Sorry, not sorry

I am guilty, and I refuse to apologise. Of what, you may ask? Well dear reader, on a daily basis I am guilty of that apparently heinous cardinal sin: slow walking. I’ve been barged as people try and squeeze past me. Friends have told me off regularly that my pace is annoyingly slow. Strangers have too.

To all of you, you may be pleased to find out about a trial run in Liverpool, England, of a pedestrian ‘fast track lane’. Yes, it is merely a marketing stunt put on by a shopping complex, but there does appear to be general trend: the more populous the city, the faster people walk. Big cities don’t seem to have a place for people like me on the sidewalk.

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I do wonder if such a scheme, especially one put up by a shopping complex, would be counterproductive to the city in the long term. After all, many large complexes are arranged in a way to keep you in the loop of shops to maximise the likelihood of impulse buying. They achieve this perhaps by locating the escalators in different places on each floor, or by having a different floor plate on every level. Such places are designed for you to slow down and look at sights and features, not for fast and efficient navigation (unless there’s a fire).

An active frontage depends on interaction between the building front and traffic moving past it. It relies on traffic slowing down and being enticed inwards. Move too fast and the chance for interaction disappears. You might miss that little thing in the shop window, or the scent of coffee and pastries from within.

When we design features that complement a space for movement, we need to design for the speed at which a user should be travelling through it. It’s why artwork on the side of a freeway appears so much larger and elongated on a plan than it feels in reality: something that would take 10 minutes to walk around zips by at 100km/h.

Therefore, when I’m on the sidewalk, I’m going to move at a pace that allows me to have these interactions if I wish. The world is a High Street that I’m browsing through and I’m going to enjoy the sights and sounds around me. I know that I walk slowly, but I plan around that because like you, I also have places to go. And yet, the walks are always interesting… I saw which trees were in bloom today, and that a new café opened up down the street. And before you ask, no: I’m almost never late.

By Sean Hua


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