Oxford City Council, working with Oxfordshire County Council, is set to part pedestrianise George Street to enable businesses to introduce outdoor dining.
The road closure, between New Inn Hall Street and Cornmarket Street, will provide space for outdoor tables and chairs for around 11 hospitality businesses between 10am and 9pm, as well as a two-way cycle lane.
The new tables and chairs areas aim to support hospitality businesses that need additional space outdoors to be able to operate on a commercial basis whilst maintaining social distancing.
The pedestrianisation will be run as a trial with an anticipated start date of 22 August, continuing until 20 September 2020.
The City Council is only able to pedestrianise George Street now because there are relatively few vehicles travelling through Oxford city centre at the moment compared to previous years.
It will only be possible implement similar pedestrianisation schemes in George Street in future if the overall level of traffic is reduced in Oxford city centre. The City Council and County Council have just completed a public consultation on proposals to introduce further bus gates into Oxford city centre to achieve this.
The changes are part of a wide range of measures – including free parking at Oxford’s park and rides – to support businesses in Oxford city centre.
Pedestrianising George Street
The pedestrianisation will provide space for tables and chairs initially for Ask Italian, Bella Italia, Black Sheep Coffee, Chozen Noodle, Franco Manca, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, O’Neill’s, Oxford Brunch Bar, The Grapes, and Wig and Pen.
Other George Street businesses may join the outdoor dining space in the future.
The City Council has consulted with businesses along George Street over recent weeks.
The pavements in George Street are narrow in places and, without the pedestrianisation, restaurants and cafes would not be able to offer outside dining.
The road closure will end at New Inn Hall Street to enable deliveries and disabled parking to continue in New Inn Hall Street and St Michael’s Street, and to continue to allow taxis and deliveries access via Gloucester Street.
Pedestrianisation measures are being examined by the City Council’s inclusive travel focus group, which includes people with disabilities and those representing disability charities. The City Council established the group in May to scrutinise changes to the city centre and make recommendations for an inclusive economic and city centre recovery.
The City Council will install large planters – created by Oxford-based social enterprise RAW – to stop vehicles from entering the pedestrianised area. The City Council is also working with RAW to install planters at newly-pedestrianised areas elsewhere in the city centre, including St Michael’s Street.
The road closure will be lifted at 9.30pm each day, providing businesses with half an hour to clean up and move the planters aside before traffic resumes in George Street.
Retaining route for cyclists
The road will be closed to all motorised vehicles, but a two-way central cycle lane will be retained through the road closure for bikes.
With the recent pedestrianisation of St Michael’s Street, and cyclists restricted from using Queen Street, the cycle lane aims to continue to provide an east-west route for cyclists through the city centre all day.
Moving bus stops
The County Council, the highways authority for Oxford, has moved the bus stops in George Street to nearby roads.
All of the bus stops on George Street will be out of use including the pair outside Gloucester Green, which are outside of the closure area. Arrangements for the various routes differ, but instead of using stops on George Street, new temporary stops on Beaumont Street will be used, or existing stops on Magdalen Street or in Gloucester Green.
The bus stops on George Street will be marked ‘out of use’ during the pedestrianisation, and notices will be placed on them to direct bus users to the nearest alternative stop. The bus operators will communicate the changes in advance at the stops, on buses, through social media channels and on their websites.
The City Council and County Council have worked closely with bus companies on the proposals over recent weeks.
Sale of alcohol
The hospitality businesses have been invited to apply for a licence to operate in the street, including serving alcohol.
However, as a condition of the licence, the businesses will only be able to serve alcohol to those dining.
The City Council will not allow people to only drink alcohol in the dining area, and businesses that allow this will have their outdoor licence removed.
The City Council will work with Thames Valley Police – which has been consulted about the proposals – and premises owners to encourage responsible use of the pedestrianised space, including adhering to Government rules on social distancing.
The Councils are only able to pedestrianise George Street now because there are relatively fewer vehicles travelling through Oxford compared to normal.
In normal times there is too much congestion in Beaumont Street caused by private vehicles using the city centre as a cut-through that, if buses stopped in Beaumont Street instead of George Street, they would be so delayed that they would not be able to meet their timetables.
