Oxfordshire County Council, one of the FRONTIER project partners, is one of the pilot locations for the Mulitmodality and CAV Trails. Oxfordshire is a mainly rural county in England, comprising the city of Oxford and four other districts made up of market towns and villages. Road traffic in Oxfordshire is managed by the County Council except for the M40 & A34 which are part of the strategic road network managed by National Highways who work closely with the OCC Traffic Management & Control Team. The city of Oxford is bound by a ring road with radial arterial roads into the city centre. It has five Park & Rides at the edges of the city along with three small and one 1000 space car parks in the city centre.
Oxford like many cities across the world suffers from congestion on many of its roads. The focus of the Oxfordshire Multimodality Pilot will be to explore how the technology developed by Frontier can be used to address congestion at a continually challenging location in Oxford.
In November 2017, the refurbished Westgate shopping centre opened to the public, but the number of parking spaces was reduced from 1800 spaces to approximately 1000 spaces of which 48 are for electric vehicle charging. The reduced number of parking spaces and a right turn lane that had less capacity than was shown to needed in modelling resulted the following traffic management strategies. If the Westgate car park went ‘Full’ and traffic waiting to turn into the car park was causing congestion to the approach roads of Botley Rd and Abingdon Rd, then the entrance and the right turn lane to the car park would be closed to vehicles. The second strategy is to use the Variable Message Signs (VMS) to inform drivers heading to the city centre that the car par was full and to use the Park & Ride sites. The third strategy was to publish messages on the Traffic Control Centre’s Twitter account. This approach worked reasonably well and was only needed at Christmas and the occasionally weekend.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic we have found that the car park at Westgate is regularly going full at weekends by midday and often on weekdays during all school holidays. We feel that there are two causal factors to this. 1) Users were less willing to use public transport for fear of catching covid and 2) another car park opposite Westgate had to remove the temporary structure that had doubled the available spaces during the refurbishment of the Westgate due to planning conditions. The congestion on both approach roads affects bus journey times from the Park & Rides causing some of them to be diverted.
The current strategies rely on drivers seeing the Twitter messages and the VMS. Through this trial, the council aims to understand how the various tools developed in the FRONTIER project can assist us in informing both connected users (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) and autonomous vehicles of these messages, through the creation of geofenced virtual VMS and other strategies that can be implemented by the Traffic Control Centre team’s systems.