Tag Archives: walking

Give the people what they want (i.e. a path)

I’m going to go a bit off-topic here and rant about something which isn’t cycling. Anyway, walking is transport too, and it’s my blog so there! There’s also a bit about ramps.

I’m sure you all know what a desire line is – it’s the path between two points that people want to take. This often manifests itself in bare lines of earth in a field of grass, where many people have walked across it in the same place.

Sensible authorities will legitimise these paths by making them permanent. After all, people just want to walk from A to B, so why make them go the long way round for no good reason? Aren’t we meant to be encouraging more walking?

With that in mind, I present to you Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park, more commonly known as the green area which surrounds the Imperial War Museum in London. There’s a clear desire line running across a large area of grass from one gate to another, and what’s the park’s solution?

A photo of a grassy park, with a dirt path running across it where many people choose to walk. The park has erected a small fence to discourage walking.

That’ll stop ’em!

A small fence.

A middle-aged woman carrying shopping steps over the fence.

How dare this woman take a direct route home? Hooligan!

That’s right, they’ve decided to punish people who choose to walk across the corner of the park by installing a low fence. Maybe the fence isn’t for that reason. It’s a fairly useless fence anyway as you can see, this woman has no problem stepping over it.

Update: After reading PaulM’s comment below (and having had a good night’s sleep) I see now that while the low fence presents no difficulties for most people, it’s an impenetrable barrier to those with mobility difficulties. This is pure discrimination. Some people can walk but find it hard to lift their legs much off the ground – why are they prevented from using the grass? This is unacceptable. (It’s not some 1970s relic either – the fence was added in late 2012.)

But why spend money discouraging people from walking that way? Just put a footpath in, it can’t cost much more than that fence! There’s plenty of grass, it’s hardly going to ruin the ambience of the park – the constant motor traffic on Kennington Road does that just fine.

I ain’t jubilant

Elsewhere in the capital, beside the London Eye, lies the bafflingly expensive Jubilee Gardens. (Strangely, for what is really just a small area of footpaths, grass and flowers, it even has its own website.)

The designers chose a path which ignores entirely the desire line of people walking.

An aerial photo of Jubilee Gardens showing the pedestrian desire line which is ignored by the installed footpaths.

The orange line is the desired walking line. The brown area is the rapidly-expanding flower-beds. (Photo: Bing Maps)

Lots of people cross the Thames using the footbridge, and then want to head south-east across Jubilee Gardens, but they’re not meant to do that.

First, there was a small flower-bed with a gap in it. Then the flower-bed was enlarged and the gap was closed. Then four benches were installed in the way. Then the flower-beds were enlarged again. And now…

A photo of Jubilee Gardens' ugly attempt  at preventing people walking: four metal poles with striped tape between them.

Yeah, real classy.

They’re going to ridiculous levels to stop people walking in a straight line. (They’ve even tried shouting!) There’s about five pairs of these stripy-tape barriers in place, and of course they achieve nothing. There are already new bare patches at the side where the flowers have been walked on.

INSTALL A PATH! Even some stepping-stones! Or a grass area! Anything but this annoying “you can’t walk that way because we messed up with the design” rubbish. Just because whoever designed the park failed to take into account the concept of people passing through it, shouldn’t mean that everyone will forever meander around the long, looping footpaths.

They’re fighting a losing battle, like King Canute holding back the tide. Just install a footpath and be done with it. (It’ll only cost another couple of mil, surely?)

It’s not all bad

Anyway, lest it be thought that I hate everything and only ever complain, here’s something which I like very much, and it seems to me that it’s kind of the opposite of the “you shan’t walk here” mentality.

A well-designed ramp for wheelchair users, set into stairs at the Southbank Centre in London

So good you don’t even notice it

I don’t use a wheelchair, and I don’t know anybody who does (so if you do and this bit’s all wrong then please let me know), but in my life as a transport geek I’m always looking out for how life is made difficult or easy for those who need to use wheels to get about. So often there’s a clunky lift (often used as a janitors’ closet) or a narrow ramp. But it looks to me that whoever designed the steps at the Southbank Centre really did a wonderful job.

To access the lower level of the Southbank Centre, where there’s shops and restaurants, you have to walk down the stairs. Except there’s also a ramp, but it’s not some patronising afterthought like many accessibility features I see.

Another view of the quality ramp at the Southbank Centre in London

It looks almost accidental

It requires no special skill to use, or even any thought at all. It’s just there, permanent, reliable and where it’s needed. It doesn’t ask wheelchair users to go around the back and press a button and wait, or round the side and down an afterthought of a ramp.

The ramp isn’t even noticeable to someone who doesn’t need to use it, it’s built into the steps so gracefully. The design recognises that people need to get from up here to down there (or vice-versa) and that while most people can use stairs, some might not be able to, and it caters for everyone beautifully. It’s also useful to parents with push-chairs, or tourists with wheeled luggage, of course. And it does all this without any fuss at all. Great infrastructure.

And finally…

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Normal subject will be resumed shortly. (I have something good brewing about cycle paths.)

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