Pathways > The Pathways book > Pedestrian zones
Pedestrian zones and the Pedway
Walking in our towns and cities is highly managed, at a simple level through pavements separating pedestrians from traffic, more complexly through the creation of pedestrian zones, bridges and walkways. Through the 20th century pedestrians were generally secondary to the needs of the car, but increasingly that is changing.
Towards the end of the century attempts were made to separate people from cars completely. In the 'new towns' built in the 70s and 80s it is often possible to cross from one side to the other without having to venture onto a road at all. London's Pedway scheme, which was only partially realised, raised pedestrians onto another level altogether, on walkways at first floor height.
More recently there have been moves to bring traffic and pedestrians together, deliberately. By giving the pedestrian precedence car drivers are forced to slow right down and make way. In other places, however, like the Millennium Bridges in London and Gateshead, complete separation still works. People love these structures, harking back as they do to centuries of fascination with crossing water.
The Pedway walk is free to download once you have joined as a member of Walkingworld.
Below you can read the full chapter from the book.
Raised pavements for pedestrians, separated from the carriageway by kerbs, have existed since before Roman times, but they only became widespread in our towns and cities in the 19th century, as a means of avoiding the muck in the road and also to provide havens from speeding carriages. Their safety role was enshrined in law in the 1835 Highways Act, which made it an offence to “wilfully ride upon any footpath or causeway by the side of any road made or set apart for the use or accommodation of foot-passengers, or wilfully lead or drive any carriage of any description upon any such footpath or causeway."
As motor traffic increased in both speed and volume in the second half of the 20th century, so the physical separation of pedestrians and motor cars became more commonplace. In an effort to stem the rising tide of casualties, traffic lights, guard rails, staggered crossings and a proliferation of road signs sprang up along the pavements. All these measures were put in place with pedestrian safety in mind, but at a price – they made the car the undisputed king of the road and they made the pedestrian feel hemmed in and a second-class citizen.
The apogee of this belief in the separation of pedestrians and cars was in the 1960s, and its bible, published in 1964, was the book Traffic in Towns, by the town planner Colin Buchanan. He was convinced that motorists and pedestrians should be separated completely through the use of flyovers, clearways and gyratory systems. This doctrine informed the thinking of town planners for the next two decades and led to pedestrian-unfriendly city centres, encircled by hostile one-way systems and ugly rails at every street corner.
But the pendulum began to swing back again in the 1980s, with the emergence of the concept of “shared space” – the belief that breaking down the barriers between motorist and pedestrian could make the former more alert and aware of his surroundings. Doing so would, paradoxically, reduce pedestrian injuries.
The most notable exponent of shared space was Hans Monderman, a Dutch road traffic engineer and innovator. He pioneered the concept of the “naked street” by removing all the things that were supposed to make it safer for the pedestrian – traffic lights, railings, kerbs and road markings. He thereby created a completely open and even surface on which motorists and pedestrians “negotiated” with each other by eye contact. His maxim was: “If you treat drivers like idiots, they act as idiots. Never treat anyone in the public realm as an idiot – always assume they have intelligence.” He was a driving instructor in his spare time, so he must have known a thing or two about scary traffic situations.
To prove his point, Monderman was known for boldly walking out on to his naked streets and junctions, turning his back on the moving traffic and walking to the other side to show that drivers would not run him over. Research in Holland also showed that that naked streets cut speeds far more than speed humps because they increased drivers’ sense of uncertainty.
Britain has only recently become an enthusiastic adopter of the shared space concept. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, founded in 1999, began to champion Monderman’s work and it is now the accepted wisdom of all the main political parties’ traffic policies. Today streets all over Britain are being stripped of traffic lights, kerbs and other street furniture deemed to be lulling motorists into a false sense of security. Recent schemes include Kensington High Street and Exhibition Road in London, and New Road in Brighton. There are now more than a hundred shared space streets under development in Britain.
The Department for Transport’s Design for Streets manual was recently rewritten to encourage local authorities to redesign on shared space principles, and 12 councils have pledged wholesale redesign of their streets. The result is a more pleasant environment for us to walk in – or rather for most of us, as the shared space environment is considered much more challenging for people with visual impairments.
