London is a great city for walking. The Mayor’s vision is to make it one of the world’s most walking friendly cities by 2015. Walking is an enjoyable, free and accessible activity and for most people, a necessary part of their everyday journeys.
Legible London is a wayfinding project designed to improve the navigation throughout the Capital for people who want to walk. A study conducted on behalf of Transport for London found that the present multitude of standard signs in central London are ineffective and often confusing, and that there was a consequent over-reliance on the Tube map to help people navigate above ground. External directories and wayfinding sign systems can simplify the journey around unfamiliar grounds.
Transport for London has worked with the London Development Agency and in partnership with London Boroughs to develop a way of providing coordinated walking information and signs across the capital, offering benefits for our transport system, for public health, the economy, tourism and the environment.
There’s already pressure on London’s transport infrastructure, and this is set to intensify. Over the next 20 years, it’s estimated that London’s population will grow by at least 800,000. In many ways this is a great opportunity. The population increase and the economic potential that goes with it needs to be harnessed to make London a truly sustainable city.
The Mayor has set out a clear vision for London based on three complementary themes: strong and diverse economic growth; social inclusivity; and fundamental improvements in environmental management and use of resources. Change and renewal are already evident, with iconic contemporary landmarks like ‘The Gherkin’ and Tate Modern on the South Bank breathing new life into our heritage. The London 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games are just around the corner, giving a focus and urgency to the many and varied proposals for London’s better, brighter future. Unprecedented numbers of people from the UK and all over the world will flock to the capital in 2012, so it’s important that they feel welcome and can get around easily.
London is unique. It’s jam-packed full of landmarks and places of interest, but it’s notoriously hard to find your way around when you’re walking. Unlike the logical grid of New York, or the compact, canal-defined conurbation of Amsterdam, London has no structured delineation. The city is made up of a rich collection of neighbourhoods and boroughs, with an unplanned maze of streets, innumerable obstacles, and dense road traffic.
The mazy, interconnecting streets of inner London have evolved organically over the centuries, which may add to the city’s charm and character, but makes it tricky for the pedestrian to navigate. Outer London is made up of many dispersed areas, often difficult to access without first travelling through the centre. Despite hundreds of maps and thousands of signs, studies show that one in seven Londoners have trouble finding their way around on foot, and around a quarter worry about getting lost. Bespoke designed totems can provide at a glance directional instructions for the traveller on foot.
Walking currently accounts for 80 per cent of trips under a mile and is the main way in which public transport is accessed in London. As a mode of transport, walking is growing in line with population growth, however, the growth is predominantly in central and inner London.1 As well as a to b trips, walking plays an important role as a leisure activity – such as strolling in London’s parks and public spaces.
Architects and urban planners, of course, have a central role to play in invigorating and refining the overall pedestrian infrastructure of London. A structure like the Millennium Bridge, for example, which links two points previously inaccessible to each other, opens up exciting new possibilities for travelling on foot. Ingenious ways of physically joining different areas, like bridges, walkways, and pedestrian-specific routes, will encourage people to walk rather than choosing other modes of transport.
These sorts of improvements to the built environment are part of a wider programme of investment in infrastructure and information designed to fulfil the Mayor’s vision of London as one of the world’s foremost walking-friendly cities. The Mayor and Transport for London will continue to invest millions of pounds into its own signage schemes and by funding boroughs to encourage walking. These range from high-profile improvements to the public realm (such as ambitious plans for Parliament Square) through to new road crossings. Better pedestrian safety, improved street lighting, clear signs and traffic calming will all contribute to improving the pedestrian’s lot.
Wayfinding is a key component of the wider programme for walking. It increases the general understanding of how the capital fits together and gives residents and visitors the confidence to walk and explore the city. Making wayfinding work for people means bringing boroughs, landowners and local communities together to support a move towards a more reliable and consistent system of walking information right across the city.