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Will Norman suggests cycle infrastructure on parallel routes may be a better solution

Will Norman, London’s cycling and walking commissioner, says that bicycles could be banned from Oxford Street once it has been pedestrianised. 

In his election manifesto last year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan promised to pedestrianise Oxford Street, with a public consultation on his proposals due to be unveiled shortly.

Appearing before the London Assembly's transport committee at  City Hall, Norman said that cyclists could be banned from the busy thoroughfare altogether, with infrastructure instead provided on nearby streets.

You can watch the webcast of the hearing here - skip forward to 32 minutes 30 seconds for it to begin.

With some 270 buses an hour using Oxford Street, according to the London Evening Standard, many cyclists choose to avoid it and instead ride along parallel routes, particularly to the north through Fitzrovia and Marylebone.

Regarding a potential ban, Norman, who took up his post in February, explained: “It’s something we are looking at very carefully in terms of what are the options here.

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“Whatever happens, whether they go down Oxford Street or not, it’s really important we provide additional safer routes for access to Oxford Street and that area.

“In Oxford Street in the morning peak there are about 200 cyclists per hour. In Wigmore Street, slightly to the north, there are about the same number per hour, and again on New Cavendish Street and George Street.

"As a combination, they begin to add up, so it’s very important we do look at the cycling facilities in that area as part of that scheme.

“Whether they go down Oxford Street or alternative routes, that is why we do need to do a consultation and understand what the needs are of local residents and other stakeholders.”

Despite its wide pavements, Oxford Street can often be difficult to negotiate on foot and progress can be slow through locations such as Oxford Circus due to a combination of commuters, shoppers and tourists.

The opening of Crossrail in December next year is expected to exacerbate the problem, between 50,000 and 80,000 additional pedestrians forecast to arrive in Oxford Street each day.

For cycle commuters heading to and from the City from Bayswater and beyond, Oxford Street would form part of a natural axis across town from Theobald’s Road – hugely popular with cyclists – or Holborn.

But London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk told the Standard that while cyclists would continue from there onto New Oxford Street, they choose not to ride on Oxford Street itself.

“What is really clear is that cyclists are doing everything they can to avoid Oxford Street at the moment,” he said.

“It’s so horrifically unpleasant. But the desire is there. It’s very clear there has to be a really high-quality east-west route.

“At the moment, pedestrians are also getting a really raw deal,” he added.

Liberal Democrat politician Caroline Pidgeon, who chairs the London Assembly transport committee, said she believed Norman’s view was “the right approach” and that any scheme for Oxford Street needed to put pedestrians first.

"Improving pedestrianisation of Oxford Street must definitely include proposals to improve cycling provision in the area, however the case for allowing cyclists on a pedestrianised Oxford Street itself does pose some challenges,” she said.

"It should be looked at, but it might just not be possible to deliver and neighbouring streets may be a better alternative.”

She added: “The number one priority must be to meet the needs of pedestrians of all ages, who must be able to walk down Oxford Street in comfort and safety.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

18 comments

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wycombewheeler [1199 posts] 5 months ago
12 likes

probably for the best pedestrians on oxford street step out without looking, remove buses and taxis and you might as well try and ride through a shopping centre.

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Stratman [92 posts] 5 months ago
5 likes

Entirely agree with WW, I visit London most weeks, and cycle from St Pancras to Bond St, never along Oxford St as it is so horrible.  The two parallel routes are better, I use both, and a solution like the lanes near Tavistock would be great 

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davel [1676 posts] 5 months ago
4 likes

Will Norman: so many words to say precisely Fuck All.

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srchar [653 posts] 5 months ago
4 likes

Anyone with half a brain avoids Oxford Street like the plague no matter what their mode of transport.

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Rapha Nadal [602 posts] 5 months ago
1 like
srchar wrote:

Anyone with half a brain avoids Oxford Street like the plague no matter what their mode of transport.

Truth.

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nadsta [182 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

Total nightmare along Oxford St currently, I can't imagine a pedestrian only zone would improve the pavement retail zombie situation.

Shifting vehicles north or south will worsen the already squeezed road space on the adjacent streets for bikes.

The recent cycle lanes to the West at Lancaster Gate are clunky if serviceable, but need to continue through Holborn at least  The New Oxford St junction is cyclist hell, totally unfit for purpose and far better to use the empty streets by Gower St and the British museum, even if dodging tourists as they step out from behind the coach looking the wrong way. It's all ad hoc however. We all know about Tavistock Sq  

We need simple, clear & navigable infrastructure here.  I'm not normally a cycle lane advocate but this part of London desperately needs a fundamental cycling rethink. Shared/mixed use paths will not work here. But I think we will all have to compromise. 

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congokid [321 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

Oxford Street has never been a good street for cycling on - too much pollution, too many buses & taxis, too many traffic lights, too many pedestrians crossing or walking on it because the pavements can't cope with their numbers. Pedestrianisation won't make it any better for cycling on, but it will most certainly be safer and cleaner for everyone working and shopping there, which are the primary goals.

I've worked next to it for years but I've mostly avoided cycling on it and I never cycle there to shop. I even avoid walking there when I visit my client based across from Selfridges, preferring to use the calmer parallel routes.

However what I'd like to see is more and better provision for bike parking on all the side streets so that it can be an attractive destination if people wish to cycle there either for work or shopping.

