'Museum Alley' to give priority to pedestrians

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The Independent Online

Pedestrians are to be urged to take a stroll in the traffic as part of plans to transform the most "significant intellectual highway" in Britain.

Pedestrians are to be urged to take a stroll in the traffic as part of plans to transform the most "significant intellectual highway" in Britain.

In an experiment which may be adopted elsewhere in Britain, visitors to Exhibition Road in South Kensington, London, are to be given the right to walk where they want, when they want.

The £25m redesign adopts the principle of "inferred pedestrian priority" and aims to provide easier access to one of the largest and most important centres of public education in the world. The area, known as 'Museum Alley', is home to the Natural History, Science and Victoria & Albert museums; Imperial College; the Royal College of Art; the Royal College of Music; the English National Ballet and the Royal Albert Hall.

The project launched yesterday hopes to encourage careful driving and "decorous" behaviour by pedestrians. It also hopes to transform South Kensington into the vibrant cultural and educational quarter envisioned by Prince Albert when he founded museums including the Victoria & Albert there after the 1851 Great Exhibition. At present the main access to the area is through a leaky subway or along a busy dual-carriageway.

Under the new plans - one of 10 pilot schemes in Mayor Ken Livingstone's Making Space for Londoners initiative - traffic will be restricted to 20mph and channelled into two lanes, kerbs will disappear and there will be a single "attractive" surface for walkers and drivers.

The 10 million pedestrians using the road each year will be encouraged to cross the two channels of traffic where they like. The present railings, meant to keep walkers away from vehicles, will be removed.

Aimed at creating "a more welcoming, generous, attractive and accessible environment for pedestrians", the work will begin next year and should be completed in 2009.

Researchers in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany believe that strict regulation of road use discourages pedestrians and motorists from taking responsibility for their actions. Common courtesy is abandoned, they argue. The fresh approach has been tried in the Netherlands, where traffic lights and road signs were removed from certain junctions. Researchers claim the number of accidents was reduced and car journeys were quicker.

The council's planners believe that at 20mph, drivers will "engage more" with pedestrians, leading to a better balance of the "relative priorities of vehicle and foot traffic".

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea believes the present streetscape on Exhibition Road is "cluttered, incomprehensible and unfriendly to pedestrians". The council's literature adds that the thoroughfare "may be the most significant intellectual highway in Britain but this is not evident from the design and identity of the street". David Moylan, deputy leader of the borough, said: "We have some of the finest architecture and some of the most important buildings in London. If this were your private drawing room you would say that this needs proper re-decorating from time to time. Why should we have a different attitude in the public realm? Part of the aim is to try to knit this together again as an area."

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