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(History of Oxford XI)


Transport and Traffic in Oxford

Along with the nation as a whole Oxford also developed various forms of transport in keeping with economic necessity and changing times. In the 1790 we have the opening of the Oxford Canal allowing the transport of cheap coal from the Midlands. In the 1880s the first horse-drawn trams were introduced operating along the Banbury Road, in the northern part of the city, and from east to west over the Magdalen Bridge, along the High Street to Jericho. In the 20th century this form of transport developed into the motorbus in 1913, introduced by William Morris despite local opposition. This was subsequently replaced by the first official bus service run by the Tramway Company. This development in public transport would have certainly been delayed if it had not been for the introduction of the heavy industry Oxford had been waiting for: William Morris' car industry.

The development of transport, both public and private, brought with it a problem that has plagued Britain during the second half of the 20th century: the uneasy and controversial relation between city and traffic. On the one hand we have environmentalists campaigning for a cleaner and healthier city centre, free of non-essential traffic and on the other motorists defending their ease and comfort and traders lamenting the inevitable decline in trade that would be caused by the exclusion of cars from the city. For many years the balance swung in favour of the motorist and in many big cities, notably Birmingham, pedestrians were made to go up and down flights of stairs and under subways that at times could be dangerous in order to cross major roads in the city centre.

Towards the end of the century the pendulum has swung back in favour of the environmentalists and all sorts of ingenious methods have been invented to keep the car out and make life easier for the pedestrian. The City of Oxford has also lived through these tendencies and has had to approve or oppose, as the case may be, plans that have resulted from them.

In the second half of the 20th century Oxford, like most other urban areas of England, found it difficult to come to terms with the dramatic increase of traffic in the city. The problem was first faced by the City Council by commissioning Thomas Sharp to come up with a solution. After three years of research the results were published in a work entitled Oxford Replanned but the ideas contained in the study were impracticable and were strongly opposed. Of particularly importance was the suggestion that a relief road traversing Christ Church Meadow should be constructed. The construction of the Meadow Road was intended to relieve the High street from the negative effects of excessive traffic. Further suggestions and plans were put forward but also met with fierce opposition. One of these came in the 1960s with the suggestion of a scheme of motorways but which would have altered the residential areas of the city. The people opposed the plan, set up a Civic Society and their views were published in the booklet Let's Live in Oxford. This plan, too, was abandoned.

Furthermore, with the increasing popularity of Oxford as a tourist attraction it became imperative to seek a long-term solution to the traffic problem. With a general change in urban policies, from one that subordinated the necessities of the pedestrian to those of private transport to one that penalised motorised traffic in favour of the pedestrian leading to a saner environment, a new solution to the traffic problem has been introduced: parking has been reduced drastically in the inner city areas, public transport has been improved and the park-and-ride scheme introduced providing free parking and easy access to the centre by public transport. This has proved to be a more sensible, balanced and economic solution.

Once again the city of Oxford has shown its ability to adapt to changing circumstances and that it has been able to free itself from the centuries-old and sometimes uneasy tradition of depending on the academic institutions for its economic success. Furthermore, it has also demonstrated that it is in tune with developments in other cities and that it is has been able to implement modern schemes without sacrificing its own peculiar character.

It is the combination of factors that makes Oxford a high priority in the list of places to visit for the tourist. Among these are its rich history, its largely unspoilt character, the academic institutions and the abundance of other historic monuments and its literary associations.




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latest update: 11/11/02