25 May 2009

Car-free Oxford St? Not my cup of tea

London was delightful for cycling round this weekend: lovely weather that made you regret forgetting your sunblock, and streets half-deserted by the Bank Holiday stampede out of town.

And the western half of Oxford St was closed to all traffic last Saturday (right). But we hope they don't do it this way again. Because it was a thoroughly unenjoyable experience.

It was never conceived or described as anything but a commercial operation. It wasn't to make Oxford St more pleasant, only more lucrative. Anti-car? No! Don't worry! Westminster laid on two thousand free parking spaces to encourage drivers into central London before their shuffle across to assemble large bags from Selfridges, Jaeger and Dorothy Perkins.

There was no humanising of the road space. No pavement cafes, play area for kids, places to sit, temporary tubs or lawn. Just stalls selling tat, endless tedious promo booths for Night at the Museum 2, a few street bands and some horribly loud piped music. Peevish stewards with loud-hailers bawled in vain against the din trying to herd around the bored families.

Oxford St normally is a bit of a challenge to cycle down. It's one long scrum down with lines of impatient buses on a narrow street pockmarked with chicanes. But that's far preferable to this grim experience.

The street band were gamely plugging through Human League covers on stilts. It summed up the dated, 1980s feel of the Oxford St pedestrianisation day nicely. Don't, don't you want me? Actually, no, thanks. I'll find a much better place either with or without you.

And that much better place was Hanover Square Gardens, one block south of Oxford St. It was pleasant, sunny and quiet.

Too quiet maybe: a cafe or bar stall here would have done a roaring trade. As it was, the caff at the taxi-driver's stand was shut.

Shame, as we could have had the six-sugar cup of tea evidently favoured by cabbies (right). No wonder some of them are so hyper behind the wheel.

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