A flagship policy of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, the Oxford Street project was a bold attempt to transform a road walked by 500,000 people every day. It was meant to improve safety and reduce pollution.
But while the move shows that ambitious pedestrianisation projects can be fraught, other cities have been there and done it, from New York to Barcelona. Here are the places where governments got their plans to stick.
Measure what you do
When New York City pedestrianised sections of its famous Times Square, it faced resistance. Businesses were worried that limiting access to cars would reduce the number of customers, and taxi drivers feared higher traffic as a result of the closure of key roads.
For transport commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the case for pedestrianisation relied on proving her case with data. To measure the effect on traffic, her team tracked data from GPS units installed in cabs. Despite what cabbies feared, the pedestrianisation measures actually increased the speed of traffic in the Midtown area of the city by 7%.
Opposition hasn’t disappeared, but data collected by the city continues to make the case. Since the pilot, injuries for pedestrians and drivers have fallen by 63%. Businesses, initially sceptical, now overwhelmingly support the measures, with 68% of business owners calling for the changes to be made permanent.
Effective measurement has now become a valued tool for those who work to replicate the New York model.
“There are a lot of measurements out there… but people are often only talking about cars,” said Skye Duncan, Director of America’s Global Designing Cities Initiative (GDCI), which helps cities worldwide to redesign their streets. ”What we’re trying to do is be more inclusive about what we’re measuring.”
Often, the benefits of pedestrianisation can appear intangible. For many cities, the answer is a lick of paint. In South America, planners are experimenting with temporary pedestrianised zones, repainting streets to enlarge walkways or to limit the space available for cars.
One eastern district of Sao Paulo in Brazil saw 1,285 car crashes per square kilometre, compared to the city average of 178, between 2009-2016. By quickly redesigning an intersection, painting streets and using plants as markers, staff and officials from GDCI increased the pedestrian area and narrowed the space available to cars.
Over the course of the pilot, which lasted a day, average car speeds fell by 30%. A public survey found that 97% of locals supported making the changes permanent. Proving the benefits of pedestrianisation can require showing people its effects first hand.
Use your city’s unique design
Tourism and population increases in Barcelona have led to a noise and air pollution problem. The main cause of both of these is traffic, with noise and pollutants coming from the cars which traverse the city’s streets.
In response, the city is cutting cars out of residential areas by building pedestrianised “superblocks”. Thanks to Barcelona’s grid design, built in the 19th century, the city is able to make subtle changes, such as changing road signs to prevent car access, to close off entire groups of housing blocks to cars. Internal roads connecting the blocks are pedestrianised, while cars keep to the main thoroughfares and bypass them.
The approach has been one of trial and error, testing the effect of each subtle tweak, with the aim of reducing car use in the city by 21%. In a pilot zone, CO2 emissions were cut by 42% and noise pollution also reduced. (Picture credit: Flickr/MK Feeney)