After years of discussions, the area around Oxford Street in London will become two pedestrian spaces. Work is scheduled to begin this year, and will include “significant improvements in public spaces,” as well as planting plants and adding benches in the shopping and leisure district, the Westminster borough council in the city announced yesterday (Wednesday).
Turning Oxford Street into a sidewalk has been under discussion for years, dating back to the 1980s. This is due to the poor air quality, congestion and much traffic in the area. Plans have often been delayed or changed due to difficulties in redirecting buses, concerns about increased travel times and potential losses to taxi drivers.
A design competition to be held this summer, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the professional body for architects in the UK, will help create the final plan for the project, while ensuring “world-class designs” and “value for money”, according to a Guardian publication.
The project team will work with the government agency Transport For London (TfL) to improve access to the prestigious subway station and prioritize pedestrians. Westminster Council said the new Elizabeth Railway line would bring in an additional 60 million pedestrians a year, and that 70 per cent of people would reach Oxford Street on the Tube.
Roads between Oxford and Great Portland Street to the east and roads between Oxford and John Princess Street to the west will be closed by means of experimental traffic orders. Traffic will be directed to Regent Street, across Oxford Street from north to south. The Westminster Council has announced that it will monitor and review the changes, taking into account criticism from residents, businesses and other stakeholders.
The changes are also intended to improve air quality in the area: the project is expected to reduce vehicle traffic in the area and improve the efficiency of bus traffic.
“Business as usual ‘approach will no longer work”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The borough has been hit hard by the Corona virus over the past 15 months. It is more important than ever to make our streets clean, greener and more attractive to attract visitors and support businesses.”
Westminster borough council chairman Rachel Robertson said: “There is an immediate need to address pedestrian congestion, safety issues, poor air quality and noise.” “The congestion on Oxford Street is unsustainable, and requires action. Following the epidemic and with the advent of the ‘Elizabeth’ electric train line, there is an opportunity and absolute need to build better. The ‘business as usual’ approach will no longer work.”
“We hope that the creation of these sidewalks will not only improve safety, security and accessibility, but will also create an iconic destination in the heart of London,” she added.
The plan will be phased out – by the end of 2021 there will be two pedestrian-only areas on either side of Oxford Street, and the second phase, in which public space will be renovated, will begin in spring 2022. Per year and employed 155,000 workers before the plague.