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This Holiday Season London’s Streets Are “Absolutely Jammed”

1:34 PM EST on December 10, 2007

London_Jammed.jpg
London retailers enjoyed a £100 million spending spree as Oxford, Bond and Regents Streets
were closed to motor vehicle traffic for a day

As New York City government issues its usual series of futile Holiday Season "Gridlock Alerts" (Warning to people stuck in traffic: You are stuck in traffic) while Manhattan shoppers have the life squeezed out of them on crowded sidewalks amidst honking, spewing, pissed off motorists, take a look at how London is handling the holiday crush.

Mayor Ken Livingstone declared Saturday, December 2 "Very Important Pedestrian Day," completely closing three of the city's most famous shopping strips, Oxford, Bond and Regent's Streets to automobile traffic from 10:30am to 8pm. Carol singers, artists, jugglers and other performers provided entertainment, and the day finished off with a massive fireworks display. As per the BBC:

"What it will create for the shoppers is a fantasticfreedom to move," said Jace Tyrell, from the New West End Company --which has organised the event. "Shoppers will be able to take over the streets and havea more festive fun atmosphere to enjoy Christmas shopping in the WestEnd."

News reports say that up to a million people descended on the car-free streets to take part in what amounted to a £100 spending orgy (Said one retailer: "The increase in wealthy Russian, Chinese and Indian shoppers around Bond Street has been phenomenal").

As New York City's mayor struggles to explain to New Yorkers how less congested streets will make their lives better, Mayor Livingstone clearly framed the car-free event as a piece of his Administration's broader environmental, quality of life and economic development agenda. The Evening Standard reported

Mayor Ken Livingstone, who opened the event, said: "It has become amajor event in London's calendar in the run-up to Christmas [and] showsus all what the West End will be like in 2013 with traffic removed andthe streets turned over to the pedestrian." The success of the eventhas strengthened the view of many analysts that the West End is headingfor a record Christmas even if high streets elsewhere in Britain areexperiencing lacklustre sales.

Mr Tyrrell said: "Therewere no problems with the roads closures, everything went reallysmoothly."

London_Jammed2.jpg

 

Columbia University professor and Streetsblog reader Steve Hammer happened to be in London during the event. Here is his report:

-----Original Message-----From: Steve HammerSent: Saturday, December 01, 2007 7:55 AMTo: Aaron NaparstekSubject: VIP Day -- London

Aaron,

Am currently in London. Wandered over to Oxford Street this morning, the main shopping street in Central London.

Oxford Street (and Regent Street) are both closed to vehicles as part of "Very Important Pedestrian" (VIP) Day in London. The Greater London Authority has set up exhibitions on bicycling around London, Transport for London services, and a new program encouraging parents to walk their children to school rather than driving them.

Mayor Ken Livingstone was speaking on a stage at Oxford Circus, talking about why the GLA had sponsored VIP day, and their long term vision for the central shopping district -- no more cars on Oxford Street, only dedicated bus lanes -- and more room for pedestrians. Eventually they will have a tram operating along the street instead of the buses.

These changes will be implemented over a 10 year period.

Regards,

Steve HammerDirector, Urban Energy ProgramColumbia University

P.S.

I almost forgot to mention... The streets are absolutely jammed.

Photos: Evening Standard

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