By Oxford City Council deputy leader Tom Hayes.

WHAT kind of a city do you want to live in?

What kind of city do you want to raise a family in? Put bluntly, what do you like about living in Oxford that you want to hold onto? On that note, what would you fling into Room 101?

Let’s start with cars. The car gives you a sense of control and convenience. When you have to rely on public transport you can feel dependent. With the car, you depart when you’re ready rather than, as with public transport, when the buses are ready.

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But, when you cast your mind back to the time before the pandemic and lockdown, it’s worth asking: how much freedom and control did you actually get by driving?

As a medieval city, Oxford faces bigger transport problems than most other cities: how do you solve the impossibility of moving thousands of people through a small number of narrow streets?

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What are our options? We could demolish some buildings in the city centre to expand roads for more, bigger cars. Or we could try to reduce the number of cars on our roads by discouraging private car drivers from using our world-famous city centre as a cut-through. It’s the use of the city centre as a cut-through which is causing a large percentage of the congestion in Oxford. In so doing, we would enable more people to cycle and walk safely.

None of this will be easy. We have a small set of options and big challenges to meet.

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We are proposing to install two temporary bus gates at the end of September – one in Hythe Bridge Street or Worcester Street, and another in St Cross Road or South Parks Road. The two temporary bus gates will not be our first—they will work exactly the same as the current bus gates in High Street and George Street. Those bus gates caused some concern when they were proposed years ago; however, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, could you ever imagine them not being in place?

If drivers choose not to cut through, and clog up, our narrow city centre streets, they would enable buses to become more reliable and more frequent. One of the ironies of all of this is that so many buses get clogged up in congestion that the bus companies have to put on a third more buses to meet their timetables.

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We’ve had a painful reminder of the importance of human belonging, the feeling of a human connection to those we love. We want to be with people, interact eye to eye, and belong to a community.

With the lockdown easing, we shouldn’t be going back to normal. We shouldn’t be clogging up streets with long queues of idling cars belching out emissions. We know what happens when there are fewer cars cutting through the city centre: during the lockdown, when traffic levels plummeted, there was a 64 per cent drop in toxic nitrogen dioxide. With new data showing the links between air pollution and the severity of coronavirus symptoms, we can’t afford more car emissions which make people vulnerable to the pandemic.

Our city centre streets could be places where people meet, eat and drink outdoors in the summer sun, and children play together. Oxford is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but we hide it under a fog of traffic noise and air pollution.

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We are now able to plan for pedestrianisation. George Street and Broad Street are on the table. We’ve just announced the pedestrianisation of St Michael’s Street to enable outdoor tables and chairs for businesses to serve more people at a time of social distancing. The local economy is uppermost in our mind.

We need to stop Oxford’s roads from getting so congested that it’s quicker and more convenient for people inside the ring road to abandon the city centre and spend their money elsewhere. We know that 70 per cent of Oxford’s shoppers arrived in the city centre by Park and Ride or bus service before the pandemic. By encouraging people to travel by bus, or train, in line with new Government guidance, we are supporting local businesses to recover, reboot the local economy, and support local jobs.

We shouldn’t be pumping as many cars as possible through our city centre when they don’t stop, they don’t spend, and they don’t support businesses and jobs.

The city and county councils want to know what you think about the exact designs. We’re waiting to hear from residents before we make decisions about these. Please do take part by visiting: https://consultations.oxfordshire.gov.uk/consult.ti/oxfordbusgates