London's Oxford Street may go pedestrian only

Oxford Street Dancers
© Transport for London proposal for Oxford Street

But should bikes be banned too? Or is that "an unqualified disaster for cycling in London"?

London's Oxford Street is a horror show, particularly at this time of year. Even though private cars are not allowed there, the two lanes are filled with taxis and buses.

Oxford Street with busOxford Street in November/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But the sidewalks are so crowded that you cannot move; you just get stuck in the flow. Half a million people walk it every day. And it is likely going to get worse with a new Crossrail subway line opening, bringing in as many as 150,000 more people per day.

Aerial view Oxford Street© Transport for London proposal for Oxford Street

Now Transport for London (TfL) is planning to turn it pedestrian-only. TfL explains:

Transformation gives us an opportunity to address the very poor air quality in the area, and reduce the number of collisions on Oxford Street in which people are hurt. It would give us the opportunity to create a network of truly world-class and inspiring public spaces, in which businesses could thrive and grow. It would deliver investment for transformational improvements to the entire area.

Oxford Street at night after© Oxford street at night after transformation

But there is a problem; it will also be closed to cyclists. According to TfL, they will beef up parallel routes, but former cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan doesn't think that's possible. He worries that banning bikes "is an unqualified disaster for cycling in London, perhaps the single biggest blow it has suffered in years." He writes in the Guardian that there are no alternatives to Oxford Street for cyclists.

Oxford street nowOxford Street at night before transformation/CC BY 2.0

What will almost certainly happen, therefore, is that large numbers of cyclists will ignore the ban. Oxford Street will become London’s biggest unofficial example of the notorious failure that is “shared space”. That won’t be good for pedestrians, or for the image of cycling. There will be near-misses or worse, arrests, fines, stories in the Daily Mail. For the avoidance of doubt, I do not approve of anyone disobeying the rules. But it’s what happens when you make proposals for a road that totally ignore one of its main user groups.

He wants to see "a clearly-defined and separated cycle track that lets both pedestrians and cyclists know where they’re supposed to be."

Oxford Street playground© Transport for London proposal for Oxford Street

Sustrans, a charity promoting walking and cycling, doesn't support banning bikes either unless there are safe parallel alternative routes.

We strongly support the use of cycling as a mobility aid, allowing all Londoners -- regardless of age or ability -- to enjoy the independence and freedom that many of us take for granted. Any further impediment -- such as the proposed ban -- is cause for concern.

Danes shoppingLloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This is a tough one. Oxford Street is a lot more crowded than Copenhagen's car-free streets, but riding bikes is prohibited there. You do see a lot of people pushing bikes and a few people riding them illegally, which is in fact pretty scary for the people walking.

walking in bike lane© Bike Snob NYC

Andrew Gilligan wants to see defined and separated bike lanes, but they have those in New York City and they are full of people around Times Square and here on 8th Avenue; and Oxford Street makes Times Square look like an open field.

Sustrans told TfL:

Without a high-quality parallel route or alternative cycling routes, the transformation would risk displacing vehicles from Oxford Street on to surrounding streets and, with it, increasing road danger for cyclists elsewhere in the district. A restriction alone would suppress cycling rather than support it. There is huge potential for growth in cycling, benefiting the environment, health and wellbeing. London needs fewer barriers to cycling, not more.

skycycle© Foster and Partners

This is going to be a really tough problem to solve. Perhaps they should hire Lord Foster and put a bike lane in the sky over Oxford Street.

Tags: Bike-Friendly World | Bikes | London

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