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Traffic plan in Oxfordshire, England, isn’t a ‘climate lockdown’

December 8, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: The county of Oxfordshire, England, which includes the city of Oxford, is imposing a “climate lockdown” that will confine residents to their neighborhoods.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Oxfordshire has approved a plan to put “traffic filters” on some main roads, restricting drivers’ access during daytime hours and freeing up space for buses, cyclists and pedestrians. But car owners can apply for daylong permits to bypass the new rules, and many other vehicles are exempt. All parts of the county will remain accessible by car, officials said.

THE FACTS:Last week, local leaders in Oxfordshire voted to try a new traffic reduction system in an effort to reduce congestion in the county’s namesake city. Some on social media have since likened the scheme to stringent government COVID-19 containment policies.

“UK. - Oxfordshire Council, part of the 15 minute city club, has passed a plan to trial a Climate lockdown,” tweeted one user, alongside a screenshot of an article warning that “residents will be confined to their local neighbourhood.”

The plan “would control movements in a gated city, allowing only 100 car journeys in & out per car & monitoring all movements,” the tweet continued. “Did you vote for this?”

“Next up: Climate lockdown trials,” wrote another Twitter user, sharing a screenshot of the article.

But Oxfordshire’s “traffic filters” will not block access to any part of the city of Oxford or the rest of the county, let alone lock people in their neighborhoods, the county government told The Associated Press.

“Everywhere in the city will still be accessible by car,” Paul Smith, spokesperson for the Oxfordshire County Council, wrote in an email. “Nobody will need permission from the county council to drive or leave their home.”

The “traffic filters” are license plate recognition cameras, not physical barriers. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., drivers in private cars will be automatically fined if they cross through the filters without a permit. Motorists who live in Oxford will be able to apply for 100 daylong permits to drive through the filters per year.

The “15 minute city club” referenced by one of the misleading tweets is an unrelated urban planning framework under which city residents would ideally be able to reach essential services within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home. Officials with the city of Oxford have separately proposed pursuing these goals. But some on social media have incorrectly linked the two, suggesting the traffic rules will also bar residents from leaving their neighborhoods.

The city and county emphasized in a joint statementthat the traffic restrictions will not “be used to confine people” to a given area. “Everyone can go through all the filters at any time by bus, bike, taxi, scooter or walking,” the statement added.

Many vehicles, like vans and motorcycles, are exempt from the new rules. Disabled drivers and first responders will likewise not be affected.

Drivers who lack a permit will also still be able to access all of the city without being fined. They “might just need to use a different route or drive through the ring road to avoid the traffic filters,” Smith wrote.

In New York City, officials are examining the possibility of charging motorists an extra fee for entering its most congested areas. The practice is commonly referred to as congestion pricing and has been used in cities including London, Singapore and Stockholm, according to the AP.

Major cities worldwide have also experimented with closing streets to car traffic as a way of encouraging residents to walk or bike. In one recent U.S. example, San Francisco in April voted to make a road through its famed Golden Gate Park permanently “car-free.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.