Do you want a low traffic Soho?

Calling anyone who lives, works or has a child at school in Soho! Do you want less traffic, cleaner air and more space for people on Soho's streets?

Last year, members of Westminster Healthy Streets, London Living Streets and some local residents and business owners were discussing how Soho could be less dominated by motor traffic and an even better place to live, work and visit. We are now called the Low Traffic Soho group and we would love more local members! Email to find out more and get involved.

The challenges

Soho's well-loved streets are characterful and diverse. Its small area and narrow streets lend it a friendly, human scale - but are often choked with traffic. Here are some of the problems:

  • The volume of motor traffic and the size of vehicles using Soho’s narrow streets cause stress, danger and pollution
  • Deliveries, waste collection and servicing needed by Soho’s many and diverse businesses, offices and homes result in lots of (often oversized) motor vehicles
  • Air pollution is a problem; for instance NO2 breaches legal levels at Soho Parish School
  • Walking can be obstructed with many pavements narrow and cluttered; high kerbs; and parked or moving vehicles dominating much of the space
  • Accessibility is poor for people with disabilities for the same reasons - wheelchair users avoid Soho
  • A lack of direct cycle routes and parking creates barriers to everyday cycling for local journeys and for visitors to Soho.

The opportunity: build back better!

The timed street closures put in place during the Covid crisis have not just helped the hospitality industry, but shown what Soho can be like with less space for traffic and more for people. This is an opportunity for change.

Throughout Europe, cities with streets like Soho’s have already taken bold steps to reduce motor traffic significantly, even in commercial centres that require deliveries.

A vision for a low traffic Soho

A ‘Low Traffic Soho’ working group of residents and other stakeholders have been meeting with Westminster Healthy Streets over the last few months. We’ve been discussing what a bold, green, sustainable vision for Soho could look like.

We want to see:

  1. Much less traffic and cleaner air across the whole of Soho
  2. Walking, cycling and disabled access made safe and attractive, with people prioritised over motor vehicles
  3. Space reclaimed from motor vehicles to create a better public realm for residents and businesses
  4. Cleaner, more consolidated transport for deliveries, waste and logistics.

How could we achieve that? We have some ideas below. These are purely suggestions and it will be for the wider community to discuss and agree on, but we're throwing them out there...

For much less traffic and cleaner air across the whole of Soho...

  • Build on and extend the timed street closures. These can experiment with different streets, layouts and timings to benefit not only businesses but also residents and other users of the street
The timed road closures for al fresco dining have given priority to people over traffic
  • Take a 'low traffic neighbourhood' approach and remove all through traffic (with access for emergency vehicles, residents, deliveries etc). Soho's narrow streets should not be taking through traffic which is simply using the area as a short cut
As a low traffic neighbourhood, even Wardour Street would be 'access only' by vehicle

For walking, cycling and disabled access made safe and attractive – with people taking priority over vehicles...

  • Reduce traffic: by itself this will enable more people to walk, cycle or use a mobility scooter or wheelchair (often in the middle of the road)
  • Improve accessibility with dropped kerbs or a level street surface (or reduce pavement clutter)
  • Give direct, legible routes to people on bikes, rather than a confusing maze of one-way restrictions, and more bike parking
  • Reduce speed limit to 15mph on some streets: ‘vehicles are guests’
  • Provide clear, legible wayfinding for walking and cycling to help navigate Soho’s charming but confusing layout.
On a low traffic street people choose to walk, cycle or wheel in the middle of the road

For space reclaimed from motor vehicles to create a better public realm for residents and businesses...

  • Convert road and parking spaces into people spaces (and not just for businesses)

For cleaner, more consolidated transport for deliveries, waste and logistics...

  • Consolidate deliveries and waste collection, for instance by businesses working together to use the same suppliers
  • Use a consolidation hub to provide one focal point for deliveries, with distribution around Soho by small electric vehicles, cargo bikes or porters
  • Enable zero emission modes of transport like electric cargo bikes for whole journeys or the ‘last mile’
  • Time deliveries in a coordinated way across the whole of Soho
  • Restrict vehicles above a certain size (with exceptions as needed)
  • Allocate drop-off / collection points for taxis and private hire vehicles at Soho’s boundaries (with exceptions as needed).