Westminster City Council has announced a £14 million overhaul of Piccadilly Circus that will do away with its one-way system and remove guard railings installed almost half a century ago in a naked streets-style scheme similar to one introduced at Oxford Circus last year.
The area to be given a new streetscape includes Pall Mall and will be in place ahead of that street hosting the finish of the Olympic road cycling events at London 2012. According to Westminster City Council, the railings being removed will provide enough material to make 800 bicycles. That may be true, but we're pretty sure that wouldn't include anything ridden by a competitor at the London Games.
The scheme is aimed at creating more space for pedestrians and making the statue of Eros that stands at the busy junction more of a focal point together with the famous neon signs, and is also designed to give the area a refreshed look ahead of the Olympics, with a number of events taking place nearby, including beach volleyball on Horse Guards Parade and the marathon and triathlon, which also finish on Pall Mall.
The improved streetscape will include central islands being installed in Piccadilly and Pall Mall, which will provide more opportunities for pedestrians to cross those streets, while both, along with St James’s Street, will be reopened to two-way traffic which the council says should alleviate congestion at Piccadilly Circus and the St James’s Street Area.
That would presumably also mean doing away with the notorious Piccadilly contraflow bus lane, which is segregated from the rest of the street by railings, and where tourists have been known to be caught out by buses suddenly appearing from the opposite direction to the rest of the traffic as they cross the road.
The improvements will be carried out in along Piccadilly from Green Park Station to Piccadilly Circus, and down St James’s Street, along Pall Malll and up to Haymarket, and will be supervised by engineering consultancy Atkins, which also worked on the redesign of Oxford Circus.
According to Westminster City Council, that scheme is expected to have generated an additional £6.5 million in benefits during its first year alone, more than covering the costs of the project.
Councillor Colin Barrow, Westminster City Council's Leader, announced the scheme at a full council meeting last night and said: "This is an iconic landmark and it deserves a setting all Londoners can be proud of and enjoy visiting.”
He added: "In 2012 our capital will capture the world's attention and our plans to transform Piccadilly Circus and the surrounding area will ensure visitors are as impressed by the city's streets and all they have to offer, as they are with the sporting talent many will have travelled so far to see."
Westminster City Council has applied to Transport for London (TfL) for half the funding for the scheme and is awaiting a decision on that, expected shortly, and the balance would be funded by the council itself as well as The Crown Estate, which owns the land occupied by Regent Street, and the upmarket grocer, Fortnum and Mason. The plans also have the support of the local heritage body, the St James’s Conservation Area Trust.
David Shaw, Head of Regent Street Portfolio at The Crown Estate commented: "We are delighted that Cllr Barrow has announced Westminster City Council’s financial support for the proposed streetscape and public realm improvements to Piccadilly and Piccadilly Circus, which we are happy to match fund. This innovative scheme will deliver major improvements for residents, visitors and business alike ahead of the Olympics and follows on from last year’s highly successful partnership between The Crown Estate, Westminster City Council and Transport for London to regenerate Oxford Circus."
Beverley Aspinall, Managing Director of Fortnum and Mason, added: "Fortnum & Mason is delighted to be supporting this important development which will restore one of London’s most famous, important and historic streets to its former glory. We are especially pleased that the work will be completed in time for the international celebrations for the Olympic Games and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.