diamond geezer

 Friday, January 31, 2014

The Cheapside Hoard
Museum of London
(11th October 2013 - 27th April 2014)

Now's probably a good time to nudge you to visit this exhibition of mid-millennial jewellery at the Museum of London. It's been open for three months so initial numbers have died down a bit, but it's not yet Easter when last-minuters start queuing round the block. The exhibition contains approximately 500 pieces of jewellery which were buried together beneath a shop in the City in the mid-17th century, then forgotten and built over after the Great Fire of London. Workmen rediscovered the stash by chance during rebuilding on Cheapside in 1912, and took them to a dealer who recognised this as an amazing find. They've been in the possession of museum curators ever since, and this is the very first time the whole collection's been on show to the public. You can tell the subject matter is extremely valuable because coats and bags aren't allowed inside the exhibition, so you have to fork out an extra quid on top of the £8 admission charge for a locker. I struggled for some time to operate mine, even though I knew my pound coin had to go somewhere, until the kindly attendant pointed out the slot on the inside of the locker door. Further protection is provided by a wall-to-ceiling turnstile set into a metal grille across the entrance, and once inside you fall under the watchful eye of an employee of Sherpa Security Services (est 2005).

The introductory galleries explain a little about City goldsmithery and Elizabethan/Stuart jewellery, setting the main display in historical context. There's plenty to learn on the wiggle-through, including the fact that the site on Cheapside has now been covered by the One New Change shopping centre so there's no longer any point in going digging. Then comes the exhibition proper, not just a small area but an entire long gallery showcasing all the treasures unearthed. First up are the necklaces, hung inside brightly-lit glass cases, and if you picked up a magnifying glass at the start you can peer closer to see the craftsmanship of the gilded links. Beyond are pendants and rings set with pearls and a variety of other precious stones, plus a geological display that'll help you to tell your amethyst from your agate. I was particularly taken by a tiny watch, with lid, embedded in an emerald, which was damned impressive stuff for circa 1600. I also really liked an elegant bejewelled salamander brooch and, in a neighbouring cabinet, a bulging white and gold scent bottle set with diamonds and opals. I was rather less excited by the collection of cameos at the far end of the room, despite the great antiquity of some, and even though the skills needed to carve their intricate designs must have been immense.

The great majority of visitors to the exhibition were a) over 60 b) female, so I felt very much the odd one out as I wandered round. But there were a few dutiful husbands in tow, and also two annoying mothers jabbering away about family problems with barely a glance at the collection as they sped round. Immediately before the exit is a five minute video which attempts to suggest how the hoard might have been lost in the first place. This tale of Civil War migration seemed a little contrived - a fiction granted too much importance - and a few more competing theories would have been welcome. And then it was out to struggle with the locker again, after almost an hour spent in accessory heaven. It had been good to enjoy what might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to view these amazing miniature works of art, and without huge numbers of people getting in the way. Assuming you have a midweek day off work between now and Easter, I'd recommend seeing the Hoard without the hordes.

Pop Art Design
Barbican Art Gallery
(22nd October 2013 - 9th February 2014)

You don't have long to get yourself here and explore the world of Pop Art. That's the 1950s/1960s movement based on mass culture, the construct that brought us comic book imagery and painted soup cans. The venue is the Barbican Art Gallery, itself a very sixties kind of building, located near the top of the main complex above the library. I'd never been inside before and was pleased to find a large space on two levels that was probably going to be worth the entrance fee. These are colourful, playful exhibits, as you'd expect, and include actual Warhols and actual Lichtensteins as well as a wide variety of transatlantic and international artists. The blurb on the wall describes this as "cultural fetishism", writ large in over-sized anglepoise lamps and geometric plastic cacti. There are a lot of chairs, because furniture is an art form that can be radically reimagined in many different ways, from plastic mass production to anti-Vietnam protest sofas. One chair supported by a bent-double mannequin in thigh-length leather boots is somewhat disturbing to modern tastes, but the gallery is careful to balance this out with some fairly phallic ice-cream licking elsewhere.

Where else in London can you watch a 1960s Tupperware commercial on the big screen, or enjoy the TV ad for the new Kodak 'Flashcube' complete with groovy dancers? They also show the opening credits to From Russia With Love because that was Pop Art, apparently, and not just lettering washing up and down gyrating flesh. Lettering's a big thing in the exhibition, especially as exemplified on iconic album covers. Architecture gets a look in too, from Las Vegas rooftops to a never-built colossal sculpture called 'London Knees', inspired by the gap between a mini skirt and the top of some boots. We take this sort of stuff for granted these days, that the disposable is just as much art as the exclusive, but this exhibition explores the genesis of the movement and is both entertaining and educational.

