Oxford Street - what about cycling?

TfL, the Mayor of London and Westminster Council have announced a new consultation to consider broad options and issues over the removal of motor traffic from Oxford Street. The good news, in other words, is most motor vehicles should be set to come off Oxford Street - this should mean a hugely improved and iconic new look to our busiest shopping street. The bad news? There's a lot of unknowns and a lot of complexity to the issue.

"We want to create a better environment, address poor air quality, support its cultural heartland and thriving business district and deliver improved neighbourhoods," say the key agencies involved.

LCC will be publishing its proposed consultation response and take on the scheme, the idea and the ways forward after we hear from you, the cycling community, here.

Comments there, alongside input from Westminster Cycling Campaign and our infrastructure experts will form the basis for our response. So you probably want to wait for that response, or feed into the comment thread, before you send in your response. But below is a flavour of our initial thoughts:

  • We're working on this, as with many initiatives increasingly, alongside Living Streets - who we're delighted persuaded the Mayor to adopt the idea as part of his election manifesto. We believe it's vital this scheme delivers a far better space for people walking, as well as making sure cycling through the area is far safer and better too.

  • The key issue is there is a big desire to cycle east-west in the area. Just to the east, cycle flows go through the roof on what's been dubbed the "Clerkenwell Boulevard", but they dissipate to almost zero by the time they hit Oxford Street. That indicates even current, hardened commuters who brave Clerkenwell and Theobalds Road avoid Oxford Street - it's slow, polluted and nasty. Instead, many weave through Soho and Bloomsbury or go north or south - to Brook Street, Wigmore Street, even New Cavendish Street etc.

  • Given this desire line, we believe it's vital there is a high-quality, direct east-west route through the area. It doesn't have to be Oxford Street itself (see below for why we might not want it to be), but it has to be near and good. Because if cycling isn't designed in on Oxford Street, but also not provided for elsewhere, many current riders will divert onto Oxford Street anyway - risking designing in aggressive encounters between pedestrians and cyclists. Whichever alternatives are looked at will involve putting some noses out of joint - Brook Street (and Soho to the east, but excluded from this consultation) for instance would need a route not clogged constantly with cabs; Wigmore Street would need segregated tracks likely precluding using it as a bus alternative to Oxford Street.

  • What about Oxford Street itself? Well, many European shopping streets manage to combine cycle areas or tracks down the middle with pedestrians at the edge. And it may well be that if deliveries at night can't be shifted from Oxford Street to back and side streets, then there'll be some sort of carriageway left anyway. But on the other hand, pedestrian numbers with removal of motor vehicle traffic and Crossrail arriving, are due to go up much higher than ever (and may even remain higher at night too) - far higher than just about any other European shopping street. So it may be better to truly radically change Oxford Street to enable people to meander and amble, even sit and relax - rather than replace a wall of buses and taxis with a wall of cycle commuters (which will be most problematic in the evening rush hour). And that's not to mention pedicabs - who could easily replace taxis on the street as an issue.

  • Whatever plan does move forward, it's also going to be vital to think of the street holistically in several ways. Firstly, the current consultation only runs from near Marble Arch to Oxford Circus. Whatever solution is decided on here has to work for the entire length - the last thing we want is to be routed onto Oxford Street for one section, then north for another, and south for a third. Also, whatever solution works for Oxford Street, there should be serious thought now applied to the transport issues in the entire area. How might the scheme work with other cycling and walking schemes in the area (CS11, Baker Street, Gloucester Place, Bond Street, Central London Grid, Tottenham Court Road, Gower Street etc.)? Is now the time to look at removing through traffic from Soho again? What is to be done about those high cycling flows just to the east? And is there potential to link to Hyde Park and the East-West extension to the west?

  • Of course we also have to plan for cycling to grow with not just more fit, fast and confident commuters, but cyclists of all ages and abilities through and to the area. We want families to be able to shop on Oxford Street, arriving by bike. So it's not just east-west commuter links that need considering, but north-south access points, where cycle parking should go, and how shops and businesses above can use improved cycling infrastructure too.

Do chip in with your thoughts and comments here and help us make the best response for people who already cycle in the area and for those who wouldn't currently.