Tuesday 22 February 2011

Olympic heights

I cycle through Stratford regularly. I sometimes shop in Stratford. I rarely look around at the developments. When I am cycling through Stratford I am normally more interested in the multi-lane free-for-all that I am forced to share with cars and lorries than taking in the view.

But the other day, I had a chance to look around. The scale of change is impressive, in terms of it being vast and big and completely changing the face of the area.

The large structures amid the forest of cranes in the picture above is the Olympic village. The shot is taken from Leyton Road and the building in front is the pub, Wheelers.  The contrast between the old pub and the vast new buildings just behind it (the picture doesn't do justice to the scale) is amazing. Especially when one turned around to see the existing housing estate on the other side of the road.

Wheelers is advertising Karaoke on Saturday nights. I like to think that, come 2012, it will be full of Olympic athletes winding down and having a bit of a sing-song.

Around the corner, Westfield seems to have emerged from the wasteland very quickly indeed, looking like some huge UFO whose owner has watched "Pimp My Ride" once too often.

Clearly Stratford and the surrounding areas will never be the same again. The sheer impact of the games on life in my neck of the woods really sank home whilst I mooched around behind the high fencing - taking photos whilst being watched by security. I like Stratford mall. It has a selection of chain shops with an area for small independent retail spaces and even some market stalls in the middle of it. I doubt Westfield will have stalls in the concourse selling pallets of fruit and veg propped up on cardboard boxes and trestle tables.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think this development is a bad idea, or have some nostalgic whimsy about pound shops and veg by the bowl. I am sure Westfield, and the other developments will bring jobs, shopping and evening activities that were out of reach several years ago.

But I do wonder what will happen to the surrounding areas. I hope it will boost them, not kill them. The number of small shops around the area - Leyton, Walthamstow, and Stratford itself - is amazing, supported by a local community which tends to shop locally, at least for some items. .

I hope councils don't think that the way to counter any negative effects of the huge new developments on our doorstep is to try to emulate a smaller, cheaper, crappier version in the hope some people may be deflected from their path to high price items in Westfield. It won't happen. Walthamstow centre is, yet again, under "consultation" about its future. For those uninitiated to the tribulations of the town centre regeneration programmes, I won't bore you with the details here. Needless to say that there has been significant amounts of money spent on consultations, partnerships with development companies, and so far nothing has come to fruition. St Modwen were feted as the "regeneration specialist" but parted company with the council after issues relating to the schemes viability  (I assume this is code for the "recession hit") and we have now moved on to another partnership. The point is that there are many things that can regenerate Walthamstow (not least getting the high street cinema back to use as a cinema), and many other things that will simply turn it into a dreary also-ran.

Which brings me back to cycling (sort of).

When councils panic about retail in an area, one of the first things that seems to be done is to increase the availability of parking. Which is an odd response when one thinks about it. I doubt there has ever been a conversation which goes like this

"Darling let's go to Oxford Street and hit the sales"
"Would love to, but there isn't any easy, free parking. How about we go to Wood Street instead? I understand that we can now park right outside the shops in free pavement parking bays"
"What a super idea - let's go there instead"

A facetious point, I know, but it surely has some merit. People aren't attracted to shopping areas because they can park, they are attracted to the shopping areas because of the shops. All that parking outside local shops does is allow a sub-section of the local population, who may have shopped there anyway, to drive instead. To attract people to a retail area, that area has to be attractive to them. And long lines of parked cars with narrow pavements isn't attractive.

It is the same with congestion and roads. Re-engineering a road to allow more traffic through a local shopping area normally just allows drivers to be less inconvenienced as they travel to the out-of-town shopping complex. It doesn't help the area - in fact fast moving traffic is completely detrimental to attracting shoppers - if it was the other way around, surely the North Circular would be packed with chic little fashion shops and coffee houses instead of derelict buildings?

Surely the way to make local shopping attractive is to play to the strengths of local shopping. Make it pleasant, different to the normal mall, humanise the area and allow it a chance to become a meeting place and to cater for the local requirements.

Cycling, walking and public transport play an incredibly important part in this. Yet are normally utterly overlooked in schemes that end up with a canyon of parked cars either side an inaccessible road of fast moving vehicles.

Let's hope our local councils get this right. Because many have got it horribly wrong in the past and local communities have been blighted as a result.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Read my LIP

So, although I do not believe that Waltham Forest has published their latest LIP on their website yet, Jim  has very kindly posted a link in his comments to a copy of it.

My shared link to it is here.

I have yet to read it - so will not pass comment on the content.

I intend to email the local Waltham Forest LCC contact as invited to in the LCC flyer sent this month.

If anyone would like to add comments, and lives (or travels by cycle) in Waltham Forest, but doesn't have the LCC contact, please post in the comments and I will attempt to incorporate into my response. I will be keeping feedback constructive. I don't think it would be appropriate to start giving out personal LCC contact details on an open blog, and cannot think of a better way of doing this.

