Friday, February 27, 2015
During February 2003 on diamond geezer I kept myself busy by counting things. Ten different counts, to be precise, in a none-too thrilling daily feature called The Count. My 28-day tally chart may have been deathly dull to the rest of you, but I've continued to count those categories again, every February since, purely to keep tabs on how my life is changing. Twelve years later, I think we can agree it's changed quite a bit, and yet not changed too. Below are my counts for February 2015 (also available in graphical form via Daytum), accompanied by the previous statistics and some deep, meaningful pondering.
Yes, I know February's not over yet, so all the figures below are based on best estimates for the final 48 hours. But don't worry, I'll come back and update the 2015 data as the next couple of days play out, before settling on the finalised figures at the end of the month.
Count 1 (Blog visitors): It's almost a record. The very busiest month on this blog was August 2012, for Olympic reasons, but February 2015 is firmly lined up for second place. I've had three other months top sixty thousand visitors, but they were 31-dayers, whereas this February's daily average is much higher. I'm averaging just over two thousand visitors a day, which is as good as it's ever got, so I can't complain. It amazes me sometimes that anyone comes back when there's the risk of reading about Stoke-on-Trent or an essay on my local roundabout, which is hardly "must read" subject material for the average man in the street. Indeed I do wonder whether this blog is evolving into a travelogue about increasingly obscure parts of London and beyond, or is over-dependent on transport-related topics. But I try to provide you with a varied diet where possible, and this month somehow I've hit a rich seam of topics with broader appeal that's fed in folk from elsewhere. There's still demand out there for original subject matter, like a report from the low tide Thames or a top five of London labyrinths, rather than endless recycled press releases. But it's not all high octane stuff here, not by a long chalk. As one of my regular two thousand, I assume you either keep coming back for the variety, or can put up with the personally-irrelevant stuff inbetween.
Total number of visits to this webpage in February 2015: 58300
2003-2015 review: Twelve years ago, when this blog was mere months old, I attracted one double-decker busful of readers a day. That leapt up a bit in the following years, with atypical peaks in February 2006 and 2008 skewed by external linkage. Numbers have bobbed around a bit since, but almost always upwards, and this February's total is the equivalent of three crowded tube trains of readers daily. That's still insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and peanuts compared to what certain blogs get, but most gratifying all the same. Accurate visitor numbers remain incredibly difficult to ascertain, given the number of folk reading via RSS feeds or whatever. But it's quality of readership rather than quantity which most makes me smile, so thank you!
(2003: 2141) (2004: 6917) (2005: 9636) (2006: 42277) (2007: 23082) (2008: 32006) (2009: 26048) (2010: 30264) (2011: 37200) (2012:40018) (2013: 55369) (2014: 51727)
Count 2 (Blog comments): There's nothing quite so unpredictable as comments. Some days this blog attracts hardly any, while other days the discussion catches fire and you add dozens. Interestingly this month there's been rather more of the latter than the former. Only twice has a day gone by with comments in single figures, while we've topped 30 seven times and 50 once. Admittedly this February's most commented post was one where I deliberately asked you for feedback, and you provided birthday suggestions in droves. But you lot talk even when not asked, and usually even on topic. Altogether this February you've fired more than 600 comments my way, which represents approximately 20 comments per day, on average, which is a fantastic level of engagement. Most blogs have commenting zones resembling tumbleweed, but somehow you lot always seem to carry on talking. Often you're taking me to task or telling me something's wrong, usually politely, but that's good because I'd rather my posts were correct than riddled with errors. Sometimes you only join in when I discuss something generic (like work), or mention a keyword (like 'train'), and not when I get too place-specific (because you've never been). But somehow a community has evolved here, where regular and occasional commenters co-exist, and that's not an easy thing to create. Thanks everyone, because it's you that helps to bring this page to life.
Total number of comments on this webpage in February 2015: 610
2003-2015 review: What's most surprised me about the last decade of diamond geezer comments is how similar the monthly totals are. They bob up and down a bit, and the first year was understandably low, but since then the average has been unexpectedly consistent - between 400 and 600 comments a month. I might have expected numbers to fall, because commenting's a very old-school blogging thing, peaking in the "Golden Age" of 2005-2008. People don't have time to comment on blogs any more, not now there's a wealth of online content to distract them. They do all their commenting on Twitter or Facebook, because that's instant, but the debate is entirely transitory and rapidly ebbs away. To still have readers commenting in 2015 is a bit of a triumph, and against all the odds. Alternatively I might have expected numbers to rise, because I have far more readers now and they ought to talk more than they do. Ten years ago I received one comment per 20 readers, whereas now it's more like one comment per 100, and that's a far less impressive engagement rate. But at least what comment remains is intelligent, relevant, insightful and (mostly) non-stalky. I'm delighted, obviously.
(2003: 166) (2004: 332) (2005: 463) (2006: 648) (2007: 566) (2008: 504) (2009: 472) (2010: 396) (2011: 558) (2012: 440) (2013: 546) (2014: 477)
Count 3 (Blog content): I continue to write too much. 2015 isn't quite my most prolific February yet, that was last year, but my blog output still averages over 1000 words a day. I always mean to keep things succinct, but rarely manage. There's usually something extra I want to add, another fact to flesh out, another sentence to squeeze in, and before I know where I am I've written another essay. One thousand words a day is not to be sniffed at - it's the equivalent of writing five novels a year, except I never end up with a book at the end of it. And I write fairly slowly too, the words don't usually pour out, not least because there are facts to check and links to add even after I'm done. I know you'd still read this blog if I wrote less, but something keeps driving me to write a bit more, and then a bit more again. I may have eased off fractionally since last year, but I haven't learnt my lesson yet. Tl;dr.
Total number of words in diamond geezer in February 2015: 30500
2003-2015 review: I kept my output pretty much in check until 2008, writing approximately 500-600 words each day. This was manageable, even allowed me a social life as necessary, and you probably didn't think any the worse of me. But then the slow climb began. A few more words each day, a lot more words each month, it all eventually added up. I have now doubled the number of words I write compared to a decade ago, which means you lot have to invest twice as long to read it. Compare for example a typical post about a walk up a main road from 2005 (700-800 words) with a similar post from 2015 (1300-1400 words). You might be loving the outcome, because you get more to read. But I'm spending more of my time writing, and less of my time "having a life", and that's not really how things should be. Don't worry, I haven't broken yet.
