Let’s not beat around the bush on this one: Oxford Street is horrible. London’s primary commercial artery is a solid wall of buses and taxis, all bathing in a sea of nitrogen oxides. Despite this, in an obvious sign that the only thing Londoners hate more than other people is themselves, it’s still the busiest shopping street in Europe, receiving more than 4m visitors every week.
Dreamers have long talked about pedestrianising the street, but the city authorities have shied away from it on the grounds that it’d be quite hard. The difficulty is those buses: a couple of dozen routes serve Oxford Street for all or part of its length, and pedestrianisation would mean radical reforms to the West End’s bus network.
Today, though, Transport for London has said, in effect: screw it, we’re doing it anyway.
Click to expand.
The first stage of the scheme is intended to happen as soon as December next year. That’ll close most of the western half of the road, between Oxford Circus and Orchard Street, to vehicles, creating what the mayor Sadiq Khan described as a “traffic-free pedestrian boulevard”. The road surface will be raised, to match the pavements; there’s talk of an 800m long work of public art to make the street pretty, too.
A year after that, the stretch east from Oxford Circus towards Tottenham Court Road station should follow. The westernmost section, a couple of blocks from Orchard Street to Marble Arch, is pencilled in for “post-2020” – that sounds vague enough that I suspect there’s still a subtext of “maybe” there, but we shall see.
The scheme has been timed to coincide with the arrival of the Elizabeth line. The artist formally known as Crossrail will run beneath Oxford Street, with hugely expanded stations at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road. That’ll free up space on the Central line – which, in turn, will hopefully mean less demand for east-west travel by road.
All the same, though, there are those bus routes to contend with. TfL claimed in 2012 that they carry around 220,000 people down Oxford Street every day, and there’s no easy alternative route – no roomy parallel street they can all simply be diverted down. So what exactly is the plan?
TfL has actually been quietly reforming its bus network in preparation for this scheme for some time. Earlier this year, two routes (6 & 13) were diverted south via Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner. Several others (73, 137, 189) were curtailed, so that they terminate at either Oxford Circus or Marble Arch.
But that still leaves nine different routes serving the affected section. Here’s a map:
Click to expand. Image: TfL.
Dealing with those will mean, well, more of the same strategy. Five of the routes will be curtailed at Marble Arch.
Two more (10 & 23) will be scrapped altogether, and replaced with a new route, currently unnumbered, which connects their western sections – to Hammersmith and Westbourne Park respectively – via Edgware Road. (The eastern sections of both routes consist of central London roads well served by other routes.)
That leaves just two routes – the 139 and the 390 – to be re-routed via a parallel route of Wigmore Street and Henrietta Place. The thinking is that such back streets might struggle with nine routes, but they can cope with two.
Here’s a map of the final, reformed bus network:
Click to expand. Image: TfL.
This is only the western section, of course: the eastern half of Oxford Street will require similar efforts a year later. These reforms will also turn Marble Arch into quite the bus station.
But they should also make Oxford Street a much more pleasant place to be, on the whole, so: cool.
TfL is consulting on these plans until Sunday 17 December. If you have strong opinions, you can tell someone here.
Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.
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