At £12 a pop the exhibition's not cheap, but it is comprehensive and I didn't walk out feeling diddled. There is a special end-of-week offer of a free cocktail at the Barbican's bar, but that's a free second cocktail, which probably says a lot about the target audience. There was indeed a group of ladies wandering around taking the whole thing very seriously, occasionally telling each other that they had something just like that in their villa. But the majority of weekday visitors were on the younger side, some of them groups of friends, others clearly with design coursework to complete. If you want to enhance your walk around the gallery, or if you can't make it to the Barbican by Sunday week, there is a free app for your phone with pictures and commentary on 18 key exhibits. You don't get the Tupperware commercial, alas, but as an introduction to Pop Art it's well worth a look.

 Thursday, January 30, 2014

Scott, you may remember, is attempting to visit the 500-plus stations on the Northern Rail map. That's proper visiting, not passing through, with a photo of himself taken in front of every single station sign, and with the whole thing blogged for posterity. To add to the challenge he's walking between some of the stations and riding between others, ideally alternatively where hiking routes permit. A year ago I joined him to help tick off five stations on the line to Lincoln, and earlier this week I went back to help complete five more.

This time Scott's target was the Hope Valley line in Derbyshire. This is the main railway link between Sheffield and Manchester, cutting through the remoter parts of the Peak District, and offers a lifeline to various communities along the way. But midweek off-peak the trains run only every two hours, which makes visiting all the stations rather trickier. And January isn't the best time of year to visit if you plan walking, especially after an especially wet spell. Still, we like a challenge. Here's my report on the first stage of our day out.



WALK THE NORTHERN RAIL MAP
Grindleford to Hathersage
(2½ miles) [map] [directions]


Grindleford station, like many in Britain, isn't actually in the place it's named after. Grindleford's nearly a mile away, up a lane and down into the valley, on the other side of the River Derwent. Instead the station is located by necessity at the foot of Padley Gorge, where one of the UK's longest railway tunnels emerges from the hillside, ideal for ramblers if not for residents. A few resilient residents live nearby, many of them in former railway cottages alongside the line, but the main building of note is the legendary/notorious Grindleford Cafe.

Based in the station's old waiting rooms, this eaterie was ruled for many years by eccentric owner Philip Eastwood. He had, let's say, firm views about proper behaviour which manifested in stern tickings off and a variety of passive aggressive notices. "Don't Be Rowdy, Behave Your Best." "The Outside Tables Are Not Just For A Rest, They Are For Customers". "This Is A Serving Hatch, Not A Viewing Gallery." And heaven forbid if you'd requested mushrooms with your cooked breakfast, because they were decidedly off-menu as part of Philip's campaign against vegetarianism. He died in 2007 and the cafe is now in the capable hands of his son, who maintains impressively comprehensive opening hours, with the chimney belching away merrily as we arrived. But was there time to go inside? Alas no, because the timetable demanded were at the next station up the line in either one hour or three hours time, so off we duly trudged.

It must have been rush hour because at least two vehicles attempted to pass us on the narrow bridge across the Burbage Brook. They were resilient country vehicles, appropriate for a rocky dead-end lane miles from the nearest Waitrose. Their owners' cottages backed down to the railway line, which is a major freight line as well an express inter-city route, so residents' peace must be shattered several times a day and night. Further down the lane was a tall blocky building which looked like a disused mill but was (I discovered later) Padley Chapel, grade I listed and formerly the gatehouse to a lost medieval manor. Opposite this was a Peak District National Park ranger's outpost, with a van parked outside, and eventually a footpath leading off across the railway. So far, so easy.

It was at this point that I decided waterproof trousers would be appropriate. The path ahead was proper muddy, conditions to be expected after a particularly torrential January, and my jeans would be changing colour within minutes if unprotected. I wobbled and squeaked to pull the damned things on, while Scott wandered down to the footbridge and smirked. And then we were off down a field, descending via what we hoped was the right route to the banks of the river below. In summer I imagine this landscape is idyllic, apart from the sheep droppings making picnicking particularly inadvisable. Mid-winter it was a sheen of grass concealing a quagmire beneath, and we squelched and splattered our way towards a gap in the dry stone wall. Here of course the mud was even deeper, thanks to the repeated patter of tiny feet, requiring deft footwork to avoid covering our boots in several inches of brown.

