Westminster’s wishy-washy Oxford Street scheme lurches forward

LCC statement on Westminster’s plans for Oxford Street

Westminster council has, in approving spending £150 million over three years on its Oxford Street district plans, once more sought to avoid properly planning to reduce motor traffic, or for walking, cycling and healthier, more active modes of travel.

The vague plans offer no clarity as to how many of the motor vehicles blighting the entire district will be removed, where, over what hours of the day, or how the rise in pedestrian levels associated with the Elizabeth line will be catered for, much less how even those who currently cycling in this infamously anti-cycling borough will be protected, or how the potential for more people to cycle will be unlocked.

Cllr Richard Beddoe of Westminster told The Evening Standard “we’d never play fast and loose with the safety of anyone”. But these vague plans look set to play fast and loose with the safety of everyone – particularly the most vulnerable on the borough’s roads.

The same approach is being repeated, right now, with Westminster’s plans for The Strand and Aldwych, which leave those cycling a horrible choice between cutting through pedestrian “shared space” or braving hostile and dangerous traffic.

Westminster approves draft Oxford Street plans

Westminster Council’s cabinet have approved draft plans to spruce up Oxford Street and the surrounding district after the pro-car borough rejected TfL and the Mayor’s plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street.

The approved plans will see the council spending £150 million of its own money across the next three years, without any addition funding coming from the Mayor of London or Transport for London. But what will the money be spent on?

Anyone who knows is keeping schtum. The strategy proposes “97 projects across 88 streets… across nine zones.” But while we know what many of these projects might look like – Westminster has not yet revealed full proposals for any projects, just vague aspirational ideas.

For instance, their much-heralded twin plazas around Oxford Street station are detailed as follows: “In very busy areas where the widening and decluttering of footways will not fully address safety problems, we will *consider* restriction or removal of traffic at appropriate times.” [emphasis our own]. Similarly sections around Bond Street and near Tottenham Court Road’s Crossrail exits would be “considered for a high level of pedestrian priority.”

What exact level of priority, how many vehicles and at what times would be allowed through the new plazas (note in Westminster’s visualisation, there is still a road through both plazas) and other questions remain totally unanswered. Westminster told The Evening Standard even during “critical times of the day”, buses wouldn’t be gone from the street necessarily – they’d just be “fewer and slower” (that’s a 20mph, not 30mph, limit apparently).

Westminster vs Sadiq

Westminster’s plans are the latest in a long line of moves to prioritise motor cars above everything, do fairly little for walking and absolutely nothing ever for cycling. See their current proposals for The Strand and Aldwych for a recent example.

The Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been scathing thus far about Westminster’s alternative plan to fully pedestrianise the iconic shopping street, which they have blocked. Khan has called them, thus far: “sketchy”, “underwhelming”, and suggests the plans would leave Oxford Street “one of the most dangerous in London” and “polluted, congested and dangerous” with risks from remaining traffic and crowded pavements, as well as “hostile vehicle” terrorist attacks.

Cllr Richard Beddoe, Westminster, responded: “We’d never play fast and loose with the safety of anyone.” Which is an odd comment for such a motoring-obsessed borough, which has, for instance, blocked improvements at Swiss Cottage gyratory and Lambeth Bridge North roundabout – dubbed the most dangerous roundabout for cycling in the UK.

The Oxford Street District projects are now due to go into design development, stakeholder engagement and traffic modelling, with construction on first projects due to begin in the autumn.

Westminster’s consultation, which was responded to by over 1,800 people, saw significant support for removing motor traffic from all of Oxford Street and reducing it across the entire district, and for a better deal for those walking and cycling than on the table currently; also significant concerns around the schemes displacing traffic into residential streets nearby. Once again, Westminster Council removed from the main consultation response analysis many of those who cycle, and who used LCC’s suggested responses.

Needless to say, LCC opposed the current Westminster proposals. Our full consultation response can be seen here and quotes and blogs from the original launch of the proposals here.