To meet their timetables, the bus companies would have to introduce more buses into the city centre, which would further compound the congestion and would be financially unviable.
The temporary pedestrianisation of George Street will end on 20 September, when University of Oxford students return, fewer people will likely be working from home, and traffic cutting through the city centre is expected to increase.
City centre bus gates
A regular or even permanent pedestrianisation of George Street would only be possible if cut-through traffic was removed from Beaumont Street, as this would then allow bus stops to be moved from George Street to Beaumont Street whilst maintaining reliability.
The City Council and County Council are proposing to install temporary bus gates in Oxford city centre, with the aim of reducing overall traffic levels, improving the reliability of buses, and enabling road space to be reallocated to pedestrians, cyclists and businesses.
A public survey to gather views about the bus gates proposal, which closed on Sunday (9/8) received more than 7,000 responses.
The City Council and County Council are now analysing the responses, which will inform the detailed proposal, including the specific location of the bus gates, timings and exemptions.
The survey responses, and the responses to the formal stakeholder consultation that will take place in September, will be considered by the County Council’s Cabinet in October 2020 – when a decision on whether and how to go ahead with the project will be taken.
Wider work to support businesses
The pedestrianisation of George Street is part of a wide range of work to support businesses in Oxford city centre through the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council has introduced a one-way pedestrian flow system in Oxford city centre and the Cowley Road to help people maintain social distancing; installed new bike parking at Oxford’s park and rides and in Oxford city centre; and created designated rest areas to keep pedestrians moving in the city centre’s busy and narrow streets.
Earlier this month, the City Council introduced new tables and chairs zones across the city centre, including in Cornmarket Street and the newly part-pedestrianised section of St Michael’s Street, to support hospitality businesses.
“In this sunny weather, we’re seeing people come together to enjoy great food, great company, and great times. After locking down for so long, people want to be together. Businesses need support to serve as many customers as possible and giving George Street back to the people by emptying it of vehicles is the right solution.
“Our part pedestrianisation is, of course, a trial run, but we’ll be watching and learning as we do with all trials. We’re proposing at least two bus gates for our economic and city centre recovery. Bus gates are the key that unlock more pedestrianisation, more protection for businesses, and more patronage of public transport.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford
“Having the ability to let guests use outside spaces is a key factor in the continuous provision of safe places to eat and drink in Oxford city centre. Working together with the Councils and other associated authorities, we can create new beginnings that will help drive income for business and ensure that our guests are being well looked after. We at O’Neill’s Oxford are really looking forward to embracing the future of hospitality, and the provision of outside tables and chairs is the perfect start on George Street.”
Eamon O’Sullivan, General Manager of O’Neill’s Oxford at 37 George Street
"As an independent business, we have drastically felt the impact of Covid-19. Although the government initiatives are helpful, we are always looking for a way to improve. We feel that the temporary pavement pedestrianisation is an excellent next step to support the many businesses on George Street. We hope to see improvement in sales and general foot traffic to George Street, not just for cafes but also for the restaurants and shops."
Leah Villacorta, General Manager of Oxford Brunch Bar
"It has never been so important for the community to support the city's hospitality to aid in its recovery from COVID-19.
“Whilst the pedestrianisation will impact several of our services, we recognise that it will provide the much needed outdoor space for businesses to operate alongside an inviting al fresco experience for customers.
“We will be issuing communications to our passengers regarding changes to affected stops in order to ensure travelling by bus remains an attractive option and to encourage consideration amongst diners who would typically choose to travel by car.
"The proposed bus gates are very important to address the long standing issues with traffic congestion and will enable us to run more punctual and reliable services across the city and provide an appealing alternative to the car as part of the need to improve active travel across the county."
Chris Coleman, Managing Director of Stagecoach Oxfordshire
“We are supportive of this trial as part of a campaign to encourage people to come into Oxford city centre, preferably by bus, to help aid our economic recovery. If it proves successful, we would need to consider how it could be accommodated more permanently, which would require a review of routes and bus stops across the city centre, which we would be happy to engage with.
“Bus gates can play a key part in re-shaping the city centre by reducing congestion and providing greater certainty to passengers on journey times. Bus gates could also create additional cross-city bus routeing opportunities which is something customers regularly request.”
Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company Managing Director