If cars are the most environmentally and economically undesirable mode of transport in the city, pedestrians are the other extreme. We should be doing everything we can to make walking more attractive. So how do we encourage people to use the most basic mode of transport of all?
We locals know the streetscape between us and our destination. So our needs are for pavements to be spacious, well-maintained and exclusively for people walking (or going about by wheelchair), without competing with cyclists or parked cars. Visitors, however, have very different requirements. They need to find out the route from A to B, and to know that they’ll be able to complete the journey in the time they have available.
Online applications like Google Maps are a help. On holiday in a strange city this summer, I walked on many occasions because I had Google Maps to tell me how many minutes the journey would take and to guide me along the best route every step of the way.
Can we create an ‘off-line’ version of this, for those who aren’t as wedded to technology? In the city of Pontevedra in Spain, they’ve done just that. The ‘Metrominuto’ map looks just like an underground map, showing lines of differing colours connecting different points of interest in the city. The map shows the walking time between every point on the way. The design is fun, familiar and it works.
A Cambridge version might have a walking ‘terminus’ at the railway station, for example, with different coloured walking ‘lines’ going to destinations such as King’s Parade, Grand Arcade/Market Square and the Grafton Centre. The lines would separate or cross at different points of interest throughout the city, like ‘stations’ on an underground map. If you were walking an unusual route, you might ‘change line’ on the way, but you’d just add up the times between stations to work out how long your walk would take.
Clear, unified signage on the street would indicate the stations and lines. This would provide walking directions which would be in a different class to the odd mish-mash of direction signs found here and in most other cities.
Compared to the money being thrown around on road transport at the moment, this entire project could be funded quite cheaply. Who’s going to get things moving?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 04 October 2017.