(2003: 14392) (2004: 16214) (2005: 16016) (2006: 15817) (2007: 17102) (2008: 17606) (2009: 20602) (2010: 21595) (2011: 23120) (2012: 25698) (2013: 29410) (2014: 32283)
Count 4 (Sleep): Daytum provides a fascinating way to visualise my February as a purplish pie chart (reproduced here). In the past I've depicted my work/life balance in four sectors, but this year I thought I'd simplify things and just count up how much I sleep. This is pertinent, because my bedtime is often directly related to how late I stay up writing you stuff. Often this creeps past midnight, I won't say specifically how far, because it is of course crucial that I get to the end of my final paragraph before turning in for the evening. So if you look at my pie chart you'll see I slept for only a quarter of my February. That's six hours a day, on average, which I suspect may be less than you survive on. What's more this average hides weeknights where I sleep for barely five hours, balanced out by weekends where I sometimes nod off for eight. And yet I still bounce through a day at work after a four-and-a-bit-er without needing coffee or having to gulp down a Red Bull to kickstart my morning. It's as if Margaret Thatcher and I shared the same genes, slumber-wise, which is brilliant because less sleep leaves you more time to do everything else in your life. Eighteen hours a day is plenty, even with work and travel taken out, to do the eating, blogging, socialising, visiting, tellying, slobbing, that sort of thing. If I needed to sleep more, you wouldn't get fresh bloggage in the morning on a regular basis, I can assure you of that.
Total number of hours spent sleeping in February 2015: 167 (24.9%)
(2011: 172) (2012: 167) (2013: 163) (2014: 165)
Full figures for February 2015
(to be continued tomorrow)
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, February 26, 2015How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: very slowly
TfL announced their intention to close every ticket office on the network back in 2013, but only this month has the actual closure programme begun. Remember all the noise and fuss there was when the news first broke, carefully coupled with the big Night Tube reveal to act as cover? Now listen to the deafening silence as the axe finally falls. A few news outlets mentioned the first closures in passing, notably the Wimbledon Guardian because South Wimbledon was top of the hitlist. But the public seem to have got all the anger out of their system fifteen months ago, long since replaced with a sense of resigned capitulation.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: defiantly
Whatever everybody else said, TfL were resolutely consistent in their intention to close every single ticket office on the network. No ifs, no buts, no rolling over in the face of repeated strike action, just the firm restatement that no really, every single one would be closing. And as with so many seemingly immovable decisions, eventually the unions grew weary of shouting at a brick wall and the public lost interest and looked elsewhere.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: prematurely
Because management have long been absolutely certain that Transforming The Tube was the future, they started extinguishing ticket offices years back. For example, when Wood Lane station was opened to serve Westfield London in 2008, no ticket office was included, only a wall of machines. When Cannon Street reopened after a major makeover last year, tickets were available only from TfL's new improved prototype machines, rolling out at a station near you soon. And when Tottenham Court Road opened its flash new Crossrail-friendly entrance last month, the lack of a ticket office earned barely a mention. Design them out early, that's been the plan.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: by starting small
Only two* ticket offices are on the closure list this month, and they're not big ones. One is Queensway, in a part of the West End popular with suitcase-lugging tourists, and the other is South Wimbledon. Neither is a big-hitter with public opinion on its side, indeed both were probably selected to ensure that closure processes were workable on a small scale before being rolled out elsewhere. Next month another ten or so join the list, and then in the period April-June this number ramps up sharply to seventy-something. It'll be the end of the year, we're told, before the last ticket office finally succumbs. But by picking off a tiny number first, the masses closing later are merely part of an ongoing program and no longer news.
* This week Covent Garden's ticket office closed permanently too, by default, as the station switched back to exit only while some lifts are upgraded.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: peripherally
Several outer London stations with minimal passenger flows lost their ticket offices some years back. Chigwell, Roding Valley, Theydon Bois and Upminster Bridge are in the Underground's top ten least used stations, hence almost nobody minded when the staff there were kicked out of their little cubbyholes and the shutters brought down. The same set-up's coming to Oxford Circus and every other station soon enough.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: with misdirection
TfL's publicity machine is keen not to mention ticket office closures. They're focusing instead on "modernisation", and the benefits that bringing staff out from behind the window will bring. Hundreds of jobs are being lost, and not every station will see extra staff, but TfL aren't particularly keen to mention this either. "In the future, all stations will be staffed from the first to last Tube" they say, cunningly misdirecting passengers away from the fact that this is already the case. "We are moving our staff into ticket halls where they are more visible and can assist you more effectively" they say, and this may indeed turn out to be true. Why not pop down to Queensway or South Wimbledon today and see how the redeployed staff are adding value?
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: improvingly
TfL's official list of ticket office closures isn't headed "Ticket office closures", it's titled "Ticket hall scheduled improvement work". The marketing team of any organisation always looks on the positive side during a corporate restructure, because this helps to make enormous changes sound more palatable. TfL's "improvement" list chooses to focus on when stations are having their ticket offices functionally tweaked, and approximately how many months this will take. Most offices'll only take a month to become whatever they're going to be next, which might be a closed-off room or a knocked-through space with additional machines. Some stations like Gloucester Road and Mile End are pencilled in for 3 months, presumably because something seriously major is going to happen, while others are down for "1-3 months", which presumably means nobody's thought this through yet. Meanwhile Green Park, Baker Street and Russell Square have hit the jackpot with the maximum transformation period of 4 months, so expect something pretty wow afterwards, or maybe just a new Starbucks.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: imprecisely
Although TfL announced each station's transformation date in a list late last year, they've only ever published the month of closure, not the day. The first that regular station users know of the precise moment is the appearance of a board by the ticket window a couple of weeks before Doomsday - that's Stockwell's in the photo at the top of this post. By carefully controlling the information like this it's harder for the general public to focus any kind of campaign against specific closures, or indeed to even care.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: rebranding
Six particularly busy stations may be losing a ticket office, but they're gaining a Visitor Information Centre. This isn't just the same old ticket office tweaked a bit with a different name, this is recognition that visitors to London will still need personal attention, and that an office with a counter is the best way to deliver this. King's Cross is first up, with a remodelled VIC up the St Pancras end complete with colourful curves and Post Office style queueing, and scheduled to open this month. Following by the summer will be Liverpool Street, Victoria, Heathrow 123, Euston and Paddington. But that's your lot if you want counter service in the new world - either join the hideously long tourist queue or give in and use the machine.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: incompletely
Actually, not every station is losing its ticket office. Some are more Overground than Underground, so won't be culled immediately as part of this customer-facing transformation. Hence Gunnersbury, Harlesden, Harrow & Wealdstone, Kensal Green, Kenton, Kew Gardens, North Wembley, Queen's Park, South Kenton, Stonebridge Park and Wembley Central, along with Finsbury Park, are all on the closure list as "Timing to be confirmed". More long-termly, Barking, Ealing Broadway, Richmond, Upminster and Wimbledon aren't TfL-operated, so will be carrying on as normal unless their operating rail company chooses to pull the plug. If you still want to talk to a member of staff though glass, you know where to go.
