You have probably seen the teams of people handing out walking maps at major hub stations, but are they worth it?
I avoided picking one up for ages because I thought I knew better than TfL how to get to work on foot if needed. I thought that I would be better able than them to choose a route that made sense to me. Having picked up the London Victoria map today I can pat myself smugly on the back and congratulate my prior knowledge of the route to my work, after all it would appear a bit hypocritical of me to urge people to walk during the Games instead of catching the Tube unless I’d actually done it before.
BUT, what about all the people who wouldn’t ordinarily walk those streets? Do these maps help to promote that? Well, no. Not really.
Let me explain: these maps are very nicely presented and completely legible but they do nothing to promote a ‘legacy’ of thinking in the population that would encourage long-term walking. They merely provide an outline of what’s going to get in your way for a few weeks.
The concentric rings emanating from Victoria Station remind me of the terrifying blast radii diagrams usually seen over Hiroshima or Nagasaki, but instead they are rough guides on how long it should take to walk from the train station, up to the maximum radius of 25 minutes. I have to say that some of the ranges are a tad optimistic but as I say – they are guides only. Cycle hire racks are marked, as are all the Games venues and roads that will be closed. Obviously those are extremely important facts for the walk-commuter.
The other side of the map details the stations to be avoided during events, and also tries to promote the health benefits of walking, through a table dedicated to breaking down the walks into a walking speed + distance = mythical-concept-of-the-burnt-calorie concept. Fair enough.
Yes, all very helpful. Including the Twitter account @GAOTG which will update with travel disruption reports. But I think they missed a real trick here. To get people to continue walking after the Games have passed, or even to make people consider it in the highly-likely event that the Underground breaks down after the Games, why haven’t they detailed the nicest-fastest routes between Tube stations? Where’s the ‘legacy’?
If you wanted to walk to South Kensington tube station there is an absolute maze of potential streets to choose from. If you walk a dreary route for the period of the Games I can pretty much guarantee that you will not want to do it once the crowds go home (whether there will be such huge crowds as predicted is another matter entirely). If TfL had simply marked the green, interesting, or historic routes on there that take only 1 or 2 minutes more than the smoggy A-road routes then I reckon they might have inspired people to keep walking afterwards.
Say you wanted to get from Victoria to Knightsbridge on a normal working day then you’ll be looking at a tube from Victoria to Green Park, a long and dismal walk underground, and then a tube to Knightsbridge – the TfL Journey Planner reckons it takes 11 minutes.
The “Why not walk it?” map says that Knightbridge is about 15 minutes’ WALK from Victoria, and that is about right, give or take a minute or two. But if the London Olympic Games walk-commuter walks up Grosvenor Place and then left at Hyde Park Corner to Knightsbridge then they aren’t going to see much of interest. Just endless Belgravia housing and the Queen’s back garden’s wall. It’s rather crap.
Alternatively if they left Victoria via the small side entrance or shopping centre exit, and walked up Ecclestone Street then they see a nice parade of shops with some swanky restaurants and food boutiques, with wide and clean pavements underfoot. Up Belgrave Place they can see an impressive view up to Belgrave Square. Eaton Place and then Lowndes Place lets you see how the ‘other half’ live with their huge windows displaying works of art and chandeliers within. Pont Street has another row of boutique shops after the German embassy with Agent Provocateur and Jeroboams wine merchants. Then at Cadogan Place, in the morning, you can pick up a delicious and quite cheap breakfast bap from the green shack surrounded by taxi drivers. The final stretch up Sloane Street has a few expensive clothes shops, if you’re into that kind of thing, and just as you finish your breakfast bap you realise you’re standing outside Harvey Nichols, next to Knightsbridge station. All in all a vastly superior walk and one that’s even prettier in winter with the Christmas trees peeking and twinkling from the rich people’s houses.
That’s what’s missing from these maps and it’s a real shame. When I first scouted my walking route from Victoria I had to discover through trial and error to find an interesting route. Luckily that’s the kind of person I am, plus I simply enjoy walking.
So what’s the point of this post? Mainly it is this: if you know people planning to replace their Tube commute with a walking commute then convince them to try a different route each day. The likelihood is that it won’t take that much longer than the most obvious route and maybe, just maybe, it’ll sow the seeds for a habit that will save them money, keep them fit, and uncover some fascinating corners of a city that they might suddenly find they don’t really know at all.