When Sadiq Khan was elected London Mayor in 2016, he pledged to turn Oxford Street into a traffic-free zone by 2020. More than four million people visit London’s most famous shopping street every week – a figure expected to rise when the Elizabeth Line opens in late 2018. But concerns about air pollution have led to calls for a complete ban on traffic, including buses and taxis, between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road.
How realistic is the scheme? And what would be the knock-on effect on the surrounding area of diverting traffic from Oxford Street?
The current plan is to pedestrianise Oxford Street in two phases, starting with the eastern end, between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. Transport for London (tfl.gov.uk) has put the matter out to consultation, and that consultation phase will end this Sunday June 18, so there are only a few days remaining for Londoners to give careful thought to the issues involved.
Not surprisingly, there have been strong differences of opinion about the best, most practical way to keep traffic flowing through central London, while at the same time maintaining and enhancing the status of Oxford Street as a magnet for shoppers.
Val Shawcross, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, believes that the first phase of the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street will help turn the street into “one of the finest public spaces in the world” and that, given current levels of air pollution, the scheme represents “a huge opportunity to make the street cleaner and safer for the millions of people who use it every year.”
Yet there has been scepticism in other quarters, including Better Oxford Street, a not-for profit organisation supported by the Marylebone Association and other local neighbourhood groups.
“Pedestrianisation is being presented as a win-win scenario with no mention of what would happen to all the displaced traffic,” says Michael Bolt, deputy chairman of the Marylebone Association. “But this is very misleading. On present projections, some 60 to 75 buses an hour, not to mention taxis and commercial vehicles, will have to find their way through already congested streets. The Mayor is showing a callous disregard for the very many people who live and work in the area surrounding Oxford Street.”
The issues are quite finely balanced, but our view is that until we are presented with clear evidence to the contrary, pedestrianising Oxford Street is just likely to shift the problem to other streets in the neighbourhood.
It is one thing to pedestrianise a minor thoroughfare such as Carnaby Street, or create a piazza-like retail space such as Covent Garden, but Oxford Street is a long, arterial road which does not easily lend itself to pedestrianisation. We hope that, at the very least, the consultation process will highlight the fact that the TfL scheme, however laudable in principle, should not be given the green light until more thought has been given to its ramifications.
• For more information on the potential pitfuls of Pedestrianisation and details of how to make your views known to TFL before it’s too late, visit http://betteroxfordstreet.org/consultation