The City of London’s Pedway scheme
The epitome of the separation between pedestrians and motorists was (or very nearly was) the City of London’s Pedway scheme, initiated in the mid-1960s. It envisaged a 30-mile elevated walkway network around the City, from Liverpool Street to the Thames, and from Fleet Street to the Tower.
The devastation of the second world war, in which a third of the City was razed, gave planners the impetus to devise this network. The architect Charles Holden and the planner William Holford came up with a blueprint for rebuilding London’s financial centre in 1947 that included walkways “as fit for the traffic it carries as any of the main streets”. Plans were also drawn up for the Barbican and Paternoster Square developments, to include towers, podiums and walkways.
By 1965 a City of London Corporation document, named Drawing 3400B, made specific mention of the Pedway for the first time. As the whole Pedway plan was part of a vision for levelling much of the capital, the future had to be created by stealth. But straight away there were problems, including the fire brigade struggling to find equipment suitable for the raised walkways. The corporation’s maintenance, cleaning and lighting bills soared.
But the biggest, and ultimately insurmountable, problem was the growth of the conservation lobby. Ironically, its seat of power was in the Barbican development, and its activists the very users of the one successfully completed network of “highwalks”. They didn’t object to the Pedway system itself, but to the service roads and loading bays springing up at street level in anticipation of its completion.
So in the great tradition of British planning, the Pedway vision never materialised. However several stretches of the network were built, notably through the Barbican. A number of footbridges across major roads were also constructed. Additionally, as developers in the 1970s were required to provide walkways as a condition for planning consent, there are bits and pieces in several other places. Walk around parts of the City of London today and you stumble across strange walkways, stairwells and bridges, all seemingly heading nowhere. You have found the Pedway.
Tracing the remaining parts of the Pedway today is surprisingly easy. Starting at the Barbican tube station, the only listed part of the network takes you past the flats on Seddon Highwalk to the Museum of London. This part of the walk is well maintained and, although the main building material is concrete, there is quality in much of the material. The slate covering at several points on the walkway sides is impressive.
Most people walk purposefully along these rather impersonal walkways. We must make an unusual sight to the inhabitants of the Barbican apartments above, stopping every few yards to take photos and admire the views across to yet more towers and apartments. Our fascination with the construction of a concrete walkway must seem a little odd – troubling even.
Passing through Albangate, we reach a 1969 adjunct to the Pedway plan: kiosks, built to encourage pedestrians off the streets and on to the walkways. A green marble building, now unoccupied, was originally a Midland Bank; nearby is an empty row of tailors’ shops and an empty pub with the tell-tale name The Podium. Maybe Podium pubs would have popped up all over the UK in much the same way The Packhorse Inn did in a past era, if the pedway concept had taken root. The day we visit there are problems with the drains, leaving a vast puddle across the path. The whole scene is a stark reminder of the challenges of maintenance and the difficulty of persuading people up from the street-level to shop. The Pedway separated people not just from traffic, but also from existing commerce. It didn’t work.
The trail runs cold at Moorgate, though abutments for a never-built bridge can be seen above the station. From time to time people look nervously over the edge of the walkway, puzzled that there is no way down. We manage to pick the path up again at the footbridge in Wormwood Street, heading towards Tower 42, previously known as the NatWest Tower. This bit of the walk is a passageway between offices, and workers give us puzzled looks as we pass by; it makes us realise that very few people use this route today. Coming out right at the base of Tower 42 is a thrilling experience, like suddenly happening upon a huge beast about to pounce.
The next bit of the walk takes us through the heart of the City, past recent iconic landmarks such as the Gherkin and the Lloyd’s Building, but also past the old London: St Helen’s Church, dating from the 13th century, and Leadenhall Market, which from the 14th century became established as a thriving market for cheesemongers and poulterers.
It is striking how walking-oriented the City is today – the streets and squares are full of pedestrians, both workers and visitors, and motor traffic is relatively light thanks to the congestion charge. The eerie separatedeness that we felt walking along the Pedway is replaced by a throng of people – much more of an upbeat, market feel. The naked street concept, the blurring of pedestrian and traffic, seems to have taken hold in this part of the City and it’s working.