How do you close all 300 Underground ticket offices and get away with it? The answer: realistically
Most Londoners haven't used a ticket office in ages. Only a small proportion of journeys start at a ticket window, and your Oyster card or contactless card probably functions perfectly well without the need to queue. And OK, so there'll be times when a machine can't cut it and human interaction will be required, in which case a member of staff "equipped with handheld mobile device" will be around to provide "up to the minute information". But if you've ever used the DLR, which has been pretty much ticket-office-free for decades, you already know deep down that we'll all cope.
2 Feb Queensway, South Wimbledon; 23 Feb Covent Garden; 2 Mar Bethnal Green; 9 Mar Brixton, Seven Sisters, Stockwell; 22 Mar North Greenwich (any more?)
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, February 25, 2015A couple of weeks ago, a brand new attraction opened in the heart of Holborn. It's only small, and Tudor House isn't somewhere you'd accidentally stumble across, but I was pleased to find the place packed out when I visited at the weekend. That's Tim Hunkin's Novelty Automation, on Princeton Street (close to Theobalds Road), a unique collection of inventive and experiential slot machines.
As well as being a cartoonist and engineer, Tim's been making unusual automata for years. Many of these have appeared in public, for example he designed the Secret Life of the Home gallery at the Science Museum, but Tim's main coin-op collection has always been on display at The Under The Pier Show on Southwold Pier. If you're ever on the Suffolk coast, it's an enchanting attraction to poke around. Now after several years of inventing he's started running out of space there, hence the decision to open a second outlet in London so that even more of his peculiar machines can be enjoyed by even more people.
Novelty Automation takes up the ground floor of a backstreet building, so is about the same size as the downstairs of a house. In good news, an awful lot's been packed in, and in better news, admission is free. What you pay for are tokens to bring each of Tim's machines to life, currently a pound a time, purchased from the smiling member of staff at the main desk. And once each slot is filled you can then stand back and watch to see what unfolds, or better still join in.
I counted at least six arcade machines altogether in the front room, from a Wallace-and-Grommit-like box to settle the destiny of a lamb, to an armchair you sit in and then get jolted through a Microbreak foreign holiday. In another exhibit you get to Test Your Nerve by placing your hand inside an iron cage containing a mechanical hellhound, and see how long you can hold it there while the thing growls and slobbers. Most popular on my visit was the Money Laundering machine, a bit like one of those grabbers you find outside a seaside amusement arcade, but in this case where users have to try to sneak money into the City of London without its shadowy regulators catching sight.
Even more machines have been crammed in further back. I was particularly taken by the Instant Eclipse, a box you climb inside and then watch the animated Sun slowly disappear above your head. But families with children were more interested in the larger interactive fare, particularly the giant Autofrisk whose rubber arms reach out to give you an automated patdown. Another large booth takes a strip of photos if you climb inside, the quirk being that "parts of the booth may move unexpectedly", providing a variety of facial expressions entirely unsuitable for a passport. I didn't see anyone risk placing their foot inside The Chiropodist, a machine originally housed in Covent Garden, but one teenager couldn't be prized away from his extra-terrestrial encounter with the Alien Probe.
The variety and inventiveness of Tim's automata is impressive, with some clearly all-out entertainment, and others more artistic and thought-provoking. And while you can just come and watch others using the machines, the experience works best if you interact. Better still bring a group, be that your family or just mates, to join in together on the larger button-pushers or to share a grin as each display plays out. And expect the unexpected, that's all I'll say, as some of Tim's machines climax with the odd unheralded action.
I hope that Novelty Automation gains the attention it deserves, and the buzz last weekend suggested that several punters have already discovered its charms. It's open from 11am on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, generally closing at six but with an extra late-night hour on Thursday evenings. If you can't get there, Tim's website is fascinating enough to poke around, or you can keep a visual eye on the place via Twitter. But how charming to have a new central London attraction that's inventive, creative and fun, and as Tim says, "a (coin-op)portunity not to be missed."
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, February 24, 2015Most parks have a playground, a few have a model village, but only one has a Model Traffic Area. That's Lordship Recreation Ground in Tottenham, the largest park in N17, which boasts a young person's facility like no other. [7 photos]
The park dates back to 1932, laid out on former farmland to serve the growing community round about. Its first special features were a Paddle-Boat Pond and a Shell Bandstand, these augmented in 1938 after the Park Superintendent had an idea to transform the southwestern corner. He planned a recreation area for small children to learn to ride bicycles, tricycles and toy motor cars, a training ground for road sense, and the Model Traffic Area was the end result.
Three-quarters of a mile of roadway was laid out, with two main streets crossing at right angles and various narrower roads looping to either side. Miniature pavements ran along each side, the facility being as much for pedestrians as for road users, and the area was landscaped with trees and shrubs for added realism. The chief engineer of the Municipal Borough of Tottenham supervised the installation of miniature traffic lights and new-fangled Belisha Beacons, and a scaled-down blue Police box was added to teach children how to summon assistance by phone. The end result was a quintessentially Thirties experience, the Model Traffic Area, which from above looks something like this.
The facility was opened on 27 July 1938 by none other than the Minister of Transport, the Right Honourable Leslie Burgin. Even better, footage of his plummy official speech exists and you can watch it on the Pathé news website.
"Your kiddie of today, playing about with something that is a very instructive toy, is going to be the cyclist, the motor-cyclist, the van driver, the car owner of tomorrow. And if kiddies can learn road sense in the same way as a kiddie learns a language, so that it becomes an instinct, well then we have that much gained when they reach adolescence and later years."Such were the aspirations of the pre-war generation. Thirty model cars were available for hire from the park's 'Garage', at a going rate of one penny for fifteen minutes. Children could also hire one of the park's dozen bikes, or bring their own, on payment of a subsidiary charge. If that weren't enough fun, various items of playground equipment were scattered across the grassy islands, to ensure a steady stream of pedestrians waiting at the zebra crossings. Not surprisingly the place was packed out - over twenty thousand kiddies paid up during the first month alone - as this municipal vision took hold.
The MTA had to be closed at the end of the following summer, but was reopened in 1947 for the delight of a new generation. The initial plan had been for this to be the first of many pioneering partnerships between local and national authorities, but the wartime hiatus put paid to that momentum and no further MTAs were built. The Fifties were golden road safety years in Lordship Rec, and even in the Seventies the hire of bikes continued, but by the Nineties the Garage had closed and lack of maintenance had left the roads in a declining state. Local children still brought their own bicycles and learned to ride, but on an increasingly deteriorating facility.
Step forward to 2010, and Tottenham residents were instrumental in sourcing a considerable injection of funds from the Lottery, Haringey Council and the Mayor. Some of this went towards relandscaping the River Moselle through the centre of the park, and some went towards restoring the Model Traffic Area. Its streets were repaired, its pavements relaid and a set of modern road signs added to bring the site into the 21st century. Alas there are no permanent traffic lights, they'd be too easily vandalised, but a portable set can be wheeled out when community groups use the upgraded network to teach cycle proficiency.
