Oxford Street and Park Lane in sights for overhauls

Friday 10 July 2015

Exhibition Road © RBKC

London must concentrate on balancing the place and movement needs of the capital’s streets, with major work required on Oxford Street to help it cope with even more visitors after Crossrail is up and running.

That was one of the key messages from this morning’s ‘Streets are Places too’ conference at NLA, whose scene was set by Arup director Alexander Jan. The West End Weave work his firm has undertaken for the New West End Partnership aims to help the area cope with the high levels of ‘stress’ the area’s streets are feeling in the run up to Crossrail’s opening in 2018. Even now, some 280 million annual visits are made to Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and 22 other adjoining streets. With those figures set to rise, they need managing and dispersal, with the Weave project preparing a ‘road map’ to allow for more and better public realm, green routes and better pedestrian connections throughout the West End. There was also scope for experimentation, said Jan, with Sir Peter Hendy recently signaling that the time may be right for a radical new bus ban approach on Oxford Street. Ultimately, Jan said during questions, ‘there is a real prize to go for’, with the potential to think about some kind of boulevard concept running from Farringdon to Marble Arch as an exciting potential mayoral project.

TfL Urban Design Team principal urban design advisor Gareth Sumner said that streets are the lifeblood of our city, and that TfL was aiming to shift the emphasis more from them being simply for movement to being places. Underground stations have always been movement hubs but in reality have never been designed as ‘factories of movement’ alone, he said, with shopping, art, busking and architecture all part of the picture too. But it is important to get the public realm around stations right as the first thing that people see of an area – and first impressions stick. So TfL will be launching station public realm design guidance later this year, while Roads Task Force work has categorized nine street types in the capital based on the balance of movement and place. ‘This allows place to be recognized from the start’, said Sumner. ‘We need to make streets places too.’

Finally, architect Liam Hennessy presented an idea which encapsulated much of the spirit of the speakers preceding him. The proposal is to transform the southbound carriageway of Park Lane into a boulevard, with the northbound section easily big enough, said Hennessy, to take all the traffic as a two-way street. As it is, the central islands of Park Lane are inaccessible and in area are greater than Grosvenor Square. ‘It’s an extraordinary wasted space in central London’, he said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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