One of the joys of April, I find, is being able to walk to BestMate's house along the Greenway. Before the clocks go forward it's locked and dark of an evening, but for a few summer months I can make it all the way to Plaistow before dusk without fear of mugging. Having not been east along the Greenway for some time I noticed several changes to report along the way. So that'll be interesting for everyone, I thought.
a) I normally join the Greenway on Stratford High Street, which involves walking from the Bow Roundabout alongside the extension to Cycle Superhighway 2. This opened less than six months ago to great fanfare, so it's a surprise to see part of it coned off for repainting. A long strip from Abbey Lane towards Bow looked freshly blue this week, with tape along one side to prevent cyclists or pedestrians from accidentally straying onto it. It's strange to be repainting a Superhighway so soon, I thought, particularly because it's segregated and has thus only been subjected to bike wheels since October. I wonder if that's because the original paint was slapped down incredibly fast to meet an approaching deadline, or if the contractor drafted in to do that work did a less than brilliant job. Whatever, with the blue stripe temporarily closed cyclists have been forced to ride along the ordinary carriageway, now one lane narrower than it used to be, to reach the less-than-adequate Bow Roundabout. Superhighway? Not currently.
b) A temporaryfootbridge spanned Stratford High Street during the summer of 2012, linking up the Greenway to allow the passage of spectators. The bridge hung around for a while afterwards, dumped unceremoniously in the former coachpark alongside, until it was finally removed and disassembled elsewhere. Left behind was a large square indent about a foot deep, the bridge's former footprint. This was duly deemed a health and safety hazard and barriered off for months, blocking three-quarters of the entrance to the Greenway for months. Now finally this large dip is being filled in, returned to a level surface like it should have been ages ago, and maybe they'll even take the barriers away soon.
c) The other major Olympic intrusion on the Greenway was the tarmacking of the entire stretch between Stratford and West Ham. In readiness for the Olympics money was poured into replanting the grassy strip, removing knotweed and adding flowering plants. Then shortly before the Games all these improvements were ripped out so that the full width of the Greenway could become a grass-free spectator superhighway, and all the prettiness lost. It was therefore especially galling when 100% tarmac remained throughout 2013, as if all the promises of improvement had been forgotten and we'd be doomed to endure a Greyway, not a Greenway, forever more. But now suddenly hurrah, the contractors are back and the additional tarmac has been rent asunder, replaced by a wide swathe of raked earth. It'll take a while for the grass to regrow, and we may not get pretty shrubbery this time, but the regeneration of the Greenway is once again back on track.
d) Tarmac removal means the Greenway is back to being two thin strips again, one for pedestrians and one for cyclists. Occasionally that's a bit narrow, but it echoes the arrangement past the View Tube so fair enough. Things broaden out past Abbey Creek, where as sunset approaches the devout of Newham pour in to worship at the Masjid-e-Ilyas. And beyond West Ham the Greenway still looks much like it ever did, more spruced up than remodelled... a bit of grass, a bit of path, and midges hanging in the air above the sewer-whiff.
e)Two summers ago Newham Council got all heavy-handed with graffiti artists on the bridge over the Jubilee line. They erected two metal fences in front of the walls, obliterated the spray paint tagging and stationed a bloke in a van to prevent further misdemeanours. The security bloke didn't last past the Games, and the two fences were so feeble that graffiti sprang up again almost overnight. What we see today is a pathetic barrier in front of some not great art, the worst of both worlds, and the unmistakeable sense of misplaced municipal self-righteousness.
f) Several tunnel boring machines have been making their way beneath East London recently. The most well-known are digging out Crossrail, but another has been ploughing beneath the Greenway from Beckton to Abbey Mills to create the Lee Tunnel. This is a key overflow tunnel being built to prevent discharges of sewage into the Lea at Abbey Creek, and should improve the post-storm environment around here no end. Tunnel boring machine "Busy Lizzie" reached her destination back in January, and the workforce are now busy installing the tunnel lining and making connections to the pumping station at Abbey Mills. They're also watching nervously in case the ground shifts, hence the appearance of several tiny shafts labelled TBM painted onto the Greenway surface. Just goes to show you never do quite know what's beneath your feet... and on the Greenway it's probably best not to imagine.
g) Being the only elevated path in the very flat borough of Newham, there are some fine views from the Greenway. The best are beyond the Jubilee line, across the Memorial Recreation Ground towards Docklands and the City. One day we'll look back on now as the golden era of 21st century skyline, before developers came along and disfigured select architectural pinnacles with tacky matchbox towers. There again, it could be some time before Plaistow joins the ranks of upscale upmarket gentrification.
h) As sunset approaches, the Greenway becomes less a thoroughfare and more a place for locals to hang out. Some slouch on the bench by the cemetery quaffing a selection of Polish lagers, some cycle by blazing the suspicious smell of weed, while others bring their hound for one last dump before bed. Only the fearless pass through after dark, by which time the guy from the council will have been round and padlocked the gates on Upper Road to prevent easy access. But by now I'm on BestMate's sofa watching telly and putting the world to rights... and it'll be the tube home, I think.