The Pedway: Elevating London

Went to see a film at the Barbican last night called The Pedway: Elevating London.

It’s a 40 minute documentary by Chris Bevan Lee about ‘Pedway’ elevated pedestrian walkways around the City of London area. This scheme was started in the post-war period, but only partially implemented, often in such a way that some walkways lead precisely nowhere.

The film told the story nicely, with plenty of archive footage, some contemporary slow-tracking shots of the decaying infrastructure, and a voiceover commentary by four experts.

Interestingly, the film has a made-for-Vimeo feel to it. The director was present for a Q&A after the film, and said that he deliberately avoided talking heads, as those are usually the moments when he finds himself second-screening.

The basic narrative of the film is chronological, following the conception of the walkways by architects at the London County Council, the building and use of them, then the decay and failings of the walkways, and finally a look at other schemes around the World.

The main conclusion of the experts in the film, which I’d agree with, is that elevated pedways are a flawed idea, as they require pedestrians to deviate from their natural desire-lines at street level. They also stem from a desire to separate people from motor traffic, which was as much about speeding up cars as it was about preventing accidents. The more modern ideal of slowing down and reducing vehicles in cities negates much of the need to segregate pedestrians.

Something I thought was missing from the film was a bit more of an in-depth technical look at the Pedway. It would have been interesting to learn more about things like the height and width of the walkways (which wasn’t particularly consistent), the various wayfinding systems, and specific design principles. A really good map of the system as-built would be nice too. I suppose that’s what books are for though.

One last thing to note is that I actually used a bit of the Pedway to get to the film screening. It seemed only right.