Westminster Council has unveiled plans to part-pedestrianise Oxford Street to create two piazzas either side of Oxford Circus, diverting all motor and cycle traffic north into the side streets of Fitzrovia and Marylebone, before the end of the year.
The council plans to implement an experimental traffic order (ETO) this July to close Oxford Street to the east of Oxford Circus as far as Great Portland Street, and to the west as far as John Princes Street. It plans to complete the initial work by November.
The details of the Oxford Street District scheme are published in a 38-page booklet presented by Cllr Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster Council, and Dan Labbard, chief executive of the Crown Estate.
“We hope the creation of these pedestrian-only piazzas at Oxford Circus will not only improve safety, security, accessibility but also create an iconic destination at the heart of London,” says Robathan.
In the scheme buses, taxis and cycles travelling east and west will be diverted north through side streets and along Margaret Street and Great Castle Street. The plans also show temporary bus routes along Mortimer Street and Wigmore Street.
Westminster will also make the current one-way stretch of Mortimer Street two-way and will change Berners Street making it northbound only for its entire length and reverse the direction of Newman Street making it one-way southbound only. Great Titchfield Street will also change from one-way southbound to northbound between Mortimer Street and Margaret Street. The traffic islands will be removed at the junctions of Great Titchfield Street and Mortimer Street, Great Portland Street and Mortimer Street, and at Berners Street and Eastcastle Street. Pavements will be widened at the junctions.
There are also a number of changes to the traffic directions around Cavendish Square and the junction of Regent Street and Mortimer Street.
However, despite Westminster saying there will be improvements for cyclists there are no plans to create protected cycling infrastructure nor any mention of “active travel” in the 38 page document published by the council.
The work will be done on a temporary basis for six months to trial the various traffic changes. Westminster says during the trial it “will carefully consider input from residents, businesses and other stakeholders, making any improvements and adjustments necessary”.
Westminster then intends to make the changes permanent and make “district-wide improvements, including wider footways, additional greening and a consistent and welcoming street environment, improved safety and security, improved air quality, traffic impacts fully managed and mitigated”.
However it has not stated how the inevitable displacement of motor traffic into Marylebone and Fitzrovia will be mitigated or how it will improve conditions to enable more cycling. Westminster has so far not released any traffic modelling with its plans.
Westminster say the scheme is linked with its “Greenways” project, “which is designed to improve the experience of cyclists across the Oxford Street District and in the borough”. However, there is very little information available about the Greenways and plans we have seen show the routes to be well to the north of Oxford Street and follow indirect and circuitous routes through backstreets.
In the long term, Transport for London has plans to create two new entrances to Oxford Circus station on the piazzas. The Crown Estate also has plans to pedestrianise Regent Street.
The Labour Party group on Westminster Council has criticised the Oxford Street plans because its “rushed implementation and lack of consultation” may lead to more taxis, delivery vans and other vehicles using the residential streets north and south of Oxford Street.
“By pedestrianising Oxford Street from John Prince’s Street, next to the John Lewis store, for 150 metres all the way to Great Portland Street, vehicles will have to take a detour through the side streets to get to the other side of Oxford Circus,” they say.
“Many drivers will decide to take alternative routes through the streets north and south Oxford Street to avoid the inevitable traffic jams. Taxi drivers and white van delivery drivers will want to avoid the route around Oxford Circus and will soon find quicker routes through the residential streets of Marylebone, Fitzrovia, Mayfair and Soho.
“In addition, it is proposed that bus routes will be re-routed in a circuitous way around the Oxford Circus Piazza. This threatens to displace congestion and air pollution to neighbouring residential streets and cause delays to bus travellers,” said the Labour group.
Councillor Pancho Lewis, Labour Councillor West End Ward, said:
“We have urged the City Council to fully consult with residents before starting on roadworks to implement these part-pedestrianisation plans.
“We repeat our call to the Council to put community engagement at the forefront of plans for Oxford Street, including the Oxford Circus Piazza. Those who live and work in the area are the ones who will be most greatly affected by these plans and it is very important that they are properly consulted before changes are implemented that could have a significant impact on their lives,” he said.
Fitzrovia News has asked Westminster Council for more information including details of traffic modelling, proposed cycling infrastructure, and possible measures to prevent increased through motor traffic in the surrounding areas.
More information and public consultation: Westminster City Council, Oxford Circus plans.
Editorial note: this article was updated on 10 July with a link to the Oxford Street District Experimental Traffic Order; and again on 1 October with to add the Oxford Street District brochure published June 2021.