We know that people in London love to walk. We also know that London has best improved its walking environment by connecting significant locations. The explosion in usage of the Thames Path and the South Bank, for example, was helped by improvements to Hungerford Bridge and Northumberland Avenue from Trafalgar Square in the west and the construction of the London Millennium Footbridge from St. Paul’s Cathedral in the east.
The Central London Walking Network proposes a network of routes that connect London’s iconic destinations, railway stations and parks. It is based on a simple, elegant idea using London’s ancient, characterful streets for those on foot and leaving the big roads built by the Victorians and Edwardians for through motor traffic. These older streets would need relatively small improvements to create safe, quiet, pleasant and interesting walking environments.
The network would promote London as an attractive city that welcomes people. It would help Central London reduce reliance on driving and encourage active travel and healthy lifestyles. By linking important attractions, the network would also take some of the strain off public transport services.
- The network will transform streets, leading to commercial opportunities for businesses and landowners and opportunities for communities through initiatives such as Play Streets.
- The network will become an attraction for residents, workers and visitors and help London promote itself as a healthy and vibrant city.
- It is a joined-up network. In the past, pedestrianised improvements have tended to be isolated with high-quality facilities rarely lasting beyond a single street.
- The routes make sense, following natural desire lines.
- It will take pressure off public transport. Improvements to Long Acre, for example, have already provided relief for the Covent Garden tube station by encouraging people to walk from Leicester Square station.
- Some journeys will be quicker and all journeys will be more enjoyable than taking public transport.
- By reducing the impact of traffic, the network will offer health benefits as set out in Transport for London’s Healthy Streets indicators. These include improved air quality, a greener environment, shelter and shade, opportunities to feel relaxed and streets that are safe to cross.
- The project also offers opportunities for collaborative working, for example between Transport for London (TfL), Greater London Assembly (GLA), local authorities, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), community groups, NGO stakeholders and institutions along the routes such as British Museum and Somerset House.
Ingredients of the network
The following improvements will be required to the streets along the routes and the major roads they cross.
- Wider, better pavements, achieved at the expense of car parking.
- Filtering of streets to reduce traffic volumes and reduce noise levels, improve air quality and create a calm and pleasant walking environment.
- Improved crossings facilities – both formal and informal.
- Greening to provide shelter and shade, improve air quality and the feel of the streets.
- Seating to create places where people can stop and rest.
- Use of older streets rather than main roads that are better suited to motor traffic.
Sample route from British Museum to Waterloo or Trafalgar Square
The network would eventually criss-cross London, joining a variety of landmarks and stations. Here we present a sample route linking the British Museum with either Trafalgar Square or Waterloo Bridge. The precise routes would be decided with boroughs. This route could form part of a longer route from Euston to Waterloo Station.
The routes link a range of attractions important to both visitors and local communities including the British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Somerset House, a number of schools, churches, theatres, health and leisure centres, hotels, pubs, restaurants and squares.
The routes use streets, including Endell Street, Bow Street, Monmouth Street and St Martin’s Lane, which were part of London’s ancient street pattern. These contrast with later roads, such as Kingsway, created in 1905, which are more suitable for motor vehicles.
The route already exhibits characteristics that are excellent for walking. There is a human scale to architecture through the route and many points of intrigue. Some locations have already been improved to create a sense of place, such as Museum Street (above), which is now popular with people.
But these points of excellence lack coherence as a route. Walking routes are also marred by poor crossing facilities and prohibitive junctions that prevent people from following natural desire lines.
Too often there is a poor balance between people and vehicle: pavements are narrow and inconsistent; footways are cluttered with vertical poles; and parking is too often prioritised even when the roadway is underused.
St Martin’s Lane is an good example of a street given over to motor traffic at the expense of pedestrians, who are crammed onto narrow pavements when the theatres and restaurants spill out. Simple improvements including removal of on-street parking and wider pavements could transform the street and give space back to those who need it most.
Other places where improvements are needed.
We imagine cafes, restaurants and pubs, extending the seating areas. Features such as benches, greenery or public art would further enhance the streets, making these places to spend time rather than rush through.
These are still early days for a Central London Walking Network and there is much to be done to gain support from different groups. As a start we would like to identify interest and support from:
- London-wide authorities such as the TfL and the GLA and in particular the Walking and Cycling Commissioner Dr Will Norman;
- the local authorities with streets and roads that touch the network;
- and the BIDs, institutions and community groups that sit along the network.
If this base level of interest exists, then we would propose a conference or workshops to test and develop the idea further.