I wondered how I'd missed the grand reopening of the Model Traffic Area on its 75th anniversary, but it turns out Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park reopened on the same day so Tottenham's moment in the spotlight was firmly eclipsed. Five hundred people turned up, two hundred of these on bikes, and the ribbon was cut by 82-year-old Barbara Leadbitter who remembered playing on this "wonderful" track as a young girl. And the MTA is once again a splendid sight, set across four acres in the corner of the park and looked over by a sculpture of a girl's bicycle - the motor car now pretty much banished.
Its miniature roads weren't especially busy over the weekend, but I saw at least three sets of parents leading their offspring around the course at appropriately miniature pace. One appeared to be having trouble with his hill start, while another was clearly riding the wrong way down a one-way street in direct contravention of Highway Code section 69. Perhaps more seriously a young chap with stabilisers careered straight across the centre of a mini-roundabout with total disregard for the road markings, complicitly encouraged by his jaywalking parents. The Rt Hon Leslie Burgin would no doubt have been aghast.
For those who live nearby, in Tottenham or the eastern end of Haringey, the Model Traffic Area is a fantastic resource to have on the doorstep. Admittedly it's most useful for parents with children of bicycle apprenticeship age, and for giving N17's adolescents somewhere novel to hang out. But how excellent that Lordship Rec still boasts its unique playground for the imagination, thanks to the foresight of the Municipal Borough, and for the benefit of kiddies everywhere.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, February 23, 2015THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Highgate → Tottenham (7 miles)
[Moselle (→ Pymmes Brook) → Lea → Thames]
The Moselle is Haringey's river, running from high ground to the west of the borough to enter the River Lea to the east. No relation to the French river of the same name, it's so called because it rose on what was once Mosse-Hill, from which Muswell Hill also gets its name. This river's not as unlost as most. The majority of the Moselle was culverted in either the 1830s or the 1900s, but two short stretches remain on the surface, and another has recently been uncovered and landscaped. In following the river I'm indebted to the Haringey Friends of Parks Forum who tracked down its course a few years ago and devised a walk to run alongside, at least as close as suburbia permits. They also wrote the whole thing up with map and directions to create a full colour 8-page leaflet which you can download here, or perhaps pick up a copy from the Hub at Lordship Rec. Last time I looked, there was one copy left. [7 photos]
The Moselle rises in Queens Wood, an extensive remnant of ancient woodland a short distance to the north of Highgate station. Its primary source trickles out of the earth round the back of the big houses on Muswell Hill Road, then follows a narrow rivulet down coppiced slopes. Winter's probably the best time to see a dribble of water, though not to see the muddy hillside at its best. Several footpaths are crossed, the tiny brook dipping through a succession of short pipes, then crossing a shallow clearing through a ring of thirteen oak trees. These are known locally as the Witches' Coven, although these days you're more likely to find dogs snuffling in the leaves than any pagan ritual. In the mire at the bottom of the wood, beneath a low brick wall, any surplus water runs into an open grille and heads underground. And that's the river's first good bit done and dusted, with several miles to go before we'll see it again.
The culvert leads downhill through the Crouch End Open Spaces, which alas aren't open to access from the footpath which runs on top. More welcoming is Priory Park, a landscaped pleasure grounds in two parts, and with a Philosopher's Garden to boot. The park has two water features, one a paddling pool, the other an ornate fountain relocated here in 1909 from the churchyard of St Paul's Cathedral. Once two rivers flowed here, the second of these being the Cholmeley Brook which swung in from a source just south of Highgate station (via Crouch End) before merging on Hornsey High Street. My walk leaflet directed me up Rectory Gardens to view a line of trees planted along the line of the covered river, then asked me to retrace my steps to walk through a housing estate where an ornamental lake no longer exists. Such are the joys of the lost-river-walker.
Hereabouts you'll find a Brook Street and a Moselle Close, plus another of the former on the other side of the New River. It's not easy to trace our river precisely through the gas works and former chocolate factories, but then a direct hit is scored on Wood Green Shopping City. The Moselle once crossed The Broadway where Argos now stands, or more likely along the alleyway to the north which would explain the gap between shops. A much more pleasant walk follows, through the early garden suburb of the Noel Park Estate. The river ran immediately behind the artisanal terraces on Moselle Avenue, although the only sign above ground today is the parapet of a former bridge on Vincent Road, easily overlooked near the laundrette. At the far end is Lordship Lane, once a country track with a brook alongside, although this now flows in culvert immediately underneath the pavement on the south side.
At the Post Office the Moselle breaks off on a remarkably twisted journey to the Lea, with a 17th century writer describing its route as "running through the middeth of the Town in a meaner fashion of the Greek Capital Omega". Its first target was the grounds of Downhills House, now the Lordship Recreation Ground, where the river finally returns to the surface. It was daylighted in 2012 as part of Lottery-funded improvement works, and now emerges into a silt pond before meandering between the cafe and the sports pitches. This wetland wiggle crossed by three footbridges is a bit of a triumph, and shows just what could be done to restore the river elsewhere along its length. Instead it plunges back down to flow beneath the Broadwater Farm estate, named after the broad waters of the former river, and whose main amenities were all built at first floor level to minimise the risk of flooding.
From a once notorious estate to another garden suburb, the Moselle flows north into the pioneering Tower Gardens estate. Its Arts and Crafts houses are a world away from the highrise boxes across Lordship Lane, and the river was diverted beneath a straight culverted path to make way. Ahead is Tottenham Cemetery, the only part of the river's lower course never to have been forced underground. Here the Moselle meets a tributary called the Lesser Moselle, both now out in the open, merging up the far end near a splendid ornamental lake. And yet the resulting river's not quite picturesque, more a deep trench overlooked by trees and hidden between the memorials. It's not even easy to stroll beside, which is a shame when you've walked all this way to see it, and becomes considerably less photogenic as it passes the back of some allotments.
The river then reaches White Hart Lane, first the road, then the station, then the football ground. The Moselle was particularly susceptible to flooding around here, inspiring the rhyme "Highgate's rain is Tottenham's pain". It ran immediately alongside the High Road from here down to Scotland Green, where a Great Stone Bridge once stood, and was culverted in stages between 1833 and 1906. Should Coombes Croft Library be open the tamed stream can (apparently) be seen beneath a glass cover in the foyer. Nowadays the only flood is of traffic, or occasionally of football supporters, hence my progress yesterday was impeded by scarf-sellers, burger vans and a line of mounted police awaiting the post-match rush.
