Are cyclists banned from Oxford Circus?

London's busiest pedestrian crossing used to be a perennial muddle of heaving buses, squeezing, wheezing pedestrians and a cattle-pen of people trying to work their way across lanes of traffic from department stores to Underground station and back again. Oxford Circus was not, in any way, a pleasurable experience for anyone.


The crossing was recently redeveloped to prioritise pedestrians and allow them to cross diagonally as well as laterally. Pedestrian space has been increased, barriers and street clutter have been removed, traffic has been slowed and the Circus has become a 'naked street' where all players take responsibility for their own actions, and (so the theory goes) therefore act more safely.  The entire consultation, design and construction process took two years and cost some 5 million pounds.  The press in the UK has portrayed it as a revolution in urban planning.


So far, so good. So it was to my surprise that the Westminster arm of the London Cycle Campaign recently pointed out that it was their opinion that cyclists had been barred from Oxford Street. Surely this couldn't be possible, not in Mayor Boris Johnson's cycling city on this, what must be the eve of his so-called cycling revolution?!
Armed with my trusty camera I braved the Christmas shopping hordes to find out for myself.


There sure enough was the 'X Crossing' or 'Circus Scramble', if you prefer, in action. Vehicles went one way, then went the other way, then all the little green men came on at once and pedestrians went all ways and any ways. There were cyclists to be seen traversing the Circus too. Some with very exciting hair cuts.


But just as Westminster LCC had forewarned me, there were the signs attached to the traffic lights that told me all I need to know: 'Straight ahead only, except buses and taxis', or 'No turn, except buses and taxis'.


Back home I thought I'd check on the free cycling maps that the nice people at Transport for London provide just to make sure that Oxford Circus hadn't always banned cyclists (for example like at Trafalgar Square) But no, there on the map the Circus was painted blue, which supposedly means it's a "Route signed for cyclists that may be on busier roads"

According to the signs attached to the traffic lights:

Cyclists approaching Oxford Circus from Regent Street (north or south) have to continue straight ahead and cannot turn into Oxford Street.

Cyclists approaching Oxford Circus from Oxford Street (east or west) have to turn left into Regent Street and cannot continue along Oxford Street.

Cyclists in Harewood Place have to continue straight ahead into Holles Street and cannot turn into Oxford Street.


Either this is some kind of deliberate plan to exclude cyclists from Oxford Circus - in which case Westminster Council are up to something - or it is massive "fail" on the part of the planners and designers to incorporate cycles into their descriptions, directions, sign posting and street design.

Of course, just like a red traffic light there is no actual physical barrier to stop you from turning if your heart is set on it and you judge it safe to do so, but I'd prefer to be able to cycle throughout the city without having to take the law into my own hands because of some half-baked ill-thought-out planning decision. Regardless of the rights of wrongs on all sides cyclists will continue to turn across the Circus should they so please, but this is hardly a 'best practice' example of how to make cycling an easy and attractive transport option for ordinary and everyday people. And, yes, at the most base of levels, as a tax payer who contributes to the building and maintenance of roads (yes, that's right, I'm a cyclist and I pay 'road tax' ) I want to make sure that my transport option of choice - the bicycle - is catered for when 5 million big ones are being spent on 'improving' our urban environment.

Members of the LCC are currently waiting to hear back from Westminster Council on what on earth is going on, but the Council, it seems, has been busy with other cycling schemes.


David Hembrow said...

It's sad to see that cyclists have been kept out of this junction. The many diagonal crossings over here in the Netherlands include cyclists in their design. In fact, they are specifically designed for cyclists and make cyclists journeys more efficient.

It's a mystery to me why the only Dutch traffic innovation that Britain seems to have taken on is one of the least successful: "Shared Space".

Shared Space is a disaster for cyclists over here. It's unpopular with virtually everyone. Luckily it seems to be a fading fad - but one which Britain is now taking up with enthusiasm.

WestfieldWanderer said...

Interesting story. Will be even more interesting to see how the story develops.
Keep us posted.
Bike-phobic Britain Blunders Blissfully Backwards.

ibikelondon said...

That's pretty pun-tastic - are you sure you've not been masquerading as a Daily Mail columnist? ;-)

Unity Finesmith said...

In NZ we have recently had a law change that enables cyclists to cross with pedestrians - it's a beautiful thing!

prj45 said...

It does kinda rankjle me every time I go past there that there is still no ASL for cyclists on any of the roads entering the junction.

Karl McCracken (twitter: @karlonsea) said...


Cyclists may be banned, but that won't stop them, as they're all a bunch of law-breaking, red-light-running anarchists. I mean seriously, just look at the bloke with the hair. Obviously not a reader of the Daily Mail, and probably not even in the choir...

ibikelondon said...

You will all be pleased to know that the Council has clarified it's position by installing new images which show that Buses, Taxis AND bicycles are allowed to turn across the circus, so cyclists are NOT banned from Oxford Circus:

With regards the guy with the hair in the photo, it turns out he is a cycle courier and I see him around Mayfair, where I work, all of the time!

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