Londoners Will Be Given A Pavement Fast Lane In Oxford Street Shake Up

July 28, 2010

London is great for many reasons, but Oxford Street isn’t one of them. It’s dirty, super crowded (don’t even think of going there at Christmas time) and it’s skanky. But plans are afoot to make it a fabulous place to shop. The New West End Company have a vision of bringing Oxford Street to a level rivalling the shopping streets of New York by 2020. Plans include a Japanese-style diagonal crossing at Tottenham Court Road, like the one we currently have on Oxford Circus, a reduction of buses and the widening of pavements, which brings me to the one proposal that had me, as a Londoner, jumping up and down with super glee.

The pavements would be divided in two: half would be shop side for the tourists and dawdlers (the slow lane), and the other would be kerb side for people who want to get somewhere the same day and not next week (the fast lane). I tend to go down the back streets anyway to keep my blood pressure low; nevertheless, when I do try and negotiate the badlands that is Oxford Street, I’m confronted with large tourist groups taking up the whole pavement space, so I find myself in the road playing chicken with a bus. Or I have the pleasure of slamming into a person as they stop dead in front of me. Better still, I’m walking, and I say this advisedly, behind a line of teenage girls (and it usually is a line of girls) who spread out along the whole width of the pavement leaving no space to pass through, shuffling one foot in front of the other at an excruciatingly slow pace, leaving me with no choice but to play with the traffic once again.

This idea isn’t new. I believe it was proposed around ten years ago, but I think this time it’s being seriously considered. Although it fulfils my fantasies of actually being able to move around my own city, I know it would be impractical in terms of enforcement. I also have no doubt that someone will cite human rights and civil liberty issues regarding restricting people’s right to move where they please. Still I can dream. In the meantime, I will continue to use the back streets. It’s safer that way.



  1. The irony here of using the backstreets in London. Brave indeed!
    I haven’t heards of this plan, and it’s really interesting that they want a fast and slow lane for shoppers. To be perfectly honest, I love the idea.
    I know how horrid it can get if you are in a rush, but for me (as the tourist) I wouldn’t have to be pushed into others for someone else to get by.
    Kind of like the underground, stand to the right to let others by… or was it the left? Ha!

    • Hello, Silvershadowfly and welcome to my blog.

      If I thought the divided pavements would work like the escalators, I wouldn’t use the back streets as often. But given that a number of people still stand on the left of said escalators, chatting to their friends and blocking the path of those who want to get somewhere – at rush hour – I think I’ll be sticking to the back streets for a little while longer.

  2. I absolutely love London, but yes there is a need for wider pavements, it chaos to navigate through the crowds. fast and slow lane hmm… interesting idea but I don’t know if it will work, how do you know if you’re a fast or slow walker??

    • You usually know if you’re a fast or slow walker. You may be slower than some, but if you don’t move at the kind of pace where you’re practically at a standstill (people with disabilities notwithstanding), you can safely say you are a fast one.

  3. That’s possibly the best idea they could have come up with.
    I had the misfortune of having to go onto Oxford Street the week before last Christmas for a work do (I would not have done it by choice!) and I’m just the same as you. I end up walking on the road and nearly getting hit by buses because the people on the pavement are just so very irritating. I appreciate that I walk with purpose and others may not, but don’t just stop in the middle of the pavement with no warning because your phone is ringing or something. The amount of tourists that must have photos with my swearing in the background must have grown that day as well. I can feel my blood pressure rising even as I sit here; I think the back streets are best.

    • Being in that area around Christmas time must’ve been an evening where you were swimming in your own private hell. Like I said in my post, do not, I repeat, do not go to Oxford Street at Christmas time, for shopping, or for works do’s. I’m breaking into a cold one just thinking about it.

      I also walk with purpose. I’ve been told by friends that they know it’s me coming towards them because I’m marching like a Coldstream Guard. This is why I walk the back streets. It can also be more interesting that way, particularly if you walk the back streets of the south side of Oxford Street from Bond Street towards Marble Arch. There are lots of interesting buildings around and it has an air of tranquility. As much tranquility as anyone can get, considering it’s the centre of town.

  4. How about a ban on overweight people walking down Oxford Street, as they usually tend to have a way of rocking from side-to-side to counteract their weight that results in taking up the pavement space of three people.

    I must get and write to Boris…

    Actually, I’m sure pedestrian traffic is the same as vehicle traffic : build a new road and it fills with traffic; widen the road and it fills with even more traffic – the M25 is a case in point. Widen the pavements in Oxford Street and more people will walk down Oxford Street. To me, the more pedestrians the merrier as, like you, I always walk the backstreets.

    • You could be right on that one, To55er. I’ll continue with the back streets, then.

  5. As long as the “are you a sinner or a winner” guy is still there. It’s not Oxford Street without him.

    • I know about him. Yes I do. I haven’t seen him lately, but to be fair, it’s hard to catch such an interesting man when you’re walking along the back streets. He sometimes makes an appearance in Stratford, East London, so if I don’t catch him in the west end, I’ll find him there.

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