There is an invisible hierarchy in London. It looks like this:
- Underground passenger
- Car driver
- Bus passenger
The Underground user is at the bottom of the hierarchy. They get to see little, to none of the city.
A little further up, a driver, gets to see more. However, despite what car manufacturers will try to sell us, drivers get to experience very little. They are too busy focusing on the road (you hope) and too stuck inside a metal box for the sights and sounds.
Beyond the driver, the bus passenger has more time and focus to passively gaze upon the world. If you’ve ever sat upstairs at the front of a London bus, you’ll know how much more of London you get to take in. Catching glimpses in to what lies beyond what those on street level can see.
The cyclist has much more freedom. He or she can choose to vary their route, stop, go as fast or as slow as they want. Spot an inviting cafe along the way? Pull over, have a coffee, maybe even a cake – if the latest diet fad allows. No time? Make a mental note for a future date.
A level higher, the runner is fortunate enough to mostly be on the pavement. They can spend more time looking around and less time worrying about the black cab about to come out the junction without looking. They too have great freedom in their route and they can make an on the spot decision to discover that corner of the park they’ve not yet run to.
The walker is of course the master of the hierarchy. They know the value of slowing things down. They can stop to wonder in to a local shop, they can take a reflective moment to watch the world move by. The only downside? Speed. But it’s up to the individual as to whether that is an upside, or a downside.
When I first moved to London, I commuted on the 521 bus. If you were to lay out a city map in front of me and ask me to highlight the parts I know, it would follow the route of the bus and a few dots around key landmarks like Oxford Circus. The rest was a haze.
Six years later, having seen much of the city on two wheels, the map looks very different.
Though I must admit, these days, if time permits I’m just as happy walking, as I am cycling.
If you were to create the same hierarchy, how would you lay it out? Leave a comment below.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.