The lower course of the river then gets complicated. A 15th century drainage channel heads directly east to join the Lea, buried beneath a walkway known as Carbuncle Passage. The river proper instead bent south, running parallel to the High Road, its path marked by a tree-lined footpath alongside some modern flats in Tamar Way. Fifty years ago another shortcut was dug, diverting the main flow to the north of Tottenham Hale station and into the Pymmes Brook, immediately before it joins the Lea. But the Moselle proper originally veered across the gyratory, then through what's now the retail park, to its eventual mouth in Markfield Park. Beyond the former sewage works and its restored beam engine, the very end of the river is marked by an inconspicuous outflow beneath the towpath. You could easily never notice it, if cycling or walking by, but here's where Highgate's rain eventually ended up.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, February 22, 2015Twice a day, through central London, the Thames rises high enough to drown a house. From low tide to high tide, the height of the river can change by up to seven and a half metres, adding billions of gallons of water to the capital and than draining it all away again. And yet if you only walk down to the river's edge once, it's all too easy to overlook the variation. So yesterday, on the day of the greatest spring tides, I turned up twice.
Low tide, 10.23am (0.09m) [10 photos]
It sounds ridiculously low, nine centimetres, but the central channel of the Thames never gets that shallow and river traffic can easily continue. What changes is how much lower the boats are, passing the foot of the bridge supports, and with pebbly foreshore uncovered to either side. In front of the Tate Modern a shingle bank slopes down into the river, while down at Battersea a muddy expanse appears. And that's not unusual, these beaches appear every day, but at extremely low tides an additional strip of riverbed is revealed that would otherwise remain underwater. And this brings the mudlarkers out, scavenging the exposed beach for treasure, or at least some scrap of human detritus that might be of interest.
My favourite access point is at the foot of Cousin Lane, along the edge of Cannon Street station, immediately beside the terrace of The Banker pub. The steps here are always open, day or night, the first part of the descent in stone and then more modern metal treads. Be warned they're steep, and potentially slippery because the river was washing over them only a few hours earlier. But at the bottom you enter a world most Londoners overlook, the opportunity to walk along the riverbed of Old Father Thames. It's not the most welcoming of environments, so step carefully. The ground underfoot is rocky and pebbly, including chunks of built material and the occasional metal pole. Various piers and jetties have been embedded down here over the years, the most intriguing feature of which are the rows of wooden posts running parallel to the channel. You might spot the odd oyster shell or crockery fragment, but the most surprising omission is scattered modern litter. There are no plastic bottles, no cans, no unspeakable flushables, as if they've all been tidied up, or more likely washed away by the twice-daily tide.
When the tide's low you can easily walk beneath the tracks out of Cannon Street. It gets a bit up and down beyond, with a sandy dip and stony scramble, but a pair of stout shoes could see you most of the way through to London Bridge. I chose to head upstream beneath the City of London's refuse station at Walbrook Wharf. Normally it's unwise to wade past the two giant barges resting on the riverbed, but at particularly low tides a strip of shingle opens up below a long wooden beam and it's easy to slip through. A line of sodden wooden posts leads towards Southwark Bridge, beneath which the channel narrows slightly and it's possible to step out even further into the river. At Vintners Place a ladder and a set of steps give some indication of just how far down the riverbed is, while a concrete tunnel flows behind - dark, accessible and briefly Thames-free.
I wasn't here alone, a group of beachcombers were busy dislodging pebbles and poking in the mud, hunting for clay pipes and Roman tiles on this rarely-uncovered terrain. I heard no shouts to suggest that anyone had been successful. This part of the river is Queenhithe, once home to a Saxon port, and there are considerably more lines of wooden posts down here than I've seen anywhere else. There's also another access point here, a particularly steep set of stairs close to the Millennium footbridge. And yet I still caught sight of several pedestrians up on the Thames Path gazing down at us as if to wonder "How on earth did they get down there?" And we did it by knowing where the steps are, and more importantly precisely when the low spring tide was taking place. It is a wonderful feeling to be 'in' the Thames on an urban adventure, and walking along the very bottom of London. The river'll be almost as low at eleven o'clock this morning, if you're game.
High tide, 3.45pm (7.57m) [4 photos]
Five and a half hours later, what a difference. The spring tides bring extra high tides as well as extra low, and the Thames through London is looking particularly full. Normally the depth of the river at high tide is about six metres something, but that hits seven around the new moon, and this weekend over seven and a half. This means water lapping much higher than usual, still safely below the floodwall, but in places splashing over the top after a Clipper or rigid-inflatable passes through. Steps that previously gave access below are covered over, with water frothing at the top, and passers-by exclaim "ooh, that looks high" without really knowing why.
Extreme high tide isn't as impressive as extreme low tide because the Thames's defences are so stoutly built. They've been constructed to contain such spring tides as these, hence the river merely looks full rather than threatening. But there are spots that succumb, more generally out of the centre of town (eg at Putney), though not exclusively so. At Old Billingsgate the Custom House Walkway has signs at both ends warning of 'occasional flooding' although this is the first time I've ever seen it happen. Ripples wash gently across the pontoon, which probably remains crossable with care in waterproof boots, but nobody's giving conditions the benefit of the doubt. It's a stark reminder of how vulnerable London nearly is to major flooding, if only the Moon wasn't so damned predictable.
posted 01:00 :
Saturday, February 21, 2015I haven't brought you a round-up of misguided PR emails yet this year, but I now have enough for a Top Ten.
Dear Mr Geezer,David's plan to spam my blog with his pop-up advertorial failed the moment he dared to use the word 'curate', twice.
Just a quick line to ask if you would be interested in participating in a pilot scheme, working with us to deliver fantastic curated content on places to your website visitors? Our system can curate any place on earth and then allow you to add what we call a 'Placelet' to your site in just a couple of lines of code on the page.
Hi!Not only did Yasmin's spelling fail to impress, her proposed 18% commission rate didn't appeal either.
First of all let me congratulate you on your blog, I loved it ;)
My name is Yasmin and I’m apart of a cool new Startup called <startup>, an online platform that offers unique travel experiences guided by local people.
Hi 'DG',Aaron's inclusion of miscoded characters did not persuade me to skip work to plug his pop-up.
Iâ?Tm Aaron from <beer>, emailing to invite you personally to an exclusive sneak peak at the <beer> <pop-up>, at <place in Zone 2> this Friday from 12 midday to 2PM â?" an exclusive event before the event officially opens later that evening and a full day before the public can visit the <pop-up> on Saturday.
Dear Diamond Geezer,Kate clearly had no ideas of her own, so was hoping I'd source some free info for her tube-related graphic. I declined.
I hope you’re well and had a good weekend.
I am Kate and I work closely with <serviced apartment company> who are working on a celebratory infographic and I would love to get your thoughts.
Hi Toni,Calling me Toni is never a good start to an email, and Joe's effort went downhill from there.
I'm writing on behalf of <dry cleaning app>, a company that's very interested in working with you on a sponsored post or review.
Hi There,Unfortunately Alex had committed the cardinal sin of not actually sending me a previous email, so I switched off there.
I recently sent you an email to introduce you to <bike company> - a new online brand of Single Speed/Fixed gear/commuter bikes which launched this year. Even though bikes aren't necessarily your 'thing' I wanted to get in touch to see if you might be interested in posting anything about our bikes...
