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Strand Aldwych: Central London’s new public space

Laura Puttkamer
London
Strand Aldwych is becoming greener and more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists. Image: Unsplash

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Central London is getting its first new public space in a decade: The new pedestrianised area called Strand Aldwych opened in December 2022 in Aldwych next to Somerset House close to the Thames. Read everything about the new public space by LDA Design here!

A pedestrian paradise

Strand Aldwych, London’s new public space is set to be a pedestrian paradise: It transforms the formerly polluted and often gridlocked stretch of Strand, a major thoroughfare in Westminster city, into an attractive outdoor spot. The area in front of Somerset House, around St Clement Danes church and King’s College London is now traffic-free. Overall, the new space is about 170 metres long. Designers LDA want to encourage people to linger: benches, landscaping and trees adorn the space.

Strand used to be notoriously dangerous to cross. Now the street only has two lanes of traffic instead of four. This creates space for new public places, wider pavements, and new crossings. The City of Westminster funded this project to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The redevelopment project has been in the making for about three years and has cast 22 million GBP (25.2 million Euros).

King’s College London has partnered with the City of Westminster to consult on the pedestrianisation of the Strand. The university will implement several lecturer-led projects in the new space. For example, the King’s Geography Department is already monitoring air, noise, and pollution levels.

Strand Aldwych is one of London's busiest streets. Photo: Bruno Martins via Unsplash

Art and Culture on the Strand

Now that there is more space for pedestrians, a new art installation has opened on the site. Somerset House’s resident artist Nick Ryan has installed “The VoiceLine”. This audio project celebrates Strand’s involvement in the history of radio: Here, the first BBC broadcast happened from Marconi House in 1922. By using 100 years of BBC archive sounds, the artist compiles an audio installation played by a line of 39 speakers.

Westminster City Council speaks of a “welcoming public space”, which apart from the art installation also has seating areas, 41 new trees, and flowers. The overall size of the pedestrianised area is more than 7,000 m², more than that of a football pitch.

The new public space also links some of the capital’s most important cultural and educational centres. This has the aim of creating a new social space for visitors to institutions like King’s College London. In Aldwych, cultural institutions include the Aldwych Theatre, the Novello Theatre, the High Commissions of India and Australia, and the three theatres Savoy, Adelphi, and Vaudeville.

A view of the corner where the new public space will be. Photo: Alex Block via Unsplash

Criticism by cyclists

While it is undoubtedly a big achievement to create a new public space on Central London’s highly contested ground, there is also criticism of the new public space. Cyclists had hoped for dedicated bike lanes. Currently, they still have to negotiate the space with pedestrians. While the redesigned street has wider pavements, there is no dedicated area for cyclists. Instead, Westminster City Council has implemented a “pedestrian and cycle zone”. This does however include increased cycle parking and improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians at the junctions.

In recent years, there have been nine serious injuries to cyclists and one death at Aldwych. Similarly, adjoining Kingsway has seen several accidents. Campaigners are calling for a protected cycle lane on Aldwych, which would also pass by Strand. During the pandemic, Westminster City Council had set up 14 temporary cycle lanes, including Aldwych and Kingsway. They have now been removed.

Still, the initiative of Westminster City is encouraging. Considering that there are plans for a traffic-free central London, this is an important step. Observers are hoping that Westminster City Council will reconsider its plans to completely pedestrianise the busy shopping area Oxford Street.

Reclaiming a road

Cannon Ivers, director at LDA Design and lead designer for Strand Aldwych said during the launch of the new public space: “The work carried out in Strand Aldwych is a bold reclaiming of a heavily congested road to create wonderful new civic space in a historic part of London.

“It’s also a rescue mission, saving Grade 1* St Mary Le Strand Church from its role as a glorified traffic island, and it makes Aldwych slower, much safer, and more pleasant.” He added that the volume of traffic and parked buses made cycling “extremely challenging”. A significant stretch of the Strand is now pedestrianised.

It is rare to carve out new public realm in historic city centres. But Westminster City Council has succeeded in drastically reducing car traffic and improving pedestrian space. This significant project demonstrates a shift in urban planning in the British capital.

Read more: This city portrait of London gives an overview of other current projects.

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