People cross in the crosswalk at Abbey Road.
Fans recreate the iconic Beatles photo on Abbey Road in London. Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Fifty years ago, the Beatles crossed Abbey Road. The iconic album cover created the world’s most famous crosswalk, and a traffic nuisance that endures today.

On this day 50 years ago, the residents of Abbey Road were probably unaware of just how much they were going to hate the Beatles.

It was on August 8, 1969, that the band snapped the photo that would change Abbey Road’s future forever. The following month they would release an album named after the northwest London street where it had been recorded, and that album’s iconic cover would seal the street’s fate. A photo of the Fab Four crossing the street in tidily-arranged profile made Abbey Road the site of the most famous crosswalk in the world.

In terms of traffic management, it’s been downhill ever since.

Even to this day, Abbey Road is thronged with Beatles fans trying to recreate the image themselves, slowing down traffic and putting themselves in some danger as they do so. On the 50th anniversary, that was as true as ever.

Getting the pose right is not easy. When the original photo was taken, police were on hand to stop traffic while photographer Iain Macmillan scaled a step ladder to get the right angle. Visitors ever since, by contrast, have had to contend with the fact that this quietly opulent street is actually quite busy with traffic, ever complicated by the daily gauntlet of posing fans.

This can be tiresome for locals. As a disgruntled taxi driver told the BBC on the event of the album’s 40th anniversary, “It really does annoy you. All they’re doing is posing on the crossing. Someone’s going to get mown down one of these days, there’s no doubt about it.”

Meanwhile the actual Abbey Road sign has been stolen and covered in graffiti so many times that the local borough has put up replacements screwed inaccessibly high up on the walls of houses. It’s not as if the still-running Abbey Road Studios isn’t aware of the issues. For the anniversary, it has installed a large printed backdrop of the crosswalk in its parking lot, so that fans can take a photo without getting in the roadway.

That, however, is the price of immortality. Aware that the Beatles made a simple traffic management system into an icon, Britain has actually given the crosswalk listed status—that is, registered it for historic preservation—since 2010.

On balance, they were right. The crosswalk is certainly a hub of chaotic energy between drivers, pedestrians, and tourists taking a gamble for the perfect shot, but people are not, in fact, “mown down” in this section of Abbey Road. The album cover, no doubt unintentionally, is a rare celebration of the pedestrian in a music industry that far more often glorifies cars and driving.

And who knows? As London and cities throughout Europe rethink their relationship with cars, maybe crosswalks like the one in Abbey Road will indeed become historic monuments, relics of a time when taking a photo in the roadway was still a dangerous thing to do.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a WeWork office building

    What WeWork’s Demise Could Do to NYC Real Estate

    The troubled coworking company is the largest office tenant in New York City. What happens to the city’s commercial real estate market if it goes under?

  2. Uber Eats worker

    The Millennial Urban Lifestyle Is About to Get More Expensive

    As WeWork crashes and Uber bleeds cash, the consumer-tech gold rush may be coming to an end.

  3. James Mueller (left) talks to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (right)

    South Bend’s Mayoral Election Could Decide More than Pete Buttigieg's Replacement

    Pete Buttigieg's former chief of staff, James Mueller, is vying with a Republican challenger to be the next mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

  4. A man wearing a suit and tie holds an American flag at a naturalization ceremony.

    The New Geography of American Immigration

    The foreign-born population has declined in U.S. states that voted Democratic in 2016, and increased in states and metros that voted for Trump.

  5. A woman stands in front of a house.

    How Housing Wealth Transferred From Families to Corporations

    The Great Housing Reset has led to growing numbers of single-family homes shifting from owner-occupied housing to investment vehicles for large corporations.