If you're travelling to the Olympic Park from Mile End or Liverpool Street you might think it more sensible to take the Central Line. If you're travelling from London Bridge, Waterloo or Westminster you could, surely should, take the Jubilee line. But 2012 transport planners don't want you to think that, because they reckon the Central and Jubilee will be rammed enough. They want you to travel to West Ham and then walk a mile to the Olympic Park, sacrificing your legs for the travel needs of others. Who knows, if the queues at Stratford are bad it might just be quicker.
On Saturday, for one day only, London 2012 tested out the walk along the Greenway from West Ham. Tens of thousands of spectators were expected at a variety of test events in the Park, so the entire Greenway route was opened up in the hope that people might actually use it. I took advantage of full public access and followed the route - inbetween the "rush", if ever there was one. And here's what I found, in case you're thinking of walking this way when the Olympics come round.
West Ham: Jubilee, DLR and c2c punters are directed out the front of the station, where a big pink sign says 25 minutes to the Olympic Park. That'll have been a surprise to those who'd read 20 minutes in the email, but once you've got this far it's too late to complain. District and H&C passengers, on the other hand, get a special new exit all to themselves [photo]. Pink signs direct you the "wrong" way up the platform to a special set of temporary stairs - up 27 steps, across the eastbound line, then back down 27 steps [photo]. Keep walking, back along a temporary raised gangway, then down another two dozen steps to a car-park-type area. Enjoying the trek so far? [photo]
Manor Road: There are now 22 minutes to go, as the crowd walks past a conveniently sited police station. You'll be walking along the road, which has been half coned-off, and all normal traffic banished. Thinking of catching the 276 bus to West Ham during the games? Forget it, it's being diverted elsewhere.
Up to the Greenway: There are steps up to the Greenway, new steps, that'll be open from now until the Games take place [photo]. It says 20 minutes at the bottom but 25 minutes at the top, or at least it did on Saturday, as if this was a time-travelling staircase. For less mobile visitors there's a lift, which is thoughtful. And there's also a long ramp up to sewertop level, with an even less logical pink sign at the top. Onward to the Olympic Park no time is given, whereas back down towards West Ham it's apparently 18 minutes to the station. Er, no, it's more like five. Someone's printed the 18 minutes in the wrong place - it should be the time to the Olympic Park not the time to the station. This error is confirmed by the next sign along, closer to the Stadium, which declares it's only 10 minutes to West Ham. If anyone from LOCOG's reading, the dodgy sign is coded OPK_MIN_514. You've got 80 days to get it sorted. [photo]
The Greenway: The next sign is at Canning Road, 15 minutes to the park, and the next at Abbey Mills, 8 minutes. I walked between the two in four minutes, rather than the designated seven, but then I'm a healthy bloke, not a family with a granny and a pushchair. Abbey Mills looks spectacular, very much the highlight of the walk, and it's clearly had a major spruce-up recently. As yet, however, there's no indication to passers by that this ornate masterpiece is actually a sewage pumping station, none except a nagging lingering smell. Keep walking. [photo]
Stratford High Street: At last, the boundary of the park is in sight. A special footbridge has been built to carry the expected crowds over this main road [photo], AND there's a new pedestrian crossing at ground level, direct [photo]. The latter should remain in place once the Games are over - we are truly blessed. This footbridge is a monster, six lanes wide, and still smells of fresh-cut timber [photo]. Access was unrestricted at the weekend, so I wandered across a few times to enjoy the view. I've never had the chance to look down on Stratford High Street before [photo], especially not towards the Bow Flyover and home [photo]. But Games spectators will probably be hemmed into the central four lanes, screened-off on both sides, and won't get the chance. Look north, however, and the Olympic Park is laid out before you...
The Greenway Gate: Here we are, finally, at one of the four new entrances to the Olympic Park [photo]. This one's for those of us living to the south, or walking from West Ham, or arriving by park-and-ride shuttle. The route's been sealed off for the last two years thanks to Crossrail work, but will open again (for four weeks only) during the Games. A large concrete plaza provides potential queuing space, and includes an exceptionally cheap "artwork" (a royal insignia created out of 60-odd Jubilee Greenway paving blocks). The entrance to the Olympic security zone is off to the right, and frisked spectators then get to walk along a raised wooden walkway into the Park. I remember when all this was undergrowth and riverbank, and now it's the frontline in the battle against global terrorism. If you don't mind a long walk, maybe you'll experience it in the summer.
And when the time comes to leave the Olympic Park via the Greenway Gate, what then? If you climb the footbridge and head back to West Ham, a sign tells you it's 25 minutes walk. I did it in 15, but that was with absolutely no shuffling or queueing. If however you pass by the footbridge and escape onto Stratford High Street, there are quicker options available. » If you turn right, Bromley-by-Bow is the same distance away as West Ham, but with shorter queues. » If you turn right, Bow Church DLR is a bit closer than West Ham, if you dare risk cross the Bow Roundabout. » If you turn left, Stratford station is closer than West Ham, and with no nasty roads to cross (but probably very busy). » If you turn left, Stratford High Street DLR is closer still, about half as far away as West Ham, just don't expect anybody official to tell you that.