Good day,Alas I don't have a webiste, so I had to disappoint Elita and her Lithuanian platform.
We would like to buy a link on your webiste: http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.com/. What price would it be?
Hi,If I'd spelt 'complementary' like that in a post, you lot would have crucified me.
I'm Alex, the Marketing Manager of <promotional service>, a fast-growing app for discovering and remembering things to try. <Promotional service> and Diamond Geezer are really complimentary and I think a partnership could be very interesting.
Dear Diamond Geezer,Everyone else gets to join Becky's walk for free, but apparently I could only go if I wrote about it. So I didn't.
Due to popular demand, <London Museum> historic walks are now becoming a regular monthly free event – usually on the last Friday of the month. We would love it if you could join us on a walk. They are absolutely free – all we ask in return that you write about the walk, or <London Museum> on your blog or social media.
Hi ,I am never interested in writing about anything emailed to me for publicity reasons. I'd be obliged if Sarah, Becky, Alex, Elita, Alex, Joe, Kate, Aaron, Yasmin, David and all the rest of you PR folk would remember this. Many thanks.
I wondered if you'd be interested in writing about <hashtag>?
I can provide you with many details and photographs.
posted 08:00 :
Friday, February 20, 2015One month from today, around half past nine in the morning, there's going to be a total solar eclipse. Have you planned ahead yet to make sure you don't miss it?
To be clear, the eclipse is only going to be total on the Faroe Islands and Svalbard, and along a long line through the North Atlantic between Rockall and Iceland, so will be partial as seen from the UK. But it is the closest a total solar eclipse comes to Britain for a very long time, and in London around 85% of the Sun will be covered.
To give you some idea of how rare this is, here's a list of all London's partial solar eclipses with over 80% of the Sun obscured, during the last century and this. There are only nine.
17 Apr 1912
08 Apr 1921
29 Jun 1927
15 Feb 1961
11 Aug 1999
20 Mar 2015
12 Aug 2026
03 Sep 2081
23 Sep 2090
A few of these are total eclipses elsewhere in Britain, but not in London, and these are in bold. The 1999 eclipse famously blotted out Cornwall, or would have done had it not been cloudy, while the 2090 eclipse brings totality to England south of a line between Exmoor and Hastings. But there is a serious drought of major partial eclipses coming up - for most Londoners only one more during the rest of their lifetime - while no total eclipse will be visible from the capital until 2151!
The next major partial eclipse takes place on the morning of Friday 20th March 2015, just after breakfast time. In London the maximum eclipse will be at 9.31am, with the first bite an hour earlier and the whole thing over at half ten. These times are much the same across the whole of England, running a few minutes earlier in the southwest and a few minutes later in the north. But what's not the same is how much of the Sun is eaten away, which varies from 83% to 97% across the whole of the UK.
In London, the percentage of the Sun obscured is about 84%. More precisely it ranges from 84.0% in Orpington to 84.9% in Harefield, hitting 84.41% at Trafalgar Square in the centre of town. Essentially it doesn't matter where in London you are, weather permitting, the Sun'll look like the horned sliver at the top of today's post. But if you live in (or travel to) other parts of the United Kingdom, more of the Sun gets covered and the sky will be a little bit dimmer. Don't expect it to get dark, but if the Sun's out the morning's going to feel uncharacteristically dusky.
This map shows the maximum percentage of the Sun that'll be covered at around half past nine in the morning on Friday 20th March 2015.
The brightest place to be will be Dover at 83%, whereas South Wales and the Midlands will see coverage around 87-88%. Liverpool loses just under 90% and Blackpool just over, with Newcastle not much further ahead at 91%. Once you hit central Scotland only 6% of the Sun remains visible, falling to 4% in Inverness. But it's the outer islands nearest to the line of totality which see the greatest UK eclipse, with the Shetlands at 97% and the Outer Hebrides at 98%. Alas they also have the worst weather prospects, but then the whole thing's a cloud lottery anyway so you might see something amazing or you might see nothing at all.
I have to caution at this point about never looking directly at the Sun. The last thing you want is a fingernail-shaped burn on your retina, or even blindness, for the rest of your life. A well-placed cloud might allow you to squint at the outline of the eclipse out of the corner of your eye, not that I'm specifically recommending this. Personally I'm going to whip out my eclipse glasses I got for Cornwall 1999 because they're very carefully filtered, and who knows I might even get to use them this time.
To give you some idea of the scale of the 2015 event, think back to what you saw (or didn't) in 1999. London for example saw a 97% eclipse that day, and this is only 84%. Below is a table giving these percentages for other towns across the UK. Glasgow for example does better in 2015 than it did in 1999 (94% compared with 91%), while Liverpool and Newcastle will see something much the same. I've also added a column for the next big partial eclipse in 2026, just to show you the best you can hope for in your location during the rest of your lifetime.
Plymouth 100% 86% 95% London 97% 84% 92% Norwich 92% 85% 90% Birmingham 94% 87% 92% Liverpool 90% 89% 92% Belfast 87% 93% 93% Newcastle 85% 91% 90% Glasgow 82% 94% 91% Inverness 77% 96% 91%
I sourced all these figures from NASA's interactive eclipse maps, which allow you to click anywhere in the world and read off all the times and percentages you need. Here's 1999, here's 2015, here's 2026, and here's the next UK total eclipse in 2090. You can check out every London solar eclipse for a thousand years hence here, or visualise them all from 1500 to 2100 here. It's impressive stuff.
And I mention all this now, a month in advance, simply to give you to time to plan. Can you ensure you won't be stuck inside a building around half past nine on Friday morning in a month's time, to give you the very best chance to see the heavenly spectacle. It won't be the most amazing thing ever, merely a one-seventh-sized two-pronged star in a dimmer than usual sky. But a particularly rare natural spectacle will be occurring, clouds permitting, and after this you've probably only got one big one left.
posted 09:31 :
Thursday, February 19, 2015On EastEnders' 30th birthday, let's explore the BBC soap's East London inspiration. All the usual suspects, and then some.
The Square: Fassett Square, E8
Albert Square is closely modelled on Fassett Square, a garden square in Dalston, located roughly halfway between Hackney Central and Dalston Junction. The original set designers scoured the area to find the ideal residential enclave for their new drama, and settled on Fassett Square just off Graham Road. At one time they'd hoped to do all their location filming here, but soon realised that a reconstruction at Elstree Studios would be more practical. They brought along a cherry picker to get aerial shots of the square and took measurements of the houses and their period features in order to help them build a slightly smaller model on set. And although the end result was in no way a perfect match, if you stand in the right place and look the right way, the sense of déjà vu is uncanny.
