What Is A 15- Minute City?
A 15-minute city a title that has been given to a traffic reducing scheme in cities around the world and is a decentralised residential environment where everything you could need – work, food, health, education, and cultural facilities – is within a quarter of an hour by foot or bike.
That does not mean you have to stay in your neighbourhood but incentivises a return to “local living”, where commute times are shorter, people are less dependent on cars, and, in theory, communities are tighter-knit.
As an urban planning concept and travel and development strategy, it’s been around for some time, spearheaded by the award-winning scientist Carlos Moreno, who unveiled his 15-minute city model in 2016.
Similarly, the practice of “hyper proximity” for city dwellers has been tested in cities such as Melbourne, Copenhagen, and Utrecht to reduce city centre congestion.
The Oxford 15 minute city was proposed back in December 2021 after consultation in the summer with the LTN trial scheme started in May 2022.
What Are They Actually Called?
The proper expression for these so-called “climate lockdowns” is Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTN). Their aim is to significantly reduce the amount of traffic going through residential streets and encourage using bicycles and walking to any destination.
Tests throughout some major cities, including London, have had a positive response to the LTN system and this has sparked interest from Oxford County Council to look into introducing more Low Traffic Neighbourhoods into the City in 2024.
This data has been contested in some circles, and we are currently awaiting updated figures from the Ministry of Transport.
Oxford plans to introduce a further 6 LTNs into the city in 2024 that will effectively cover the whole city and coincide with three existing schemes that are already in place in the Divinity Road area, St Clement’s area, and St Mary’s area are collectively known as the east Oxford LTNs. The scheme has been implemented through an experimental traffic regulation order (ETRO) which runs for a maximum of 18 months.
Public transport is not affected, so residents can still walk, bike, taxi and bus further afield.
What Has Been Assumed?
An article published by Vision News on November 30 that has been shared widely online falsely claims that Oxford County Council will trial so-called “climate lockdowns” from 2024. It says the move would prevent residents from leaving their neighbourhoods without permission from authorities.
It claims the council has approved plans “to lock residents into one of six zones” in Oxford to combat global warming and that electronic gates will be built “on key roads in and out of the city” to keep people confined.
Anyone wishing to leave their zone “will need permission from the council”, which decides “who is worthy of freedom and who isn’t,” the report adds.
Facebook, Twitter and the usual conspiracy theorists jumped at the opportunity to have their say and, without realising, had started a thread of misinformation that wound its way to a social media user in Australia.
What Have The Council Said?
Oxford City council have released a statement after receiving online abuse based on the current theories being portrayed on online platforms, which has dispelled many of the myths surrounding the plan.
In essence, some of the facts that have come from the statement are:
- Six traffic filters are set to be tested for a minimum of six months around Oxford city from 2024. This means that between 7 am and 7 pm, private cars will need a permit to get through. St Cross Road, Thames Street, Hythe Bridge Street and St Clements 7 days a week, Marston Ferry Road and Hollow Way Mon-Sat)
- Drivers using the filters who do not have a permit, or are not exempt, will face a penalty charge notice of £35, which will increase to £70 if not paid within two weeks.
A council spokesperson for the Oxford transport strategy has added, “Everywhere in the city will still be accessible by car, although some private car drivers may need to use a different route during the operating hours of the traffic filters,”
“Everyone, wherever they live, will still be able to drive to and from any destination in Oxford, or anywhere else, anytime they like, as often as they like.”
“Traffic filters are designed to reduce traffic levels across the city, making bus journeys quicker and more reliable and walking and cycling safer and more attractive,” the spokesperson said. “Traffic filters are not designed to stop people from driving private vehicles.”
How this affects the e-scooter trial remains to be seen, but with greener transport alternatives required the reduced traffic in the roads would make riding electric scooters safer.
Everyone who lives in the City of Oxford permit area (OPA), where the filters are to be located, will be eligible for one free, 100-day permit a year, which will mean “unlimited travel through any of the six filters for the whole day” on up to 100 days per year. Each household will be eligible for a maximum of three permits.
Residents living outside the OPA but within Oxfordshire will be eligible for a permit to drive through the filters “on up to 25 days a year”.
Exemptions apply to emergency vehicles, blue badge holders, health workers, professional and non-professional care workers, and people requiring frequent hospital treatments.
What About Residents And Businesses?
There has been a very split reaction to the Oxford city LTN scheme as some are obviously in favour of reducing traffic congestion and harmful emissions, whilst others have been less favourable and are worried about how this will affect businesses in the city centre.
Critics of the existing LTNs in Oxford claim that they have increased traffic and pollution in surrounding areas. Some residents opposed to those schemes have taken matters into their own hands and set fire to some bollards.
The council said last week that it will spend £100,000 replacing plastic bollards with new ones made out of steel after “unprecedented levels of vandalism”.
It has already spent £72,000 replacing wrecked bollards, it told the BBC.
As of last week, there had been 59 vandalism incidents in which damaged bollards were replaced. Of those, 44 were reported to the police.
A council spokesperson said: “Damage to highways infrastructure presents a significant safety risk to all road users.
The Pros Of A 15-Minute City
Cars are responsible for a large amount of the emissions on our roads, and this scheme has been designed to cut down their usage and, in turn, reduce the impact they have on climate change.
That’s not to mention the obvious health benefits of walking or cycling and the time saved by reducing the commute.
Its other main objective is to increase the neighbourhood community, boost small businesses, and attract local shoppers.
The Cons Of A 15-Minute City
Thanks to years of car-based travel, making all of these cities compatible with the 15-minute model will prove difficult, but this issue is significantly worse in places like the US, where some cities have been built from the ground up with drivers in mind.
Others have criticised the lack of focus on accessibility and the erasure of people who can’t walk or cycle everywhere they need to be.
But it’s clear it negatively affect businesses that rely on footfall and loyal customers visiting regularly. Plus, some workers would commute across the city approximately 240 days a year and would add a reliance on public transport.
Will It Work In Oxford?
That is yet to be seen as this scheme does not come into effect until 2024 but the hope from both the council and residents alike is that the traffic reduction, emissions decrease and boost to local businesses will be positive.