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Visit Soho for dangerous streets

18 August, 2017

Blocked off: Poland Street

• HAVING been delighted to read the sensible views of David Bieda (Oxford Street pedestrians ignore the dangers, July 28) and Ethan Pod (Pedestrianisation champion’s street claims are ludicrous, July 28) regarding the proposed pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, I saw a response from Peter Hartley (We need a better vision to improve the city and its public realm, August 11) with a dread which only grew greater the more he told us how pleased we’d all be when he got his way.

Like Mr Pod, I had objected to Mr Hartley’s language. “Slaughter” is what happened to men in their millions on the World War I battlefields. To apply it to a traffic accident isn’t just wrong, it is deeply offensive.

Every time Mr Hartley refuses to accept that there might be a reasonable and valid point of view against this pedestrianisation, I have a vision of someone creating a hell for other people which he will not have to endure himself.

This is a capital city and buses and taxis are usually a very safe and convenient way to get about. Or does Mr Hartley really suppose people are better off in the stifling, jam-packed Underground? Oxford Circus station is already closed repeatedly at rush hours because of the dangerous numbers of people on the platforms. Yet Mr Hartley wants to add more to their numbers.

As for Westminster councillors being terrified of the residents’ lobby – since when? If you really want to see dangerous streets, Mr Hartley, I invite you to walk into Soho, where you really will take your life in your hands – not because you walk against lights (we have none) but because we have no accessible pavements.

Come for a stroll along Poland Street, where property developers have been allowed to overlap the pavements on both the west and east sides and around the corner into D’Arblay Street, while another stretch of the east side is being dug up by a public utility company.

And just to add further spice to this situation, the developer who has taken over the stretch of Poland Street leading up to Oxford Street has created a blind corner, so that no one wanting to cross it there can see oncoming traffic.

For lack of pavements, I have seen mothers with babies in buggies, people with walking aids, and shopping trolleys, and even just plain ordinary unencumbered people, forced into the roadway.

Oxford Street dangerous? It’s a safe haven for pedestrians, compared with Soho.

It is apparently pointless to ask Mr Hartley how, in this situation, we could accommodate more traffic, displaced from Oxford Street, and probably just as pointless to ask him to consider the many disabled people who need transport to reach hospital and other medical appointments for what is often life-saving treatment, and for whom Oxford Street is an irreplaceable route.

If I used the kind of terminology he likes, I’d refer to potential murder. Restraining myself, I’ll merely say I’m terrified. But consideration for others, like reason, seems to have deserted Mr Hartley, to be replaced by his vision of a boulevard peopled by perfect, fit, pedestrians who are just there to look around.

Nor has he taken Regent Street into account. Throughout the year Regent Street is closed for events which give pleasure to thousands of people.

The only such closure that I find a pain in the neck is the one every single Sunday in July, which denies many people here the simple pleasure of getting out by bus to the glorious Regent’s Park, while simultaneously closing the West End to those in Albany Street and its surroundings who want to travel down here.

Does Mr Hartley seriously imagine that, with Oxford Street closed, Regent Street can be closed too? What will happen to all those parades, for instance, many of which head towards Trafalgar Square?

The only local councillor I’ve heard making sense on this point is Paul Church, who has said that if Oxford Street is closed to traffic, Regent Street cannot be closed also. Isn’t it about time someone listened to him? Indeed to any of us?

Dufours Place, W1


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