Andrew Gilligan has claimed that banning people on bikes from Oxford Street under proposals unveiled yesterday by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan represents “an unqualified disaster for cycling in London.”
His remarks come after the mayor outlined plans to make the stretch of Europe’s busiest shopping street from Oxford Circus to Orchard Street – which includes the department stores John Lewis and Selfridges, plus Bond Street station – pedestrian-only by the end of next year.
By the end of 2019, it is proposed that the eastern end of Oxford Street, from Tottenham Court Station to Oxford Circus, be similarly pedestrianised. No firm date has been set for the final and shortest stretch, from Oxford Street to Marble Arch, to be restricted to people on foot only.
By removing buses and taxis and, yes, bicycles from Oxford Street – private cars are already banned – Khan promised that “the iconic part of the street west of Oxford Circus could be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian boulevard.”
He said that the proposals “will make the area substantially cleaner and safer for everyone, creating one of the finest public spaces in the world.”
But writing today in the Guardian Bike Blog, Gilligan, the city’s cycling commissioner under former Mayor Boris Johnson, warns that the lack of suitable parallel routes for safe infrastructure for bike riders means an Oxford Street cycling ban would be ignored by many.
As a result, he predicts that “Oxford Street will become London’s biggest unofficial example of the notorious failure that is ‘shared space’.
“That won’t be good for pedestrians, or for the image of cycling. There will be near-misses or worse, arrests, fines, stories in the Daily Mail.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I do not approve of anyone disobeying the rules,” Gilligan continued. “But it’s what happens when you make proposals for a road that totally ignore one of its main user groups.”
In April, London’s current cycling and walking commissioner, Will Norman, admitted that cyclists might be excluded from Oxford Street under the planned scheme, which yesterday’s announcement confirms.
“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,” he said.
In response, London Cycling Campaign’s Simon Munk said: “What is really clear is that cyclists are doing everything they can to avoid Oxford Street at the moment.
“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.”
The following month, LCC put forward the concept of what it called ‘London Boulevard’ – a protected cycle route running almost 2 miles from Old Street to Tottenham Court Road which despite a lack of separated infrastructure is already one of the most-used ways to get across the city for those on bikes.
While Transport for London (TfL) currently has no plans for such a route, demand clearly exists, and a westward extension along Oxford Street would appear, to many, to be logical move
In the plans revealed yesterday for Oxford Street, TfL said it was “developing proposals” to install a “high-quality east-west cycle route to the north of Oxford Street.”
While roads such as Wigmore Street and New Cavendish Street already see high levels of cycling, Gilligan insists that “the promise is impossible to deliver.”
He says there are no suitable roads east of Oxford Circus for such a route, while the ones to the west are controlled by Westminster Council, “meaning the chances of anything serious being done for cyclists on them are about nil.”
He insists that there would be ample room on Oxford Street to accommodate cyclists and to provide “an easy alternative to the certainty of conflict baked into the current plans.”
That, he says, is to “allow bikes, but design out the conflict by installing a clearly-defined and separated cycle track that lets both pedestrians and cyclists know where they’re supposed to be.
“You could still roughly treble the space given to pedestrians, which should be more than enough.
“Instead, Britain’s one-time cycling flagship is telling the rest of the country, wrongly, that cyclists and pedestrians can’t co-exist in an 80ft-wide street. It’s a troubling message to send,” he added.
TfL’s consultation on the Oxford Street proposals is open until 17 December 2017 and can be found here.
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.