We hoped that the track along the banks of the Derwent would be easier going. Alas no because geography decreed that a waterside path would be as muddy, if not muddier still, and so it proved. The trickiest section was through Coppice Wood, a National Trust plantation in a particularly steep section of the valley. Sometimes it was possible to step into the undergrowth to avoid the muddiest sections of the path, other times there was no choice but to stride through mostly water. The river was rushing by, somewhat turbulently, with a main road occasionally visible but unreachable on the opposite side. At one point a small brook tumbled down the hillside in a potentially scenic manner, but we had to continue through the quagmire if we were to have any hope of catching our train.

Exiting the wood a massive puddle blocked the path ahead, so we diverted into the neighbouring field (which was only marginally more solid) and nipped back through the dry stone wall when appropriate. There followed a yomp through damp riverside meadows, scattering a handful of sheep and diverting round ponds that don't normally exist. I'd hate you to think this was an ordeal, quite the opposite, but ground conditions certainly didn't enhance our progress up the valley. Only when we finally reached a row of cottages and joined the lane that links them to civilisation did the walk genuinely become easy again. We passed a nervous-looking dog, who clearly hoped that one of us might throw her stick, but was sorely disappointed. We had to dodge out of the way of the postman, driving his van down to the cottages and later back again. And all the time we were watching the railway line above in case our train decided to rush through before we'd reached the station. A whistle worried us for a while, but that proved to be merely the Manchester express, and our stopping service would be following on behind.

At last we reached the main road and began our final climb along firm pavement towards the upland town of Hathersage. We were surprised to find that the mysterious circular building beyond the outskirts was a cutlery factory/museum/cafe, and pencilled in a visit should our rail connection go horribly wrong. The station was very close now, but access was only from the other side of the tracks which required an extra trek beneath a bridge and back again. Some running was required, such was the pressure to reach the far flung platform in sufficient time. And so we ended up, alone, standing waiting for a train that might already have gone, or might be just round the bend. I'll not reveal the ending to the story, because I like a bit of drama and because Scott will be writing all this up later - I'll let you know when. What I will say is that January may not be the ideal time to go walking in the Peak District, but by golly it's better than being sat in a dry, warm office.

 Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Wednesday, 3pm


Tuesday, 1pm

 Tuesday, January 28, 2014

They switched on the low level cycle lights at the Bow Roundabout yesterday. I don't know who "they" were, but somebody ripped off the black plastic coverings first thing to reveal the brand new eye-height signals, the very first to be used in the UK. It's all part of a DfT/TfL trial to see how cyclists react and, if successful, will be rolled out to 11 other junctions in London.

The extra signals are positioned on both sides of the roundabout, at the points where Cycle Superhighway 2 enters the junction. There are three sets on each side, two at the front and one further back to control the "early start" for cyclists entering via the filter lane. All the miniature lights do is repeat the signal atop the pole above them, they're nothing particularly special, except for the hope that cyclists will see them more clearly and react appropriately.

And that wasn't all that was unusual at Bow Roundabout during Monday's rush hour. The police were out in force, standing in all sorts of places around the junction, along with a lot of the contractors who've been responsible for installing the lights in the first place. Also present was at least one TV news cameraman, his big lens poised to film cyclists whizzing round the blue stripe. No misbehaviour or red-light-jumping ensued. But these were entirely atypical conditions, with every rider enduring the beady eyes of scrutiny, so not the best time to determine whether the lights were having the intended effect.

So I went back during the evening rush hour, after every scrutineer had disappeared, to carry out three small experiments of my own. They're entirely unscientific too, based on ridiculously tiny sample sizes, so should in no way be taken as indicative of how cyclists' behaviour might have changed. But that won't stop us jumping to conclusions, right?

Experiment 1: Do westbound cyclists obey the lights?
Unfortunately this experiment has a sample size of only one, because there aren't many westbound commuters during the evening rush hour. But down Stratford High Street he came, resplendent in professional pink hi-vis jacket, so I had high hopes. The first low-level cycle light was green, so through he sailed, while the traffic queued alongside patiently waited. But the 'cycle early start' design dictates that at least one of the pair of lights is always red, if not the first then the second. So the next low-level cycle light was red, because the main lights were red, to prevent anyone from entering the junction prematurely. Success - this cyclist duly stopped and paused at the red light. One down for the new system, I thought. Except then he spotted a gap in the traffic, a whopping great gap to be fair, and off he went. A slow burst at first, then more quickly, and across to the safety of the segregated blue lane before the next lorry came roaring round the roundabout.
Conclusion: No, he didn't obey the lights. Westbound cyclists still jump the lights when it suits.

