Westminster’s Oxford Street area plan too weak

After rejecting Mayor Sadiq Khan’s plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street, Westminster Council pledged to present plans later this year, stating that “doing nothing to improve the area is not an option”. 

On Wednesday, they finally released their vision for the area. But their strategy amounts to little more than a collection of potential schemes that are wholly inadequate in addressing the primary issue facing Oxford Street, the west end and indeed central London – too much motor vehicle traffic.

The proposed measures to reduce or curb unnecessary motor vehicle journeys are insufficient to deliver the scale of improvements that cramped pedestrians, struggling businesses, cyclists facing road danger and residents suffering illegally poor air quality deserve. Westminster Council is proposing spending at least £150 million on a do as little as possible option.

Most tellingly, the key recommendations to reduce motor traffic include vague statements such as “encouraging use of public transport, walking and cycling” and to “improve and address existing traffic congestion issues on the surrounding road network to provide less incentive for rat-running”. Such blandishments alone will do little to actually reduce motor traffic volumes. “Encouraging” more people to walk, cycle and use public transport, without meaningful reductions in the dangers presented by an excess of motor vehicles is an approach proven to fail. And the latter recommendation, also known as “smoothing traffic flow” is actually likely to increase motor traffic volumes, given evidence around “induced demand” and “traffic evaporation”.

Westminster is only giving lip-service to measures such as traffic restrictions, modal filters, 20mph and lower speed limits. This strategy gives no commitment to actually use these tools to the extent needed to effect genuinely transformative reductions in motor traffic speeds and volumes. Contrast this with the bold and ambitious transport strategy, just published by the City. Westminster’s leadership could learn a lot from their neighbours.

Pollution, congestion and road danger threaten Oxford Street’s position as a world-class destination. These plans show a complete lack of ambition from Westminster Council to stop the rot. Residents, businesses and all of London deserve much better.