PROTESTERS campaigning for pedestrianised streets were confronted with an angry ‘mob’ of drivers after they blocked cars from passing through a prohibited street.
Three women from the Oxford Pedestrians Association staged their protest at Oriel Square on Saturday to stop cars illegally passing through the road to avoid the functional traffic cameras on the High Street.
Bollards there are meant to rise between 7.30am and 6.30pm, only being lowered for emergency vehicles and other vehicles with permitted access, but have been broken for ‘about four years’.
The Oxford Pedestrians Association (Oxped) campaigners, Sushila Dhall, Cinderella Lingwood, and Deborah Glass Woodin, took to the streets to form ‘human bollards’ in hope of encouraging Oxfordshire County Council to fix the broken bollards and traffic cameras, as well as stopping the drivers from passing to St Aldates illegally via Oriel Square.
Ms Dhall, chair of Oxped, said: “We stood on the bollards and straight away people started queuing up – loads of cars were going through – they were quite big cars, like the Chelsea tractor-type, and the drivers were absolutely livid with us.
“First of all they said ‘get out of the way we want to get past’.
“We said ‘no, the bollards are broken so we are being the bollards, you’re not meant to go through here’ – and the drivers went absolutely ballistic, several of them.”
OxPed began almost 26 years ago and has been asking the council ‘for years’ to replace the bollards and traffic cameras at the square.
She added: “They tried to argue, they cursed, they tried to shove stuff in our face, they told us to go kill ourselves, they blared their horns, one of them drove into me, and they threatened us: one of them said he was a doctor and if we ever fell into his hands, he would take revenge.
“They were unbelievable actually – it was like facing a mob.”
A number of drivers came up with ‘legitimate excuses’, such as having to pick up a child or go to the pharmacist, to try and pass through Ms Dhall and her fellow human bollards.
Within the hour, three men said they had to get through for their pregnant wives.
Video footage of angry motorists shows one driver pushing forward into Ms Dhall.
Police were called to the incident by some of the frustrated drivers, however, said Ms Dhall and her fellow campaigners had the right to protest – and it is illegal to try and pass through the square – so the police helped steer the cars back where they had come from.
Ms Dhall said: “It is the most frightening experience I have ever had campaigning for Oxped.
“I thought at any minute somebody was going to come and deck one of us, or accelerate towards us.
“I want to say thank you to the many people who came to support us, and those passers-by who said that it was lovely to have the square open again – it was really helpful to have the public supporting us, and they probably stopped us from being injured.”
She added: “We should not have to put our lives at risk to uphold the law – the county council needs to get them fixed, otherwise we will continue to be human bollards.”
The county council has said new rising bollards have now be installed with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and CCTV cameras installed in five sites, including on Turl Street, Oriel Square, Cornmarket, Broad Street, and Aristotle Lane.
However, it needs to install a new broadband connection for the ANPR camera and CCTV to work so emergency vehicles and residents can get through the bollards without delay, as well as ensuring the bollards are lifted up safely.
A spokesperson said: “ The systems need a robust broadband system to work coherently together.
“The council is testing the available internet bandwidth over the next two weeks to ensure that we are addressing the correct issue.
“If new broadband connections are required, we will order this immediately after testing is complete. At the same time, motorists must obey all signs and refrain from driving into prohibited areas at specified times. Failure to do so may result in police enforcement.”