Experiment 2: Do eastbound cyclists obey the lights?
This experiment has a sample size of three, because there are more eastbound  than westbound cyclists in the evening peak. Cyclist number one acted much as their westbound counterpart had done, cycling through the first green signal as intended, than failing to pause for the regulation amount of time at the second red. Cyclist number two was perfectly behaved, filtering into the early start zone and then waiting for the main lights to turn green before proceeding, safely ahead of the following traffic. With the scores level at 50-50, along came cyclist number three. This time the low-level light in the filter lane was red, signalling for cyclists to stop while the main body of traffic entered the roundabout. Cyclist number three wasn't having that, he rode straight through at speed and up to the second set of lights. These were on the turn and had just switched from green to red, signalling that now was the time for everyone to stop. And this message was totally ignored too. He zoomed on, with no attempt to brake, to cross the roundabout before the next pulse of traffic arrived. Again all was carefully judged, and at no time did any collision look possible, but just one left-turning truck could have caused a very different outcome.
Conclusion: No, only a minority obeyed the lights. Many eastbound cyclists still jump the lights when it suits.

Experiment 3: Do eastbound cyclists take advantage of the updated infrastructure at the Bow Roundabout?
This experiment has a sample size of twenty, which is almost scientific. That's ten consecutive cyclists near the start of the evening rush hour, plus ten consecutive cyclists near the end. I watched them approach from Bow Road and checked whether they rode down to the roundabout or whether instead they took the flyover. It's not necessarily easy to get to the Bow Flyover on a bike, you have to pull out into the traffic and cross a couple of lanes to get there. But thirteen of my twenty cyclists did this, speeding across and up and over the flyover, leaving just seven to follow the approved route down to the Bow Roundabout. I was surprised how unpopular the blue stripe was, but no, the majority of eastbound cyclists shunned all the improvements and chose to bypass over the top instead. Most won't have realised that the low level cycle lights had been switched on, it being Day One, and there being no signs to this effect. But a few new lights don't really make a material difference to cycle safety, so I'd expect most cyclists to continue to shun the junction despite all the trumpeted tweaks that TfL have made.
Conclusion: No, two-thirds avoid the roundabout. Most eastbound cyclists choose the flyover instead.

It strikes me that these new low level lights aren't really about cycle safety, because all they do is reinforce existing signals. Instead they're about trying to get cyclists to stop, and to use the cycle early start in the way the engineers intended. What's been created at the Bow Roundabout is a junction that's "always red" for cyclists, and an over-complex system that many riding through either fail to understand or choose to ignore. Regular cyclists at Bow have already learnt a series of bad habits, or chosen to bypass the set-up altogether, with the low level lights merely a cosmetic tweak that makes it look like something has been done. I fear that the Bow Roundabout is a poor place to trial the country's first set of low level lights, given that the existing set-up is already over-complicated, and they'd have been better off installed somewhere that bad behaviour hadn't already set in. Although they may look like an improvement, I doubt they'll make this killer junction any safer.

 Monday, January 27, 2014

EMERGENCY EVACUATION PLAN E3

Dear Householder,

In the event of an emergency engulfing the capital, it is essential that you are familiar with appropriate evacuation procedures. Were all transport links to fail, would you know the quickest way for you and your family to exit London on foot? Below is your personal evacuation route, created by computer according to three simple rules.
  • Identify the closest point on the Greater London perimeter.
  • Draw a straight line between your house and this point.
  • Plot a course following the most direct walking route.
  • Your closest exit point has been identified as: The Three Jolly Wheelers, 735 Chigwell Rd, Woodford Green IG8 8AS
    Distance: direct 6½ miles, on foot 7½ miles
    Estimated evacuation time: 2½ hours

    A map of your designated evacuation route is attached.



    1) From the BOW ROUNDABOUT proceed northeast all the way along STRATFORD HIGH STREET. Watch out for zombies and the agents of Satan.
    2) You know this road well, so we won't go on about it.
    3) At the RAILWAY TREE cross onto STRATFORD BROADWAY and walk past all the shops on the left hand side, including CLOSED DOWN FURNITURE SHOP and WILKINSONS.
    4) Pass beneath the BLUE TOADSTOOL-LIKE SCULPTURES to enter THE GROVE. Beware of apocalyptic behaviour spilling out of THE GOOSE and THE GOLDEN GROVE.
    5) Bear right and then left to follow LEYTONSTONE ROAD past POLISH SHOPS, MARYLAND STATION and THE TIME SPIRAL STATUE THAT USED TO BE OUTSIDE STRATFORD STATION.
    6) The TESCO EXPRESS on your left may be the last chance to buy provisions. Beware looters.
    7) Avoid the horrors of Central Leytonstone by turning right at EAST INK TATTOO into CANN HALL ROAD. Try not to worry that you've never been to this corner of WALTHAM FOREST before.
    8) Do not stop for patties, salt fish and dumplings at BUTLER'S BAKERY (FAIL BAR). Pass immediately beneath the GOBLIN BRIDGE.



