diamond geezer

 Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bow Roundabout update

Good news. Highway works at the Bow Roundabout are now substantially complete. The workmen have finished most of their digging and relaid all the paving stones across the centre of the roundabout, so hopefully they'll be off soon, job done. Bad news, the job they've been doing has nothing to do with cycle safety. They're from the gas company, and all they've been doing for the last month or so is digging up pipes and replacing them. In the process they've fenced off all the pedestrian spaces beneath the flyover, making it officially impossible to cross from one side to the other without a long detour. Lanes of traffic have been closed, creating queues of traffic... all sorts of hassle over and above the ordinary. But there's been absolutely no progress whatsoever towards making the junction safer for cyclists. Instead the gas board will leave the roundabout renewed and pristine, just in time for TfL to announce the cycling improvements they intend to make before the Olympics and dig it up again. Bike safety nirvana remains some months, and yet more roadworks, away.

When Cycle Superhighway 2 was introduced, one of the safety improvements at the Bow roundabout was the installation of some special mirrors. Two red Trixi mirrors affixed to the traffic lights, to give greater blindspot visibility of any cyclists waiting alongside. They weren't enough to stop two cycling deaths last autumn, one on each entry slip, but they did provide some element of additional protection. A couple of weeks ago a rogue vehicle mounted the pavement and knocked over the traffic signal outside McDonalds. Thankfully it missed Brian Dorling's ghost bike chained to the no entry sign alongside, but the jolt did cause all the glass in the Trixi mirror to fall out. The traffic signal's since been uprighted but the mirror's now useless, just a red ring on a post. You'd hope someone from TfL might have noticed and arranged a replacement, but there's no sign as yet. Cycle safety at the Bow Roundabout a priority? Doesn't feel like it.

Something else changed at the Bow Roundabout last summer, not just the appearance of a blue stripe on the road. The traffic lights were re-phased, utterly and completely, altering the ordering and the amount of time each slip road was on green. Now, for much of the day, traffic entering the roundabout from Bow Road gets only eight seconds to pass through before red reappears, which is causing noticeably longer tailbacks than before. Smoothing the traffic flow, I believe it's called, which is an improvement coming in from the A12 but much less good from the A11. I'm fearing more for the summer as a result. Once the Olympic Route Network embraces this roundabout, I can't see cars and buses along Bow Road going anywhere fast.

Someone's erected another billboard by the Bow Flyover. We've already got a row along the river and two elevated towers broadcasting sponsors' messages to the surrounding area. Now there's another erupting from the carwash on the Newham side, making a double decker advertorial barrier where previously there was sky. And it can't be a coincidence, but the two posters here are both for Olympic sponsors - BP up top and Visa down below. Four months to go, and there's already a block booking of corporate advertising around the perimeter of the Olympic Park. Expect this creative desert to extend until September.

On the eastern tip of the Bow Roundabout lies a yard full of Calor Gas. It's at one end of an industrial zone leading down to the District line, complete with warehouses, low rent businesses and a lonely nightclub. The lower end is destined to become Britain's first Tesco Town - originally due to open this month, but they're years behind schedule. And the upper end will become Bromley-by-Bow North - a new mixed-use zone of mostly flats, with a handful of commercial premises thrown in for good measure - and is already semi-demolished. A one-off exhibition was held yesterday to explain the new B-by-BN development to the local population. Those who turned up at the Miller's House viewed a cluster of information boards, chatted to various staff and discovered what improvements had been made to the masterplan since a similar exhibition last year. Fewer storeys in the flats for a start, plus a larger gated greenspace and a huge car showroom where the Calor Gas yard now stands. The apartment block architecture has been "simplified", a word used repeatedly, which I took to suggest it would be cheaper and less interesting. Meanwhile the existing towpath along the river thankfully survives, but the walk will now be past an endless succession of front doors. I expect the contractors would describe their event as a "consultation", but they weren't going overboard to seek any feedback. View the latest plans here, and expect them to get built no matter what anyone local thinks.

On the opposite side of the river, again rolling right up to the roundabout, an even bigger development is planned [photo]. This is Strand East, sponsored by no lesser company than IKEA, which is due to cover a former industrial zone with 1200 new homes. There'll be shops, but not, I understand, a Swedish furniture warehouse. There'll be 15-storey blocks, as well as a significant proportion of family-sized houses. There'll be a 40 foot wooden sculpture resembling a power station chimney, which workmen are midway through installing and should be up soon once they've put the two halves together [photo]. There'll be a proper restaurant (a Graysons, whoever the hell they are), in a neighbourhood where there's been nothing more exciting than egg and chips for years. And we should even expect a 350 bedroom Marriott hotel, which is the surest sign yet that the rundown area in which I live is being yanked headlong by the Olympics into yuppified gentrification. If you want to live in a characterless box, come to the Bow Roundabout in a few years time, and we'll have plenty for you to choose from.

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