West End stores have called for a traffic ban in Oxford Street and Regent Street every Sunday, after seeing how well a similar scheme in Times Square has worked. The New York trial scheme has reportedly been so successful it has been made permanent and retail rents have soared along with visitor satisfaction.
Westminster Council have been playing around with the roads in the West End for a while now, returning some to two-way working and widening pavements, but it's all sticking-plaster stuff, and they remain full of traffic. That's because Westminster is ideologically opposed to doing anything effective about congestion or striking a balance between transport modes based on a vision of a city whose streets are attractive to visitors rather than simply attracting traffic jams.
Westminster Council's car keys will only be prised from their cold, dead hands. It doesn't matter that unrestricted driving is making shopping streets a place not to linger, or that it's increasing TfL's bus running costs and damaging bus journey times.
The Chair of the New West End Company, representing the retailers, said:
"Tackling these priorities could prove to be the deciding factor in the
mayoral elections in May 2012. Other cities around the world have dealt
with their traffic congestion. London can do the same."
Now isn't that interesting. Boris was elected on a ticket of tackling congestion by playing around with traffic light timings. It clearly hasn't worked too well in the view of these retailers - and remember these are business people, not environmental campaigners. It's time the Tories were honest with the public: the price of unrestricted car use is congestion. If you're not prepared to treat roadspace as a valuable resource that needs to be conserved and used sensibly and productively, the result is unpredictable journey times and streets where people don't want to be. Businesses increasingly understand that. It's time the Tories did too.