It is obviously right that people can still make public protests about things they feel strongly about. A Saturday is a good time to arrange a march through Oxford City centre. Saturday’s march went down Parks Road, obviously causing some congestion there.
It is right, too, that Oxfordshire County Council should choose a Saturday to resurface St Giles. When St Giles is blocked, all the buses and other traffic are routed down Parks Road.
Modest inconvenience all round caused by either of these events. All you have to ensure, of course, is that you don’t let both happen at once. It would be obvious incompetence to force the traffic down Parks Road on the same day as a protest march is blocking up Parks Road. Wouldn’t it? I mean, you would not need much of a brain to realise what chaos would result. Would you?
There was chaos in Parks Road on Saturday. Oxfordshire County Council closed St Giles, and the police were on hand to divert all the buses and other traffic down Parks Road. A protest march took place in Parks Road and the police were on hand to block off all the exits and generally to hold up the traffic so that the protest could take place.
I wonder at what point someone realised that both were happening at once. My guess is that nothing stirred between constabulary ears until the traffic police turned up at one end of the road to point the traffic down it and and the riot police appeared at the other to block it up.
All those empty buses which race up and down St Giles queued instead round the Broad, doing three-point turns and u-turns round the cars. They were then jammed there whilst the marchers did their marching, also down Broad Street.
Oxfordshire County Council has a track record of setting up conflicting traffic jams. Last year, for example, with 200 years notice that St Giles Fair takes place in the first week in October, they dug up South Parks Road in that week to coincide with the diversion of traffic down it. Also last year, they dug up the Abingdon Road and Longwall at the same time, apparently oblivious to the fact that the one is the natural escape route when the other is blocked.
Let us assume that the collision of events was unavoidable – both planned for weeks and impossible to change. Could not someone have acted to minimise the impact? The highways officers of Oxfordshire County Council measure their IQ in short planks, so it would not be them. What about the police?
We have all had the experience of reaching the end of a long tail-back in Oxford. Just as the next car pulls up behind you and blocks you in, a nice police person leans in through the window and says “Now then, now then, the road is blocked. You could be stuck here until tea-time”. Your voice says politely “Thank you officer for letting me know” as you warily eye up the well-thumbed copy of the Terrorism Act in his or her top pocket. Your head says, less politely “Why the f*** couldn’t you have told me 30 yards back when I could have turned and gone the other way?”.
There were scores of policemen wandering the streets on Saturday. A modest amount of organisation would have weeded out drivers who, given an informed choice, would have gone another way. A little bit of planning would have consolidated the bus traffic.
I suppose the overtime is paid for turning up, not for thinking.