Will trams figure in Wenceslas Square's regeneration?

29-09-2008

Could trams be reintroduced to Prague’s Wenceslas Square? The capital’s public transport authority would like to bring them back, after an absence of nearly 30 years. They say the extension would take the strain off other parts of the city’s transport network. But not everyone is for the idea. Prague City Hall stands adamantly opposed, saying trams are at odds with its plans to redesign the space as a pedestrian zone.

I’m sitting on a rather packed tram heading down one of central Prague’s main arteries – Ječná Street. The journey between I. P. Pavlova at the top and Karlovo náměstí at the bottom is one that many Prague inhabitants make several times a day, and it’s always a bit of a squish, with this current trip proving no exception.

This crowding is what the Prague Public Transport Company would like to put an end to by extending their tram network onto Wenceslas Square – which runs parallel to the route I’m on now. A little bit earlier, I spoke to the firm’s Ondřej Pečený, a vocal advocate of the extension:

Wenceslas SquareWenceslas Square “We think that this connection between Prague 2, Vinohradská třída, and Wenceslas Square would add value to the tram network in central Prague. It would also help ease the traffic on Karlovo náměstí and Masarykovo nádraží.”

Mr Pečený’s view is shared by the man currently redesigning Wenceslas Square, Jakub Cígler. The Prague-based architect says that reintroducing trams would transform the ‘dead-end space’ into a ‘living thoroughfare’. Indeed, streetcars did historically wend their way up and down the boulevard, until as recently as the 1980s.

But the plan has its detractors. Prague City Hall is adamantly opposed. Councilor Martin Langmajer said last week that he was ‘100 percent certain’ that no new tram tracks would be built in central Prague – saying the network was filled to capacity as it was. Others worry that trams would sit ill with the council’s plans to pedestrianise Wenceslas Square.

There is still much to be discussed – with the transport authority saying it has only just found out about City Hall’s opposition. Negotiations look set to edge forward at about the same pace as a number 22 at rush hour.

29-09-2008