Olympic countdown - Reasons for a London Cycle Map, #26. The naturalness of North, South, East and West.

#26. THE NATURALNESS OF NORTH, SOUTH, EAST AND WEST. One of the great things about Parker’s London Cycle Map is that when you were on a route of a particular colour, you would know if it heads in a North-South direction, East-West direction or any of the diagonal variants thereof. Parker has even cleverly used colours which logically correspond to these axes – the equator is hot, so the East-West routes are red, whereas the Earth’s poles are cold, so the North-South routes are in blue.

So what? (I hear you ask, if you’ve even read this far). Consider this passage which Simon drew my attention to, from an article by Simon Farlie in The Land magazine:

If you ask someone for directions to the pub on Letsby Avenue, they might reply: "Oh no problem. Um, hold on, let me think ... Yeah, go straight up the road here, pass two sets of traffic lights, then take the first, no I tell a lie, the second on the left, and then right at the garage, then it's on the left, the second or third road, that's Letsby Avenue."

[These] directions may be correct, but remembering them or interpreting them is another matter. Make one mistake and all subsequent directions, the "first lefts" and "second rights" and so on, are rendered erroneous. Had he said, "Go due East down that road there for half-a-mile, and then Letsby Avenue is a quarter of a mile to the North," then you'd have a fairly precise idea of where you were in relation to your destination.

Europeans don't think like that any longer, though many North Americans do, thanks to their grid system: "Letsby? Sure, you wanna  go seven blocks down East 23rd Street, and then turn north up Hoosebin Avenue for four blocks, and you can't miss it."

For most of history, until quite recently, humans have navigated using the points of the compass rather than left and right. Navigating using left and right is largely a modern habit. The main difference between the two methods is that the points of a compass are constant - east is always east, and west likewise, and the twain can never be confused - whereas left and right are mercurial because they depend upon the position of the observer, and treacherously swop places as soon as you turn your back. "Come out of the station and turn left" is meaningless if there are exits on both sides of the track; "Come out of the station and head east" is unambiguous.

Simon Parker’s London Cycle Map would bring a wonderful clarity and naturalness to cycling in London, by making compass directions salient.

Without a London Cycle Map, if you knew you needed to head, say, west, this information would be useless to you – you would still be countless 'turn rights' and 'turn lefts' away from your destination. And if you got even a single one of these wrong, you’d be totally lost (a bit like building a house of cards: you can’t afford to make a single mistake).

With a London Cycle Map, you could use Parker’s routes to head in any direction of the compass. London would no longer be a disorienting labyrinth for cyclists. It would become a logical place which, above all, is easier to cycle than drive in.


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