diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 24, 2008

Today is Walk To Work Day. It's a campaigning day, organised by Living Streets, on which Londoners are invited to walk to work. It's not terribly practical if you don't have any work to go to. It's a bit pointless if you work from home. It's not really feasible if you live in Uxbridge and work in the City (or indeed live in Liverpool and work in Manchester). But hey, even a pledge "to walk for at least 30 minutes on your way in" is good enough for the organisers. So, here goes.

I live just over four miles away from my place of work. On a good day, zipping in on the tube, I can get from door to door in less than half an hour. Half of that time is spent on the train, mostly nose to armpit, and the remainder spent walking to and from stations. This morning I'm going to increase the walking percentage to 100% and do the entire journey from Bow to Holborn on foot. Look, I'm up and awake a whole hour earlier than usual. I must be mad.

There are two big problems ahead, the first of which is that I can't travel in a straight line. If I could walk along the mainline tracks into Liverpool Street that would be perfect, but there isn't a perfectly parallel road or footpath running alongside. London's twisted grid of historic streets and alleyways wasn't designed for straight line travel, and there are several built-up obstructions along the way which have no pedestrian access whatsoever.

So I've gone along to the excellent site at walkit.com to plan my optimum route. Enter postcodes, cue detailed routemap. They propose three miles down the Bow/Mile End/Whitechapel Roads to Aldgate, then a curved mile-long trek through the City and onward up High Holborn. Total distance, just under five miles. Identical to the number 25 bendy bus route, in fact, only rather slower. At a fast walking pace (that's 4mph) they reckon I can walk to work in an hour and a quarter. Or at a medium pace (3mph) just over an hour and a half. It'll be good exercise, honest.

And the second problem is road junctions. I can't simply walk for five miles, I have to keep stopping at traffic lights to allow cars and buses and bikes to whizz past. Valuable minutes will tick by as I attempt to cross Cambridge Heath Road, and Commercial Street, and the scary junction outside the Bank of England. That tortuous subway at the Aldgate gyratory is going to slow me down no end, and the roundabout at Holborn Circus wasn't really designed for pedestrians. So I have no hope whatsoever of maintaining walkit's over-optimistic 4mph pace, not without hopping onto a bus, and that's cheating.

I've also tried entering my details on TfL's Journey Planner, which is flexible enough to cope with 100%-walk solutions, and they've suggested exactly the same bendy route. But they reckon it'll take me a couple of minutes short of two hours, which may be a more realistic target. We shall see. But hey, like I care. My morning commute today will take me past St Paul's Cathedral rather than underneath it. I'll get to enjoy the hustle of Whitechapel and the curves of the Gherkin rather than getting extremely squashed on the Central line. I'll be experiencing London rather than hiding below it. My journey may not be direct, and it may not be fast, but it sounds perfect to me. Just this once, though.

Here are my Twitter updates from the journey:
» 06:36 Pedometer strapped on, walking shoes ready... it's time to walk 5 miles to work for Walk To Work Day. I must be mad.
» 06:50 It's a glorious morning, clear blue skies, sun behind me and the City illuminated ahead. Passing Mile End tube, my end still 4 miles away.
» 07:01 The A11 through Stepney may be quiet, but I'm being overtaken by cars, vans, bikes and bendy buses, plus a queue of Heathrow-bound planes.
» 07:14 Whitechapel Market not yet set up, a one-armed beggar outside the tube, and the sun glinting on a golden minaret. Easily averaging 4mph.
» 07:23 Into the Square Mile at Aldgate, surrounded by scuttling City suits, then on between Lloyd's and the Gherkin. Busier pavements now.
» 07:36 One hour precisely from Bow Church to Bow Bells. Breathing in fresh-mixed tar and exhaust fumes... and the magnificent dome of St Paul's.
» 07:50 Across Holborn Viaduct and into the final stretch, past my 8th tube station. Dodging commuters to maintain the pace. Sweating satisfactorily.
» 08:01 Arriving at work at the usual time, 8843 steps later, having walked from home in just under 90 minutes. That's 3.4mph. Feels good. Once.

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