Submitted by: Project for Public Spaces
Bahnhofstrasse is first a foremost a retail destination, but its prominence make time spent on this street an integral part of Zurich life. URLS:
Bahnhofstrasse, which connects the main train station with the lakefront, is Zurich’s most famous and exclusive retail district. The street supports more than 120 individual retailers, as well as several high-end department stores. Art galleries, hotels, restaurants, public sculpture, real estate brokers, physicians, high-end grocery stores, renowned confectioners, and major Swiss bank headquarters all add to the energy that draws locals and tourists alike. The street is one of Zurich’s most treasured public spaces and focal points of city life. In a city steeped in history and tradition, Bahnhofstrasse artfully bridges old Europe with the new. Storied establishments sit comfortably next to mass retailers, and this diversity of uses means that it serves a broad socio-economic demographic.
What Makes Bahnhofstrasse a Great Place?
The city of Zurich is small enough for every major destination to be within walking distance of any other, and Bahnhofstrasse is no exception. The street is also an important connector between the train station and the rest of Zurich, as well as ¾ mile-long transit corridor. Dual-track light rail runs at grade for the street’s entire length and interfaces with all of these modes. These trams in turn interface with rail, bus and ferry, to make Bahnhofstrasse a highly accessible destination and the city’s chief transit hub.
Automobiles are permitted to cross the street and park along it in various sections, but signage and paving treatment discourage their access, and bollards obstruct their entrance onto alleyways and side streets. Vehicles can merge onto the Bahnhofstrasse at its northern end before the train station. There are no designated bike lanes, so bikers share the street with the trams, and specific bike signage appears in ample measure.
Opulence and elegance define the Bahnhofstrasse— qualities reflected as much by the citizens on the street as in the building facades and storefronts. Although dressed-down tourists and students comprise much of the street traffic, fur coats, flashy jewelry and cigars are not uncommon sights.
Because private vehicles are prohibited for most of its length, and many pedestrian-only, cobblestone alleyways lead onto the street, Bahnhofstrasse feels largely like a pedestrian boulevard. This impression is further enforced by the lack of curb for most of the street, and only a subtle paving pattern suggests any demarcation between walkway and roadway. Additionally, block lengths are varied, and the street is punctuated at frequent intervals by small squaresas well as larger lawns. Streetscaping is extensive. Storefronts are transparent and well lit,
The street retains its high usage year-round. In the summer, lunch hours (strictly 12-2 in precise Swiss fashion) find bankers and businessmen strolling into some of the city’s most famous restaurants, while students from nearby prep schools sun themselves in the many small squares that front the street. In the winter, the festive street lighting and sumptuous window displays keeps people outside despite frigid temperatures. Public art displays by local artists add a cultural element to what is a predominately retail and dining destination.
The pace of the pedestrian traffic on the streets is leisurely and the lounging options numerous. Although tourists flock to this stretch, it retains a neighborhood feel.