Exhibition Road

In early 2012, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea held a formal opening for the redesigned Exhibition Road. This old Victorian avenue, once designed to get thousands of spectators between South Kensington tube station and the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, is now the home to a host of London's biggest and most prestigious museums, and apparently this innocuous street in West London gets more visitors every year than Venice.

Exhibition Road was a grubby, cramped street full of idling coaches, where cars parked down both sides and in the middle of the street and tourists were advised to use the Victorian pedestrian tunnel that runs part of the way under the road. Today it is the UK's largest "shared space", a Scandinavian concept where rules and barriers are taken away so that pedestrians and cars mix, forcing both to pay more attention and improving road safety.

The question is, was this thronged thoroughfare the right place for an experimental scheme?

At present, Exhibition Road is not just nicer than it used to be, it's also quieter — virtually empty of traffic, in fact. That makes a big contribution to it becoming a more pleasant place for pedestrians to stroll around, but it's happened because it's now more difficult to drive and, for the last three years, it's been the site of continuous roadworks. All those coaches and taxis must have gone somewhere. So while this experiment seems to be largely successful, it's important to remember that it wouldn't work everywhere, because its success relies to a certain extent on moving one of Exhibition Road's biggest eyesores — the traffic — somewhere else.

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Published25 February 2012

Last updated24 February 2017