Four years from today, less than a mile from where I'm sitting, the opening ceremony of the 30th Summer Olympic Games will take place. Four years might sound like a long time, but it's not. There's no stadium as yet, which is perhaps not surprising given that this time last year the site housed several warehouses and the odd factory. But come 2012 there's got to be a huge circular grandstand erected around a mighty arena, otherwise there'll be nowhere to let off the balloons and fireworks. And somebody's got to build it.
Every month since the Olympic Park was sealed off, I've been up onto the Greenway bridge to take a same-angled photo. This month an extra crane has gone up, and all the surrounding land has been flattened and compacted to make terraces suitable for building. Marshgate Lane has been diverted, obliterated even, to be replaced by a new orbital distributor road for construction traffic. But the most striking change I saw wasn't on the Olympic stadium site at all, it was up on the Greenway, and it was walking home.
The Greenway's always been a fairly quiet footpath, bar the odd boy racer on a stolen moped, but no longer. Come half past five in the evening it's suddenly become a hive of commuter activity. No really. I stood to one side as a steady drip of men in suits, women in heels and workmen in boots wandered by, fresh from clocking off. The construction phase has begun, and now there's work to be done. Two great big temporary office blocks have been erected on the edge of the Olympic site, and their pedestrian access is via a long walkway to the Greenway. It's suddenly clear why the ODA have been so keen to keep this sewer-top footpath open during the construction period - it's the main route between the site office and the nearest DLR station at Pudding Mill Lane. And I suspect this also explains the expense spent on installing shiny new streetlights (but only along this northernmost stretch of the Greenway and not along any of the rest yet).
Another unexpected feature was a new pedestrian crossing at the bottom of the ramp beneath the railway arches. It's unlike any I've ever used before. It has lights and push buttons and green men and everything, but this area is so health and safety conscious that the whole length of the roadway is securely fenced off, even the crossing. Wait patiently and the two waiting wardens will press the button for you, stop the traffic and open their gate to let you across. Sigh, I remember when this particular stretch of Marshgate Lane was just a threateningly-quiet dingy tyre-strewn dead end, wholly suitable for fearless independent travellers. Now it's the main through route for Olympic lorries, dumper trucks and construction vehicles, unnavigable without assistance, and requiring a permanent staff of two lollipop men to keep the commuter stream moving. Who says the Games haven't created worthwhile jobs for local people?
Not everybody takes the DLR home, some take the bus. Road traffic on the Olympic Park has recently been boosted by a host of shuttling minibuses, each labelled "Team Stadium" to ensure that employees end up in the correct location. This is a vast construction site, so a complicated transport network has had to be established to move the workforce around and to keep them away from the underside of passing steamrollers. The ODA are even using bendy buses, painted white, to ensure sufficient passenger capacity. I noticed that one such articulated monster still has the number 453 on the back, so maybe this is where Boris is hiding all his bendies until he gets his new pseudo-Routemaster sorted out.
So what can we expect to see in the Olympic Park over the next year as "The Big Build" commences? The ODA are committing themselves to ten new milestones, including the pledge that "the foundations of the Olympic Stadium will be complete" and "work on the upper seating structure and roof will be underway." I'm cheered to see that "the overhead pylons will have been removed", but considerably less thrilled by the promise that "the erection of the new perimeter security fence will be underway". I expect to see something even less inviting than the blue wooden wall that currently encircles the site, incorporating razorwire, sheer concrete barriers and CCTV cameras. But all essential, alas, if the Queen is ever to stand on this building site and announce to a worldwide audience of two billion that London is where it's at. Four years and counting.