The council has been pleased with the success of the pedestrianisation of Leicester Square, which was made completely traffic-free last year, and has commissioned a study on the environment of Trafalgar Square and the Strand with the idea of improving amenities for pedestrians. One idea is to close the north side of Trafalgar Square in front of the National Gallery and Duncannon Street which links it with the Strand.
The council planner in charge of the project, Malcolm Haxby, said: 'This is a great opportunity to improve the environment of Trafalgar Square. It will be wonderful if we could do it.'
A report by consultants W S Atkins is due in December. It follows a similar review by consultants Ove Arup in the Eighties, not supported by the council, under which traffic would have been re-routed along the south side of the square.
The new move follows an initiative by the Civic Trust and the owners of several buildings in the Strand, including the Savoy. Colin Davis, who undertook the study for the Civic Trust, said: 'There are a lot of excellent buildings in the Strand which are particularly interesting because they are owned by their occupiers. This is unusual in London. At the moment they are hidden and the traffic completely dominates. We need to make the pavements wider and look at other improvements.'
Another suggestion is to link the 18th century church of St Mary le Strand at the Aldwych end of the Strand, which is currently an island in the traffic, with one of the pavements.
The plans for Trafalgar Square are part of a series of initiatives by the Tory-controlled council which is starting to re-examine its policies towards pedestrianisation.
In the past, according to Brian Richards, an architect and author of Transport in Cities, the council has been reluctant to consider schemes favouring pedestrians: 'They are even continuing to build car parks in central London, which is ridiculous. But they seem to be changing their
emphasis a bit to favour pedestrians.'
Westminster is soon to commission a study into traffic restrictions in Soho and the feasibility of blocking some streets so that cafes could open on to the pavement.
Tony Mackintosh, managing director of the Groucho Club, said: 'It would be relatively easy to block off several roads like Frith and Greek Streets, allowing restaurants and cafes to spread on to the streets. At the moment the pollution in Soho is awful because of the trucks and lorries.' The area could not be completely blocked off because of the need for deliveries.
Mr Richards says that the council appears belatedly to be recognising that the growth in traffic must be restricted: 'London is miles behind cities abroad in Germany or even France which put us to shame with well-conceived pedestrianisation schemes. Some provincial cities, such as Leeds, are developing very good schemes. We are 20 years behind.'
Westminster has also recently opened the first phase of its scheme to improve Oxford Street. Although the same amount of space is being allowed for cars, by removing traffic islands, tidying up the street furniture and creating raised pedestrian crossings, the amount of space for pedestrians is greatly increased. The second phase has been brought forward, work has already started and the council hopes to complete the whole street within three years if funds from the private sector are forthcoming.
Mr Haxby said: 'Oxford Street and Leicester Square have been very successful. You have to do these things slowly but the potential environmental benefits are enormous.'
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