diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 04, 2005

Prime Movers
Bus 7: East Acton - Russell Square
Location: London northwest, inner
Length of journey: 7 miles, 70 minutes

Seven tourist hotspots along route 7
1) East Acton: OK, I'm lying. No respectable tourist would venture out this far, especially not to a redbrick 30s industrial estate. The low misty expanse of Old Oak Common is as good as it gets, but that's more the haunt of local dogwalkers.
2) Wormwood Scrubs: A prison more notorious than famous, and probably not the sort of place you'd want to visit of your own accord. The 7 makes a good escape route.
3) Portobello Road: The 7 drives straight through the middle of Portobello Road Market (not literally through the stalls, you understand, but sufficient for the throng of passing pedestrians to slow down the journey considerably).
4) Chepstow Road: 363 days of the year this is just another West London street, but over the August Bank Holiday weekend it's the very heart of the Notting Hill Carnival. Caramba!
5) Paddington: I never thought there was anything very special about the Paddington area, but it seems that tourists disagree because they stay in shady hotels around here in their thousands.
6) Oxford Street: [more about this shopping Mecca below]
7) British Museum: One of the finest museums to be found anywhere in the world, including several unique priceless artefacts brazenly stolen from their rightful overseas owners.

Oxford Street - the route of a problem
As my 7 turned past Marble Arch and crept into Oxford Street, it became clear that the epicentre of Britain's retail trade has a major traffic problem. The jams aren't being caused by cars (because they were banned from Oxford Street several years ago) neither are they being caused by taxis (because there still aren't enough of them). No, the problem here is nose-to-tail queues of red London buses lining up at a succession of traffic lights, filling the road space and completely clogging up the traffic. Just one broken down vehicle is all it takes to bring traffic flow on Oxford Street to a halt, or at least to a crawl - which is precisely what happened on my route 7 journey. Frustrated shoppers aboard my bus therefore found themselves trapped just a few yards from the next stop and potential escape (ahh, this would never have happened when all the 7s were Routemasters). In fact my bus took an astonishing 20 minutes to wend its way all the way along Oxford Street (total length 1¼miles) at an average speed of just over 3mph. I could have walked faster. I checked on a map when I got home and discovered the reason for these excessive jams, and here it is...
Buses serving central Oxford Street: 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 15, 23, 25, 55, 73, 94, 98, 113, 137, 139, 159, 176, 189, 390
That's an astonishing 19 different bus routes all serving the same section of shopping street, and all contributing to utter traffic chaos. The fact that two of these routes are served by double-length bendy buses only makes things worse, but the jams would be bad enough even without them. Oxford Street's buses definitely need a good culling. For a start we could truncate those buses which either start or finish somewhere along the street and so run mostly empty, like the 25, 113 or 189. Even the 7, which dribbles on half a mile to Russell Square, could safely be terminated at Marble Arch instead. The GLA's Liberal Democrats have gone one step further and proposed that all buses be banned from Oxford Street, a detailed plan which involves several curtailments, multiple diversions and a replacement tram route. That tram is essential though because, as my journey on the 7 revealed, hordes of lazy shoppers depend on public transport to ferry them and their heavy purchases from one Oxford Street store to another. How long before somebody bites the bullet and pedestrianises the whole area?

7 links
Route 7: anorak-level route information
Route 7: timetable
Route 7: last day of Routemaster service (July 2004)

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