    9) Continue onto WANSTEAD FLATS via LAKE HOUSE ROAD. Divert across the grassland if JUBILEE POND is in flood.
    10) Clear sightlines across the open heath should permit you to watch CANARY WHARF and THE BASTIONS OF CAPITALISM ablaze in the distance. Hurry now.
    11) You are now entering ALDERSBROOK. Turn left onto BLAKE HALL ROAD past the tennis club and the golf course.
    12) Turn right between the gateposts of WANSTEAD HOUSE onto OVERTON DRIVE. It's too late now to think that this looks a nice place to live.
    13) At THE CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN either rush inside to pray for the salvation of humanity or fork left into LANGLEY DRIVE.
    14) Follow REDBRIDGE LANE WEST east, passing the local high school, yet another golf course and some allotments.
    15) If all hell has broken loose on the A12 you may need to swim beneath the dual carriageway via the RIVER RODING. Alternatively proceed with caution to the REDBRIDGE ROUNDABOUT and enter the subway to cross beneath the NORTH CIRCULAR.
    16) Emerge beside REDBRIDGE STATION, where service is suspended due to impending Armageddon, and walk for approximately 50 metres along REDBRIDGE LANE EAST.



    17) Turn left into RODING LANE, a convenient 2-mile-long throroughfare dating back to when all this was fields, which heads in precisely the right direction for escape from the capital.
    18) Pass RODING LANE FREE CHURCH, RODING VALLEY PARK, the RODING LANE SOUTH PUMPING STATION, the RODING LANE SOUTH ELECTRICITY STATION and RODING HOSPITAL, because everything's called RODING SOMETHING out here.
    19) Cross WOODFORD AVENUE via the subway. Don't be tempted to stop at the TOBY CARVERY for refreshment, but push on before the conflagration catches up with you.
    20) Continue along RODING LANE NORTH. If it's Wednesday beware the MOBILE LIBRARY blocking the pavement.
    21) Watch for the tower of CLAYBURY HOSPITAL on the ridge on the northern horizon. Pass RODING LANE CEMETERY, which is currently mostly empty but should be filling up soon.
    22) Do not be tempted to hide from the marauding hordes in the wooded thickets of CLAYBURY PARK - there is no exit to the north because the residents of REPTON PARK (formerly CLAYBURY HOSPITAL) like to live in a gated community.
    23) Descend past RODING PRIMARY SCHOOL to the CHIGWELL ROAD. They filmed The Only Way Is Essex here at DEUCE'S NIGHTCLUB, even though it's not quite in Essex. You may be happy to watch this former pub burn.
    24) Fork left at the METROPOLITAN POLICE DOG TRAINING CENTRE, taking care to avoid any rabid hellhounds.
    25) A short distance ahead is THE THREE JOLLY WHEELERS. This is the first building in Essex, and will therefore be completely safe from whatever cataclysm is currently afflicting London. Please wait here and wait for the refugee trucks to arrive.

     Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Route 308: Wanstead - Clapton Pond
    Location: London northeast
    Length of journey: 8 miles, 50 minutes


    This isn't another bus around the edge of London, it's a new bus through the Olympic Park. Or rather it's an existing bus re-routed through the Olympic Park, and then extended a bit at one end. Or rather it's a bus that used to run through the Olympic Park before they sealed it off, but had to be diverted, and is now back again. Starting yesterday. And it's not really worth riding... apart from the bit that is.

    The 308's route looks like it was drawn as a dot-to-dot in an attempt to join up lots of bits of London that hadn't been joined up before. From Wanstead it heads south, then west, then north, then west, then north again, then as of this weekend it adds an extra bit of west at the end. You wouldn't ride it from end to end - indeed most passengers ride it for a mile or so to the station, to the shops, wherever. I rode the lot, but don't worry, I won't relate the whole thing in detail. I'll skim through the extremities, and focus on the Stratford bit.

