Mayor and TfL launch broadsides at Westminster

At the same time as the Mayor of London released his full letter to Cllr Nickie Aiken, leader of Westminster Council, Transport for London (TfL) have published its consultation report on the Oxford Street scheme. Both documents make clear the fury London’s Mayor has for the actions of Westminster Council leaders in taking Oxford Streets pedestrianisation plans “off the table”.

Alongside our partners at Living Streets, we fully support the Mayor’s moves to tackle Westminster’s decision here. As Joe Irvin, Living Streets, says: “something must be done and soon, before a dire situation becomes worse”.

The decision to halt the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, and then to call a Judicial Review on Cycle Superhighway 11 has harmed flagship active travel projects in the Heart of London, and we are pleased to see that the Mayor isn’t taking this lightly.

The Mayor writes to Westminster

From the letter, Khan writes: “You made this decision unilaterally with no attempt to compromise. This is not partnership working and is at odds with the development of the proposals over the last two years”.

Resident concerns about displaced traffic into surrounding areas (see below for TfL’s consultation data and response to this) are dismissed: “our joint work showed that the concerns about traffic displacement would not have materialised and my team were willing to discuss changes to our proposals that still delivered a transformed district,” writes Khan.

The Mayor writes that the core concerns any scheme must answer are:

  • visitor experience
  • economy (“the West End is home to 100,000 jobs and generates income to the Treasury upwards of £2bn per annum”)
  • air quality
  • crowding (due to the Elizabeth line “Bond Street station alone is expected to see 70,000 more entries and exits each day”)
  • road danger (“on average one person is killed and 60 people are injured in road traffic incidents each year” on Oxford Street)
  • protection of the public (“our proposals included measures to protect the significant numbers of people using Oxford Street, including from attacks using vehicles”).

The Mayor not only says any scheme must deal with these issues, but that funds won’t be forthcoming from TfL for anything other than a full scheme: “I will only be willing to commit funds to proposals that meet the challenges outlined and deliver what is needed… I have already invested more than £8m in good faith in this project. I note that your Cabinet report proposes to use a further £400,000 of TfL Local Implementation Plan (LIP) funding to develop what would seem to be a draft strategy for the area, without in fact delivering anything on street. I note there has been no prior discussion with TfL about the proposed use of these funds… given the extensive funding already spent on design, no TfL funding of any sort is to be used without prior discussion and agreement.”

Finally the Mayor says he expects Westminster to reveal plans by “the end of September”: “I believe this is a reasonable timescale for you to assess your options and there is a need to move quickly in the context of existing safety risks and the Elizabeth line’s full opening in December 2019.”

From TfL’s consultation report

The last consultation saw over 22,000 responses (including over 7,000 in bulk from Living Streets in support and over 600 in bulk from Better Oxford Street in opposition). Of the individual responses 64% said they either supported the scheme or supported it with “some concerns”.

Westminster’s leadership has attacked the scheme because they say most residents opposed the scheme. But only half of respondents who tagged themselves as “local residents” opposed – while 49% supported (including with “some concerns”). Of those who identified as businesses, 68% opposed (however the vast bulk of large businesses locally do appear to support it), but local employees and visitors were strongly in favour.

In other words, the scheme was overall supported by Londoners, even by Westminster residents it would seem, albeit with many raising significant concerns about specific elements of the scheme. LCC of course raised many issues – most notably the lack of detail or commitment to real quality for parallel routes, alongside the banning of all cycling – including disabled cyclists – from the street.

In response to the primary issues raised, TfL say they are not considering a “blue badge” scheme for disabled cyclists to be allowed on the street, and instead cycle parking would have been available “as close to Oxford Street as possible”.

TfL also refutes the idea that traffic would be heavily displaced into nearby areas such as Soho, Mayfair, Fitzrovia – one of the key concerns listed by those most against the scheme, and with most sway, it seems, with Westminster’s leaders. TfL’s view: “we do not believe that the transformation of Oxford Street West would have led to a general negative impact on the surrounding area. We know for example that across 78 selected locations, there would have been more significant beneficial air quality impacts than negative impacts. Our traffic modelling showed that our proposals would not increase traffic congestion in surrounding areas, and the majority of road trips would be unaffected.”

Both in terms of cycle routes going forward and “low traffic neighbourhood” approaches for the areas around Oxford Street being demanded by residents, TfL says this is now effectively Westminster’s concern: “The neighbourhoods around Oxford Street are part of the highway network, but could be looked at in terms of reducing through traffic, as other boroughs have done. The project introduced some changes that would have encouraged through traffic to remain on main roads. It would now be for Westminster to bring forward any area changes… we were developing proposals to introduce a network of high quality alternative cycling routes, that would link to the current and future cycling network… These will now be the subject of discussion with Westminster to see what proposals they would want to support to consultation.”

Finally, a cycle track along Oxford Street is still off the table, apparently: “A segregated cycle track that operates for part of the day, when pedestrian flows are lower, could be confusing, would be difficult to enforce and might act as a barrier for those pedestrians moving between shops on opposing sides of the road.” However, with businesses and residents pushing for delivery access, and TfL clearly not writing that off, whatever scheme comes forward we will continue to push for a high-quality cycling route – parallel or along Oxford Street, depending on the approach.