St Giles Campaign
Speaker: Ben Hamilton-Baillie
The St Giles campaign gained new impetus at our July meeting with the return of Ben to address a larger meeting of representatives from Oxford Civic Society, Cyclox, Sustrans, City and County Councillors and officers, and many individuals, including Ted Dewan of Roadwitch, interested in creating a more beautiful place for people in the heart of our city.
Ben’s general thesis was that the attractiveness and safety of a city’s public realm, the space between and around its buildings, will determine economic survival in the age of on-line and out-of-town shopping. These ideas are shared by our City Centre Manager Gordon Reid, who has exciting ideas about future use of St Giles. City-centre shopping, cultural, and tourist attractions are important economic and social activities but will not survive well without a revolution in assumptions about traffic in city streets. In particular, the relationship between vehicles and other users – and uses – of city streets has to be re-examined.
The Buchanan report of the 1960s recommended segregation of pedestrians from vehicular traffic, which has led to unattractive urban centres and increasing dominance of motorised traffic. Transport planners are now re-examining this question. The recent DfT Manual for Streets 2 promotes greater integration, and removal of unnecessary lights and signs, reduction of traffic speeds, and more sharing and reallocation of space are as ways of enhancing the experience of residents and visitors in our city streets. Examples such as Poynton, Exhibition Road and examples from abroad were shown to illustrate these ideas, and a sketch of the Beaumont/Walton Street junction revealed the potential benefit for Oxford.
Ben believes speeds of around 17mph are crucial to successful integration and that good design and application of behavioural psychology are better ways of reducing speeds than formal speed limits. New York City’s experiment with cheap temporary materials to reduce vehicle dominance may be applicable to St Giles. Strong visionary political leadership will be essential if this project is to succeed.