After Leadenhall we explore a network of passages leading to Bank tube station, a reminder of the medieval origins of the City and a fabulous chance to get away from the hubbub of the main streets. From Bank, the landscape changes again and we find ourselves going slightly downhill. We start to get the sense of a grand river getting closer, when suddenly we spy it along one of the north-south vistas. An old stretch of the Pedway gets us across Upper Thames Street and then we join the Thames River Walk.
The River Walk takes us all the way to the Millennium Bridge, with a brief detour as it goes back onto Upper Thames Street. This turns out to be a boon for Pedway detectives, as we pass a now defunct Pedway stairway, boarded up and quite forlorn, and two working Pedway footbridges. Returning to the River Walk, we get our first good view of the Millennium Bridge, opened in June 2000, long after the Pedway dream had died.
Londoners nicknamed the bridge the Wobbly Bridge after participants in a charity event to open it felt an unexpected swaying motion. The movements were caused by a phenomenon known as synchronous lateral excitation: the natural swaying motion of people walking caused small sideways oscillations in the bridge, which in turn caused people on the bridge to sway in step. This increased the amplitude of the bridge oscillations and so the effect was continually reinforced. It was a wonderful demonstration of the communal power of walkers, but not so welcome for those who had built the structure. The bridge was closed for almost two years while modifications were made to eliminate the wobble entirely (a shame, some felt). It reopened in 2002.
The Millennium Bridge is a pedway that most definitely works. People simply love walking across it, enjoying the juxtaposition of land and water. In it beauty and function are perfectly combined. It is one of the most glorious bridges in the world, and it’s just for walkers! As we cross towards the great brick bulk of Tate Modern, we have to navigate round dozens of tourists taking souvenir pictures.
But in case you feel you haven’t seen enough famous landmarks for the day, turning back along the Millennium Bridge St Paul’s Cathedral is elegantly framed between the buildings ahead. We step off the bridge and head back past the cathedral into Paternoster Square. We bear right, past a glorious Shepherd and Sheep sculpture by Dame Elisabeth Frink. Paternoster Square was long the site of a livestock market, which this sculpture is designed to celebrate. Perhaps this represented the end of the journey for some of the Welsh drovers met in our earlier chapter.
We complete the three-mile walk by returning to the Museum of London and are delighted to meet up once again with our long-lost friend, the Pedway, which takes us safely back to the Barbican station.
Other pedestrian routes to explore
London is undergoing a sea change in favour of the pedestrian over the motorist, and the end of segregation between the two. And right across the county, cities are once again becoming more enjoyable places to walk in, from the redevelopment of dockyard areas in the likes of Liverpool, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Bristol to the elimination of traffic in historic town centres, such as Cambridge.
If you are new to a town or city, a good place to start is often the tourist information centre, which is likely to have a map of a “heritage trail” of the centre. Die-hard pedestrianisation addicts should head for “new towns” such as Bracknell or Milton Keynes. In many ways these places are a vindication of the move to separate people from traffic: walking or cycling along the walkways and through the underpasses is surprisingly enjoyable. But this is chiefly because they were designed from scratch.
The Millennium Bridge in London is not the only pedestrian river crossing to lift the spirits. Its counterpart in Gateshead, linking the city of Newcastle with the arts quarter on the south bank of the Tyne, has the added attraction of being a lifting bridge. Having been sponsored by Gateshead alone, the bridge and its lifting mechanism are pointedly sited entirely on the southern bank; the bridge barely touches the Newcastle quayside. The stunningly beautiful new footbridge over the River Aire at Castleford is a further example of a pedestrian bridge acting as a catalyst for urban regeneration.
