Oxford Traffic Jams – 250 years of history

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A traffic jam on Botley Road

Oxford has had traffic problems for a long time. A very long time. 
Attempts to traffic have also been made, including the Transport Strategy of 1999, which put 5 Bus Gates in the centre. But since the 2010s traffic has had a negative impact on the county’s economy and people’s freedom of movement, leading to calls to reduce traffic and the 2015 Oxford Transport Strategy proposing Traffic Filters, a Zero Emissions Zone and a Workplace Parking Levy. 

Here, we attempt a timeline of Oxford traffic jams, and some of the attempts to tackle them through history.

Spot any more? Send them to: jams@cohsat.org.uk

1771. Congested streets for horse-drawn coaches, before cars even existed. (We have not yet found references to jams of oxen at a ford, but we keep searching…)

Jam 1771

1937

Jam 1937

1941

Jam 1941

1953

Jam 1953

1955

Jam 1955

1960. In 1960, so many workers at the Morris car factory used bicycles, they caused traffic jams when they all left the plant at the end of a shift.

Oxford Traffic Jams 250 Years Of History

1962

Jam 1962

1971

Jam 1971

1972. A jam inward along Botley Road.

Jam 1972

1973. Park and Ride services begin in Oxford, in an attempt to reduce congestion.
Oxford has the longest continuously operating Park and Ride in the UK.

Oxford Park And Ride in 1973. A black and white photo of a car park with a bus in the back ground.

1975

Jam 1975

1975. The BBC documentary “Cars without chaos” featured Oxford as a city with traffic problems, and taking some steps to solve them. A traffic management expert proposed the closure of Magdalen Bridge to traffic – a proposal that evolved into the Bus Gates of 1999 and the Traffic Filters proposal of 2015 (to be implemented on experimental basis in 2024). Unfortunately the video is no longer available except in archives.

Text about the 1975 Cars Without Chaos documentary.

1986. Congestion on the northern ring road. Traffic has roughly doubled from the 1980s to the 2020s

Jam 1986

1987. A jam inward along Botley Road. Pictured from Seacourt Tower.

Jam 1987

1992. Jams in Oxford are so bad, someone puts up signs branding it ‘Carbon MonOxford’.

Jam 1992

1993. Bill Bryson calls out Oxford in his book ‘Notes from a Small Island’.

Text from Bill Bryson's book about how it is possible to get where you want to go, as long as you avoid Oxford, Hangar Lane gyratory and the Severn Bridge.

1999. Bus gates were introduce to 5 central Oxford locations. 
Only buses, cycles, taxis/private hire and emergency vehicles are permitted to pass during their times of operation.

The Oxford Mail reported on the ‘Keep the High Street Open’ campaign, which said: “They have spent £20m on traffic chaos. You cannot simply close roads that have been the main arteries of the city for 1,000 years.” 

A follow-up survey found visitors numbers unaffected. (Source: Pedestrian Pound 2018)

Oxford Mail headline: City Braced for traffic changes
Picture of a bus passing a bus gate in Oxford
Text: Describing that Oxford traffic reduction and pedestrianisation in 1999 reduced traffic, but did not reduce visitors.

2011.

Jam 2011

2013. The Oxford Mail reports that the Oxfordshire Business Barometer shows 76 per cent of company owners and directors believe traffic congestion and the quality of transport links are “adversely affecting”.

Nicola Blackwood MP picks up on the issue and Council leader Ian Hudspeth says: “This confirms transport is a major issue for local businesses and is holding back growth”.

Jam 2013

2015. The Oxford Transport Strategy, part of Local Transport Plan 4 (LTP4) is approved by Oxfordshire County Council

This includes a plan to reduce traffic through Traffic Filters (Controls), Zero Emissions Zone, and Workplace Parking Levy. The Traffic Filters are proposed for implementation in stages with the Eastern Arc by 2019 and the Centre by 2023. (This gets delayed by process and Covid).

2015 Ots Phasing

2016. The Oxford Mail report on longer than ever queuing times on ‘Oxford’s nightmare roads’ (e.g. Cowley Road 8m19s), traffic queues being a ‘key concern’ for businesses and the local economy in the Strategic Economic Plan, and businesses having difficulties with recruitment and meetings due to traffic.

Oxford Mail article headline 'Traffic jams worse than ever in Oxfordshire as businesses count cost of congestion' and photo of a traffic jam

2016

Jam 2016a

2018. Buses on St Clements, Iffley Road, Abingdon Road and Botley Road delayed due to too much traffic – a regular feature on many days.

Jam 2018

2019. Trafficmaster analysis shows 91 miles of Oxfordshire’s A Road network (12.3%) has delays of more than 1 minute in the Weekday peak during term time. 

Jam 2019

2020. As Covid lockdowns are lifted, and people go shopping by car, Oxford sees a return to queues of traffic on most of its arterial roads. Reported by Oxford Mail.

Jam 2020

2020. Oxford Bus MD, Phil Southall, describes in a blog why removing congestion is essential to an effective and reinvestable bus service.

Compiled by Owen McKnight (Oxford Pedestrians’ Association), March 2024, with additions from Robin Tucker (CoHSAT). 

Sources: 1771: Minutes of the Oxford Paving Commissioners (page xix); 1937: Hansard (26 June 1961); 1941: T. Lawrence Dale (Wikipedia); 1953: Oxfordshire History Centre (POX0577522); 1955: Ian Davis, Experiencing Oxford (page 200); 1962: Cas Oorthuys, Term in Oxford (page 8); 1971: Carlton Reid, https://roadswerenotbuiltforcars.com/oxford; 1972: Cyclox Facebook (12 April 2023); 1973: Oxfordshire History Centre; 1975: Oxford Society 27(1); 1975: Danny Yee, Oxford Blog (December 2022); 1986: Daily Telegraph (February); 1987: Oxford Mail (14 November 2018); 1992: Oxford Mail (29 November 2018); 1993: Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island; 1999: Oxford Mail; 2011: Oxford Mail (15 June); 2013: Oxford Mail (17 October); 2015: Oxford Transport Strategy; 2016: Oxford Mail (25 July); 2016: Daily Mail (30 August); 2018: Twitter; 2019: Oxfordshire County Council; 2020: Oxford Mail (18 December); 2020: Oxford Bus Company