Oxford could bet back to work faster as one of the UK’s top cycling cities

A34 cycle route Oxford

Oxford is well placed to get back to work quicker and easier after the first lockdown-easing measures.

As businesses and organisations across the country prepare their back to work strategies, property consultancy Bidwells has analysed commuter behaviour across all of the UK’s Travel to Work Areas. The analysis focuses on the period of October-December, the least popular time of year for cycling.

With the government hunting for ways to get us all safely back to work, the challenge of commuting – and in particular constraints on public transport – has been highlighted. Following weeks of lower transport-related pollution there is understandable anxiety to avoid nervous commuters opting for the car rather than their usual train, tube or bus.

And Oxford residents want cycling to be made easier. An Oxford City Council survey conducted in the last few weeks saw nearly 90 per cent back expanding and segregating cycle lanes from vehicular traffic in the city centre. The City Council has also installed 130 additional bike parking spaces at its park and ride sites over the weekend to help commuters cycle the last miles of their journey into the city.

Major improvement works have already been completed on the traffic-free walking and cycling path at Kennington, Oxford, giving people an alternative to joining the traffic on the usually busy A34.

In May, the government announced a £2 billion package to make it easier for those prepared to walk or cycle more. It has promised pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors within weeks as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund – the first stage of a £2 billion investment, as part of the £5 billion in new funding announced for cycling and buses in February.

London sees the highest number of total commutes by bike, with approximately 154,000 work journeys during the last three months of 2019. Excluding the capital, there is a more mixed picture, with some regional cities performing well –  Bristol comes out top, but science and tech centres, including Oxford and Cambridge, show a particularly high number of workers who cycle to work.

Slough and Heathrow

Just two per cent of commute journeys, on average, are undertaken by bike based on the Q4 2019 data analysed, but some locations already perform considerably better. These include several cycle to work schemes in Oxford and Cambridge, where a cycling ethos has combined with supportive infrastructure investment and bike-friendly policies to underpin the success of some locations ahead of others.

Those working in the industry sectors of education or professional, scientific and technical activities dominate bike journeys in Oxford and Cambridge. The drivers of this are likely to be part cultural but also aided by the cycle infrastructure in place across the city’s science and tech parks, which encourage commuting on bike to work.

Sue Foxley, Research Director at Bidwells, said: “This has two implications. First, the cities are well placed to show resilience during the coming period as we get to grips with the new normal. Second, given the importance of both these cities to the fight against COVID-19 and indeed other health and technical challenges facing society, the cities can get back to work quicker and easier.

“Clearly, there will still be challenges to avoid additional car journeys which present particular challenges in such historic and popular cities. However, the existing cycling infrastructure in Oxford and Cambridge provides the locations with a head start in getting back to work.”