The Legend of ‘Oxford will become a Ghost Town’ – 50 years of history

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Photo of lots of people walking in Cornmarket Street i Oxford, with umbrellas up in the rain.

Some people don’t like change. And, one of the most common reactions in Oxford it seems, is to say that the city will become a ‘ghost town’, bereft of people, shops and visitors.

This seemed a theme for the Transport Strategy of 1999, which put 5 Bus Gates in the centre of the city – and an academic study showed no significant change in footfall. 

Many studies have shown the value of traffic reduction and pedestrianisation of urban spaces to their use and retail sales. But that won’t stop the ghost stories.

Spot any more? Send them to:


Ghost Town 1976

Oxford’s 5 central Bus Gates were implemented on 1 June 1999. Objectors predicted “traffic chaos” and a loss of retail trade. 

Ghost Town 1999a
Ghost Town 1999b
Oxford High Street bus gate showing signs for buses and cycles only, with a red single deck bus and three people cycling.

A follow up study found no significant reduction in footfall. (Source: Pedestrian Pound, Living Streets)

Text: Describing that Oxford traffic reduction and pedestrianisation in 1999 reduced traffic, but did not reduce visitors.


Ghost Town 2020


Ghost Town 2007


Ghost Town 2010


Ghost Town 2018


Ghost Town 2020

OK, so this one shows that Oxford is very much NOT a ghost town. But we wanted to end on a happy note!

Ghost Town 2023b Not

A new entry on 30 May 2024.

(Almost the 25th Anniversary of the Bust Gates). 

Ghost Town 2024

Compiled by Owen McKnight (Oxford Pedestrians’ Association), April 2023, and reproduced with permission.. 

With thanks to The Oxford Mail, and apologies to @paulisci