Exhibition Road in London is a mess. In a busy cultural precinct, it runs past the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Imperial College, and links South Kensington Station with the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Gardens. But right now, from one end to the other, there are barricades, wire fences, earth moving equipment, temporary traffic lights and improvised pedestrian crossings.
Itâ€™s all part of a big experiment, with Exhibition Road planned to become the first shared-space street in London. Apparently the local residents are not happy with the scheme, presumably because they are less interested in accessibility for cultural tourists and more interested in parking spaces and easy access to and from the area for their very flash motor cars.
According to information posters hung from the wire barriers, the street will have â€œa kerb free single surfaceâ€ and â€œvisual and tactile lines distinguishing pedestrian areas from those used by vehiclesâ€. Just this week workers have begun to pave some areas of the street with artificial cobblestones, forming geometric patterns in a range of designer greys. Road users will have to learn to read these patterns. When the work is all finished the paving will have become the instructions for its own use.
Here is a photograph from the archives. I took it in October 1999, before I owned a digital camera and when sometimes I took only one shot of each pavement embellishment I spotted. How I regret that!
This solitary metal plaque is just a few centimetres long (compare its size with the blobs of chewing gum on the asphalt). Itâ€™s on the footpath outside a shop in King Street, Newtown, south of the railway station and opposite the high school. At least it used to be there, but it disappeared when the pavement was upgraded some years ago. A number of people have mentioned it to me when they hear I take photos of pavement inscriptions and most know that it commemorated a girl (or woman) who was killed by a car that mounted the footpath.
Recently I tried to find out a bit more of this story. In the Glebe and Inner City News of 19 June and 26 June 1996 I read that Newtown woman Alison Gooch was killed when hit by a car as she walked along the footpath at about 3 am on Sunday 16 June. The car then hit a power pole before plunging through the front of the Direct Image store at 361 King Street. A 25-year-old Bondi man was subsequently charged with dangerous driving causing death and driving under the influence.
In the register of funerals at St Stephens Church, Newtown, it is recorded that a service was held for Alison Joy Gooch of Station Street, Newtown, on 21 June 1996. Alison was 29 years old.
I donâ€™t know who fixed the memorial plaque to the footpath.
There is an ongoing battle between cyclists and just about everyone else â€“ motorists donâ€™t want them on the roads, pedestrians (like me) donâ€™t want them on the footpaths. The issue is a perennial filler for Sydney newspapers and has flared again this week in news stories, opinion pieces and letters to the editor.
In Australia, those who argue on the cyclistsâ€™ side point to the way in which cities in other developed countries have embraced the bicycle â€“ but itâ€™s not necessarily all plainÂ cycling overseas. Apparently one of the great battlefields in the war between bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists is the Brooklyn Bridge in New York.Â Robert Sullivan, calling for an armistice, writes in the New York Times: â€œThe stripe painted down the center of the elevated Brooklyn Bridge walkway, to separate bicyclists from pedestrians, has become a line in the sand. We need to erase that line once and for all.â€ Here is an example where the record of a territorial struggle has been written on the pavement itself.
Almost every sign, symbol, graphic and graffiti marked on the roads and sidewalks is a claim for territory. The two examples photographed for todayâ€™s blog record instances where pedestrians have had a victory over cyclists, officially at least, and probably only temporarily. The ineptly obliterated bicycle symbol overpainted with a â€˜Pedestrian traffic onlyâ€™ stencil was on the bridge at the corner of St Kilda Road and Flinders Street in Melbourne in 2005. The â€˜Give wayâ€™ stencils appeared in parks in the City of Sydney towards the end of 2008 after many complaints from pedestrian park-users.
I love the pitted texture of this old bicycle symbol. Itâ€™s on a shared footpath (footpath?) near Erskineville Station. In the foreground of the wider shot there is a tag â€“ or maybe itâ€™s just a spill.
An account of the battle between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists is written on the pavement in pictograms. I will be having more to say about this in future blogs.