions to the congestion problems because, as long as the problems go unsolved, our local businesses and the jobs that depend on them will suffer.”

Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford

“It is great to hear that the pedestrianisation of George Street had a positive effect on the majority of businesses along George Street at a time where the hospitality industry is undoubtedly struggling. Unfortunately, the road closure impacted our services severely due to congestion along Beaumont Street, resulting in delays to our services, especially at weekends.

“We felt it was important to support the business community with the trial on George Street, but future ambition for further part-pedestrianisation must be tempered, as it will not be possible without further interventions to reduce traffic and congestion on the diverted routes. 

“In order to continue to support the county’s green recovery, it is vital bus travel is an attractive choice of transport, and this depends heavily on providing services that are punctual and reliable.”

Chris Coleman, Managing Director of Stagecoach Oxfordshire

“We were pleased to participate in the trial and we are generally supportive of measures that help encourage people to visit Oxford.

“For us the trial highlighted the need for a holistic view to be taken on City Centre bus and pedestrian movements and we are happy to engage in a review of this with other key delivery partners.

“A key factor in this will be providing our customers with greater certainty on journey times and bus gates could be one part of the solution to this and a key to running similar trials in the future.”

Phil Southall, Managing Director of Oxford Bus Company

MIL OSI United Kingdom