I will email the LCC contact on Friday next week to give myself time to read the document.

It should be noted that Waltham Forest have not given residents the right to public consultation, so what will happen to any feedback is anyone's guess. From the document itself, it would appear that the LCC has already been consulted and no cycling organisation is listed in the statutory consultation yet to occur.

Friday 4 February 2011

The LIP hits the fan

Waltham Forest is currently putting together its Local Implementation Plan (LIP).

Freewheeler managed to catch sight of this elusive LIP and has extensive comments here.

One of his points is that the LIP hasn't been released onto the web yet, and the consultation period ends on 25th Feb which doesn't leave much time for feedback.

Well, I have some interesting news for Freewheeler. And it is from the previously mentioned excellent newsletter (Hub-Bub) from the local LCC group.

Apparently, Waltham Forest are not giving residents the right of consultation on the new LIP. Waltham Forest is the only borough in North East London not going to public consultation.

Which reminds me of those producers that make a complete turkey of a movie and then don't let critics have an early showing.

Doesn't local democracy feel great?!

Thursday 3 February 2011

Alexandra road - improving the streetscape

The Walthamizing of this road is now almost complete. The Waltham Forest check-list of excellence has been followed to the letter.

Addition of pavement parking : Check
No separation between pavement and parking bays thus allowing sloppy parking to block footway : Check
No redeeming features to alleviate the wall to wall tarmac and parking bays : Check
Narrow cycle way : Check
Cycle way running right up against parking bays to facilitate dooring : Check
Cycle markings to place the cyclist in the most dangerous part of the road, and to allow motorists to close pass : Check
Billboards advertising Waltham Forests latest regeneration success : Check.

Another triumph for the highway and environment department of Waltham Forest.
To illustrate the utter idiocy of Newham's position on the CSH through the A11, I took some photos on my route this afternoon.

IMG00102-20101018-1736.jpg (1524×904)

This is the Greenway. The Olympic park and Stadium are directly to the left of the picture.The route has recently been renovated and is a great cycle route.

However, when one leaves the Greenway the A11 is encountered. This is the road has to be negotiated to get to Stratford town centre

This is looking right over the Bow flyover which many commuter cyclists negotiate to avoid the even worse option of the gyratory underneath. Note the narrow cycle lane which terminates halfway down the slip road. Useful. It says "End" on it, presumably because the miserly width couldn't accommodate the phrase "All cyclists abandon hope beyond here".

Then notice the route into Stratford. This has recently been "renovated".  Presumably the parked cars are going to become a "feature" of this route, and considered more essential than, say, using the now defunct inside lane for a bus lane which would help buses proceed past the ever present queues and give a measure of protection to cyclists.

Note also the complete lack of crossing for the Greenway. I had heard this was going to be installed as part of the regeneration, but presumably got dropped as the roadworks appear finished now. So cyclists and pedestrians have to go down to the traffic lights just about visible in the background to cross. Superb.

Then we get into Stratford. What can I say? Apart from a picture is worth a thousand words. So here we are :

Now, how much cycling to the Olympics is likely to happen on these roads? How many people will be inspired by the Olympics to get on a cycle with these conditions? 

A cycle super highway may not be the whole answer. It may not even be half the answer. But supporting it would show some intent that Newham want to make cycling a bit less marginalised in their borough. Instead, by blocking this scheme, Newham have shown their contempt for cycling.

Newham and the Olympics

I had the LCC quarterly magazine drop through my letterbox, along with the excellent single page newsletter for NE London (which, in several short paragraphs tells me more about what is happening with the council with regards to cycling than any of their web pages).

There is an article in the main magazine ("Superhighway stops short") which is a magnificent article on Newham council's active blocking of cycling in their borough. Unfortunately I cannot find the article on line, but will summarise as best as I can here.

Essentially, the A11 was earmarked as a critical route from Central London to the Olympics and then onto Romford and Ilford. Clearly a cursory glance at a map will indicate that it is the most direct route from the City to Stratford.

It is also one of the most cycle hostile routes. As well as being a multi-lane highway from Bow to the end of the Stratford one-way system, it also has the Bow flyover where the A11 and A12 meet, which is deeply unpleasant to cycle. Commuter cyclists do use this route. As do I - see my previous posts on this route. But the numbers are low, considering it is a primary route from the City - with few local alternatives, and all cyclists are of the same kind. Cyclists in full high-viz with looks of grim determination on their faces as they negotiate the heavy multi-lane traffic using vehicular cycling. I have never once seen a cyclist using this route, smiling. Or anyone transporting children on a cycle, or anyone elderly or young. All types of people that may want to use the route to get to the Olympics by bicycle.