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HowardR [135 posts] 5 months ago
2 likes

A bit of an aside but…. Some years ago the town I was living in at the time experimented with pedestrianizing its main shopping street on a Saturday – A great idea – except for…… the majority of people were so conditioned to the world of cars that they kept resolutely to the pavements, only stepping on to the empty road to cross it.

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CygnusX1 [527 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

This is, as WW and others have already stated, a Good Thing.

I would rather share space with particulate belching buses and beligerent taxi and uber drivers than with the particular breed of pedestrian you get on Oxford Street. 

At least the vehicular traffic is reasonably predictable in its level of beligerence, and therefore relatively safe to navigate through if you're defensive (not withstanding the fact that Oxford St is intersected by Regent St - a road frequented by hair stylists in borrowed Nissan Jukes who can't see a cyclist right in front of them, even after they have bounced off the bonnet).

Oxford Street shoppers/tourists on the other hand are predictable only in their unpredictability. Random direction changes, stopping suddenly, iphone zombies, selfie starlets, reluctant locals on a mission to get from A to B barging through, golf sale sandwich board slaves... Horrible place. Not somewhere anyone in their right mind would try to ride a bike.

  

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PaulCee52 [26 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
HowardR wrote:

A bit of an aside but…. Some years ago the town I was living in at the time experimented with pedestrianizing its main shopping street on a Saturday – A great idea – except for…… the majority of people were so conditioned to the world of cars that they kept resolutely to the pavements, only stepping on to the empty road to cross it.

Yes, I remember this in the Yorkshire market town where I used to work - narrow pavements and an empty road nobody could drive on, because it was blocked off with market stalls! 

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50kcommute [86 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

You probably don't need to ban cyclists as most would likely avoid as pointed out above.

It would be nice to have the option to cycle down there though - I'm thinking pre and post shopping hours in particular.... and of course cycling down at 2am with the Xmas lights on.

You don't always need a rule to get the desired result  1

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Jackson [373 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes

Genuine question, what's the best cycle route for getting from the City to Shepherd's Bush because currently I am going down Oxford St and it really is as awful as everyone has said.

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beezus fufoon [863 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
Jackson wrote:

Genuine question, what's the best cycle route for getting from the City to Shepherd's Bush because currently I am going down Oxford St and it really is as awful as everyone has said.

you could go down the strand - the mall - green park,  or shafestbury ave - picadilly, then through hyde park and the last bit on holland park ave. they're both unpleasant routes in places, but better than oxford st.

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ConcordeCX [431 posts] 5 months ago
0 likes
HowardR wrote:

A bit of an aside but…. Some years ago the town I was living in at the time experimented with pedestrianizing its main shopping street on a Saturday – A great idea – except for…… the majority of people were so conditioned to the world of cars that they kept resolutely to the pavements, only stepping on to the empty road to cross it.

wouldn't be a problem on Oxford Street. I worked there a long time ago, and sometimes there were police on every corner yelling through bullhorns at people to stay on the pavement.

 

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kie7077 [922 posts] 5 months ago
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Stratman wrote:

Entirely agree with WW, I visit London most weeks, and cycle from St Pancras to Bond St, never along Oxford St as it is so horrible.  The two parallel routes are better, I use both, and a solution like the lanes near Tavistock would be great 

The parrellel roads won't be better if they go ahead with these plans because they'll be stuffed full of buses and cabs, there will be nowhere left for cyclists to go, if they do put in cycle lanes they will be horribly cramped like the cycle lanes they've put in elsewhere.

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Innerlube [25 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

Cycled down it this week for first time in years. 270 buses an hour! Where are they going to go under the proposals? Major reconfiguration of bus routes too, presumably.

 

in reply to Jackson, I used to commute from Sheperds Bush to Bethnal Green. Eventually settled on a more northerly route. Sussex Gdns, Crawford St, Weymouth St. All very messy, and different routes on the return. Better than Oxford St though, which looking at a map is the only obvious east west route.

Think that now I would go with Beezus' suggestion through the park and on to the Strand. 

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P3t3 [413 posts] 5 months ago
1 like

Bizarre comments from Will Norman and those saying that they avoid Oxford Street by bike ATM.

Of course the bikes avoid it now because of the busses... But the busses/cars/taxis won't be there if they ban them, which will make it hugely attractive to cyclists.

It's crackers that they are fairly ok with the current 270 busses/hour (if they weren't then the bus ban would be an emergency measure) but the thought of a 4m bike road and the remaining area pedestrianised is too dangerous​to consider.

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ConcordeCX [431 posts] 5 months ago
1 like
Innerlube wrote:

in reply to Jackson, I used to commute from Sheperds Bush to Bethnal Green. Eventually settled on a more northerly route. Sussex Gdns, Crawford St, Weymouth St. All very messy, and different routes on the return. Better than Oxford St though, which looking at a map is the only obvious east west route.

Think that now I would go with Beezus' suggestion through the park and on to the Strand. 

Oxford Street is part of the westbound Roman road, which explains why it is such an obvious route on the map. It's a shame that it's so difficult for cycling, if only from the appreciation of history point of view, and I'd love to see it more open, but I think it's a lost cause(way).

I've found that understanding how the streets of London developed over 2000+ years helps to see the logic, makes the city more enjoyable, and makes navigation much easier. There's a great book by Peter Barber called "London: a history in maps" which helps make sense of it all, and for people who like this sort of thing it helps give your ride a historical dimension, so that riding parallel to Oxford Street can be almost as satisfying as riding on Oxford Street itself.