Oxford Street: is Sadiq saying "no" to cycling?

More detailed plans for the "transformation" of Oxford Street have been announced this morning by the Mayor Sadiq Khan, his transport deputy Val Shawcross and the deputy leader of Westminster Council, Cllr Robert Davis. The good news is the plans propose the removal of all motor traffic from the street – likely 24 hours a day (although we understand that this is being opposed in some powerful quarters). The bad news? They are still not sure what will happen to people travelling through the area on bikes. 

What’s been announced?

"Cycling will not be allowed on Oxford Street West, because of the high volume of pedestrians, and cyclists will be asked to dismount and wheel their bikes through the space." 

Removing motor traffic on Oxford Street is a bold reallocation of space from motor vehicles to people, and something that LCC supports. It’s an area with some of the highest levels of air pollution in London, and the prediction is that once the new Elizabeth Line opens, there will be incredibly high pedestrian numbers in the area. 

However, creating a space that would work brilliantly for pedestrians and cyclists was always going to be tricky. We’ve always stated that we are open to suggestions on how to make this work, and it looks increasingly like that will involve a high-quality, parallel route for cyclists.

Banning cycling entirely from the route, however, throws up a lot of questions. Such as, if there is a high-quality parallel route, how easily will cyclists be able to move north-south across Oxford Street if cycling is banned? And what happens to those who use their cycles as a mobility aid? And how much more cycle parking will be provided for those accessing the Street by cycling ? We also haven’t seen plans for the high-quality parallel routes yet – if this doesn’t provide protected space for cycling, where will the cyclsits go?

Before we could even consider accepting a cycling ban along Oxford street, we’d need decent answers to all these questions. 

Parallel provision

Among the questions above, the one of parallel provision is the most pressing. Many cyclists already ride along parallel routes to Oxford Street – it's a key cycling desire line. But most avoid Oxford Street due to the current, horrific, cycling conditions. At the moment, we won’t have any proposals for what the ‘high-quality’ parallel routes might look like until Summer next year.

The next Oxford Street consultation should reveal detailed designs of cycle routes parallel to Oxford Street. It's vital these routes are more enticing than a pedestrianised Oxford Street to those cycling – they need to be nearby, not wiggle too much, and be either on genuinely quiet routes or provide full, separate space for cycling. 

It is absolutely imperative cycle routes parallel to Oxford Street are of the highest quality possible. Because if they aren't, there will be significant numbers of people who'll likely choose to cycle on a pedestrianised Oxford Street – ban or not.

However, physically-protected cycle routes would be a major shift in emphasis for Westminster Council – who currently seem to view physically-protected space for cycling as beyond the pale anywhere. So we need to ensure that the Mayor, TfL and Westminster Council understand that while we support the removal of motor vehicle traffic on Oxford Street, they will be designing in conflict between people on foot and people those cycling if they fail to provide nearby, multiple and truly high-quality parallel cycling routes. If there aren't truly high-quality parallel cycling routes nearby, the scheme risks making cycling - that already is horrible in the whole area - worse. And we can't accept that.

Area-wide strategy

One of the key issues that the current consultation and indeed the Mayor, TfL and Westminster Council seem to be failing to fully grasp is the area-wide effects of proposals like this. Plans this big won’t just impact on the road in question, but all the roads around it.

The impact of not having a through cycling route on Oxford Street itself is reduced if parallel provision is genuinely high-quality routes that people of all ages and abilities feel safe cycling on. But those routes are jeopordised by failing to consider fully the traffic likely to displaced from Oxford Street. And not looking at the area-wide implications will affect levels of support for the scheme among powerful residents groups in the area, and misses huge opportunities to deliver much-needed improvements across the area. 

Looking at area-wide effects would mean facing up to issues caused by taxis and private hire - that make up the majority of motor traffic in the wider west end. And if Oxford Street is closed 24/7 to motor vehicles, Soho, Marylebone and beyond must be urgently considered not just to enable taxi access, as the current consultation seems set on, but also to discourage excess numbers and reduce traffic on most roads - likely by closing some smaller roads to through traffic "mini-Holland" style. This will be vital to ensure cycling east-west, north-south and to and from these areas is better, not worse.

Watch this space

We'll continure to work with Living Streets, whose position on the lastest consultation you can see here, to push for a solution for pedestrians and cyclists on Oxford Street.

We'll also be working up a suggested response to the Oxford Street consultation soon. Please contribute to the Cyclescape thread on this consultation here for now.