The plan was to incorporate a Cycle Super Highway along the route. Although cycle super highways are a compromise, sometimes much too much so, designating this route as such with the markings may have at least given the idea to motorists that they need to accommodate cyclists on the route. 

However the route now is stopping short at the Bow Flyover. 600m short of the Olympics (and, presumably, short of the Greenway route that will run alongside the Park) and 4 miles short of its original destination.

For once, TfL, appears to be on the side of the cyclist. For political reasons, at the very least, I am sure Boris wants a cycle super highway to the Olympics. TfL say in the article that the issue is with the Olympic works and Newham's approach to street design. The ODA states that it has not been party to a decision on the Cycle Super Highway, so that leaves Newham council.

Newham council have stated that they are not against the highway, merely deferring the decision until after the Olympics. Which is utterly laughable - surely Newham council aren't so stupid as to not realise how ridiculous that is. It also claims that the Olympic work around Stratford will prevent the implementation, presumably forgetting that this work will actually be completed way before the Olympics and only is temporary. Indeed the ODA say that these are not reasons to delay the CSH.

Then, Newham are blocking the Romford Road implementation of the Cycle Super Highway saying that this section cannot fit in a cycle superhighway instead 'promoting' a  "a multi-modal approach along Romford Road with no one mode being prioritised". Which is a total crock. Cars are prioritised at the moment and Newham council are determined to keep it that way.

The report has the Newham press officer highlighting the Tour of Britian taking place in Newham - as if that will help people trying to cycle to the shops or Olympics. He also highlighted work on the Greenway. Now, the Greenway is a nice cycle route, unfortunately handicapped by the fact that it is cut in half by the aforementioned A11 which effectively renders it useless for many journeys unless one is prepared to fight through the heavy traffic on the A11. And if one isn't prepared to do that then the offroad cycle path - no matter how nice - isn't going to alter ones decision on leaving the cycle at home. Especially when,  the redevelopment of Stratford high street has no (I repeat - no) cycle provision in the plans.

Finally the report concludes with the fact that Newham Cyclists have tried putting these concerns to the council constructively and they have not been "addressed". Which I think is a nice way of saying that the council has completely ignored the local cycling group.

Why are Newham acting in this way? Why so out of step with all the good intentions and words that are said in regional and local government about encouraging cycling (even if the deeds sadly lack behind the words)?

I can only conclude a couple of possible reasons

1) Newham really doesn't care about cycling at all. This is a distinct possibility. It has an absolutely pathetic modal share - even for outer London. Many of the major roads through the borough are congested, polluted and very difficult for pedestrians and cyclists. If this is the case, Newham's LIP and general words about cycling are just utter bullshit, and they have absolutely no intention of improving the situation at all.

2) The blocking is political. Now, I have no axe to grind either way, but it strikes me as somewhat of a co-incidence that Newham is completely Labour controlled and the person who will be most embarrassed by a lack of a cycle super highway to the Olympics is the Conservative mayor. If this is the case, then Newham are sacrificing cycling infrastructure - and money - for political point scoring.

I often deride Waltham Forest council for their cycling policies and lack of action. One gets the impression with Waltham Forest that they like the idea of cycling but only if it doesn't mean they have to invest any time or money or make any decisions.

Newham council, on the other hand, seem to be actively spending time and making decisions that impede cycling in their borough. The major roads in their borough are a car-choked and polluted mess that is unpleasant even for the motorist, and worse for other road users. Their actions over the CSH and the Stratford regeneration clearly indicate that they have absolutely no intention of trying to change this, and show that they don't care about cycling at all. They, above all other boroughs, are getting the benefits of the billions invested in the 2012 Olympics, but aren't even prepared to allow implemention of a CSH as an attempt to try to help achieve the goal of it being a "sustainable" Olympics.

* With thanks and a big hat-tip to the piece in the LCC magazine by Arnold Ridout whose article was a lot more considered than the above rant.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

Improving our streets

Early in January, I noticed that Ruckholt Road / Alexandra Road were getting a makeover.

A "Streetscape improvement scheme (Phase 1)" no less. Sounds exciting.

For the uninitiated, Alexandra Road and Ruckholt road form a small one-way gyratory which links Leyton High Road to Eastway and the top end of the Olympic Park. Both roads are not great for cycling. Ruckholt road is normally congested and has parking both sides, Alexandra road layout encourages close passing and the cycle lane is too narrow and right next to parked cars.

Freewheeler commented at the time that the improvements probably involved more parking bays on a widened footway. Such cynicism. But then, Waltham Forest has form  (as they used to say in The Bill).

Sure enough, whilst cycling back through Leyton the other day, I saw the nearly completed works and it seems to consist of a series of pavement parking bays, and the implementation of a new set of street lights so that the pesky lampposts won't get in the way of the pavement car parking.

