Something that’s been in the news for many a year, and seemingly very little done about, is the number of buses that travel along London’s, and indeed Europe’s, busiest shopping street, Oxford Street. Lord Andrew Adonis spent last week on buses in London to experience the network – his thoughts can be read here, with Oxford Street experienced on day 2.
Whilst buses have been traversing Oxford Street for over a century, the increased number of shoppers has led to an increase in the number of buses needed to bring them there. The Evening Standard ran an article at the start of 2014 claiming it had taken just 5 days for the daily nitrogen dioxide limit to be breached for the first time.
Pedestrian safety is also an issue too, with the Tom Kearney’s article in the Standard reporting that between 2006 and 2012, 77 people were killed or seriously injured by buses. It’s a classic case of mixed use spaces, with thousands of pedestrians fighting for space (if you’ve been there on a busy day you’ll know I’m not exaggerating) in the vicinity of 272 buses per hour (at peak times) along with cyclists and taxis – a recipe for disaster.
Businesses claim it’s blighting the area and causing shoppers to stay away from the area. Whilst the situation undoubtedly doesn’t help, for me it’s mainly the resulting congestion caused on the pavements due to the space available for pedestrians that is the main drawback. The situation will only get worse in 2018 when the Crossrail stations at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road open.
For all intents and purposes, the problem can be split into two distinct sections:
- The section between Tottenham Court Road (TCR) and Oxford Circus
- The section between Oxford Circus and the junction with Orchard Street (commonly designated by Selfridge’s)
The first is the less busy of the two, both in terms of shoppers and buses, with 8 day routes (currently 7 but the 8 is curtailed at Tottenham Court Road due to Crossrail works until next year). These produce 80 buses per hour (bph) in each direction during the Monday to Friday peak, dropping to around 55 in the evenings and on Sundays. 9 night bus routes yield 28bph during weeknights and 47 on weekend nights – almost as many as during a Sunday.
13 day routes traverse the second (and the main problem) section, producing a whopping 136 bph in each direction in the weekday peak (more than 2 buses per minute), dropping to around 80bph evenings and Sundays. Overnight there are 15 routes with 37bph on weeknights and 53 at the weekend.
So even in the dead of night in the week (not that London really is ever quiet), a bus traverses Oxford Street every 2 minutes.
Quite simply, doing nothing is simply not an option – pretty soon it’ll be unworkable (even more so than at present). There are three main options that I can think of:
- Divert all existing routes using parallel roads. Whilst this option would involve less broken journeys (something TfL are known to be keen to avoid), diverting every bus onto a parallel road would just move congestion onto neighbouring streets.
- Pedestrianise. This would enable pedestrians to walk along Oxford Street safely, but the buses would still need to go somewhere, especially the through routes which can’t just be curtailed. There have been successful one-off Pedestrian Days on Oxford Street before, see this photo from Wikipedia as an example.
- Reduce number of buses, but keep roads open. This would ease the pollution problems, but 1 bus per hour or 136 still need the same amount of road space reducing potential pavement width.
My Example Solution
Personally I see the ideal solution as taking a bit from each of the scenarios outlined above.
The main section of Oxford Street needs full pedestrianisation, but with the north-south roads that cross it remaining – a similar situation to that that can be seen at the eastern end of Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. The number of pedestrians and space needed for them is just to great for any other solution and this number is only going to increase when Crossrail opens in 2018. A simple reduction in the number of buses (however large) would take up the same amount of road space, so I can’t see this being a long term or adequate answer. Some of the routes that use it could be curtailed at either end, with others diverting via Wigmore Street, a wide road which runs parallel to Oxford Street for most of this section. The pedestrianisation would begin at John Prince’s Street, rather than the junction with Regent Street, so as to retain use of the current 137/189 stand, which would be needed as a bus terminal.
For the TCR section, I don’t believe full pedestrianisation is needed, in any case there is a lack of adequate parallel roads for buses to divert. I would however suggest a substantial reduction in the number of buses and closure to all traffic except buses, cycles and taxis from 7am to 7pm every day (adding Sunday to the current, but seemingly rarely enforced, restrictions at the western end).
Here are some examples of how buses could be diverted and, in some cases, the opportunity taken to create new links, after the route number in brackets are current bph in the format (Mon-Fri peak, Sunday, evenings, weekday nights, weekend nights):
6 (12,6,6,4,5) Create a new link between Green Park and Marble Arch (currently requiring a change of bus or tube) by diverting between Trafalgar Square and Marble Arch via Pall Mall, St James’s Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane.
