The area around Oxford Circus in London is to be turned into two pedestrian squares after years of deliberation.
Work is due to start this year and will include “significant improvements to public spaces”, as well as additional planting and seating in the shopping and entertainment district, Westminster City Council and Crown Estate said on Wednesday.
The pedestrianization of Oxford Circus has been the subject of discussion for many years, dating back to the 1980s, due to poor air quality, congestion and heavy traffic in the area.
Plans have often been hijacked or put on hold due to difficulties in re-routing buses, as well as concerns about increased travel times and potential losses for taxi drivers.
A design competition organized by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) starting this summer will help shape the final project ensuring ‘world class designs’ and ‘value for money’.
The project will work with Transport for London to improve access to Oxford Circus tube station and give priority to pedestrians.
Westminster City Council said the new Elizabeth Line will attract an additional 60 million pedestrians per year and that 70% of people travel to Oxford Street by tube.
There will be road closures between Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street in the east and Oxford Circus and John Princes Street in the west due to experimental traffic orders (ETO). Traffic will continue along Regent Street, north and south of Oxford Circus.
The board will monitor and review experimental changes under the ETOs, taking into account feedback from residents, businesses and other stakeholders.
Longer-term plans for Oxford Circus include “major improvements” to the west and east halls of the underground station.
The changes also aim to improve air quality, as the works are expected to reduce vehicle traffic and improve the efficiency of bus journeys in the region.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The West End has taken a huge hit from Covid in the past 15 months and making our streets cleaner, greener and more attractive is more important than ever to attract visitors and support businesses.
“Westminster Council’s plans, which will begin to put pedestrians first by closing sections of Oxford Street to through traffic, are welcome and will help transform this iconic location at a crucial time. “
Westminster Council Chief Rachael Robathan said: “There is an urgent need to tackle the issues of congestion and pedestrian safety, poor air quality and noise.
“The severe congestion of Oxford Circus, of people and traffic, is unsustainable and requires action.
“In the aftermath of the pandemic and with the arrival of the Elizabeth Line, there is a compelling need and a compelling opportunity to rebuild better; a status quo approach will no longer work.
“We hope that the creation of these pedestrian-only spaces at Oxford Circus will not only improve safety, security and accessibility, but create an iconic destination in the heart of London. “
The program is linked to Westminster Council’s Greenways project, which is designed to improve the cycling experience in the borough.
The plans will be carried out on a “phased approach”, starting with two car-free spaces at Oxford Street, on either side of the circus, which are expected to be completed by the end of 2021.
The second phase of the program, “major improvements to the public domain”, will begin in spring 2022.
The council has already pledged £ 150million for programs in the Oxford Street area, which before the pandemic attracted 200 million visitors a year and employed 155,000 workers.