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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What can other cities learn about water shortages from Cape Town’s narrow escape from ‘Day Zero’?

Cape town. Image: Pixabay/creative commons.

Cape Town was set to run dry on 12 April, leaving its 3.7m residents without tap water.

“Day Zero” was narrowly averted through drastic cuts in municipal water consumption and last-minute transfers from the agricultural sector. But the process was painful and inequitable, spurring much controversy.

The city managed to stave off “Day Zero,” but does that mean Cape Town’s water system is resilient?

We think not.

This may well foreshadow trouble beyond Cape Town. Cities across the Northern Hemisphere, including in Canada, are well into another summer season that has already brought record-setting heat, drought and flooding from increased run-off.

Water crises are not just about scarcity

Water scarcity crises are most often a result of mismanagement rather than of absolute declines in physical water supplies.

In Cape Town, lower than average rainfall tipped the scales towards a “crisis,” but the situation was worsened by slow and inadequate governance responses. Setting aside debates around whose responsibility it was to act and when, the bigger issue, in our view, was the persistence of outdated ways of thinking about “uncertainty” in the water system.

As the drought worsened in 2016, the City of Cape Town’s water managers remained confident in the system’s ability to withstand the drought. High-level engineers and managers viewed Cape Town’s water system as uniquely positioned to handle severe drought in part because of the vaunted success of their ongoing Water Demand Management strategies.

They weren’t entirely mistaken — demand management has cut overall daily consumption by 50 per cent since 2016. So what went wrong?


Limits to demand management

First, Cape Town’s approach to water management was not well-equipped to deal with growing uncertainty in rainfall patterns — a key challenge facing cities worldwide. Researchers at the University of Cape Town argued recently that the conventional models long used to forecast supply and demand underestimated the probability of failure in the water system.

Second, Cape Town’s water system neared disaster in part because demand management seemed to have reached its limits. Starting late last year, the city imposed a limit on water consumption of 87 litres per person per day. That ceiling thereafter shrunk to 50 litres per person per day.

Despite these efforts, Cape Town consistently failed to cut demand below the 500m-litre-per-day citywide target needed to ensure that the system would function into the next rainy season.

The mayor accused the city’s residents of wasting water, but her reprimanding rhetoric should not be seen as a sign that the citizens were non-compliant. The continuously shrinking water targets were an untenable long-term management strategy.

Buffers are key to water resilience

In the end, “Day Zero” was avoided primarily by relying on unexpected buffers, including temporary agricultural transfers and the private installation of small-scale, residential grey-water systems and boreholes in the city’s wealthier neighbourhoods. The former increased water supply and the latter lowered demand from the municipal system. These buffers are unlikely to be available next year, however, as the water allocations for the agricultural sector will not be renewed and there is uncertainty in the long-term sustainability of groundwater withdrawals.

For more than a decade, Cape Town has levelled demand, reduced leaks and implemented pressure management and water restrictions. This made Cape Town’s water system highly efficient and therefore less resilient because there were fewer reserves to draw from in times of unusual scarcity.

The UN Water 2015 report found that most cities are not very resilient to water risks. As water managers continue to wait for climate change models to become more certain or more specific, they defer action, paralysing decision-makers.

If we really want our cities to be water-resilient, we must collectively change long-held ideas about water supply and demand. This will require technological and institutional innovation, as well as behavioural change, to create new and more flexible buffers — for example, through water recycling, green infrastructure and other novel measures.

Although Cape Town avoided disaster this year, that does not make it water-resilient. Despite the arrival of the rainy season, Cape Town is still likely to face Day Zero at some point in the future.

The ConversationThere’s a good chance that the city is not alone.

Lucy Rodina, PhD Candidate, University of British Columbia and Kieran M. FindlaterUniversity of British Columbia.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.