Conflict & Justice

Pedestrian slow lane in London

One of the world's busiest shopping streets is trying a new technique for confronting pedestrian gridlock. Oxford Street, in London's west end, attracts millions of tourists and shoppers every year, but the area is also home to thousands of office workers who have to fight for space on the crowded sidewalks.

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�It's a very narrow road,� said Jace Tyrell, spokesman for the New West End Company which represents 600 businesses in and around Oxford Street. �You know it was set by the Romans many hundreds of years ago. It's been used by horse and carriages two hundred years ago and it's never got any bigger but actually more and more people have been coming to this street so something is going to have to change in the future.�

The company's solution is to encourage shoppers and strollers to a virtual slow lane alongside shop windows and store fronts in order to allow locals to speed along on the other half of the sidewalk.

It will be a challenge, especially with the busy Christmas shopping season at hand, according to Jeffrey Adams.

�We judge how good a Christmas it is if you can see the pavement,� Adams said. �If you can it's not a good Christmas.�

Adams patrols Oxford Street as a Red Cap, hired by the business group to greet visitors and give them directions. He supports any idea that will help to ease the gridlock and reduce the number of cases of pedestrian road rages he faces each day.

�We see it all the time,� Adams said. �Because you have the two types of people. You have the ones who want to dawdle, who want to shop, spend endless time in front of the big shop windows and you have actually people that want to go somewhere who work there or need to get from one shop to the next. It would make a big difference.�

The initiative does not have the official backing of civic politicians. There are plans to include the new rules of sidewalk etiquette on signs and local guidemaps. For now, the Red Caps, decked out in their signature hats and long black coats, will use gentle persuasion to encourage shoppers and tourists to stick to the virtual slow lane.

Not everyone seems convinced the idea will work.

�It sounds over the top to me,� said one busy shopper. �I think it's great to have somebody here who shows you where the shops are because it's a vast place. But to have people monitoring where you're walking, I think that's a bit over the top.