Oxford’s High Street bus gate restrictions have been temporarily suspended, granting all traffic access 24 hours a day, as the city contends with the closure of Abingdon Road due to flooding and ongoing construction work at the Botley Road rail bridge.
Normally, the High Street is off-limits to regular traffic between 7.30 am and 6.30 pm, allowing only local buses, taxis, licensed private hire vehicles, and exempt emergency vehicles to use the route. Those caught violating these hours face fines detected by ANPR cameras. However, the county council has made the exceptional decision to temporarily lift these restrictions while Abingdon Road remains impassable due to flooding.
Botley Road is also closed at the rail bridge due to a substantial station revamp project, further limiting alternative routes for commuters. The county council took to X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday afternoon to announce the temporary suspension, stating, “A reminder that access can temporarily be gained through Oxford’s High Street bus gates due to the flooding that has led to the closure of Abingdon Road in Oxford. The road won’t be open in time for the Monday rush hour. We are monitoring water levels closely.”
In a significant departure from the usual protocol, a council spokesperson assured the public that drivers would not be penalized for using the High Street bus gate during this period. This move aims to alleviate the inconvenience caused by the closures and provide alternative routes for residents and commuters.
While the High Street relief is welcomed by many, some residents have called for similar measures in East Oxford, specifically the lifting of Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) restrictions. However, the council has firmly stated, “There are no plans to open the East Oxford LTNs.”
A council representative expressed approval for the decision to open the High Street bus gate to all traffic, noting the unprecedented nature of this move. The spokesperson speculated that the emergency services may have exerted pressure on the council due to the closures on Abingdon Road and Botley Road.
“It is quite unprecedented to open this bus gate, but we believe the council has come under pressure from the emergency services, with the Abingdon Road and Botley Road closed,” said the spokesperson. They also suggested that opening the East Oxford LTNs would further alleviate traffic concerns during this challenging period.
“The council needs to use a bit of common sense and budge – the East Oxford LTNs should certainly be opened while the Abingdon Road remains closed,” added the spokesperson, emphasizing the need for flexibility in response to the current circumstances.
Amid these challenges, plans are in place to introduce six new bus gates, or traffic filters, across the city. The proposed locations include St Cross Road, Thames Street, Hythe Bridge Street, St Clements, Marston Ferry Road, and Hollow Way. However, the county council has agreed not to implement these changes until Network Rail completes its £161 million scheme to improve Oxford station, which has necessitated the closure of Botley Road. The construction work is anticipated to conclude in October.
As Oxford adapts to these unforeseen challenges, the temporary lifting of the High Street bus gate restrictions provides a crucial lifeline for residents and commuters navigating the city’s disrupted transportation routes. The council’s decision reflects a pragmatic response to the current circumstances, balancing the need for traffic management with an understanding of the community’s pressing demands during this challenging period.