Oxford Street, London’s (and Europe’s) busiest shopping street, will be pedestrianized by 2020, says the capital’s new mayor Sadiq Khan. Right now it is closed to private vehicles from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except Sundays, but taxis and buses still choke it to a standstill all day long.
The total traffic ban will eventually clear the entire 1.2-mile street, beginning with the eastern section between Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus. The ban will make Oxford Street “a far safer and more pleasant place to visit,” said the mayor’s office in a press statement.
Oxford Street crosses Regent Street in London’s West End, and although it’s not the geographical center of the city, it is its notional center. Oxford street is for shopping, and it gets so busy that some have suggested a fast lane on the sidewalk to let locals bypass slow-moving tourists and other dawdlers.
The street (which is home to the Selfridges department store. ) has seen other pedestrian-friendly changes in recent years. The busy crossroads at Oxford Circus was re-phased in 2009, stopping all traffic in all directions at once, to allow pedestrians to cross diagonally, instead of waiting twice to cross both Oxford Street and Regent Street. The street has also seen traffic-free shopping days since 2005.
The ban will be effective by 2020, and is part of the mayor’s plan to clean the capital’s filthy air, which is killing thousands every year. The mayor’s office has said that buses will be re-routed around the street, but gave no details as to where they may go. This highlights one of the biggest problems of getting traffic out of our cities—busy streets are usually busy for a reason. In this case, it’s because there’s no clear alternative to Oxford Street if you want to cut through London’s West End and get access to its shopping.
Cleaning London’s air is going to take a lot more than just banning traffic from a few central streets, but by giving the iconic Oxford Street back to the people, the mayor is sending a message that he’s serious about fixing things. And if you work around central London, it will make your life a lot better.
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