With Londons roadspace seemingly ever-shrinking, the latest thoroughfare to come under scrutiny is Europes most iconic shopping area, Oxford Street.
Under plans being considered by Westminster Council, buses would be re-routed to roads north of Oxford Street. This will then enable a public piazza to be created to the east and west of Oxford Circus.
Although Westminster Council have recognised the important role that taxis play in having accessible transport for the mobility impaired, employees of local businesses, as well as being used by residents and visitors to the area and their role in supporting the night time economy. There would also be restrictions on taxis entering Oxford Street.
Westminster Council have said in their consultation that the volume of taxis within the Oxford Street area contributes to traffic congestion and air pollution. In particular, the act of circulating through the area to seek a fare results in a significant number of vehicle movements that are not transporting passengers, and this is not a desirable situation.
They went on to say that Oxford Street itself is often used as a through route by taxis into and out of the West End. This is preferable to alternative routes on residential side roads at some times of day, particularly late evening and overnight. However, during periods of peak pedestrian flow on Oxford Street the high number of taxi movements contributes to the congested, uncomfortable and hazardous street environment. Taxi ranks on Oxford Street take up space which during the busiest times of day, would be better utilised by pedestrians to address crowding issues.
However, the importance of taxi access to Oxford Street is recognised and therefore a balanced strategy is proposed.
Westminster Council laid out their list of proposals in the consultation which included:
• Reviewing current arrangements and provide taxi ranks of adequate capacity in
convenient locations for shoppers and other visitors to the district.
• Ensuring that proposed taxi rank locations are close to key locations and are easy to find with clear wayfinding from Oxford Street and the surrounding district.
• Ensuring that taxi access to critical locations (such as department stores and
other attractors) is maintained.
• Vehicle access, including taxis, potentially being restricted at specific
locations and at certain times of the day. The detail of any traffic restrictions that affect taxis will be carefully considered and only taken forward if it can be demonstrated that there will be no significant impact on nearby residential streets.
• Considering options for flexible taxi rank design which may allow rank locations to
be used for loading activity or as a footway at times of day when taxi use is low.
• Promoting the adoption of zero emission capable technology.
The council finally added: Providing an improved taxi rank arrangement for Oxford Street is a key objective. This should reduce the need for taxi drivers to circulate the area in search of a fare, as customers will be able to find taxis waiting at ranks more easily. Better
located ranks will assist with reducing traffic congestion and air pollution
Within the current plans, the section of Oxford Street in front of Selfridges, as well as the area around Bond Street station and between Soho Street and Tottenham Court Road are also being examined, with a view to making them a pedestrian priority area.
Other aspects of the current plans could see traffic restricted during prescribed hours.
In the initial outline from Westminster Council’s plan, fewer buses would operate in the busiest pedestrian areas.
Since road speed rarely exceed 15 mph, a reduction in the current speed limit could see Oxford Street's 30 mph speed limit drop to 20 mph.
The plans have been drawn up in preparation for the potential influx of visitors when Crossrail finally opens.
Westminster Council’s proposals, which have received between 66% and 75% backing from residents and businesses in the area would see Oxford Street narrowed to one lane in each direction to allow pavements to be widened.
Work on the project could start as soon as autumn of this year.
A spokesman for the Mayor stated that small cosmetic changes would mean Oxford Street will continue to be polluted, congested and dangerous.