There are precisely three weeks to go until East London's newest retail park opens. Will it be a lifestyle magnet enriching the lives of millions, or will it be an economic whirlpool sucking the lifeblood out of existing local businesses? To decide whether Westfield is heaven or hell you'll need to come and visit at least once. But how will you get here? This is the official transport webpage, but I've been digging for a bit more detail.
by car Unusually for central-ish London, this new shopping mall has been designed to encourage you to arrive by car. You'll spend more that way, they hope, because you won't be wondering how to cart seven carrier bags and a large cardboard box home. Westfield's triangular site has three multi-storey car parks ready and waiting, one at each corner, with more than 5000 parking spaces between them. But how will you drive there, given that Stratford City is hemmed in behind a railway line on one side and the Olympic Park on the other? I experienced the answer when I took the courtesy bus to the BMX test event at the weekend. A whole new road network awaits your presence, complete with dual carriageways, traffic lights and freshly-planted verges. And there'll be three ways in... [see map page 6] a) from the east - the Alma Street Bridge: Apparently access won't be via the Angel Lane Bridge - the new dog-leg viaduct constructed specially last summer - because that doesn't lead anywhere useful yet. Instead cars will be directed into Westfield a little further north up Leyton Road, crossing over the railway and then turning left before the Olympic Village. Hey presto, a 2100-space multi-storey awaits.
b) from the south - Warton Road: This used to be a forgotten backstreet under the mainline, but suddenly it's a major artery leading off from a new four-lane junction on Stratford High Street. And a heavily restricted road too, as a recently unveiled roadsign here reveals: "Olympic Park security measures in operation prior to entry." LOCOG have demanded security checkpoints at each vehicle entrance, and these will be operational for at least a year (until after the Paralympics have finished). Expect guards to flag down an unknown proportion of vehicles for random security checks, so best not come shopping at Westfield if you have a stash of stolen goods in your boot.
c) from the north - the 'Lifeline': You might think there'd be no entrance from the north because acres of Olympic Park block the way. You'd be wrong. Westfield are so desperate to entice traffic from the A12 that they've negotiated with London 2012 to open up a secure roadway through the building site. It'll be called the Lifeline, and it'll wiggle round the Velodrome and past the BasketballArena to link up with Westfield proper. Don't even think of stopping - it's not a public right of way, and tall security fences have been erected along the entire length to keep interlopers out. Buses to the BMX test event drove along the Lifeline at the weekend, and I can assure you it's not a terribly welcoming road. "In case of queueing traffic, remain in vehicle." Ollie has more details, here, of the sightseeing ride through the Olympic Zone that four-wheeled Londoners will be able to take as of next month. Think of it as a drive through a safari park - fascinating to spectate through the car window, but most unwise to leave your vehicle.
by bike Yes, of course you'll be able to cycle into Westfield (even if it'd then be difficult to lug three weeks' Waitrose shopping home). There'll be two ways into the complex, from the east and the south - indeed there's already a cycling sign on Stratford High Street announcing "Retail Park 1". But no bikes will be allowed down the Lifeline, it's for cars only. Again the safari park analogy holds - you wouldn't cycle into a lion enclosure, and expect Olympic security to get just as snappy.
by bus I suggested last year that four routes would be extended to serve Stratford City Bus Station, and I'm pleased to confirm that I suggested correctly. Two double deckers will approach from the east and two single deckers from the south (the latter constrained by low headroom beneath the Warton Road bridge). [map] 97: Chingford Station → Leyton → Stratford City Bus Station
241: Canning Town → Stratford → Stratford City Bus Station
339: Shadwell → Fish Island → Stratford City Bus Station
D8: Crossharbour → Bow → Stratford City Bus Station There's conflicting evidence as to when the new bus station will open. TfL's official Service Change document says the first buses will arrive on Tuesday 13th September, the same day that Westfield opens. But their leaflet about the closure of Stratford's existing bus station suggests an early opening "from Saturday 10 September 2011"... even though there'll be no shops open when you alight from your bus. Check your final destination before you travel.
by taxi Westfield very much encourage taxi riders - they're so target audience. For convenience, the taxi rank will be on the eastern flank of the mall alongside the bus station.
on foot Pedestrians definitely won't be allowed to walk along the Lifeline, but might still be permitted through the security barriers at the other vehicle entrances. And they'll be wholeheartedly encouraged to use the new footbridge over Stratford station, which appears to have been ready forever, and will finally be unbarriered in three weeks time. There seem to be a lot of steps, and only a single weedy-looking escalator, so I wonder if any lifts alongside will be able to cope.
by tube/rail The new upper ticket hall at Stratford station opens directly onto the into-Westfield footbridge. Footfall has been a bit pathetic so far, but that'll change rapidly next month. Meanwhile if you're a regular on the Overground you'll have noticed a boarded-up passage beneath the platforms... which leads to an as-yet unseen northern ticket hall directly connected to Westfield. Anyone arriving from Hackney Wick, Romford or Essex, this is your way in.
by High Speed Rail Good news, Stratford International station is finally going to be linked to reality via the Westfield shopping mall rather than a piddly meandering bus service. Believe Westfield's PR folk and you'll soon be striding down a "24 hour lifestyle street" to exit the complex via Stratford town centre. But the station remains resolutely non-international, with all Eurostar services whizzing straight through on the fast lines despite Europe's largest retail centre being alongside. Instead trains run only to St Pancras (6 minutes, £5.40) or Kent (10 minutes, £13.90), with tickets so exorbitantly priced that casual shopping trips will surely be discouraged.
by DLR And the big news. The Stratford InternationalDLR extension is finally (finally) due to open to passenger traffic one week from today, on Tuesday 30th August. That's unless some other unforeseen delay strikes, of course, and there have already been twelve months of unforeseen delays so what's the betting against one more? But the track's now been handed over to the operating company, a week of ghost running is underway, and even the dodgy platforms at Canning Town look now to have been fixed. If all goes to plan there'll be DLR trains connecting Stratford International to Woolwich and Beckton two weeks before Westfield opens, during which period I'd expect them to be used only by Kentish commuters and train geeks. Even come mid-September, I have my doubts that the DLR curve round to Stratford International will be popular, because it's not especially well located for the shops. Whatever Boris tells you when he cuts the ribbon, most shoppers will be far better off walking to the existing Stratford station rather than wasting time trudging out to a distant corner of the mall near a multi-storey car park beyond a dead High Speed station to catch a circuitous DLR train to nowhere. Please God it opens soon.