The area around Oxford Circus in London will be transformed into two pedestrianized squares after years of deliberation.
Work is due to begin this year and will include “significant improvements to public spaces” as well as more floors and seating in the shopping and entertainment district, Westminster City Hall and the crown estate announced Wednesday.
The pedestrianization of Oxford Circus has been debated for many years, since the 1980s, due to poor air quality, congestion and traffic in the area.
Plans have often been derailed or paused due to difficulties with rerouting 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 deliver the final schematic to ensure “world-class designs” and “value for money”.
The project will work with Transport for London to improve access to Oxford Circus tube station and prioritize pedestrians.
Westminster City Council said the new Elizabeth Line would bring 60 million more pedestrians a year, and that 70% of people traveled to Oxford Street by tube.
There will be road closures between Oxford Circus and Great Portland Street to the east and Oxford Circus and John Princes Street to the west through experimental traffic orders (ETOs). Traffic will continue along Regent Street, north and south of Oxford Circus.
The council will monitor and review experimental changes as part of 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 lobbies of the tube station.
The changes are also aimed at improving air quality, as the works are expected to reduce vehicle traffic and improve the efficiency of bus travel in the area.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The West End has been heavily impacted by Covid over the past 15 months and making our main streets cleaner, greener and more attractive is more important than ever to attract visitors and support the companies.
“Westminster City Council’s plans, which will begin to prioritize pedestrians by closing sections of Oxford Street to traffic, are very welcome and will help transform this iconic landmark at a crucial time.”
Westminster Council Leader Rachael Robathan said: “There is an urgent need to address issues related to congestion and pedestrian safety, poor air quality and noise.
“Oxford Circus’s severe traffic and people congestion is unsustainable and requires action.
“In the wake of the pandemic, and with the arrival of the Elizabeth line, there is an overwhelming need and a compelling opportunity to rebuild better; a business-as-usual approach will no longer work.
“We hope that the creation of these pedestrianized squares at Oxford Circus will not only improve safety and accessibility, but create an iconic destination in the heart of London.”
The scheme is related to the Westminster City Council Greenways project, which is designed to improve the cycling experience in the district.
The plans will be carried out through a “phased approach”, starting with two car-free seats on Oxford Street, on either side of the Circus, to be completed by the end of 2021.
The second phase of the program, “Major improvements in the public domain”, will begin in the spring of 2022.
The council has already committed £ 150 million to programs in the Oxford Street district, which before the pandemic attracted 200 million visitors a year and employed 155,000 workers.