Fassett Square's not square, more an elongated rectangle, with two stumpy cul-de-sacs at the northern end leading down to the Overground. But these dead ends and two sides of the Square are lined by some very familiar-looking houses. Two-storey brick terraces in pairs, fairly ordinary at first floor level but with ornate arched porches decorated with semi-classical plasterwork, each alongside a bold bay window. They may be narrow and Victorian, but the going price for one of these Beale/Fowler households is now the best part of a million pounds. Round the corner I spotted another E20 terraced duplicate, this time with a set of steps leading up the front door, and ideal for tumbling down dramatically when shot. Just don't turn to face the western side of the square, where the much more modern facade of The German Hospital breaks the fourth wall, totally out of character and another reason why the soap could never practically have been filmed here. Meanwhile fenced off in the centre is a private garden, beautifully maintained and well used by the angelic offspring of the families hereabouts. I suspect they're tired of sightseers, especially at anniversary-tide, but echoes of Walford remain strong in Fassett Square thirty years on. [4 photos]
The Market: Ridley Road Market E8
EastEnders' producers wanted a market at the heart of the show, despite the abject failure of Granada's Albion Market which was plunging down the ratings at the time. For inspiration they turned to Dalston's Ridley Road Market, located a cauliflower's throw from the back of Fassett Square. It's a highly traditional street market, or would have been, consisting of one long road along which traders sell from wheeled stalls every day except Sunday. The speciality is food rather than clothes, which in 1985 would have been standard fruit and veg but today is anything but. These days Ridley Road is a Caribbean hotspot, with plantains and ackees amongst the staple foods on sale, and a string of low-rent shops and lockups behind selling meat in trays and fish on slabs. It's the fish that leap out, not literally of course, with considerably more vendors than you'd think any Hackney neighbourhood needs. It's also a much longer street than E20's Bridge Street Market, with everything to fill a West Indian shopping trolley, and still the hubbub that the sound engineers found when they dropped in on that initial recce. [3 photos]
The Name: Walford Road, N16
There is a school of thought which says that the name Walford derives from a combination of Walthamstow and Stratford. And that's what I used to believe, until I heard the name of the street in which Tony Holland, one of EastEnders' co-creators, was living back in 1983. It was he and Julia Smith who came up with the concept of an East End community in a compact square, and at the time he was resident in Walford Road. This is a street on the edge of Stoke Newington, near to Shacklewell, lined by three storey Victorian terraces. It's not especially Albert Square-ish, but the 19th century flavour is strong, and there is an open rectangular playspace at one end. There's also a sturdy pub on the corner, now a trendyish bar and grill, and a row of houses by the synagogue that looks especially Branningesque. OK, so the postcode's N16, but E8 begins a couple of streets down, and E8 was EastEnders' initial working title. With Ridley Road Market and Fassett Square within half a mile, it's easy to imagine the forty-something scriptwriter taking inspiration from his surroundings, and from Walford Road. [3 photos]
The Pub: The College Park Hotel, NW10
After all that East London-ness, the pub that inspired the Queen Vic is nowhere near. Instead BBC set designer Keith Harris was inspired by a pub at the top of Scrubs Lane, Willesden, which he used to drive past on his way to work. That pub was The College Park Hotel, located on a hectic street corner where Brent turns into Hammersmith and Fulham, with Television Centre lying about a mile and a half down the road. BBC economies led to the three storey pub being reimagined one floor shorter, but the trademark facade with its entrance on the bend in the middle is still highly recognisable. Alas it's not a pub any more, the decaying property having been converted into ten flats in 1999, and five houses built in the beer garden for good measure. The sign for the Saloon & Luncheon Bar remains as a period detail, as well as a shield with the pub's name on, but it takes some imagination to picture this marooned ex-boozer as a busy local. [3 photos]
The Station: Bromley-by-Bow, E3
As every pub quizzer knows, Walford East station takes the place of Bromley-by-Bow on the tube map. The TV cameras don't focus in on the line diagrams often, if at all, but rest assured that Walford East lies between Bow Road and West Ham on the District line. We never see the platforms, only the terracotta entrance and ticket hall, but the occasional special effects D Stock rattles over the bridge whenever the producers want to blow their budget on realism. In reality Bromley-by-Bow is one of the East End's uglier stations, more a bleak 1970s portal, and opens out onto the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road (whose racket would be unsympathetic for filming). Another big difference is that you walk down to the platforms rather than up, hence the bridge in E20 had to be based on the railway bridge over Wood Lane W12 instead. Bromley-by-Bow has been on TfL's step-free list for years, without the project ever coming to fruition, with completion currently scheduled for 2017. Instead they made much fuss yesterday regarding a rather fun stunt whereby actor Danny Dyer pre-recorded some right geezery station announcements which were played out over the tannoy. Whatever you might have heard on social media, I arrived home last night to Danny announcing "a good service operating", and nothing pukka, bang on or proper. [4 photos]
The Location: Teviot Estate, E14
And finally, to the thorny question of where precisely in the East End Albert Square is supposed to be. Bromley-by-Bow station is a big clue, and there are sometimes reference to characters popping off to Bow, Stratford or Canning Town. But there was an episode five years back in which the doof doof finale was accompanied by a swirling aerial shot rising rapidly into the sky, and this conformed a location at the very top of Poplar close to the Limehouse Cut. More specifically the Teviot Estate, which is one of Tower Hamlets poorer quarters, and which looks absolutely nothing like the set of EastEnders. Most of this part of London is postwar estate, with pretty much everything Victorian wiped away by the Luftwaffe or the regeneration after. These streets are characterised by lowrise flats from a hotchpotch of decades, nothing any estate agent would crow about, but a bedrock neighbourhood all the same. The main shopping parade, such as it is, boasts a minimart, unisex hairdessers and kebab shop, and the Cycle Hire docking station outside is one of the most underused in the capital. [3 photos]
If the producers of EastEnders based their soap on the population of the Teviot Estate, the ratio of white to Asian characters would be approximately the inverse of what's in the show today. Many of the main characters wouldn't be speaking English to one another, there wouldn't be a lot of money flashing around, and the local open space would be a landscaped mound of crocuses frequented by angry dogs on long leads. There'd be no obvious focus to revolve the show around, no cafe, no laundrette, and very definitely no pub. Canary Wharf would be visible on the near horizon (an omission the producers finally rectified in Tuesday's episode), and a run of newbuild flats overlooking the canal would culminate in a brand new tower for professional incomers seeking affordability. Were EastEnders genuinely set here, you wouldn't watch. But the genius of any long-running soap opera lies in its characters, and for that the East End has surely inspired three decades of the best.
» from 2015: 20 photos from the locations above [slideshow] [map]
» from 2010: Two Albert Squares, E15 and SW8
» from 2005: The real EastEnders, E20 at 20
posted 00:30 :
Wednesday, February 18, 2015In words I thought I'd never write, TfL have announced plans to introduce pedestrian crossings at the Bow Roundabout!
