Tfl is pedestrianising Oxford Street. But what’s it doing with all those buses?

Oooh, shiny: artist’s impression of the new pedestrianised Oxford Street. Image: TfL.

Let’s not beat around the bush on this one: Oxford Street is horrible. London’s primary commercial artery is a solid wall of buses and taxis, all bathing in a sea of nitrogen oxides. Despite this, in an obvious sign that the only thing Londoners hate more than other people is themselves, it’s still the busiest shopping street in Europe, receiving more than 4m visitors every week.

Dreamers have long talked about pedestrianising the street, but the city authorities have shied away from it on the grounds that it’d be quite hard. The difficulty is those buses: a couple of dozen routes serve Oxford Street for all or part of its length, and pedestrianisation would mean radical reforms to the West End’s bus network.

Today, though, Transport for London has said, in effect: screw it, we’re doing it anyway.

Click to expand.

The first stage of the scheme is intended to happen as soon as December next year. That’ll close most of the western half of the road, between Oxford Circus and Orchard Street, to vehicles, creating what the mayor Sadiq Khan described as a “traffic-free pedestrian boulevard”. The road surface will be raised, to match the pavements; there’s talk of an 800m long work of public art to make the street pretty, too.

Image: TfL.

A year after that, the stretch east from Oxford Circus towards Tottenham Court Road station should follow. The westernmost section, a couple of blocks from Orchard Street to Marble Arch, is pencilled in for “post-2020” – that sounds vague enough that I suspect there’s still a subtext of “maybe” there, but we shall see.

Image: TfL.

The scheme has been timed to coincide with the arrival of the Elizabeth line. The artist formally known as Crossrail will run beneath Oxford Street, with hugely expanded stations at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road. That’ll free up space on the Central line – which, in turn, will hopefully mean less demand for east-west travel by road.

All the same, though, there are those bus routes to contend with. TfL claimed in 2012 that they carry around 220,000 people down Oxford Street every day, and there’s no easy alternative route – no roomy parallel street they can all simply be diverted down. So what exactly is the plan?

TfL has actually been quietly reforming its bus network in preparation for this scheme for some time. Earlier this year, two routes (6 & 13) were diverted south via Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner. Several others (73, 137, 189) were curtailed, so that they terminate at either Oxford Circus or Marble Arch.

But that still leaves nine different routes serving the affected section. Here’s a map:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

Dealing with those will mean, well, more of the same strategy. Five of the routes will be curtailed at Marble Arch.

Two more (10 & 23) will be scrapped altogether, and replaced with a new route, currently unnumbered, which connects their western sections – to Hammersmith and Westbourne Park respectively – via Edgware Road. (The eastern sections of both routes consist of central London roads well served by other routes.)

That leaves just two routes – the 139 and the 390 – to be re-routed via a parallel route of Wigmore Street and Henrietta Place. The thinking is that such back streets might struggle with nine routes, but they can cope with two.

Here’s a map of the final, reformed bus network:

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

This is only the western section, of course: the eastern half of Oxford Street will require similar efforts a year later. These reforms will also turn Marble Arch into quite the bus station.

But they should also make Oxford Street a much more pleasant place to be, on the whole, so: cool. 


TfL is consulting on these plans until Sunday 17 December. If you have strong opinions, you can tell someone here.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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