Making Westminster a safe place for active travel

Debbie Jackson, Executive Director of Growth, Planning and Housing at Westminster City Council highlights the ways in which the Council have achieved their commitments to making cleaner and greener spaces by encouraging active travel, and meeting their carbon neutral targets by 2030.

At Westminster City Council, greener and cleaner is one of our key commitments to residents, and one of four pillars in the council’s City for All strategy. We believe that with our incredible and diverse cultural offer and efficient infrastructure, we can model a world leading sustainable city working in partnership with residents, businesses, and visitors.

In 2019, the council declared a climate emergency and we are committed to becoming a carbon neutral council by 2030 and a carbon neutral city by 2040. We know we face an extremely tough challenge tackling air quality in Westminster, which is one of the worst areas suffering from air pollution in the UK. We are constantly undertaking a range of initiatives to combat this, including decarbonising council offices, libraries, and leisure centres; refitting our streetlights with LED bulbs (reducing emissions by 56 per cent); and installing more than 1,000 electric vehicle chargers on our streets. We are also installing a giant Carbon Bubble to represent a tonne of CO2, which will help people visualise how their daily activities can impact emissions and make them think about how to reduce their carbon footprint. Council emissions only account for 2 per cent of Westminster’s total emissions, and we want to encourage residents and visitors to the city to think about the impact of their own daily habits and make positive changes.

One of our biggest plans, to adapt to the post pandemic world and become more sustainable, is our £150 million investment to revolutionise the UK’s most famous high street. Our plans for the Oxford Street District will see more space for people, 25 new mature trees, 1,500 new plants, 55 new seating areas and ‘pocket parks’. We want to change the way people experience and move around Westminster, enticing them to walk, cycle, dwell, look up and drink it in.

A transformed Oxford Circus will see the creation of two car-free piazzas on Oxford Street, at either side of the Circus – completely changing the setting of the renowned architecture and stores hosted by the Circus. This will improve people’s safety and security and give them a much-needed space to pause and step out of the flow of shoppers from Oxford and Regent Street. Through this scheme, we are prioritising people over traffic to help us achieve our aim to improve air quality. This scheme is linked with our ‘Greenways’ project, which will improve the experience of cyclists across the Oxford Street District and more widely in the city. Similarly, our Strand Aldwych project will transform a traffic-dominated gyratory into a new public space for the city.

Across Westminster we have also introduced 11km of temporary cycle lanes in the past year in response to a dramatic increase in people cycling and to encourage more people to safely cycle in the city.

Creating more places for people to enjoy being outside is extremely important to us, particularly in dense urban areas of the city. We’re transforming the way people live their lives, with new green pathways and open spaces for everyone to enjoy. The importance of people’s access to local green and open spaces was thrown into sharp relief during the early stages of lockdown, and it’s something we want to ensure everyone has access to. Works are currently underway in the Church Street area to create the ‘Green Spine’ – a pedestrian-friendly route full of greenery and biodiverse planting.  There will be play areas for children, free outdoor gym equipment and quiet spaces in the park to stop and take in the scenery, it’s hoped all generations will want to make use of the space.

We want to make it easier and safer for people to cycle to work or walk around the West End’s famous streets. These innovative measures we continue to introduce will enable Westminster to become a blueprint for how modern cities can take on the challenges of climate change and encourage active ways of travel.