27 September 2005


This is a piece I wrote for the Newpart website, a local arts and community listing site, and as such is Newport central. It's about the pedestrian/road system in Newport. Enjoy. Sorry about the line-breaks. Fucking microsoft word, innit.


One of the first things that struck me about Newport when I started travelling here
from Cardiff on a regular basis (no need for that any more as I now live off
corporation road) was the way the pedestrian and road system was set up; A complex
system of overpasses and underpasses snake their way through the city, one way roads
and traffic lights guide you through the centre. Bridges dominate the landscape and
you get the impression that the city is made more for transit than living. Like the
people and houses were an after thought. Whoever planned the layout applied the
same philosophy to pedestrians as well. Barriers block you from the road and show
you where to cross. The overall feeling is that of constriction and entrapment (the
only place you are truly free to roam is the park over stow hill). The idea that you are not free to walk where you please crawls into you head and builds a nest, having a deliberating effect on your whole being. Before you know it your asking your boss if it’s okay to go to the toilet and filling in marketing questionnaires because it makes you feel like your part of something.

This shit don’t sit well with me, Jimmy.

A firm believer in applying the mathematical fact “The shortest route between two
points is a straight line” to everyday life I find myself plotting my path like a laser, cutting through roads, roundabouts and pavements with spiky stones designed to discourage walkers with little or no regard for the feelings of the civil servants who so carefully laid the whole thing out on graph paper.

It’s dangerous, walking in a straight line. You really have to be on your toes; your
eyes peeled, reflexes of a cat, ready to spring into action at any moment. It’s like that trying to get over to Lidls. Between it and sainsbury’s there’s a rather complicated round-a-bout/duel carriageway/trafficlight kinda thing. You could walk up over the walkway, find your way round , but it’ll take you ten minutes at least and when you can see where your going but a dozen strides from you ten minutes seems like an awfully long time. It is possible to get across the roundabout, but it becomes a hell of a lot more difficult when your weighed down with shopping.

Of course, it’s all for our safety, right? You can’t trust drivers not to veer off the road onto the pavement, mowing down pedestrians as they go. We need all those ugly metal railings to prevent us from becoming bloody smears on the pavement, another anonymous collection of flowers at the side of the road. Anyway, what if somebody got killed because of the lack of railings and the family decided to sue the council? They’d be fucked. If people decide to take the dangerous route, over duel-carriageways, that’s their problem. They’re taking their lives in their own hands.

Pedestrians seem to get the short end of the stick in Britain. We get tiny little
pavements that you can barely swing a cat on without dashing its brains out on a lamp
post, cable box, or some other piece of street furniture. We have to put up with trafficlights that take eons to change. There have been times where I’ve crossed the road and the driver approaching has sped up. I mean, what the fuck? Are people on foot second-class citizens? There are organisations that attempt to address this bias, from the living
inititative to the more radical, political and international reclaim the streets. If yr interested you should check them out.

I was in Toronto for a couple of weeks last year and things are so different over there. The pavements are fucking huge. The drivers are infinitely polite; If you start crossing the road they will stop immediately. As a walker you feel safe, in control, less paranoid. This had a huge psychological impact on my friend Jennie, who was working over there on a placement and whom I was visiting. To this day she crosses roads in Britain in the same over-confident, psychotic manner as she did in Toronto. This pedestrian-dominant mentality rubbed off on me too. In the afterglow I dreamed of being free on the streets of Toronto, where pedestrians are treated with respect, like human beings, not cattle to be directed into the nearest shop.

Don’t ask me where I’m going with this, it’s just been stuck in my head for months.