While you weren't looking, early yesterday morning, Charing Cross Road disappeared. Not all of it, just the top bit, up the northern end near Tottenham Court Road station. On Monday you could drive or walk along it, on Tuesday it wasn't there. And it won't be there again for the next four years. Think you'll miss it?
As a consequence, a brand new road has been built to allow traffic to continue flowing freely. It veers off from Charing Cross Road a short distance north of Denmark Street. It carves between tall blue Crossrail hoardings alongside fresh wide pavement. And then it joins up with St Giles High Street, which used to be a parking space for buses and is now rather busier than that. Essentially what's happened is that the crossroads outside the Dominion Theatre has been replaced by two T-junctions on either side of Centre Point. For traffic heading Eustonward this means negotiating two sets of traffic lights rather than one, with a consequent increase in congestion. Still, at least traffic on Oxford Street is now flowing both ways again, after several months of glaringly inconvenient roadworks.
You'd think there'd have been a bit more publicity surrounding the closure of a major road for 200 weeks, but apparently not. TfL whipped out a press release yesterday announcing "From 06:00 on Tuesday 14 December, Charing Cross Road will be diverted to the east of Centre Point and join St Giles High Street for the next four years", by which time the road closure had already happened. There had been an announcement in the autumn edition of the Transforming Tottenham Court Road newsletter, although few Londoners read that for pleasure. And if you'd known where to look back in 2008, a series of maps were available depicting every planned stage of Crossrail-related road closures in the Tottenham Court Road area. Welcome to phase 3, even if it's a bit of a surprise.
Good news: there are scores of leaflets up for grabs inside Tottenham Court Road station detailing changes to walking routes, bus services and cycleways in the TCR area. Bad news: all the leaflets are dated January 2009 and therefore outline obsolete changes which took place two years ago. Better news: there are already "continuing your journey from..." maps along the newly diverted road, so that pedestrians can come to terms with the extra diversions they're having to make. Dire news: an illiterate contractor has erected several red laminated signs along the pavement directing the public to "Charring Cross Road". You have to wonder, if Crossrail's quality procedures can't spot a glaring spelling mistake like this, what hope for their precision drilling of tunnels beneath the capital?
Anyway, I don't want you getting caught out by Crossrail works again, so let me give you advance notice of this. Northern line trains won't be stopping at Tottenham Court Road station for eight months next year because of escalator work. More precisely, Northern line trains will be sailing straight through the platforms at Tottenham Court Road every day from Sunday 3rd April until Saturday 26th November 2011. Central line trains will still be stopping as normal, but you won't be able to interchange for destinations like Camden or Kennington. That's going to bugger up a few of your commutes, I bet. This major closure hasn't been widely trumpeted yet, but it is also mentioned in that Transforming Tottenham Court Road newsletter, the one we've already established you don't read. And it won't be the last unexpected impact of Crossrail during the next eight years. Prepare for a lot more widespread pain before the next-Mayor-but-one finally opens the blessed thing.