Accessibility to local amenities by foot in Oxford

What is a 15-minute-neighbourhood?

Over the last few decades, people have made fewer and fewer journeys on foot or by bike as services and amenities have become dispersed and located in places only accessible by car.

Local neighbourhoods should be places where people should be able to meet and connect with others.  They should be places where it is possible to linger and enjoy being in the open air, places that can be reached without having to get into a car, places you can get to for most of your daily needs and where your workplace is. 

What does this mean for local communities? It means being able to access amenities such as supermarkets, cafés, pubs, green spaces, schools, pharmacies, all within a 15-minute walk there and a 15-minute walk back. It means that there needs to be workplace spaces within communities rather than in business parks in the periphery. It means neighbourhoods need to be more compact rather than a sprawl.

The Coalition for Healthy Streets and Active Travel have begun to promote the concept with a view creating a major campaign to change policy and practice of our councils, and of developers, and stop the current trend of building in car dependency into the everyday lives of so many people. This will mean finding ways through policy change of encouraging local amenities, moving away from out-of-town retail parks and supermarkets, and changing transport planning to enable more people to walk, cycle and take public transport.

The kinds of policy changes needed to create 15-minute-neighbourhoods are:

  • Creating affordable homes and diversity in housing development, which are suitable for people at different life stages;
  • Bringing in jobs and services into local areas through incentivising inward investment into communities and discouraging out of town developments;
  • Maximising use of local community buildings such as schools so they can be used for a range of activities 24/7;
  • Creating safer local communities that get people out of cars,  through the creation of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, low emission zones, home zones, cycle streets, and removing through traffic;
  • Adopting 15-minute-neighbourhood as a key principle in local plans and in local transport strategies.

All this of course depends on creating a planning system that makes sustainable neighbourhoods the obvious solution.

A Walkability Index for Oxford

One of the first activities we have done in CoHSAT is to create a Walkability Index.  A member of Cyclox, Will Ray, who is a geographer and spatial mapper worked with CoHSAT on creating an index, using proximity to supermarkets, green space (parks, playing fields and allotments), pubs, schools and GP surgeries. Will produced the following map rating streets in terms of their walkability.

From this map you can see that the most walkable areas in the city are near district centres, Summertown, Jericho, Cowley Road, Temple Cowley, Headington. The areas with the least workable areas tend to be in the peripheries of the city, and several are in the more deprived parts of the city, Blackbird Leys, Cowley and Barton. The lack of local amenities probably contributes to making these places less desirable to live in and locking in car dependency in those communities that can least afford a car.

Next steps

The concept of a 15-minute neighbourhood (15MN) is that the amenities that are most important to you are within a 15-minute walk of your home. This is an idea in development and there is little evidence of what constitutes the ‘most important amenities’ for people in different localities.

CoHSAT will devise a questionnaire asking people to identify the amenities that matter most to them, and those that are important, but less vital. We anticipate that the responses will vary according to the size of the development people live in, ranging from Oxford to small villages in Oxfordshire.

The results will help to inform policy and assist in initiatives that make it more possible for basic amenities to be taken to people, rather than expecting people to travel to them, whether by car or expensive (and infrequent) bus. The effect would be a stronger community and less polluting car travel. 

Appendix

Quantifying walkability is extremely difficult, but one aspect the accessibility of local amenities is one way that you can measure how feasible it is to walk around your local neighbourhood during your everyday activities. A lot of this data is widely available and has been used in this project. Open Street Map was used to create a “network” to perform the analysis on including roads, local footpaths and rights of way. To produce a more accurate representation of where you can walk, dual carriageways and motorways were removed from the network (in Oxford this was just the ring road which you can’t walk on anyway). 

Amenities data was collected from open street map too using the Overpass API. Schools, GP surgeries and Pubs were collected from this source. Other amenities like dentists, nurseries and coffee shops are also available but were not used in this version of the index. A filtered Ordnance Survey product called Open Map Greenspace was also used to model access to open space. The point dataset of access points was used rather than the greenspace polygon product. Lastly, the free to use Geolytix Retail Points dataset was used to locate supermarkets in Oxford. 

Firstly, an isoarea analysis was conducted on each the individual datasets producing a raster result with distances to the different classes of amenities. Distance rather than time was used as the unit of measurement and a walking speed of 4.5km/hr was used as the default walking speed. This is the same speed as used by Google in their navigation applications. The raw rasters were then binned into 5 classes; 0-500m, 500-1000m, 1000-1500m, 1500-2000m and 2000m+. Each of these classes were allocated a score of 1 to 5, with 1 being the closest and 5 for the areas furthest away. 

The above was repeated for all five inputs and combined into an overall score. This contained scores of 5-25 as there were five inputs into the model. This was then split into 5 classes.

ScoreLabelDefinition
5Extremely WalkableAll amenities are within a 500m walk
6 – 7Very WalkableMost amenities are within 500m walking distance but some are further away.
8 – 10WalkableAll amenities are within 1km walking distance
11 – 15Just about WalkableAmenities will be around 1km away, some maybe further away.
16 – 21Not very WalkableAlmost all amenities are will be 1-1.5km walk away or further.
22 – 25UnwalkableMost amenities are over 2km walk away.

Further improvements

  • Weightings could be used
  • Other inputs like coffee shops and nurseries, pharmacies
  • Missing OSM data
  • Access to public transport
  • Tweaking of the class boundaries.

https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/business-government/products/open-map-greenspace

https://www.geolytix.co.uk/#geodata