Work at London's Trafalgar Square begins in earnest this month to transform a busy thoroughfare into an environment more suited to pedestrians.
From January 2003, visitors to London's famous Trafalgar Square will be able to walk from the National Gallery to Nelson's Column via a new pedestrian North Terrace without having to cross five lanes of busy traffic.
Phase one of an ambitious scheme devised by architect Lord Foster called World Squares for All will also see the popular tourist vantage point of King Charles I Island to the south, provided with more suitable crossings. A new pedestrianised area will be created at St Martin's Place, with wider pavements promised for Northumberland Avenue.
Finally, a staircase linking Trafalgar Square to the new North Terrace, built with the help of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of US-2.1M, will open up the view of the National Gallery portico.
The improvements to Trafalgar Square are being managed by London Mayor Ken Livingstone's Transport for London Street Management division. Project manager Paul Gardner says the project is an unusual and exciting exercise in one of the capital's key locations.
'Over the years Trafalgar Square has become a massive traffic island and we are now rebalancing the needs of pedestrians with vehicles. Building a scheme in such a congested area is a real challenge, ' he says.
Allowing pedestrians greater freedom will involve re-routing vehicles around three sides of the square, travelling counter clockwise around Nelson's Column.
On the south side of the square, King Charles I Island will become a roundabout which, according to Gardner, will better control the flow of traffic.
The ultimate impact of the newly configured Trafalgar Square on traffic flows is difficult to calculate, Gardner says, because individual motorists tend to react differently to a situation.
'With the best will in the world you can't accurately predict traffic movement, especially as a high percentage of motorists who use the square are taxi drivers who have unpredictable journeys. We are monitoring the situation and may alter the traffic signals to balance traffic flows both during the works and after they are complete, ' he says.
Patterns of pedestrian movement at Trafalgar Square were studied a few years ago to establish where people typically congregate and how they move around the site.
Improving bus movements into and around the square is a key element of the contract.
Contraflow bus lanes will be built in Cockspur Street and the Strand and a new loop for buses created taking in Whitehall Place and Northumberland Avenue.
'Trafalgar Square is a turning place for many buses and a terminus for a lot of day routes. We need to get rid of many stands and set down points from the square, ' says Gardner.
Work began in November 2001 with construction of a signalled road junction and new pedestrian island at the top of Whitehall. Now highway alterations have begun in earnest and motorists will start to gauge the effect of the planned works over the coming 12 months.
Gardner says a degree of delay and inconvenience is inevitable. But a concerted effort is being made to minimise disruption with construction taking place in seven carefully planned phases.
'Good traffic management is the key, ' says Gardner. 'Drivers will be given plenty of advance warning and each phase of the works will be signed accordingly.
'Temporary traffic lights will be installed and a vast network of cameras will be monitoring the situation, ' he adds.
Detailed traffic management plans for each phase are entered on to a web based software program called ProjectNet, which interested parties such as the police and contractor Fitzpatrick can access.
Special events to be held in Trafalgar Square this year include celebrations for the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the Chinese New Year.
'Regular meetings are held involving the Greater London Authority and Westminster City Council to discuss how events will be dealt with during the works, ' says Gardner.
In preparation for each event this year, all current roadworks in the square will be suspended for the duration and works sites fenced off.
Aesthetic improvements to Trafalgar Square will include new trees, seating and the addition of York Stone paving and granite to certain areas. And to ensure that the newly constructed square is not immediately dug up, Street Management asked utilities companies to bring forward any plans to install new services. 'The time to carry out work is now, ' says Gardner.
The North Terrace traffic will be banned from the north side of Trafalgar Square allowing pedestrians to walk freely from the National Gallery to Nelson's Column
The National Gallery
A new stairway to be built here in spring 2003
St Martin's Place
King Charles I Island Will be enlarged and made circular to allow traffic to use the island as a roundabout
One of many new pedestrian crossings
INFOPLUS www. nceplus. co. uk/magazine www. worldsquares. com www. streetmanagement. org. uk Project team Client: Transport for London Street Management Main contractor: Fitzpatrick Project manager: Schal International Management Construction consultant:
Davis Langdon & Everest Detailed designer:
WS Atkins Architectural designer:
Lord Foster Contract value:
Target cost US-14M, project budget US-36M