Below is a list of other walks in city centres:
You'll never doubt that over 95% of Britain's trade comes and goes by sea if you've ever seen the crowded mass of container ships on just one day in just one port. This walk embraces the harbour area, city centre and beach or esplanade of Aberdeen.... More info
A mostly waterside walk, following the River Avon from the Clifton Suspension Bridge through the spectacular Avon Gorge and continuing to Pill. The bridge and gorge are an iconic symbol of Bristol and are just two miles from the city centre, but this... More info
A longer version of Walk 6691, linking Cardiff City Centre with the regenerated dockland area of Cardiff Bay. The original route is extended by a stroll across the iconic Cardiff Bay Barrage to Penarth, where a new footbridge across the Ely makes... More info
This walk around Chester starts near the station and takes in the canal and the river, as well as the city centre and the significant Roman remains.... More info
This is a short walk from Derby City Centre, visiting several historical sites and places of interest, starting from the City Centre and following road and footpath through the Chester Green area with its Roman history, into the Darley Fields area... More info
Plymouth more than lives up to its moniker as ‘Britain’s Ocean City’, with estuaries, sea views, steep hills, naval defences and dockyards creating a walk of immense variety and interest.... More info
This walk is not far from Edinburgh's city centre, yet it is sufficiently wild to be a 'country walk'! The first section of the walk is down the pretty Hermitage of Braid. The route then climbs up to Liberton, encircles a golf course and heads up to... More info
A gentle walk from Edinburgh City Centre, ideal to fill a free afternoon (a short cut is available, reducing distance to five kilometres or three miles). Head out through the elegant and peaceful New Town to the Gallery of Modern Art, then return by... More info
This short walk takes in some of the interesting, controversial or acclaimed architecture to the west of the city centre. It abuts and complements Walk 3523, 'An Architectural Tour of Central Glasgow' and also abuts Walk 3556, which tours Kelvingrove... More info
A waterside walk that starts as a quiet country walk before heading into Gloucester City centre and the historic docks. The docks were very busy at one time, but are now mostly used by pleasure craft and the occasional yacht or tall ship. A number of... More info
Leicester has so much more to offer than first meets the eye. By car you typically see only ring road and car parks. On foot you have New Walk, two delightful parks and a long stretch of canal side, plus great architecture throughout.... More info
A trip around Manchester City Centre and some inner-city suburbs, designed to allow you to view the rich and varied architecture in the city. It is a very easy route as it is (almost entirely) flat and paved, in the heart of the shopping area and... More info
This walk is to the north of the city centre and unlike others on the website, including some of my own, it deliberately avoids the prettier parts of Liverpool. My intention had been to discover where the towpath of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal began,... More info
A long and pleasant walk from Nottingham's busy city centre along the canal towpath, through a city park and the university campus to the deer-park of Wollaton Hall. Walk back to the centre via the prestigious residential area known as The Park.... More info
Nottingham is a city that many know for shopping and the arts, but seldom venture outside its inner core. In this walk, Nicholas Rudd-Jones takes you through several of Nottingham's delightful green spaces.... More info
Starting in the heart of Oxford, this route is a complete circuit of Port Meadow. It follows the Thames Path National Trail for the first half of its length, through Osney Lock and up to Godstow, with its lock, ruined abbey and the famous Trout Inn.... More info
This route starts in Oxford's ancient city centre, Carfax. It passes through or by many of the city's parks, including University Parks, Headington Hill Park, South Park, Magdalen Deer Park and Christchurch Meadow. The route also passes by the... More info
This walk follows the River Thames, with its lovely surrounds, to visit the city of Oxford. Usually very difficult to drive into, this access, on foot, is an ideal way of seeing the many colleges and historic sites of Oxford. The return journey from... More info
Oxford is full of green spaces, water and stunning views over its dreaming spires.... More info
Tyne and Wear
The walk follows the Ouse Burn from South Gosforth to its entry in the River Tyne. The path takes us through six parks; each follows on from the other to form an un-interrupted route. The walk finishes in the city centre. ... More info
An urban walk along the canal from Wednesbury passing through the Black Country finally reaching Birmingham.... More info
It was no accident that the first Harvey Nichols to open outside London was in Leeds. This city has become 'the place' to live, work and visit in the north of England.... More info
Take a walk through the Forgotten Valley which is situated to the South of Sheffield only about four miles from the city centre. This is a walk through history. Walk where once there were water mills, collieries and railways. This is a new reserve,... More info