Most of the city centre was formed before the invention of the car so there is a dense network of streets and lanes on a human scale that are good for walking. The main influences on the street pattern were crossing points over the river, entry points through the medieval walls and the topography of the river valley.
We see the early north-south route of Magdalen Street and King Street passing through Magdalen Gates, the original market place at Tombland and along the low ground adjacent to the river. A series of parallel east-west streets similarly follow the contours above the river – St Giles, Pottergate and St Benedicts – and now form the Lanes area with their charming alleys that feed into the Market Place.
The intensity of pedestrian flow arises from the centrality and connectedness of different streets, which has encouraged the clustering of shops and destinations. Arrival points also generate walking trips – particularly car parks and mobility hubs like the train station, bus station and Magdalen Street near Anglia Square.
The amount of footway space needs to offer comfortable conditions both during the current pandemic and afterwards. Narrow footways and heavy traffic can throttle the lifeblood of footfall that sustains businesses.
Some streets have seen traffic removed in the past but feel bare, hard and empty because they were not redesigned to fit their new traffic condition – St Stephens Street, King Street and St Giles are examples. Others are still constrained by oppressive traffic, such as St Andrews Street. Projects are being drawn up for all of them through the Transforming Cities and Towns Fund programmes.
Places where pedestrian flows meet busy traffic can be problematic. Access to the city centre across the inner ring road can be frustrated by the lack of pedestrian crossings (for example across Carrow Road to the East Norwich Regeneration Area) or by narrow, misaligned or underground crossings (for example at Foundry Bridge near the train station). Once inside the city centre, movement is not always free. Crossings can be missing, for example on Duke Street at Muspole Street, or signals can take a long time to respond, such as across St Andrews Street near Exchange Street.
The River Wensum meanders through the city centre with paths along its banks. The River Wensum Strategy5 has identified where improvements are needed to complete missing sections of path and remove steps, steep slopes and pinchpoints that restrict access for people with limited mobility. Funding from Sustrans/ DfT has been secured to complete the missing link between Duke Street and St Georges Street and the Greater Norwich Growth Board has awarded community infrastructure levy that is being used to resolve access problems.
We can expect new developments to create new streets that offer more route choices for pedestrians. Development at Anglia Square will connect Magdalen Street to St Augustines better and the St James Quay development on Barrack Street will (re)create River Lane from the bottom of Silver Road to the new garden by the river.
5 River Wensum Strategy, Norwich City Council (2018)