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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Oxford Street is dangerous for your health

Reports this past week highlighting the dangerous levels of emissions from diesel traffic along the length of Oxford Street pose interesting questions for Transport for London among other public bodies responsible for welfare in the capital.

The continuous stream of buses, taxis and permitted vehicles which transit along the length of this dense urban canyon running from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road are throwing out micro particulates day which endanger health.

Unlike Blackpool's promenade which has the benefit of sea breezes (and much more this past weekend) London's dense urban conurbation is not conducive to 'fresh' air - and certainly not in the built up districts in the City and West End.

Quiet moments on Oxford Street - normally endless flows of two way traffic clutter the roadways.

Some years ago, not too long ago, serious proposals were on the table of the London Mayor and his various planning bodies which envisaged several new light rail lines along key connecting points. These included the 'Cross River Line' which would link Waterloo Station with Kings Cross and St Pancras Stations; the Uxbridge Road westbound line from Shepherds Bush to Ealing and Acton - replicating the original London United tram route; and a tramway taking over from the many bus services traversing Oxford Street. All of this (and much more) was kicked into the long grass on questionable grounds - and quietly forgotten whilst the supra Cross- rail east west project was adopted to take up billions of pounds of investment.

Whilst London's original tram system could hardly be termed progressive having been given the kiss of death by the road and bus lobby in the early 1930s. Its antiquated trams exuded everything which was wrong with British tram design. Antiquated trams dating from the pre-1914 characterised the capital's system right to the very end in 1952. Two private tram operators made a sterling effort to upgrade their operations in the west of the capital producing one hundred modern trams far in advance of the traditional fleet espoused by London County Council and other co-joined local authorities such as Croydon, West Ham, Walthamstow etc.

Trolleybuses appeared, through initiatives again of a private operator - London United Tramways, and their quiet running and less expensive infrastructure was taken up by the newly formed London Transport from 1933. In fact London enjoyed a substantial electric powered non polluting alternative to trams until yet another political misjudgement determined the trolleybus too was not fit for the capital's public transport purpose. So now the pollutants being emitted along key transit corridors are focussing minds on what solutions may be available - from electric and 'green energy' buses to anything other than a revived tram system.

Interestingly Blackpool's Council considered on at least two seperate occasions to introduce trolleybuses, initially as replacement for the tram service to Marton, but determined instead to modernise the trams themselves with latest technology and relay the tracks to ensure 'silent running' with a frequent service of 3 - 5 minute intervals during daylight hours. This was understandably popular until rising car ownership and traffic posed problems to an all-street tram route in which passengers needed to alight in the middle of the road, whilst of course similarly to board in the face of busy road traffic.

Bustling London streets - this time in Tottenham with a typical London Transport non polluting trolleybus and some period add ons like FW Woolworths in the background and Vernon's Football Pools on the side of the bus. Image Copyright John Woodman

The capital's problem with its dense road traffic flows and particularly the ever constant streams of buses and taxis traversing along its busiest commercial strip suggest that on health grounds alone - a new approach is needed. Perhaps the days of tinkering with Croydon's proposed extensions, may give way to sweeping changes on more critical arteries starting with Oxford Street - perhaps even reviving earlier proposals for new electric trams just a decade ago.

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