Saturday, 22 April 2017

Van Gogh Walk

Van Gogh Walk is a hidden gem of north Lambeth and after knowing about the street for a while, I have finally managed to have a look for myself.

My stay was briefer even than Vincent's, but all the same it was peaceful, pleasant and definitely worth the effort to get there. Previously known as Isabel Street, Van Gogh Walk opened in its current form in 2013 and it is a bold statement for a much wider community-led project which sought to tame the streets around two local schools. For all of the background, please take some time to look at the street's website!

Before I take you into the street, it's worth setting the wider context. The street sits in an estate with a 20mph Zone and although it is traffic calmed, the place seems to be a popular cut-through. I was there early afternoon on a weekday, and Caldwell Street which runs east-west through the estate wasn't pleasant to cycle along (before it was traffic calmed, there were 3,200 vehicles per day using it). The estate sits between the A3 Clapham Road and A23 Brixton Road which should be taking the through traffic. Some key modal filters and traffic management could transform the whole area even more.

What was nice to see, however, was street trees being used for traffic calming (often book-ending and puncturing rows of parking bays) which will in time help give the impression of a much narrower road and take no space from pedestrians. Many car parking bays have also been turned over to secure cycle parking which was great to see.

The first hint that there is something different going on is the sign above. It's not a lawful traffic sign and the driver of a van as I pulled up on Hackford Road didn't pay much attention. Sadly it was liveried up as a Lambeth Council vehicle.

The photo above is from Hackford Road, looking north. It gives a hint at the high quality paving in Van Gogh Walk (to the left) and in essence the main feature spills out into the streets either side. 

This next view (above) is from Hackford Road looking west into Van Gogh Walk. The eastern end of Van Gogh Walk (shown here) is open to traffic, but only as an exit. The no entry actually makes the restricted parking sign redundant and in addition, there really should be an exemption for cycles. One issue I have here is that as the street is a level surface, for some people (visually impaired people especially), the lack of demarcation as the paving extends into Hackford Road is going to be an issue.

This next view (above) is of the other end of Van Gogh Walk, taken from Liberty Street. There is a small kerb upstand at least; but because the same paving design extends into the carriageway (which is on a road hump) there will be people who can't see the change in level and will potentially trip. Anyway, away from my complaints, let's look at some more photos.

The western end of the street is pedestrianised (and I assume fine to cycle through, because I did). There is some great compositions with trees and planting (above).

There are some nice little bits of incidental play such as these stepping stones (above) and the general layout is more garden than street.

There are also places to sit. In the photo above, we have a pair of armchairs from where one can sit and watch the world go by. Armchairs are really good for many people who struggle with sitting down/ standing up because the arms give a bit of extra help. Public seating without arms should be outlawed!

There's also a bit of funky sculpture inspired by van Gogh himself to add some vertical interest!

The eastern end of the street can be used by drivers exiting Morat Street. You can just see the blue "turn left" sign in the photo above which suggests one-way, but it's not as there is no formal start of a one-way in Morat Street. I suspect the sign was there to suggest one cannot turn right into the pedestrian section. The sign's not needed and the chap on the bike has sensibly ignored the no entry from Hackford Road behind me.

There's also a bit of cycle parking in the street which at first might seem pointless, but actually, it could be helpful for visitors.

Actually, the cycle parking could be useful to keep cycles safe while playing basketball. Yes, this is a basketball hoop in the middle of a street - the notices on the wall behind ask people to stop the noise in the late evening which is fair enough.

There's also some local interpretation which gives a flavour of the whys and wherefores.

One other little touch is this tiny community book swap cupboard.

My final photo is a close-up of the paving. It's a mixed palette of granite setts in 3 different sizes (supplied by Hardscape) and it is beautiful. From what I could see, the quality of the installation is excellent without any signs of failure on the trafficked areas (although the lack of HGVs and buses is a huge help). Granite (when properly detailed and laid) will last generations and I am a sucker for it when used in the right place.

It might seem excessive to spend a huge lump of money on one street (£420k in 2013), but it can act as a community focal point and besides, just look at the sums we are spending on building motorways. If the wider area was properly filtered, we'd essentially have a "village" style "Mini-Holland" scheme. In other words, simple filters, trees planted in the road, a 20mph speed limit and a focal point is something which could be replicated everywhere. Of course, taming the A3 and A23 is a whole different matter. I'll leave you this week with a little ride-through video;


  1. You know, I'm not sure about those setts. There seems to be a fashion for the 'random scatter' look, but I wonder what that might be like for people with certain visual impairments, having to put up with that continuously varying contrast...maybe a sea of blocks that all seem to vibrate, or an overall grey surface but with holes everywhere.

    Andy R

    1. I've not read anything against the style, just that when is carries on into the carriageway with a kerb with some face (as I've highlighted), but I would be interested in views.