Sushila Dhall of Oxford Pedestrians Association looks at the possibilities for Broad Street and St Giles

In Oxford city centre there are two streets which should be the jewels in Oxford’s crown - Broad Street and St Giles.

Both are historic streets, surrounded by buildings of immense beauty, both could be public squares with places to sit, walk, and relax, and where there could be stalls, fountains, street theatre, numerous outdoor activities, places to breathe deeply and enjoy. Instead, both streets are dominated by motorised traffic, both moving and parked.

St Giles is an example of an opportunity constantly missed.

It is wider than many motorways, in that there is space in its width for six lanes of traffic, but functions for most of its length as two lanes of traffic due to the narrower roads at either end.

On either side of this potentially magnificent square the space is taken up by car-parking, and pedestrians are forced into narrow margins, from where the views are of walls and parked cars.

A survey carried out over many weeks by Oxford Pedestrians Association demonstrated (to our surprise) that the largest group using St Giles is pedestrians, moving across the space as well as north and south.

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Surveyors witnessed many near misses as walkers crossed, dodging motorised vehicles; there is no crossing over this vast space.

The 20mph signs on St Giles are tiny and easy to miss, and motorised traffic often picks up speed on this wide road, especially currently with less traffic due to lockdown.

Broad Street is also an opportunity missed, with unattractive temporary fencing around a seating area, car parking dominating the central part of the square, and frequent vehicles bypassing the bollard (which does not always work properly) at the west end.

The Big Green Day Out in Broad Street in 2017

The Big Green Day Out in Broad Street in 2017

The Kim Wilkie Study, recently revived at a public talk, had speakers reviving the proposal to close the east end to traffic and open up the west end again to motors.

This may appear convincing until you look at where traffic would enter and exit the space: Magdalen Stret or George Street and Turl Street, all of which are either narrow, restricted, heavily polluted and crowded.

However, the whole of Broad Street could be made beautiful, with the car parking removed, and with tree planting, places to sit without barriers, a public space from which the unique buildings could be appreciated and enjoyed.

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If pedestrians were truly considered as important as policy documents have suggested for the past decades, St Giles could be treated like Frideswide Square, narrowing the lanes to what is actually used, and Broad Street could be completely pedestrianised.

Councillors Yvonne Constance and Tom Hayes in Broad Street which could be pedestrianised in the summer

Councillors Yvonne Constance and Tom Hayes in Broad Street which could be pedestrianised in the summer

Such bold moves would give some space to people in our currently still traffic-dominated city, and bring Oxford up to a standard enjoyed by other magnificent historic cities across the world.