London: The World’s Most Fun Place To Be A Pedestrian?

A design competition for a new Thames River crossing suggests that walking around London is about to get really exciting.

If recent proposals are anything to go by, London will one day be the world’s most fun place to be a pedestrian or a cyclist. Sure, the city nixed recent plans to allow commuters to travel by trampoline, but other plans in the works are almost as pie-in-the-sky.


For instance, the city could get a snazzy new pedestrian and cycling bridge connecting two neighborhoods across the Thames, set to be completed sometime after 2018. As part of the Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge Competition, more than 70 unnamed designers have submitted ideas, and if some of those competitors have their way, it’ll look nothing like what we normally consider a bridge to be. A handful of proposals completely reimagine what a river crossing can look like–they barely look like bridges at all.

There’s a bridge that seems to be topped by waterfalls, one that looks like a big spoon stretched across the water, High-Line-esque parks designed as much for relaxation as for transportation, multi-story gardens, and bridges that look like the infrastructural equivalent of a ribbon dancer.

Elsewhere in the city, other suggestions for a new way of walking include Thomas Heatherwick’s approximately $270 million tree-lined Garden Bridge, a pedestrian throughway turned horticultural wonderland. Gensler has suggested revamping the city’s unused subway tunnels as an underground bicycle and walking path with shops and performance spaces. In addition to new bike lanes that have been added under Mayor Boris Johnson, architect Norman Foster has proposed building a bicycle superhighway accessible by swiping your transit card.

Granted, some of these ideas are far-fetched, and they have been fiercely criticized for promoting so-called magpie infrastructure: shiny, expensive projects that do little to improve how a city works. The idea of the 18-mile, $1.3 million dollar protected cycleway, for instance, has been lambasted for solving the wrong problem, because it isolates cyclists from the rest of the city; as Kriston Capps at CityLab writes, “When cyclists share the roads with drivers in great numbers, they develop a sort of herd immunity, which boosts the visibility of cycling from courageous transportation alternative to standard transit option.”

All fair criticisms. But it’s hard to deny that if any one of these proposals squeezes through, it’ll make getting around by car feel like London’s most boring transportation option.

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.