7/N7 (9,5,5,2,2) A route which heads north of Oxford Street at both ends, rerouted from Edgware Road via Seymour Street and Wigmore Street, continuing towards Russell Square via Goodge Street, Chenies Street and Gower Street to Great Russell Street. Due to one-way restrictions, in the reverse direction retain existing routeing to Oxford Street then Newman Street, Eastcastle Street, Great Titchfield Street, Margaret Street, Henrietta Place, Wimple Street or Marylebone Lane, Wigmore Street and Seymour Street.
8/N8 (10,6,6,3,8) The day variant of the route has been temporarily curtailed at TCR for the last few months due to works associated with Crossrail. However it is due to be re-extended to Oxford Circus next year. The route could be used to create a new link between the Holborn Circus area and Trafalgar Square by diverting at TCR via Charing Cross Road.
10 (7.5,5,6,2,2) Reroute between Marble Arch and Oxford Street via Portman Street, Wigmore Street, Cavendish Place and Regent Street (return from Regent Street via Margaret Street, Henrietta Place, Wimple Street or Marylebone Lane, Wigmore Street and Orchard Street),
13/N13 (8,5,5,2,4) Divert between Baker Street and Oxford Circus via Marylebone Road and 453 routeing via Portland Place.
23 (8,6,6,2,2) Create a new link between Green Park and Marble Arch (currently requiring a change of bus or tube) by diverting between Piccadilly Circus and Marble Arch via Piccadilly and Park Lane.
25 (8,12,10,7.5,10) I suggest splitting in two, with the existing Ilford to Holborn Circus service on Monday to Saturday daytimes becoming an all week daytime service. Second section to be Stratford to Oxford Circus with night route (N25) going all the way through. The current Oxford Circus terminal working would still be accessible with my plan. This would halve the number of evening and Sunday buses along the eastern end of Oxford Street.
55/N55 (9,6,6,2,4) Curtail at Tottenham Court Road (current temporary 8 terminal working via Store Street)
73/N73 (17,10,10,2,5) The ‘problem route’ in many ways due to the fact it provides a very useful link between Oxford Street and Victoria and the high bph figure. My suggestion would be to split the route in two during the day, providing the high joint bph in the middle section where it is most needed. Section 1 would be Seven Sisters/new Tottenham Hale Bus Station to TCR and section 2 Newington Green to Victoria. Rerouted between Oxford Circus and Marble Arch as per route 10 (Wigmore Street)
94 (13,7.5,7.5,2,4) Reroute between Oxford Circus and Marble Arch as per route 10 (Wigmore Street).
98/N98 (10,7.5,6,4,6) Reroute from Edgware Road via Seymour Street and Wigmore Street, continuing towards Holborn via Goodge Street, Chenies Street and Gower Street to New Oxford Street. Due to one-way restrictions, in the reverse direction retain existing routeing to Oxford Street then Newman Street, Eastcastle Street, Great Titchfield Street, Margaret Street, Henrietta Place, Wimple Street or Marylebone Lane, Wigmore Street and Seymour Street.
137/N137 (11,7.5,6,2,4) Divert to provide a new link between Regent Street and Piccadilly between Hyde Park Corner and Oxford Circus via Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street.
139 (10,5,5,2,2) Divert between Baker Street and Oxford Circus via Marylebone Road and 453 routeing via Portland Place. Route 189 will retain links between Kilburn and the western end of Oxford Street.
159 (12,5,5,3,3) Curtail at junction of Regent Street ad Conduit Street (former C2 terminal working via Saville Row)
189 (10,5,5,2,2) Curtail at Portman Square.
390 (8,5,6,2,2) Reroute between Marble Arch and King’s Cross via current route 30 (Baker Street and Marylebone Road)
N113 (-,-,-,2,2) Curtail at Marble Arch as per daytime 113 and night variant number withdrawn. Route N13 retains link between Finchley Road and Trafalgar Square.
N207 (-,-,-,4,8) Reroute between Marble Arch and Oxford Street via Portman Street, Wigmore Street, Cavendish Place and Regent Street (return from Regent Street via Margaret Street, Henrietta Place, Wimple Street or Marylebone Lane, Wigmore Street and Orchard Street).
But there isn’t one answer, this is one just one idea. Whenever the changes do start to happen, it will involve a lot of modelling work and they probably won’t be right first time round, it’s just too complex for that to happen without a great deal of luck. Indeed whilst changes need to be made now, in reality it would be planned to coincide with the Crossrail opening in 2018 which will cause a change in passenger travel habits.