The Crown Estate, the state body which owns both sides of Regent Street along with large tracts of the most exclusive parts of central London, has unveiled plans to make the area more pedestrian-friendly. Work on the scheme could start in 2000.
The environmentally-friendly vision includes pedestrianising the shopping area of Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, as well as the entertainment destinations of Soho and Covent Garden, and the ceremonial spaces of Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and Parliament Square.
At present more than 150 buses an hour travel along Regent Street between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus during rush hours and outside rush hour there are lines of empty buses waiting in the street. One solution is to introduce advanced bus control measures such as an automatic vehicle location system.
Christopher Howes, chief executive of the Crown Estate, said: "As freeholders of virtually all the property in Regent Street the Crown Estate has taken the initiative to seek a solution to the traffic problems in the street, in a step which recognises the importance we place on this unique part of the nation's heritage.
"The Crown Estate has already shown its commitment to Regent Street with investment amounting to at least pounds 100m during the past ten years, and we are determined to reinforce this and push through our vision for a pedestrian-friendly shopping environment - a move which will contribute towards making Regent Street the top shopping destination in Europe.
"In our view, the ideal solution would be to remove all traffic from Regent Street and have a dedicated form of environmentally-friendly transport, a rapid transit system. This is the beginning of what will obviously be a lengthy and complicated process. However, we are aiming to carry out consultations and select the preferred option so that implementation can begin in the year 2000."
Last year the Crown Estate commissioned transport planning and urban design consultants, WS Atkins, to develop traffic management and environmental enhancement solutions for Regent Street. WS Atkins has come back with three options which are being put to statutory consultees as well as stakeholders and interest groups.
The first combines side road closures and improved pedestrian facilities with bus lanes running the length of Regent Street; the second would double the width of pavements and close the road to all vehicles except buses, taxis, emergency vehicles and other essential vehicles; and the third option involves closing Oxford Street to traffic and installing a dedicated rapid transit system.