Oxford Street transformation: where will all the buses go?

by Dave Hill

Buses are the public transport soul of this city, the workhorse mode of EveryLondoner. That is why their forthcoming removal from our most famous shopping street – Oxford Street – under Sadiq Khan’s pedestrianisation plans is rightly the focus of close attention and some concern.

London TravelWatch, the official watchdog for all the capital’s transport users, has recently produced its response to the Mayor’s consultation on the Oxford Street plans, focusing on what it calls the “considerable hardship to a large number of bus passengers” that will result.

This stance is not to be lightly dismissed. TravelWatch has long been supportive of measures across the city to improve conditions for pedestrians and stresses that it has “no in-principle objection to the improvement of the pedestrian environment of Oxford Street”.

Nonetheless, it lists twelve issues it has with the plans, including a calculation that “45,800 more bus journeys a day will be disrupted” in addition to the 17,000 Transport for London estimates have already been affected by changes already made during last year. Those are substantial numbers. What might their implications be?

Just before Christmas, London Reconnections explored with characteristic thoroughness what it called “the Bustterfly Effect“. In the first of a series on Oxford Street’s transformation, contributor Pedantic of Purrley argued that the removal of buses “could be seen as a minor piece of collateral damage” in the context of the scheme as a whole.

This view might not delight TravelWatch and will probably displease West End residents’ groups, among whom there is a firm determination to oppose the further and more radical re-routing of buses along streets neighbouring Oxford Street where they live. They fear more noise and air pollution and worsening local traffic congestion.

But London Reconnections invites us to consider “the bigger picture”. While acknowledging TravelWatch’s “extreme concern” about “broken links” in bus journeys and the inconvenience these cause, with people having to take two buses instead of one to get from A to B and walk for for some of it, but cites TfL’s view that this tends to be short-lived. It is intended that eventually only two routes will pass right through the Oxford Street area – the 139 and the 390 – but that many current bus travellers will switch to the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) instead.

London Reconnections thinks concerns about bus stops being moved further Oxford Street to other streets nearby fails to take into account that the gaps between many existing stops are quite large – in other words, shoppers can be required to lug their purchases up to 200 yards in order to catch the bus they want as things stand. And in some cases, it is observed, getting quickly to the nearest stop will simply mean leaving, say, John Lewis by a back door onto Cavendish Street rather than exiting through the front.

It’s an excellent discussion, which ends with a reminder that the “fairly dramatic” changes set to take place by the end of this year will be “just the first stage”, covering the stretch between Oxford Circus and Orchard Street. By December 2019, the plan is to have buses removed from the entire eastern half of Oxford Street as well, all the way to Tottenham Court Road station. There’s a long way to go and many complex problems to overcome. But, as London Reconnections remarks: “If it wasn’t controversial it would have been done years ago.”

The LondonTravelWatch response is here and the London Reconnections article is here.

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