Traffic filters, LTNs, ZEZ, WPL… an introduction to Oxford’s traffic initiatives


Traffic filters, LTNs, ZEZ, WPL… an introduction to Oxford’s traffic initiatives
An introduction to Oxford’s traffic initiatives

About Oxford’s traffic initiatives

Controversial or otherwise, you may have noticed an ever-increasing mention of Oxford’s traffic initiatives or transport schemes in local news media. Various traffic initiatives are being implemented across Oxford, and we’ll explain what they are, but first, some background.

The Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan

Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for highway management in the county, including across Oxford city. The council has put together a Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan that is essentially a set of proposals that aim to make Oxford and surrounding villages a safer, greener place to live, work and visit.

The Central Oxfordshire Travel Plan is part of a countywide Local Transport and Connectivity Plan (LTCP).

The LTCP sets a clear vision to deliver a net-zero transport system that enables Oxfordshire to thrive, protects the environment and makes the county a better place for all residents to live.

It includes ambitious targets such as:

  • cutting car trips by a quarter by 2030
  • delivering a net-zero transport network by 2040 and
  • eradicating road fatalities or life-changing injuries by 2050

Why is it needed?

Oxford is very much a historic city with limited road space. So, to alleviate congestion, the council is looking at how individual car journeys can take a back seat so that space-efficient travel options, like zero-emission buses, taxis, and delivery vans, can become the norm. 

Average bus speeds in Oxford have been declining on key routes to and from the city centre and employment sites, with only 8mph achieved between the JR hospital and city centre via Cowley Centre during weekday peaks.

Additionally, certain parts of the city regularly breach the legal emission levels, so the council needs to rapidly reduce carbon emissions from all transport-related activities.

There is also the impact of growth to consider. From 2011 to 2031, 100,000 new homes will be built in Oxfordshire, with at least 15,000 in and around Oxford to help with the city’s unmet housing need. Based on current trends, the increased demand for movement in the area will exacerbate congestion in future years. 

What is proposed?

Given the issues highlighted above, the council is looking to put in place measures that ensure buses are fast, affordable and reliable, where people can walk and cycle in pleasant and safe environments, and where high-polluting traffic is unnecessary.

More specifically, the council has put forward a set of 22 actions to help achieve a sustainable and reliable transport system across the Central Oxfordshire area, including some significant transport proposals for Oxford city.

From traffic filters and low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) to zero emission zone (ZEZ) and workplace parking levies, here’s just about all you need to know about Oxford’s key traffic initiatives. These traffic initiatives or transport schemes are part of wider proposals to encourage sustainable travel and reduce congestion in the city.

The proposals for the transport network in Oxford include Workplace parking levy, Traffic filters and Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ).
Oxford’s traffic initiatives include Traffic filters, Zero emission zone (ZEZ) and Workplace parking levies

Traffic filters

Six traffic filters will be trialled on certain roads (Hythe Bridge Street, Thames Street, Marston Ferry Road, St Cross Road, Hollow Way, and St Clements) to reduce traffic congestion, improve bus journey times and create safer routes for cyclists and pedestrians.

Oxford’s traffic filters: Your frequently asked questions answered
A traffic filters already in operation on Oxford’s High Street

These traffic filters (also commonly referred to as ‘bus gates’), are expected to:

  • Reduce traffic levels by around 20 per cent across the city inside the ring road and around 35 per cent in the city centre.
  • Increase bus and park and ride use by up to 10 per cent.
  • Enable new and improved bus routes.
  • Reduce road accidents by around 34 per year.
  • Reduce annual carbon emissions associated with road transport by 6%.
  • Increase walking and cycling trips by around 10 per cent.

Read more: Six traffic filters to be trialled across Oxford city

The barriers, equipped with surveillance cameras, will prevent private cars from travelling through much of the city centre without a permit between 7.00am and 7.00pm every day, apart from the traffic filters on Marston Ferry Road and Hollow Way, which will not operate on Sundays.

