There is a small entrance to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, from St Giles’. It brings you into the grand central courtyard from the east, through a corridor in the building, rather than via the direct and obvious entrance from the south on Beaumont Street.
On my recent visit I noticed that a walkway has been built across this corridor, linking the main Ashmolean building (to the left) to the wing of the building, on the right.
This obviously makes it more inconvenient to walk along the corridor, than to pass across it.
Presumably these steps – or walkway, depending on your perspective – have been installed to allow step-free access throughout the museum buildings. The ‘extra’ steps for people passing along this corridor, rather than across it, are not much of a problem for those who have already come up the ten or so steps from the street. Anyone who can’t manage steps will be entering the museum from the main entrance on Beaumont Street, up ramps.
But the arrangement got me thinking about priorities, and about choices.
For short trips, most people have the option to walk or cycle to their destination. It’s technically possible to walk or cycle short distances. A great percentage choose not to, however – nearly 40% of all trips under 2 miles in Britain are driven. But why?
Because we’ve built steps across their routes – steps that make driving easier. Driving has the smooth, continuous route on this walkway, while walking and cycling have to struggle up and over the steps built for it. The ease and convenience of driving has been purchased at the expense of making walking and cycling more difficult, and more hazardous.
A concrete example. Take this roundabout in Didcot.
It’s possible to walk or cycle from left to right, across this roundabout – but you have to come a huge distance out of your way, push a button, wait for a crossing signal, then travel back up to where you actually want to go. Driving from left to right, on the other hand, is a more-or-less direct route, that can be taken at speed.
This is the way we design for walking and cycling in Britain, in microcosm. It has to fit in at the margins, fenced away, and given indirect routes that skirt around and yield to the ‘dominant’ mode of transport, motor traffic. While this continues, all the talk of ‘encouraging’ and ‘promoting’ walking and cycling will ring hollow.
I don’t like it. The only continuous connected space is road space. Need more for cycling and walking. Tired of lillypadding around my city
— Katja Leyendecker (@KatsDekker) February 4, 2014
Pictured below is the junction between Biltstraat – a main road in Utrecht – and Goedestraat, a residential side road.
It doesn’t even look like a junction, because the cycle track and the pavement extend across the side road. It’s driving that has to go up and over the steps, while walking and cycling has the level walkway.
Yet at equivalent junctions in the UK we seem to go out of our way to make walking and cycling hostile and unattractive.
This is the junction of Ashley Road and The Parade in Epsom. Ashley Road is a one-way road, that forms part of the A24 gyratory in the town. Needless to say cycling here on this fast and busy road is inadvisable if you are not confident. The Parade, on the left, is a residential side road – actually a dead-end. But it has a ludicrous flared treatment, and barriers to stop you crossing in the most natural place.
Walking and cycling are eradicated by this kind of design, just as they are in Horsham, where simply crossing the inner ring road into the town centre from the west means the use of four separate signalled controlled crossings.
In urban areas in Britain, it’s driving that has been given the most convenient and direct routes, without delay, diversion, interruption or inconvenience. It has been put up on the walkway, at the expense of walking and cycling, so it’s no surprise that it continues to dominate as a mode of transport, while walking dwindles and cycling remains essentially non-existent.
The steps need rearranging.