    pre-Stratford: The 308 kicks off in Wanstead beside what locals like to think of as a village green. The next green along the way is a modern fake, rebuilt on top of the A12 when that carved through in the 1990s. But Wanstead Flats is the real thing, a surprisingly large expanse of heath owned by the City of London. The 308 stops by Jubilee Pond, a shallow embryo-shaped pool that brims with waterfowl. The route then shadows the 'Goblin' branch of the Overground, pausing at Wanstead Park station for the first mass exodus of passengers. Forest Gate station is only 300m down the road, so Crossrail may give this Newham back-end a lift. And then the 308 veers off unexpectedly to follow Forest Road, the mainline railway on one side, and E15's only Albert Square to the right. For further geographical box-ticking it avoids the obvious route to Stratford High Street and sneaks in via the Romford Road instead.
    Interlude: So there I was minding my own business on the run down Forest Road when I felt a tap on the back of my arm. I half turned round to see an old man sat behind me, and he had something slightly odd to ask. "Did you know this bus has got a change on its route today?" So obviously I said yes, because I did know, which took the wind out of his sails somewhat and he sat back in his seat. He didn't say another word all journey, nor attempt to pass this timely fact on to any other passenger. I felt a little guilty for being the only clever-clogs on board who knew at least as much as him, and for dampening his enthusiasm so mercilessly. But honestly, who starts up a conversation on a bus these days, it's against all social norms. We rode on in silence.
    Stratford: Here beginneth the guided tour. Stratford's one-way system forces the westbound 308 to circulate round more of the town centre than you might like, One stop in the High Street gets rid of many of the passengers, then one stop outside the main station gets rid of the rest. But it's a long way to the next stop at Westfield, even though it's only a short distance away, thanks to the railway getting in the way. Left, right, left, left, left - the last two of these new this weekend as the 308 no longer continues straight ahead to Leyton. Instead it enters the Stratford City complex and does one entire revolution of the bus station before retracing its steps to Stratford International.
    Interlude: What an appallingly designed bus station Westfield Stratford City is, with its single entrance/exit, its limited signage, its central pedestrian crossing, its inadequate shelters and its impractically located traffic lights. I hate having to catch a bus from here, and the 308 diverting out of its way especially to visit feels especially annoying. Almost as annoying as the excessive number of traffic lights installed at junctions around the shopping mall's perimeter. The level of traffic hereabouts isn't yet enough to justify this level of signalling, so buses frequently get held up waiting at red lights when absolutely nothing else is coming. And then again. And then again.
    Velo Park: The diverted 308's raison d'etre is to serve the new cycling facility in the Olympic Park. Not that anyone'll be bringing their bike to the Velodrome by bus, but spectators need to get here too and they won't all be on two wheels. The 308 heads north out of the East Village along Temple Mills Lane, a road that's been closed since 2006. Two new bus stops have been sited here, and I was looking forward to getting off and walking through. No such luck. Both stops are "Not in use", for the very good reason that building work continues apace immediately alongside. Indeed the central section of Temple Mills Lane is still barriered off at both ends, with the bus negotiating construction traffic and workmen inbetween. But there is a very good view through the window of what looks like the edge of the new mountain bike course. I spotted muddy tracks and inclines with wood and stones to ride over, as part of what looks like being an extensive, and rather fun, activity. If opening day's in March then there's a lot to do, and that would explain the hi-vis army out in force on Saturday shaping the land and digging the verges.
    Interlude: At the first stop north of the Olympic Park a fragile old lady stood and walked towards the driver. She'd been confused by the bus's unusual passage and was worried we weren't heading where she wanted to go. "Aren't we going to Leyton?" she asked, because the 308's gone to Leyton every day for the last seven years. "Not any more," said the driver, and pointed across the busy main road at the stop where she could catch another bus there instead. The old lady collected her basket on wheels and pulled it very slowly along the pavement towards the traffic lights... which she might or might not have crossed before the next W15 arrived. TfL had indeed put notices at every bus stop announcing the 308's diversion, but nobody reads those, and this poor dear had been entirely caught out. If only the old gentleman on Forest Road had tapped her on the arm instead of me, a much more useful conversation would have ensued.
    post-Stratford: For the final leg of its journey, entirely disjoint to the first in terms of passengers, the 308 heads into Homerton. Past the football pitches on Hackney Marshes, past what used to be the Matchbox factory but is now flats, and pulling off the main drag by the hospital. A long run up Chatsworth Road follows - a bit shabby on a Saturday, but transformed on Sundays into the kind of bohemian street market that makes Time Out's feature writers over-excited. The 308 used to terminate by Millfields Park, which is indeed where all the remaining passengers alighted, but I stayed on to ride the new connection to the Lea Bridge Roundabout. The bus says 'Clapton Pond' on the front but doesn't quite get that far, instead stopping short to pause awhile inside the roundabout. And then it's back to Wanstead, not that anyone in their right mind is going all the way.

