Prague through-road gets facelift plan – but could it be demolished?

This week the Prague authorities approved studies to revitalise the through-road cutting across the centre of the city. The plans – which still need permits – would make the unpopular “magistrála” more attractive for pedestrians and cyclists. But could the communist-era road ever be removed? I discussed the matter with leading Prague architect Jakub Cigler.

“I am excited that the magistrála will around the Main Railway Station have two times two lanes only.

“Because the magistrála is a kind of magnet that concentrates more and more cars; if there were more lanes, there would be more cars.

Zděnek Hřib | Photo: Facebook of  Zděnek Hřib

“And this way is not sustainable. It is not the way forward.

“It’s not the right thing to drive through Prague, it’s better to around.

“We don’t have a périphérique, like Paris has, for example.

“But transportation design should change in the centre in such a way that there is a diminished amount of cars on the streets.

“A lot of big cities have been working on this for many years: New York, London.

“London in the 1980s was completely different. It was completely congested and it was unbearable.

“Now it’s a much better place to live and I think it’s necessary to do that in Prague as well.

“People think it’s the end of the world, but I think it’s the opposite it – it’s the beginning of good changes.”

Visualisation of the the magistrála in front of the Main Railway Station | Source: IPR Praha

Why do you think it’s taken so long for any kind of changes like that? The magistrála was built, I don’t know, around 45 years ago.

“Prague is not as big as London.

“In London it was so unbearable that it was really absolutely necessary to do it.

“And here in Prague it’s not such a big problem that people feel that it must be handled very quickly.

“This is the problem – that the problem is not so big.

"But I think that life will be much nicer and easier if the traffic engineers will not follow the rules of smooth traffic everywhere.

“Because smooth traffic attracts more traffic.

“But there cannot be that kind of traffic in this type of medieval city with such a concentration of cars as is normal today.

“I think it’s necessary to change these principles.”

Source: IPR Praha

Is it possible that a day may come when the magistrála will not be used? That it will come to an end in some sense?

“I thought that it would be good to completely demolish the magistrála and to convert it to surface streets and roads [parts are elevated].

“But I think it’s so much connected to other buildings and other structures that it’s probably not possible to demolish.

“But I think it is possible to convert it into some pleasant boulevard with less cars, wide sidewalks, cycle paths – and eventually even trams going in the middle. So a kind of normal road.

“You know, Paris in the Haussmann period constructed very wide boulevards and they are full of life.

“And the magistrála should be something like this.

“But it’s connected very much with reducing the number of lanes on the magistrála.

“It will take some time. There will be a couple of congestions in the beginning, but people will get used to it and everything will be fine.”