Work at London's Trafalgar Square begins in earnest this month to transform a busy thoroughfare into an environment more suited to pedestrians. Mike Walter reports.
From next January, visitors to London's most prominent centre of tourism, culture and protest, 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.
Work at Trafalgar Square represents phase one of an ambitious scheme devised by architect Lord Foster called World Squares for All. This will also see King Charles I Island to the south, a popular vantage point with tourists, provided with more suitable crossings. A new pedestrianised area will be created at St Martin's Place, with wider pavements promised for Northumberland Avenue.
A staircase linking Trafalgar Square to the new North Terrace in spring 2003 will be the crowning glory of construction work at the site. Backed by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £1.5M, the staircase 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. Cars travelling west to east from Haymarket to the Strand will from next year drive along the west, south and east 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. A lot of buses stand outside Canada House and we need to get rid of many stands and set down points from the square, ' says Gardner.
Work began in November to construct a signalled road junction and new pedestrian island at the top of Whitehall. However, it is this month that highway alterations begin 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 and that 'small sacrifices' need to be made now for benefits to be realised later on. Even so, a concerted effort is being made to minimise disruption with conout work is now, ' says Gardner.
'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.
'Motorists will be faced with a number of different situations which may involve changes to the configuration of the roads.
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 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 £10M, project budget £25M Project team 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. '
INFOPLUS www. nceplus.co.uk/magazine www. worldsquares. com www. streetmanagement. org. uk
David Fletcher, London taxi driver of 38 years 'For pedestrians it will be delightful, but where will the traffic be expected to go?
Cyclist Rupert Waldron, a teacher from north London 'I cycle through central London quite often and find Trafalgar Square a pain.
However, the thought of more pedestrian areas around the square frustrates me as more needs to be done to encourage cyclists.'
Jason, a conductor with sightseeing bus company 'The Original Tour' 'In principle, the plans are a good idea but they could cause traffic chaos, especially as the Embankment is currently closed off every Sunday because of construction of the new Hungerford Bridge.'
The National Gallery 'Dedicating the north side of Trafalgar Square to pedestrians will greatly benefit the public and radically improve access to the gallery for the 5M people who visit each year.'