Bow Road is losing its guardrail. That's the metal railings installed at various points along the road to stop pedestrians running into the traffic, and the traffic running into pedestrians. Almost all of it's going, all the way from the Bow Flyover to Whitechapel, and going soon.
Laminated notices appeared on all the affected guardrail during the week before Christmas. Don't leave your bike here, the notices warned, although giving three weeks notice did seem somewhat premature. The scheduled date for rail removal is "on or after week beginning 9th January 2012", which could be next week (or could be rather later). Perversely, the laminated notices give a telephone number to ring if you return to find your bike gone... except the guardrail and the telephone number will also have disappeared should that happen.
TfL's war on guardrail began under Mayor Ken in 2007, when they "adopted a policy presumption against the use of pedestrian guardrail except where there is a proven safety requirement". Mayor Boris then sped up the process, doubling the length of guardrail due to be removed, with the express intention of "enhancing London's streetscape". To aid sustainability, rest assured that all materials removed will be suitable for recycling. Rest assured also that a Guardrail Risk Assessment Form is completed before any particular section of guardrail is removed. Subject to these checks, the major beneficiaries should be walkers and cyclists, for whom the metal barriers can act as a discouraging barrier to movement. Well that's the plan anyway.
All the guardrail outside the entrance to St Mary's, Bow Church, is going. Not the original railings round the Victorian subterranean lavatories, you'll be pleased to hear, but all the other bits that stop us running out into the traffic. All the guardrail along the middle of the road between the church and Fairfield Road is going. That's a hundred metre stretch we pedestrians have been barred from crossing for years, but will suddenly be able to traverse. The guardrail at the pedestrian crossing outside Bow Police Station, close to the Magistrates Court, is going. This metal chicane was installed only last year, but someone's now decreed it all needs removing. And the guardrail immediately outside Bow Church DLR... ah, that isn't going. It's the only guardrail for two miles I've seen being preserved, presumably because the temptation to walk out into the road on leaving the station is too great. But all the rest, every last bobble-topped pole, is going.
The biggest effect will be at pedestrian crossings, and Bow Road has loads of them. They're all two-parters, where we cross to the middle, sidestep along to the other lights and then cross again. Previously: an enforced two-stage journey with central delay. From next week: maybe the entire traverse in one go if the traffic's running right. Think of the time saved, the freedom, the joy! Except it's not all fantastic. Nobody's moving the crossing lights, which will continue to be positioned not-opposite each other. If you need to press the button you're still going to have to zigzag, or walk diagonally, to get safely across. In most cases it'll become much more tempting to carry on straight, through the traffic instead of in front of it, which is not how any of the crossings were designed.
The big losers here are probably drivers, who can expect additional interruptions from jaywalkers as they drive along. No longer constrained to cross where it's safest, locals will be hotstepping across the road wherever it takes their fancy, even where that's not entirely sensible. There'll be a huge amount more freedom at the top of Stepney Green, and ditto by the Blind Beggar in Whitechapel where dozens of diagonal sub-crossings now become possible. One other potential downside, for cyclists, will be fewer places along two miles of roadway to lock up their bikes. And there'll be nowhere to tie bouquets, should this sadly become necessary. All this additional freedom for pedestrians along the A11 corridor should be great, don't get me wrong, but someone'll probably pay the price.