Summer 2003, p.16

Lessons from London
London Reclaims Trafalgar Square, is Times Square Next?

As part of a larger project to improve its major public spaces, London has reclaimed Trafalgar Square from motor vehicle traffic and redesigned it to accommodate pedestrians.
As part of a larger project to improve its major public spaces, London has reclaimed Trafalgar Square from motor vehicle traffic and redesigned it to accommodate pedestrians.
London's new, successful congestion pricing program has opened up the city to thinking beyond just the flow of motor vehicle traffic. Now, the city is actively engaging in redesigning major public spaces like Trafalgar Square in the heart of London to better serve pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities and visitors. As cars move out and walking and cycling London enthusiastically moves back in to the world famous square, the question becomes, when will New York City reclaim its world famous public space-Times Square-from dangerous, suffocating car traffic?

Rethinking Trafalgar Square

Pedestrians, cyclists, people with disabilities and visitors to Trafalgar Square are now all benefiting from major improvements to the area. Trafalgar Square is London's most popular outdoor space and one of the most famous squares in the world, containing both the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery. However, the city's development and high volumes of traffic had detracted from its magnificent setting and increased pollution in the Square. Before the redesign, the Square was dominated by traffic; visitors would often have to cross up to three lanes of traffic in order to reach the center. The now pedestrianized north side of the Square carried 1,500 cars an hour and was a pedestrian danger zone. In order to turn this inaccessible speedway into a truly accessible popular public space, Transport for London, the city's transportation agency, developed its World Squares for All Masterplan in 1998. Using the plan, the city removed traffic from the north side of the square on September 1, 2002 and then constructed an impressive new pedestrian terrace and grand staircase linking the National Gallery with the square below.

A key part of the plan was reclaiming two large areas from cars, adding nearly 1,500 square meters of space for pedestrians. These improvements were expected to reduce motor vehicle traffic capacity by about 30-40%. The city has improved traffic flow with a new circular plaza, which controls traffic at the junction of five major streets. The plaza also improves access and safety for pedestrians traveling between the Square and major destinations.

Along with reducing traffic capacity in the Square, London shifted some traffic to the south of the Square. There, the city installed traffic-calming measures and changed the direction of some of the smaller roads to prevent overflow traffic and increase pedestrian safety.

In the Square, the most striking part of the makeover is the addition of a grand central staircase linking the National Gallery directly to the Square for the first time. A pedestrian piazza has replaced the road on the north side of the Square, reducing noise and improving safety and accessibility. The city has also added a slew of amenities for pedestrians, including provisions for disabled pedestrians.

For more information on the reclaiming of Trafalgar Square, see www.tfl.gov.uk/streets/wsfa_abt.shtml.


Broadway PlazaBroadway Plaza

London has recognized that its famous public places are far too valuable to overrun them with dirty, noisy car traffic, and so should New York City. A pedestrianized Times Square, known as Broadway Plaza, would benefit both pedestrians and drivers. The redesigned Square would provide the city's millions of residents and visitors with a central public gathering place to enjoy the sites and the (non-motorized) sounds of this great city as well as improve traffic flow for drivers by eliminating the traffic crossing of 7th Avenue and Broadway. Instead, what is supposed to be the "Crossroads of the World" is now a congested highway for speeding taxis and cars eager to move through rather than move in the Square.

Broadway Plaza would encompass both Broadway and the adjoining traffic island with the TKTS booth, creating a large gathering spot. There could also be room for a second plaza on Broadway south of 45th Street, below the building at 1 Times Square, where the famous ball drops.