As temperatures dip to near zero and the Beast from the East chills London with its icy breath, the prospect of hanging around outside feels less than enticing. But sunnier days will come. And with them, the chance to enjoy a welcome new pedestrianised public space in central London.
This week, a brand new outdoor spot opened, transforming a polluted and gridlocked stretch of the Strand into a pedestrianised hangout. The area in front of Somerset House, the beautiful St Clement Danes church and King’s College London is now traffic free. The 170-metre-long new space is designed to encourage people to linger, and is laid out with benches, landscaping and trees that will blossom come spring.
Once, Aldwych – the elegantly curving street that acts as the gateway to the West End – was notoriously dangerous to cross, especially after a few pints. Now, it has two lanes of traffic instead of the four it previously had, making room for wider pavements and new crossings, designed to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Westminster City Council’s redevelopment project has been three years in the making and has cost a whopping £22 million. It’s been put together in consultation with partner King’s College London, which will use the new space for various lecturer-led projects: the Geography Department is already monitoring air, noise and pollution levels, and more plans are in the pipeline for next year.
There’s also a new art installation which opened this week on the site. Somerset House Studios resident artist Nick Ryan’s ‘The VoiceLine’ celebrates Strand’s involvement in the history of radio, celebrating the first BBC broadcast from Marconi House in 1922. It uses 100 years of BBC archive sounds to create an audio installation, played by a line of 39 speakers.
This is a bold redevelopment project. But it’s not as bold as cyclists were hoping. Some are concerned that it will still be negotiate the Strand once it’s thronged with pedestrians, and aggrieved that the redesigned Aldwych has wider pavements, but no dedicated cycle lanes.
Still, it’s one encouraging step towards a more traffic-free central London. Perhaps Westminster City Council could reopen those axed plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street?