Wednesday, 3 March 2010

How successful is the Oxford Circus 'scramble’?

From this morning’s BBC London News, a recycled press release:

Transport for London (TfL) said the crossing should generate £6.5m in benefits from journey time savings - recouping its £5m cost in a year. Street clutter and barriers at the junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street have been removed.

That’s voodoo economics, since people are going to shop on Oxford Street irrespective of the conditions.

Kulveer Ranger, the mayor of London's transport advisor, said: "The new crossing has brought the area into the 21st Century by jettisoning unnecessary street clutter and railings, which frees people to move through it in an instinctive and direct way."

Is it a success? Yes and no. It’s much better than it used to be. People cross with confidence, and you even see people grinning at the sheer wonder of a diagonal crossing.

On the negative side, even a fast walker can only get to the middle before the green woman vanishes. Pedestrians then feel obliged to hurry. This is rushed walking, not relaxed walking. Look at the body postures. People are striding, hurrying. It seems a long way to the other side.

There seem to be no penalties for drivers who are found in the crossing area when the lights are at green for pedestrians. There’s a high level of obstruction of the crossing by stationary or moving vehicles when the green woman light is showing.

The vocal and influential black cab lobby is not happy:

"The lanes are now down to one lane instead of two lanes causing more traffic jams. Most drivers avoid it as it causes delay. In the ranks we talk about avoiding Oxford Street altogether but sometimes it is unavoidable."

Oh really? Why should anyone be allowed to travel to the shops on Oxford Street by taxi? Why does anyone need to travel along Oxford Street and Regent Street by car? Pedestrians vastly outnumber drivers on both these streets, yet the infrastructure puts the fossil-fuel addict first and marginalises walkers, who are squashed on pavements far too narrow for the dense pedestrian flow.

The Tories on Westminster Council whine about pavement cycling and the poor pedestrian but there is no greater enemy of the West End pedestrian, or for that matter the cyclist, than those car supremacist councillors. The Oxford Circus scramble is a tiny, tiny concession to pedestrians amidst a vast ocean of wholly unnecessary car dependency and infrastructure which is hostile to walking and cycling. It’s typical of our barbaric and backward transport culture that this tiny improvement is trumpeted as some sort of massive and radical transformation, worthy of big boastful boards.

Oxford Street and Regent Street should both be pedestrianised. It would be possible to add segregated cycle lanes and lashings of bike parking. There's also room for trams. What we don't need are buses, taxis, lorries and private cars. Deliveries are made at the back. Alternative bus-only routes can be found nearby. Get rid of all the other traffic. Only permit a small number of strictly licenced taxis to access nearby locations where mobility scooters would be available for those who need them.

Don’t expect to hear me cheering wildly about the Oxford Circus crossing.

But then you wouldn’t, would you? That’s what you come here for, to hear that generally speaking, transport-wise, things are crap.

’cos they are.

(Below) Vehicles in the pedestrian crossing area during the green woman phase. Including a bendy bus.