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Oxford Street will remain an unpleasant, overcrowded place to visit. The proposed pedestrianisation — which would have removed east-west traffic — is now 'off the table for good' according to Westminster Council.
Ridding the street of wheels has been a dream of planners for decades. But how to keep everyone happy with such a major change in road use? Few in power have dared to pursue the controversial idea. Mayor Sadiq Khan took it by the horns, striving to get the work done for December 2018 and the advent of Crossrail. He has now been blocked. Khan has called the decision a 'betrayal', which 'poses a real threat to the future of Oxford Street'. He vows to fight on.
Making Oxford Street traffic-free would have many advantages: more space for pedestrians, cleaner air, and fewer people struck by vehicles (this map shows how the street is a major blackspot). Shops would undoubtedly benefit. Just this week, we learned that one of the street's biggest department stores, House of Fraser, is likely to close.
Such a big change to traffic flow would also upset apple-carts. Surrounding streets, including some residential, would undoubtedly get busier (and therefore smoggier and more dangerous). Those unable or unwilling to pay the higher fares of tube or Crossrail would find their bus routes altered, with loss of convenience.
It is a complex, thorny issue. Two public consultations sought out wider views. Both found that a majority of Londoners are supportive. Even so, local opinion was set against pedestrianisation. Westminster Council has now mulled over the arguments and found that the needs of the many are outweighed by the needs of the not-quite-so-many. Oxford Street, it seems, will continue to muddle along as London's most stressful shopping experience.