A new report warns that failing to pedestrianise Oxford Street risks undermining its status as an international shopping destination and could cost London millions in lost revenue.
The street is one of London’s key attractions for both domestic and overseas tourists, bringing in 200 million visitors and generating spending in excess of £5billion each year.
Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Stephen Knight warns the street’s status and its contribution towards London’s tourism economy are now both under threat.
In today’s report he says a mixture of 24 separate bus routes serving the road and “thousands” of taxis have resulted in a “severely congested, highly polluted and dangerously crowded” experience.
And Mr Knight warns recent initiatives such as the diagonal crossing at Oxford Circus and widening of footways will only provide temporary relief from overcrowding which is likely to get worse once Crossrail opens in 2018.
The capital’s new rail link is expected to boost visitor numbers to the already congested area, thereby worsening the visitor experience.
The Assembly Member warns that failure to take action will damage Oxford Street’s appeal and could see potential tourists to London instead choose to visit rival shopping areas in New York or Paris.
To safeguard the area’s reputation, Mr Knight wants the Mayor, Transport for London, local traders and Westminster City Council to implement an “incremental” move towards full pedestrianisation.
These include re-instating the car-free Very Important Pedestrians day which saw the street closed to traffic for one day in the build up to Christmas.
The scheme ran from 2005 until 2012 and in its final year was credited with bringing a million shoppers to both Oxford and Regent Street and generating sales of more than £17m.
This, according to the report, should be followed by a New York-style ‘Summer Streets’ programme in which Oxford Street is closed to traffic on consecutive weekends in June, July and August.
Mr Knight also wants TfL “to carry out a comprehensive review of the bus network in central London, with a view to removing all current bus routes from Oxford Street by 2017.”
The AM’s suggested penultimate step would see the street closed to all traffic and the introduction of a zero emission ‘shuttle bus’ service running between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road before full pedestrianisation in 2020.
Launching his report, Mr Knight said: “We need to wake up to the facts. A shopping centre with the highest known concentration of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the world and where pedestrians are knocked down every five days is doomed to decline in popularity and economic prosperity in the years ahead.
“Oxford Street’s crowded pavements are already acting as a deterrent to many older people and families with children. Unless real changes occur many more people will start using other shopping centres.
“If Oxford Street is to retain its position as a world class retail centre it must finally resolve the conflict between its role as both a retail centre and transport link.”