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February 07, 2007 || 2:40 pm
London Pedestrian Map

Via diamond geezer, I found this current Space Sytax project for a London pedestrian route map. AS DG says, London isn't always that hard to navigate on foot, and the Underground map means plenty of non-Londoners have a warped sense of geography and proximity, so at first sight this seems like a great idea. When I look at it, however, it struck me that this really isn't the answer. Well, an answer maybe - but what Space Syntax have produced - through an entirely logical methodology - is essentially just a very simplified version of a street map with only the main roads marked. There is the addition of some park paths and the riverside walkways, but apart from that, it implies that the easiest walking route from Marble Arch to Holborn is along Oxford Street, and so on.

These routes are indeed the most direct, and currently most people do walk along main roads, but that doesn't always make these the best routes. For a start, they aren't quicker, because they are so crowded, and if you are elderly, disabled, or with a pushchair, they are virtually unnavigable. You would be better to duck up and along Wigmore Street than go along Oxford St, for example. Secondly, the air pollution of all those cars isn't great, either. Thirdly, by only highlighting what are essentially the very simplest routes around town, the map isn't showing what you really want to know on foot - how to go diagonally from, say, Kings Cross to the British Museum. Sticking to the main roads is not the most time-efficient route for this. Space Syntax are right when they say that "people tend to choose simpler, more accessible routes"; but this only increases pedestrian congenstion along these routes. Couldn't we - like the cycle route maps - map the easy back routes (that, like Wigmore Street, are often almost as simple as the main roads), the pedestrian-only footpaths, the fume-free alternatives?

I love walking around London and go everywhere by foot if it is within a half-hour walk (and frequently, further.) During this I have found back-routes, short-cuts, alleys that do actually lead somewhere useful, flights of steps and useful tunnels. Like many similar striders, I walk fast and almost obsessively try to trace the shortest possible route from A to B. I would love to have a map that is maybe simpler than some of my tortuous routes but also allows people to find that neat route from, say, Liverpool Street to Farringdon via the Barbican and Charterhouse Square, Bloomsbury to Angel via Lloyd Baker St and the postmen's pub, or how, as in DG's example to get from Covent Garden to Temple. Well, I will have to wait until I make as much money as SS to have time for that project.



This has always been the problem with the space syntax approach - no room for subjective, anecdotal mapping processes. Perhaps we need the offspring from an affair between Space Syntax and Urban Tapestries.

By Anonymous Rob, at 10:21 am  

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