    I don't quite understand why the 308 has been prematurely diverted to serve the VeloPark several weeks before it's open, and while the road outside is still a building site. One day those two extra bus stops will be justifiably useful, but for the time being the new route is a wasted shortcut, and the residents of Leyton are missing out unnecessarily.

     Saturday, January 25, 2014

    The end of January is obviously a great time for a week off.
    Here are my plans so far.

      morning  afternoon  evening 
    Sat 25 Janbookedbookedfree
    Sun 26 Janfreefreefree
    Mon 27 Janbookedbookedbooked
    Tue 28 JanGrand Day Out
    Wed 29 Janfreebookedfree
    Thu 30 Janbookedbookedfree
    Fri 31 Janbookedbookedfree
    Sat 1 FebBoring Long Weekend Trip
    Sun 2 Feb
    Mon 3 Feb

    Here are some of the things I'm thinking of plugging the gaps with.

    » This weekend across London there'll be 38 Winter Wanders, that's free guided walks organised by Walk London (now run by Walk England) (who are now called Walk Unlimited). If it's Saturday (dry) then how about one of the longer outer walks, but if it's Sunday (wet) then better one of the tarmac-based inner walks. Here's what this afternoon's walk to Cockfosters was like last year. You might need wellies.
    » I should go see the Cheapside Hoard at the Museum of London - I hear it's good. Plus maybe I'll pop nextdoor to Pop Art Design at the Barbican Art Gallery (until the 9th).
    » Or sample one of the free lectures at the Guildhall Library (it's the Cheapside Hoard on Monday)
    » I'll be watching the Bow Roundabout's new low level cycle lights in action, sometime before the end of the month.
    » South West Trains are offering a return trip for a tenner, almost anywhere on their network, every weekend between now and the end of February. Ten quid to Portsmouth, or Salisbury, or Bournemouth... it's tempting. The Isle of Wight's extra (but reduced extra).
    » Tomorrow the English Civil War Society are commemorating the 365th anniversary of the murder of King Charles I by marching down The Mall into Horseguards Parade. Be there at 11.30am, like I was for the 363rd.
    » Some bus rides, I think.
    » It's about time I went on a guided tour of Broadcasting House (although if I wait until next month they're throwing in the One Show studio too).
    » The Evening Standard's doing its cheap meals at slightly posh restaurants deal again (until Sunday 16th February). If you know anyone to go for a meal with.
    » The Out of Ice exhibition looks intriguing, and Ambika (nr Baker Street) is always a fascinating venue.
    » Or there's the Jeremy Deller, fresh from the Venice Biennale, at Walthamstow's William Morris Gallery. It's just opened (til the end of March).
    » Ooh, Two Temple Place reopens on Friday, until the end of April, with an exhibition of scientific curiosities from the University of Cambridge Museums. Yes yes yes.
    » I do need to replace my watch battery at some point.

    If we've been meaning to meet up for ages, and not quite got round to it, perhaps this week would be an ideal time. Obviously you'd need to have the last week of January off work too, or not have work, whatever. But it'd be good to do something, so let me know.

     Friday, January 24, 2014

    TfL volunteers set to help Londoners on the Tube
    24 January 2014

    Transport for London today set out plans to bring greater front line support to the Tube. TfL's plans include the deployment of hundreds of volunteers who are trained to help at Tube stations, to assist customers and to keep London moving.

    These volunteers have been recruited from London's vast army of Tube enthusiasts. Thousands of men and women, but mostly men, make it their business to know everything there is to know about the London Underground. Now TfL will be putting their expert knowledge to good use as frontline staff in stations across the capital.

    Hilary Benson, LU's Chief Operating Officer, said:
    'We all know that a lot of Londoners are obsessed by the Tube. They ride the Circle line for no reason, they know the difference between 1972 Stock and 1973 Stock, and they fret over inconsistencies on the tube map. Now we plan to capitalise on their enthusiasm by signing them up for station duty across the network. And it won't cost taxpayers a penny.'


    These new volunteers will be called Semi-Professional Operating Deputies, or Spods for short. Spods will be deployed on a variety of duties in stations, ranging from giving directions to helping out at ticket machines. You might find a Spod updating the message on the whiteboard or picking up litter from the far end of the platform. Spods will also be able to advise you on the best route avoiding Zone 1, which carriage on the train means you'll be nearest the exit at your destination, and where you should look out of the window to see the abandoned station. Best of all, Spods will get to wear a special badge with a roundel on it, which will make them very happy.

