London has a wealth of entertainment for its residents and visitors to enjoy. Even when categorised though, they are too numerous to mention. Every guide book and review has its own comment, preference and persuasion. Not many however, would recommend you visit one particular exhibition that has caught the attention lately. The exhibition I refer to is Exhibition Road and okay so it’s not actually an exhibition but it is something worth seeing.
Let me explain. The once traffic-heavy highway runs 820 metres from Hyde Park at its northern point extending south to cross Cromwell Road and meet South Kensington Station. It passes some of our busiest museums, and is a few steps from The Albert Hall at one end and Knightsbridge at the other. Millions of visitors from around the world use Exhibition Road every year but this time last year the results of an audacious £30million refurbishment project were revealed as the road fully re-opened.
In a bold move, the ‘traffic furniture’ has been completely stripped away. All of those traffic lights, railings, signposts, safety barriers, even kerbs and pavements have all gone. Instead a wide open thoroughfare has been created and resurfaced with the aim of making all road users co-exist harmoniously and safely. The entire area is a chequered pattern of pink and black cubes of Chinese granite and the street lights are now spaced along the centre line as tall elegant masts complementing the grand buildings either side.The pedestrian areas are flatter and more continuous to improve access for pushchairs, wheelchairs and motorised buggies and are separated from traffic with distinctive black iron drainage covers. These continuos lines provide a clear partition from traffic and feel heavily ribbed under foot to aid the blind and partially sighted.
For drivers the road is a pleasing, consistent surface, the speed limit is reduced to 20mph and the new open sightline makes a remarkably positive difference to the driving experience. The open nature of the new road promotes additional caution in drivers and more engagement with fellow road users.
There is no doubt that aesthetically this is a huge step forward. As well as transforming the street into a magnificent and truly handsome version of itself, traffic volume has been significantly reduced, it certainly feels safer whether on two wheels, four or on foot. It is a much improved environment.
If this is a blueprint for the future of our cities then it may be ambitious but there is much positive evidence to be drawn from the first 12 months of the new Exhibition Road.
Stripped of all the metal and plastic, the railings and flashing lights, the kerbs and islands then apparently there is room for everybody. Traffic is thinner, slower and becoming cleaner and I suspect it must continue that way to give a scheme like this a chance to succeed.
It is a bold move though, and lessons learned in the first 12 months will already advance and encourage similar schemes. There is still some divided opinion as to the long term success of ‘shared’ open road use of this kind in London but this example will be followed, improved upon and adapted further. We are likely to see more of our streets making something of an ‘exhibition’ of themselves before too long.