Is London building a “PATH”?

London is potentially doing something interesting with some unused tube lines: creating an underground walkway. It reminds me of what Toronto has done very well already: Expanding the city’ infrastructure by creating an underground haven for pedestrians. For Toronto, this comes in handy with its cold winters. London is looking at transforming unused sections of the Piccadilly line, between Holborn and Aldwych Station. It would also make use of the unused Jubilee tunnel from Green Park to Charing Cross, and a section between Goodge Street and Stockwell.

London underground walkway map

Map of the proposed use of tube lines for pedestrian walkways and cycle paths

The Toronto PATH is the largest underground shopping complex containing 30km of pedestrian walkways lined with shops and services. It links pedestrians to any location in the downtown core, as well as public transit and is used by over 200,000 commuters every day with many more tourists and visitors to the city using it as well.

The London equivalent idea sounds quite small in comparison, and the map is not yet impressive. But it is important to remember that the Toronto PATH started with just a tunnel under James street, constructed in 1900 by what was then Eaton’s department store. It just connected the two buildings of the mall together, but it was the first underground pedestrian pathway in Toronto. It is often thought of as the historic precursor to the current underground pathway system that spans 30km. Another historic part of the PATH is the underground walkway connecting Union Station to the Royal York Hotel, built in 1927 and still in use today. Even before Union station was constructed, Toronto had five underground walkways by 1917. The real growth of the PATH however took many more years, and only started in the 1970s. Although the City of Toronto was the coordinating agency for the design and development of the PATH, and its name and logo are registered to the City of Toronto, each segment of the system is actually controlled and owned by the property owners through which the walkway runs. Currently this includes about 35 different corporations. Unlike what is planned for London, you are not allowed to cycle in the Toronto underground walkways.

Here are some fun facts about the Toronto PATH (underground walkway):

    • The PATH is in the Guinness World Records as the largest underground shopping complex. It features about 4 million square feet of retail space, which easily rivals the West Edmonton Mall.
    • PATH retailers employ about 5000 people.
    • More than 50 buildings are connected through the PATH. This includes 18 of the 25 tallest buildings in Toronto, and that number is growing as the city continues to build. This also includes twenty parking garages, six subway stations, and two major department stores. You can also reach major hotels, Union station (rail), and major tourist attractions (including the CN Tower) on the PATH.
    • If you live in a building that is on or close to the PATH you can essentially live your entire life without getting out of the underground system. Major retailers, banks, grocery stores, and more are available. Millions of people use the PATH system to commute from Union Station to their office towers, making the final leg of their journey like this:
      Toronto underground walkway indoor image

      Source: The Toronto Star

instead of this:

 Canadian winter

  • The PATH has three museums and extensive Public Art, connecting the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Design Exchange, and the TD Center Gallery of Inuit Art.
  • The PATH does not follow the grid pattern of the streets above, which can make it a confusing walk if you do not know your way around. More than once I’ve had to go up to the street to figure out where I was and how to get to my destination when I was first finding my way around Toronto.
  • The PATH symbol has differently coloured letters, each indicating a direction. P (red) points south, A (orange) points you west, T (blue) directs you north, and H (yellow) directs you to the east of the city.logo Toronto PATH

The London underground walk and cycle paths are not likely to be similar to Toronto to begin with, but who knows how that can develop. If anything, London has a lot of underground infrastructure it might be able to make use of. Both cities are still growing in population, and both can have undesirable weather. In a perfect world, I’d be able to walk or cycle to work using a London underground pedestrian or cycle path, the way I used to when my office was in Toronto. Having said that, using the PATH in Toronto is free. In London it would require your oyster card, or renting a Boris bike, to get around.

Toronto underground walkway map

a map of the Toronto PATH, showing the ground level streets and buildings connected.

 


Christine Buske is a former academic who left science at the bench, and now considers herself a woman in tech. She is a frequently invited speaker, and enjoys talking about career transformation (particularly leaving academia for the business world), tech, issues around women in tech, product management, agile, and outreach. She is a proud Canadian resident, and qualifies as a "serial expat".

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  1. Sarah

    10 January

    Cool idea, but I would like it better if tunnel use would be free to all like it is in Toronto

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