Active travel advocates ask who has the freedom to use the roads

On February 18, around 2,000 people came to Oxford to protest for freedom and against traffic filters.

There also seemed to be slogans about climate change denial, anti-vaccination, anti-Semitism and racism, but we’ll leave that to others. What interests us here is their perspective on “freedom”.

As the American JB Finch said in 1882, “Your right to wave your arm ends where my right not to be hit on the nose begins,” and as we examine it, their view of freedom is selfish and destructive .

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First, consider the traffic. Much of it is not there. The freedom to drive creates traffic jams every day, and so people lose their freedom of movement and get stuck in queues of their own making.

These people exercising their ‘freedom’ are also taking the liberty of people in the 32% of Oxford households who do not have cars and others who do not drive.

Due to increased traffic, bus services around the city have slowed to 8-10mph, slower than a bike. As this increases costs, bus companies have had to reduce some services.

Two-thirds of Britons find the roads too dangerous for cycling, depriving them of the freedom to choose modes of transport free from high fuel, service and environmental costs. Children have lost the freedom of independent travel that I enjoyed in the traffic light 70’s and early 80’s. In many places it is even difficult to cross the street.

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For some, the loss of freedom is even more serious.

Oxford Mail:

In 2020, Ella Kissi-Debrah became the first person to list air pollution as a cause on her death certificate. She died at the age of nine.

Her mother is now committed to reducing air pollution.

The way cars make us less active contributes to one in six deaths, 100,000 a year across the UK, linked to physical inactivity.

And in the 10 years to 2021 we have seen 17,000 road casualties in Oxfordshire with 258 fatalities.

I’m not saying everyone should stop driving, but there is a balance here and we need to be aware of the costs and harms and the benefits that people get from it.

So what to do if more people want to drive than there is space?

The current “laissez-faire” approach only works for people with time to burn and really messes things up for buses and the small fraction of people who rely on cars.

Instead, you may be wondering if it isn’t better to give priority to certain users (e.g. disabled people who rely on cars, buses that use space efficiently) and then split the remaining road with a tax allowance, so that traffic can flow.

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By reducing traffic overall, it would be more appealing to walk, use a wheelchair or cycle – all of which cause less congestion and damage. Just like traffic lights at a crossroads, such an approach brings about a fairer balance of freedoms by imposing restrictions. You may have already recognized it as the traffic filter plan for Oxford.

Oxford Mail:

So when you hear someone talk about freedom, ask yourself… ‘Is this true freedom that takes nothing away from anyone?’ Like cycling down a quiet lane or across town – you don’t use up resources, you don’t cause delays.

Or is it a selfish conception of freedom that prioritizes personal comfort over the loss of freedom for others?

To enable children to experience the freedom of cycling in a safe environment before our roads are fully developed,

Oxford, like many other cities, hosts ‘Kidical Mass’ events where a mass of cyclists, including experienced trip leaders, create a safe place for children to cycle. Cyclox and partner organizations are hosting Kidical Mass events on March 26, May 7 and September 24, 2023 – details at, we look forward to seeing you there.

This story was written by Andy Ffrench who joined the team over 20 years ago and now covers community news across Oxfordshire.

Contact him by email: [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @OxMailAndyF


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