Published March 28, 2012
LONDON – Women in bikinis will be causing a diversion near the queen's palace this summer.
London transport officials plan to shut down the Mall — the main boulevard leading to Buckingham Palace, the home of Queen Elizabeth II — for three months starting in June because of the Olympics, especially beach volleyball, known for its tiny uniforms.
Transport for London says the closure, to both cars and pedestrians, is needed so Olympic organizers can build both a stadium to hold the beach volleyball competition and seating for the marathon finish. The closure starts after the Trooping the Color celebration of the queen's official birthday on June 16 and ends after the Paralympics, which start Aug. 29 and end Sept. 9.
"We have a very short period of time after the Trooping of the Color to build two big sports venues and are working with the mayor and Transport for London to minimize disruption and have reduced the impact for vehicles where possible," organizers said Wednesday.
The Mall is one of the city's most renowned roads, famous for its pigmented pavement meant to signify a red carpet rolling up to the doors of Buckingham Palace. On state occasions, gilted carriages sparkle when set against the long, wide boulevard. During the royal wedding last year, the Mall's broad expanse was lined with flags — the red, white and blue Union Jack offering a magnificent backdrop for fancy horses and soldiers in dress uniforms.
It's in the heart of one of London's most popular tourist areas — near the prime minister's house on Downing Street, Winston Churchill's bunker, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
Bird Cage Walk, which runs along the other side of St. James's Park, will stay open. The road that runs right in front of Buckingham Palace will also remain open until just before the games, so tourists hoping to see the Changing of the Guard won't be affected.
Authorities have invested around 6.5 billion pounds ($10.2 billion) in upgrading and extending London's already overburdened transport links, wary of the hundreds of thousands of tourists expected to arrive. But that investment can do little to change the streets themselves, some of which are laid out in a pattern relatively unchanged since medieval times.
London has only a handful of thoroughfares, and even those are nothing like the great boulevards that traverse New York and Paris, so losing the Mall for three months will frustrate drivers.
The Mall is being closed to create a 15,000-seat arena out of a flat parade ground — an effort much more complicated than just moving in sand for beach volleyball.
Training courts, security screening and facilities need to be put into place. Tents need to be erected for road race crews and seating built for the finish of the Olympic marathon, walking and cycling events.
Some 400 workers, 44 generators and two mobile cranes will be moved in for the construction effort.
The Olympics start on July 27 and end Aug. 12.