Exempt vehicles2 and other vehicle types, including buses, coaches, taxis, vans, mopeds and HGVs, will have access at all times.

A zoomable map of the traffic filter locations is shown below. Click on the points on the map to see the proposed days and times of operation.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet approved the plans for the six traffic filters to be trialled in Oxford at a meeting on Tuesday, 29 November 2002.

Read more: Oxford’s traffic filters: Your frequently asked questions answered

Zero Emission Zone

The Zero Emission Zone or ZEZ is a stricter type of Clean Air Zones that can be found in other cities like London, Birmingham and Bristol. The ZEZ aims to reduce inner-city air pollution even further by only allowing zero-emissions vehicles to drive in the city centre without incurring a charge.

All you need to know about Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) pilot. Signage that you are entering the Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ)
Signage for Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ)

Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone pilot came into force on 28 February 2022, covering a limited number of streets in the city centre. The councils propose to extend the ZEZ from the current pilot area to cover most of the city centre in 2023, subject to further public consultation.

Charges will be payable by all vehicles unless they emit zero emissions or have a 100 per cent discount or exemption. Income from the scheme will be used to pay for its development and operation. It will also support initiatives for the transition to zero-emission transportation in the city.

Read more: All you need to know about Oxford’s Zero Emission Zone (ZEZ) pilot

Workplace parking levy

The Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) is an annual charge to businesses for staff parking spaces at their premises, and the council is proposing that the levy covers employers across the city council’s administrative area, i.e. within the Oxford ring road.

Only businesses with 11 or more staff parking spaces in Oxford would pay the WPL. The licence will be free for employers with 10 or fewer parking spaces. Also, Blue badge holder spaces, visitor parking, customer parking and operational spaces (including those used for emergency services) are excluded.

The WPL is expected to affect approximately 130 businesses in Oxford, but the actual number will depend on the final scheme design. These businesses can decide to pass some or all of the charge to their employees that drive to work.

By law, money raised by the levy must be spent on improving transport in the city.

Low traffic neighbourhoods 

A Low traffic neighbourhood (LTN) is an area where motorised traffic is prevented from taking shortcuts through an adjacent residential area using traffic filters like bollards and planters.

The aim is to create quieter and safer streets where residents may feel safer and more comfortable when making local journeys by bus, by cycle or on foot.

Controversial low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) made permanent in Cowley
Low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Cowley

In March 2021, the first LTN trial scheme – the Cowley LTNs – was introduced to Church Cowley, Temple Cowley, and Florence Park. Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet decided to make them “permanent” on 19 July 2022, despite public opposition from several residents and local businesses, including several high-profile business people.

A trial of East Oxford LTNs (covering Divinity Road, St Clement’s, and St Mary’s areas) under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO)1, which began in May 2022. The county council’s cabinet will decide whether to make the trial scheme permanent or remove it in the summer/autumn of 2023.

Further LTNs were proposed in the Headington and Quarry areas, which include New Headington, Old Headington, and Quarry areas, to reduce traffic movement in residential streets and encourage more sustainable methods of travel in those areas.

The development of proposals has been delayed, and it was decided to incorporate the scheme into the wider transport strategy. Although the council did not provide a reason for this decision, it is widely considered to be because of an unprecedented backlash from the Headington community.

LTNs have predominantly been implemented in the East Oxford area, making it just about impossible to cut through any side street on Cowley Road. And although these streets remain accessible, drivers may have to find alternative routes.

Overall though, questions remain around whether LTNs have evidently reduced traffic across the city and improved the air quality for everyone.

We’ll keep this page updated with further development about Oxford’s traffic initiatives as new information comes in.

Have you been affected by Oxford’s traffic initiatives? Please share your experiences by completing the form below. We’d like to hear if you have any comments and feedback too. 

1 An Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO) is a legal process which allows the council to introduce the LTNs as a trial. The ETRO will last for a minimum of six months and a maximum of 18 months.

2 An exempt vehicle means any vehicle in the service of or employed by the fire, police or ambulance services when on an emergency call, or a police vehicle on patrol.

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