This is just too depressing. Waltham Forest's only contribution to "improving a streetscape" is to put in fancy pavement and allow people to park their cars on it. The road itself seems to have remained the same - so will still have speeding motorists on it. The cycle lane - such as it was - appears to have not changed - in fact under the bollards, I swear it might actually be even narrower. 

I sometimes wonder if Waltham Forest are doing all of this for some kind of bet. Or if the highways department is run by Adam Rayner and James Martin

Waltham Forest - a council that sets low expectations and then consistently fails to meet them.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The A10 - cycle super scary highway

I often have cause to cycle on the A10 from Tottenham to Stamford Hill. This route is ear-marked for the blue Smurf paint which designates a "cycle super-highway". Unfortunately this isn't due to happen until 2015. And if a week is a long time in politics, four years is plenty of time for any cycling initiative to be quietly forgotten in preference to the status quo.

To illustrate the current cycling environment of the A10, I decided to take some photos.

This is the A10 / St Anns Road junction. There are three lanes of traffic here - all allowed to continue up the A10, where after the junction the road narrows to 2 lanes. In front of this stationary traffic waiting for the lights to turn is an ASL. Which is fantastic. One can filter to the front of the traffic and then set off up Stamford Hill with traffic behind roaring off the lights and jostling with each other for pole position up the hill.  It is a bit like being in a small rowing boat whilst waiting for a tsunami of traffic to engulf you in a wave of diesel fumes.

The frequent retort to any cyclist plea about motorists not killing us on the roads is that we jump red lights, and so therefore somehow deserve everything we get.  But, if there was ever a junction that cried out for cyclists to jump the red this is it. By doing this the cyclist would get a jump of the traffic and have only to contend with the light traffic from St Anns Road instead of that from the  A10. I don't jump red lights though - mainly because I am an idiot with such an ingrained middle-class sense of obeying the law that I would prefer to be engulfed in 3 lanes of fast moving metal. A civilised country would have cycle lights here to allow cyclists a head-start on traffic. I won't hold my breath for this to be implemented in the UK.

Finally, you might notice the cyclist waiting at the lights going north. Where the traffic is nose to tail and presents the cyclist with two options. Filter in-between the traffic, buses and lorries to make progress or stick behind the traffic and wait with them. Which rather defeats the object of cycling in the first place. 

Can you imagine a child or novice finding cycling in these conditions anything other than completely terrifying? Hell, I have done this journey 100's of times, and I still find it requires a change of underwear.

If one survives this junction then it is a bit of a slog up Stamford hill.

Going up this hill, the cyclist has a couple of options. Take vehicular cycling to heart and take primary on the inside lane. This causes some motorists to get very angry, beep their horns and close pass so they can undertake the traffic that is being sensible and taking the outside lane. An example of this being  this twat I previously described. The alternative to the vehicular cycling method is to hug the red no parking lines for grim death and have motorists get very angry, beep their horns and close pass so they can undertake the traffic that is being sensible and taking the outside lane. 

So not too much of a choice in reality.

This is on a road that also has railings all the way down it, so escaping onto the pavement if a lorry mis-judges the gaps isn't an option, and where - as ably demonstrated by the van in the background of the picture - cars lose patience with turning right and therefore "go halfway" and block the outside lane. Thus giving the motorist the challenge of how many of them can overtake before having to pull in behind the cyclist on the inside lane.

Finally, the reward for slogging up Stamford hill is the Amhurst hill junction.

A cross-roads of at least three lanes of traffic each way whilst pedestrians are corralled into a narrow pavement area with pretty much continuous railings just in case they get silly and decide they might want to cross the road.

If there needs to be a symbol of how utterly car-sick our roads have become, this junction should be it. The shopping area could actually be nice - there are some chain shops and some restaurants on the other side of the A10 where the pavement is wider. But anyone wanting to cycle the area, or walk from one side to the other has to do so in-between 5 or 6 lanes of traffic.

It doesn't have to be this way. The A10 stretch up Stamford Hill could at least have a bus lane on the inside lane which would afford a cyclist some protection. Amhurst junction could be remodelled to allow the area to flourish as a shopping and leisure area instead of a no-man's land of tarmac and fast moving metal. 

There are those that may say this route could be accomplished using the back roads. And this is true. But these are chocked full of parked cars leading to blind corners and close overtakes anyway. And the cycle signage is appalling - where it is present it is invariably pointing in the wrong direction. And the maze of one-way streets mean that a longer route than the direct A10 becomes very circuitous indeed. What is the point of cycling if one has to end up spending longer traversing minor roads that aren't signed properly, don't go directly to where one wants to go and then terminate at the very roads the cyclist was avoiding, without any priority? 

Maybe the CSH in 2015 will resolve matters. Or maybe it will never be implemented. Who knows?