Oxford CircusEdit profile
The heritage Originally designed by architect John Nash in the early 19th Century, Oxford Circus is the area of London at the busy intersection of Regent Street and Oxford Street, in the City of Westminster. Born from the concept of Nash’s layout of the “New Street` in 1812, frontage alignments remain, with the rebuilt Listed architecture of 1920’s buildings. The surrounding area contains important elements of the Nash heritage. All frontages on the Circus are Grade II Listed. The entire of Regent Street is also listed and sits within a conservation area. , Because of this remarkable heritage, any design proposals had to meet both planning and highway authority design sensitivities. From our research into the architect’s original intentions, it became clear from early photographs that it was once popular as a “place` to visit as well as use. Until World War II, there was little street furniture. Physical obstructions and visual clutter have since progressively eroded any sense of place. By looking back, the design team found a way to look forward and meet modern challenges, creating a more effective space and restoring the character that originally made the area so special. The situation London’s West End has been one of the UK’s dominant retail and entertainment centres since the early 19th century. It continues to be a vibrant place with a distinctive retail offering and range of attractions and is renowned on an international level. However, its popularity presents unique problems for its infrastructure and public realm including congested streets, vehicular and pedestrian conflicts and a tired looking street environment. As one of the most congested spaces in the country, it serves around a quarter of a million people daily. Hourly, some 43,000 people and 2,000 vehicles use Oxford Circus with 23 London bus routes converging upon this junction as well as the three line London Underground junction. The previous layout was essentially a signalised cross road with all red traffic light phasing and traditional orthogonal crossings for pedestrians on the four arms of Oxford Street and Regent Street. Although each crossing is straight with a central island the alignment in all cases is set back from the junction such that they do not align with the pedestrian ‘desire lines’ along the thoroughfares. Within the confines of Oxford Circus there are four tube station accesses via stairways. In physical terms the spaces around these stairways were constrained by the stone balustrades, pedestrian guard railing and street clutter created by signage, bollards and communications cabinets, leaving pedestrians in often perilous outreaches of footway divorced from the thoroughfare by these physical obstructions. The design solution At the outset we needed to gain an understanding of the area’s history and the need for a sensitive design approach, incorporating current best practice. In the case of Oxford Circus, a less is more approach was taken which sought to refine the design of the Circus to characterise its essence as a circular space, free of obstructions and barriers and free in terms of movement, returning the space to its once simplified and clutter free environment. Atkins’ role, on behalf of the Crown Estate, was to create an imaginative transformation of the reviled Circus, with innovations, such as the pioneering diagonal crossing arrangement, decluttering, frontage building mounted lighting in place of columns, footway widening by reducing median strips, removing inaccessible underground public toilets, in favour of fully accessible relocated provision and high quality “circus` paving solutions. The centrepiece of the scheme is the highly unusual diagonal crossing. The extra diagonal routes mean pedestrians can now choose from a wide range of crossing directions. The original crossings have been moved so they conform more to pedestrians’ ‘desire lines’. The concept of a ‘scramble’ or ‘diagonal’ crossing for pedestrians involves stopping all traffic movements at signalised junctions and allowing pedestrians to cross in every direction at the same time. Their origins are unclear but they are also known as a ‘Barnes Dance’ after Henry Barnes, a traffic engineer in the United States, who popularised the concept after overseeing their introduction in Denver and New York. To devise a multi layered solution it was necessary to understand the relationship between the pedestrian, vehicle and spatial issues as well as a thorough understanding of the historic and present day design issues. This project was perhaps unique in terms of its involvement in equal measure of Urban Design, Pedestrian Modelling and Transport Planning considerations. Our Pedestrian modelling consultancy undertook an in depth study of the existing situation with the aim of determining the viability of introducing diagonal crossings. The pedestrian analysis provided the designers with a clear understanding of the issues faced by Oxford Circus users. This all added weight to the need to rationalise and rethink the Oxford Circus arrangement. Consultation Due to the multiple stakeholders, customers and service providers a consultation strategy was developed which went beyond the normal practices of extensive public consultation, by exhibitions, leaflets and meetings. The consultation process made use of the unique combination of transport and pedestrian modelling combining them to create a computer animated film, meshing VISSIM traffic modelling of real-time vehicle movements, with LEGION pedestrian modelling in a full 3D animated environment. This film, produced by sub-consultants Design Hive gave confidence to technical stakeholders, clients, consultants, contractors, politicians, general public and the media. The support gained at all levels, some 94% of those consulted, helped the project’s success. The success The improvements at Oxford Circus succeeded in recreating the Nash’s intention of a circular space, defined by four matching frontages. The removal of clutter has revealed the shape of the space, which has been repaved using high quality granite paving in a concentric pattern in response to the Circus’ curves. The reorganisation of space has enabled both safe gathering, viewing and crossing by the travelling and visiting public, as well as rapid movement through less congested space. According to Transport for London’s (TfL) business model it should generate around £6.5 million in benefits from pedestrian and vehicle journey time savings.