I read with interest an article in the Evening Standard yesterday and feel I should comment about a proposed monorail for Oxford Street.
I should explain that I am an engineer with a lot of experience of transport projects around the world, mainly because the software I wrote, Artemis, was used to plan them.
I am also an inveterate traveller and have experience of a very large number of cities around the world. That experience is usually as a tourist and includes the Sydney monorail, the escalators of Hong Kong and the underground walkways of Perugia. I should also say that I visit the Oxford Street area at least once a month for shopping, eating or business.
I will agree with the plan, where the monorail gives the whole street a connection and a focus, but I believe that a moving walkway suspended over the street below would be much more flexible and inherently better.
- It could be built in stages, with perhaps a spectacular star over Oxford Circus as a first phase to move people from say Regent Street North to Oxford Street East and West without getting involved in the fearsome crowds at road level.
- Walkways are basically hop-on and hop-off. So if you see a shop or something else that interests you, then all you do is wait to the next hop-off point and exit.
- As the walkway progressed down Oxford Street, it could rise and fall so that it was level with the floors of the major stores. How much would John Lewis pay for an entrance at first floor level?
- Stops would be much more frequent than a monorail.
- Walkways are a fail-safe system in that when the motor breaks, the system is still walkable. What happens when a monorail breaks down as the Sydney system did when I rode it?
- Walkways can add spurs as required to Conference Centres, attractions and also to move people well away from Oxford Street.
- As they would run effectively from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch, they would take the pressure off the Central Line.
- Just as in Hong Kong it would be covered in a clear plastic roof. Video screens could be included under the roof to sell advertising.
- Security is important and I'm sure the Police would like a high-level walkway from which to view the crowds below.
- Bulges and platforms could be attached to the walkway, so that cafes and other attractions could be setup. If access is provided to stores on route, there would be no problems as to servicing these cafes.
- The whole system has to be commercial. Imagine a platform just by Selfridges which sells the Wallace Collection, with a down escalator pointing that way.
I also agree with the views of making Oxford Street a two way bus-only lane. But they must be Heritage walk-on walk-off buses. i.e. Routemasters. They should be free and they could turn at Marble Arch and Centre Point.
Best of luck with the project anyway.
But I still say a moving walkway would be better and infinitely more flexible.
Update - September 2006
The Evening Standard saw this page and asked me to rewrite it as a letter, which duly appeared in the paper.