They haven't announced this especially loudly, hiding the news inside a mundane press release about the upgrade of Cycle Superhighway 2. But a transformation of the roundabout is promised, subject to public consultation, this time with the emphasis on pedestrians rather than cyclists or vehicular traffic. It's been nearly 50 years since this motorway-standard roundabout was carved into my local neighbourhood, and this will be the first attempt to provide those on foot with a safe way to cross. I should be absolutely delighted... so long as the proposals hold water.
These plans are the first fruits of the Vision for Bow, a partnership between TfL, Newham and Tower Hamlets to deliver "a place which all road users, passing through, find accessible, safe and connected." There are many conflicting interests here - safety for cyclists, the need to keep traffic moving on the A12, and local people trying to get around. Now TfL hope they've finally found a way to weave pedestrians into the mix without overly upsetting those on bikes and cars.
Below is the current situation, with a total of eight slip roads for pedestrians to negotiate. The four entry roads have traffic lights but not pedestrian signals, so can be crossed by paying due attention (the blue arrows on the map below) (safe-ish). Meanwhile the four exit roads have no aids to crossing at all, and a vehicle could turn off the roundabout at any time (the brown arrows on the map below) (very unsafe). As you can see it's impossible to walk around the roundabout without having to negotiate at least one brown arrow, hence every pedestrian attempting to pass between Stratford and Bow risks taking their life in their hands.
What's promised by mid-2016 is the Bow Vision Interim scheme, pictured below This is a 'quick fix' solution to create safe pedestrian pathways across a a roundabout where currently none exist. Four of the existing traffic lights will gain pedestrian signals, and three additional crossings will be added, potentially impacting on traffic trying to exit the roundabout. What's cunning about the new scheme is how it uses the centre of the roundabout (currently off-limits) as a hub to help pedestrians make their way across. And what's intriguing about the new scheme is that I suggested something remarkably similar three years ago, although I'm sure that's entirely coincidental.
The proposed new scheme facilitates walking journeys in two distinct ways.
Pedestrians trying to cross Bow Road or Stratford High Street get the most direct outcome, simply nipping across the two slip roads via two new signalised crossings. Allow me to illustrate with a crossing of Bow Road (that's W to S on the map).
I tried this last night, and had to start off by stepping into the cycle early start zone where I was almost mown down by an approaching bike. In future cyclists will be held back from the blue painted area while pedestrians cross, before proceeding forwards to the next set of lights to wait before entering the roundabout ahead of other traffic. (Hang on, does this mean cyclists will be stopped twice before proceeding onto the roundabout, rather than the default once today... I don't think that's going to be logical, or popular!) The second half of my crossing last night involved trying to judge whether traffic orbiting the roundabout was about to come off or not, then nipping across inbetween, which is always a risky proposition (and would be pretty much impossible in a wheelchair). In future there'll be a signalised crossing here so that I can halt traffic exiting the roundabout, which at busy periods introduces the very real possibility of the roundabout grinding to a halt. It's precisely this intervention that TfL had previously been very keen not to introduce, but now it seems pedestrian safety has finally trumped any perceived need to smooth the flow of traffic.
Pedestrians trying to walk between Bow and Stratford are being offered a much more round-about route. Currently they cross two slip roads, one reasonably safe and one recklessly hazardous, but in future they'll be asked to use four separate (safer) crossings. Allow me to illustrate with a crossing of the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road (that's W to N on the map).
Today's route, following the yellow arrows, is direct but dangerous. Next year's route (following the green arrows) is safer but far less obvious and will take much longer. It starts by crossing to the central reservation, beneath the flyover, then heads out across the main circulation to the centre of the roundabout. This will become a new public space, assuming the public can be tempted to use it, linking diagonally to another crossing on the opposite side. Interestingly all three crossings thus far mentioned already exist, either to halt traffic on or entering the roundabout. What'll be new is the introduction of a drop kerb, and a red/green man combo to tell pedestrians when it's safe to cross (which I can assure you is sorely needed). Only the fourth crossing, across Stratford High Street, will be a completely new intervention. This signalised crossing will be located some distance down the road, but still introduces the potential to back up traffic attempting to exit the roundabout. A similar additional crossing is being added on the approach road opposite, but as this can be synchronised with the main lights immediately ahead, it's unlikely to cause any significant delays.
What particularly interests me is how strongly TfL are going to nudge pedestrians to use the centre-of-the-roundabout route. They say they're going to "resurface the traffic islands and install new lighting... to encourage pedestrians to use the dedicated signalised crossings", as well as attaching additional signage to the flyover columns. They're also planning to remove the unsignalised crossings around the top and bottom of the roundabout, above the A12 underpass, which is the route pedestrians follow today. But unless they barrier this route off, or add unfriendly cobbles, I suspect most of us are still going to take our chances via the quick route - rapidly across in two, rather than a slow relay in four. The millions spent to finally offer safe passage to pedestrians at the Bow roundabout might simply be ignored because the nanny-route takes too bloody long.
And is there anything for cyclists here? Well slightly yes, but mostly no. The two new crossings to the east of the roundabout will allow westbound cyclists on Stratford High Street to pass safely beneath the flyover to reach the cycle link along the River Lea towpath. But as they can already do this via the floating towpath underneath the road, this isn't so much of a gamechanger. Instead cyclists are going to find themselves held up at precisely the same new pedestrian crossings as will cars, one on the western exit road, and two to the east. And the net result is that "journey times for cyclists using Cycle Superhighway Route 2 are expected to increase by one minute".
Other road users don't necessarily get away scot free either. TfL have engaged in some serious data analysis, full details here, which suggests that traffic heading west along Stratford High Street is likely to be most seriously impacted. Westbound bus journeys will take two or three minutes longer at peak times, with similar additional waiting time for drivers approaching the roundabout from the east. And all this arises simply from adding three new sets of traffic lights for the benefit of pedestrians who live locally. I think I can safely describe this as a "transport policy shift", simultaneously a recipe for congestion and an absolute miracle.
And that's not all. You'll remember these plans were described as the 'Bow Vision Interim scheme'. That's because there's a much longer-term vision around here, probably requiring a decade to come to fruition, which would bring total transformation rather than just low level tinkering. Firstly TfL would like to remove the roundabout(!), which at a stroke would simplify (and make safe) crossings for both pedestrians and cyclists. And secondly they'd like to remove the Bow Flyover(!), in order to better connect new communities along the southern fringe of the Olympic Park. Plans for this Vision for Bow are still being developed, and it's hoped they'll be put out to consultation next year.
In the meantime the Bow Vision Interim scheme is now up for consultation, with full plans here and a survey to complete here. There'll be drop-in sessions to meet members of the project team at St Mary's Church on Tuesday 24 February (1530-1930) and Saturday 14 March (1100-1500). The consultation closes on April Fool's Day, which might make you imagine the whole thing could be an elaborate joke. But as a very-local pedestrian I'd like to strongly urge you to take part and have your say, because it'd be nice to be able to walk to the shops without living in constant fear of being knocked down.
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