Improvement of The Oxford Street Hinterland
One crucial aspect of our neighbourhood plan, triggered by strong public support, is to improve the streets where we live and work. There is no public green space in our area, little sitting-out space and hardly any pedestrian streets. We suffer from some of the worst pollution of any residential area in Europe. Pollution is influenced by traffic, by an intensity of carbon based heating and ventilation systems (we have a lot of development around here) and by the urban heat island effect, which intensifies pollution in the area and works to restrict the dissipation of bad air.
FitzWest Strategy Diagram – highlights certain streets and spaces to be traffic calmed, where we wish to see better pedestrian facilities, more green space and fewer traffic movements.
We support the intention to design for improved pedestrian access to side streets, but we are concerned that new bus routes, taxi routes and delivery routes will break the camel’s back. WQe have heard of no proposals to tackle these important issues:
- Pedestrian movement
- Parking and Servicing
- Road safety
- Improving pedestrian crossings
- Cycle routes and cycle parking
So far FitzWest public consultation has strongly prioritised the greening of streets, the reduction and calming of traffic and the improvement of arrangements for pedestrians. We see three key areas:
a). The Oxford Street Hinterland – this is the zone of streets and alleyways between Market Place and East Castle Street and Oxford Street itself. Many of these streets have great potential to provide services that Oxford Street itself cannot offer, like cafes, smaller shops, sitting out space and services like banks, stationers and copy shops. But in order for these streets to become attractive they would need improving. We support a grid of pedestrian streets running off Oxford Street and we are prepared to supply the necessary detailed planning policy in order to allow such streets to thrive and take some of the pressure from Oxford Street itself.
b). As we move further north into Fitzrovia West we come to the Great Titchfield Street/Mortimer Street local hub. This is a critically important part of our area offering local shops and services to the businesses and residents around us. This has become a dynamic focus for local and specialist shops, small businesses and provides the area’s vitality. But it is already stymied by the fact that Mortimer Street is used as an emergency bus by-pass street for Oxford Street. We are very concerned that current plans for phase 1 will increase traffic in our streets and that a phase 2 would sign the death knell for Fitzrovia.
c). In addition we have identified the area around Great Portland Street Underground Station as one where improvements and traffic calming could be made. A lot of people live in this northern sector and there are two hospitals (Portland Hospital and The Royal Orthopedic Clinic) both of which require good pedestrian access)
We would hope that in deciding on new access streets for public transport and taxis something can be done to close down the Great Portland Street tube gyratory, thereby reducing the conflict between pedestrians and traffic turning south into Fitzrovia.
- Impact on congestion and road safety
Fitzrovia has a much higher population density than other parts of the West End. There are over 4000 people living in very dense flats in FitzWest alone. We understand this represents approximately half of the population of the West End Our population is not dominated by West End Wealthy, but by ordinary people, many of whom have lived in the area for years, whose children attend the local schools and who work in local businesses. Many people live in social housing, or housing for the elderly. They cannot choose to move out of the area if it becomes even more devastated by traffic and pollution.
This week’s announcement that pedestrianisation in Oxford Street shall go ahead leads us to fear the implications for our area, especially Mortimer Street and Newman Street. While the cross rail project has gone ahead we have had several long term bus diversions through our area, along Mortimer and Newman Street. This has resulted in lines of jammed busses belching out exhaust. I enclose a photograph of Newman Street, taken during one of those diversions, to indicate how unpleasant those short term diversions were
If the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street results in a permanent diversion of taxis, delivery vehicles and bus routes along these streets it would be devastating for the area.
- Servicing the West End
There is a growing problem in this area associated with deliveries, development vehicles, servicing, rubbish collection and public transport. For example rubbish collections have collapsed, the amount of uncontrolled rubbish bags and dumped rubbish has become embarrassing. If we are also to suffer more service traffic the continual degradation of our pavements will be exacerbated. Despite this our streets are already choked with rubbish collection vehicles, white vans, motorcycle messengers and cycle delivery. This is all completely unmanaged and unplanned. Night time deliveries are not the answer in our area because of the prevalence of residential buildings right down to the boundary of Oxford Street.
- Impact on local movements (occasioned by reduction/redirection of buses)
Despite many of us who complained about the proposed reduction in bus services, especially the C2, these have gone ahead, unaltered. Further pedestrianisation will further reduce bus services. Cross rail does NOT take the place of local cross West End trips. We do not support the reduction of bus services in the West End. People who live and work here use buses to get about the West End. We use the bus to do our food shopping, to take our children to the doctors and to hospital appointments, to go to work and to visit our Council Offices on Victoria Street. We need hop-on, hop-off services which cannot be supplied by tube or Crossrail. Tourists need this even more than locals.
We have a high proportion of elderly and disabled people living round here and they cannot use the underground so easily (if at all). Local bus services are equally important for visitors to the area. No-one in their right minds would entertain a journey for example from Tottenham Court Road to John Lewis by underground. So we need some form of local bus system along Oxford Street.
We support the hopper fares and we support the intention to electrify (de-carbonise) Central London buses and taxis.
We think a diffuse public transport system could work very well, as long as buses are smaller and less polluting (which means changing engines and wheel formats to reduce both NO2 and particulate pollution.) Trams, guided by rails are, we understand less likely to cause accidents – pedestrians know where they are! A light rail system running from one end of Oxford Street to the other – running along Oxford Street is the no-brainer solution. For public transport to work it must be able to deliver passengers closer to the destination than they can travel by private car. By pushing the busses out and by reducing their number the effect would be counterproductive. It would mean that a visit to the West End would become more convenient by private car – not less so! This is especially true as the Congestion Charge (and parking fees) do not apply on late night shopping nights, or throughout the weekends. Thus during late nights and on Sundays there is nothing limiting private car trips into the West End, for shopping or any other function.
Unfortunately it is not just Oxford Street that subjects the population of Fitzrovia to life threatening pollution. The diagram below (taken from the Kings College Model commissioned, as I understand it, by the GLA) identifies Mortimer Street and New Cavendish Street as highly polluted as well. This pollution is exacerbated in the centre of London because of the urban heat island effect, which can trap a bubble of polluted air, stopping it dissipating, as it might do in greener parts of the capital. I am sure that enlightened traffic engineers in the GLA have already considered these limitations and are proposing alternatives. For example a bus hub at Tottenham Court Road and a further hub at Hyde Park Corner would be well supported by our community. (As long as there is some way of getting to them)
We are especially concerend that All Soul’s Primary School, our excellent local primary school, which lies only yards from the Mortimer Street/Newman Street junction. The prospect of diverting transport onto a minor road and increasing pollution levels so close to an area where children are taught, is not worthy of the new GLA administration.