    Kieran McKenzie, one of TfL's inaugural Spods, said:
    'I've always hung around my local tube station, so moving up to become a Spod was a natural step. I can still loiter by the tube map on the platform offering advice like I always used to, but now people actually seem to be interested. Last week I shared a packet of biscuits with passengers to celebrate the 79th anniversary of the heritage lamp fitting at the bottom of the stairs. But my favourite thing so far has been explaining to a grateful commuter how those pink Oyster readers actually work and saving them £528 on their Travelcard.'


    Spods have been recruited via the usual social media channels. Vacancies were advertised in the nerdier topics on recognised tube forums, and individuals on Twitter who responded to @TfLOfficial with especially pedantic tweets were offered immediate positions via Direct Message. Attendees at steam railway galas were also targeted, as was anyone who went upstairs in the TfL Shop at Covent Garden. All successful applicants have completed TfL's usual Health and Safety course and are fully licensed. However no further work-based training has been required because these Spods know far more about the network than many long-serving staff.

    Candice Patel, LU's Chief Recruitment Officer, said:
    'The best thing about Spods is that they're willing to work long hours without being paid, thereby helping TfL to bear down on fares. Spods always help ladies with pushchairs up long flights of stairs, which our staff aren't allowed to do for reasons of litigation, plus they bring their own smartphones, so we have no need to issue them with tablets. Indeed, so long as we promise every Spod a free trip down Aldwych tube station once a year, they keep coming back for more and doing sterling work.'


    The rollout of Spods will continue throughout 2014, with the expectation that every station will be staffed by at least two Spods by this time next year. Together they will help increase staff visibility in ticket halls and on platforms, helping customers to buy the right ticket, to plan their journeys and to keep them safe and secure. It may be that fewer existing employees are required on customer-facing duties as the role played by Spods increases in scope. However TfL have promised that there will be no compulsory redundancies amongst their new band of volunteers as this modernisation programme drives forward.

    Hilary Benson, LU's Chief Operating Officer, said:
    'Our customers can rest assured that all our stations will always remain staffed at all times when our services are operating. Even during next week's threatened tube strike, our army of volunteers will be out in force to provide advice and apologise that there are no trains. In consequence we see the future of the Tube very much in terms of non-unionised labour and greater automation, and Spods will play an increasingly important role in keeping London moving and open for business.'

     Thursday, January 23, 2014

    London buses that exit London (south of the Thames)
    Richmond
    411 → West Molesey
    R68 → Hampton Court Station 
    Sutton
    293, 470 → Epsom
    S1 → Banstead
    80 → Belmont
    Bexley
    96, 428, 492 → Bluewater
    B12 → Joydens Wood
    233 → Swanley
    Kingston
    K3 → Esher
    465 → Dorking
    406, 418, 467 → Epsom
    Croydon
    166 → Epsom
    405 → Redhill
    404, 407, 434, 466 → Caterham 
    403 → Warlingham
    Bromley
    R5, R10 → Knockholt
    246 → Westerham/Chartwell
    464 → Tatsfield
    Southwest London bus map (4.10MB) Southeast London bus map (3.97MB)

    For the last time in this batch of journeys, I'm on my way around the edge of London by bus. Today's bus completes my tour of south London, from Bluewater-upon-Thames in the east to Kingston-upon-Thames in the west. For a change I'm on a radial route, not an orbital, heading in towards the centre of town. And sorry, this one's no thriller.


     ROUND LONDON BY BUS (ix)
     Route 71: Hook - Kingston

     Length of journey: 3 miles, 15 minutes

    I had a choice of three buses from Hook to Kingston, each heading along pretty much the same route north. By rights I should have taken the 465, because that deviates fractionally closer to the Thames right at the end, but no. A 465 was just pulling away from the stop at Ace Parade as I alighted, and it was half an hour until the next departed. Plus I have the 465 pencilled in as a special blogging treat one day because it goes all the way to Dorking, that's 35 minutes beyond the edge of the capital on an Oyster-fuelled red London bus. Patience. Instead a 71 was approaching, which shouldn't have been a surprise because this is an every-eight-minuter, the most frequent service I'll be riding. It had started its journey back at Chessington World of Adventures, no passenger hotspot in January, then glided round Copt Gilders, yadda yadda, been there, done that. I bounded up to the top front seat only to find it empty because of a suspicious drip coming from the ceiling. But still I sat there, because one seat further back is never as good, and getting damp trainers was a small price to pay.

    Hook Junction was Britain's first arterial underpass, a cutting dug where the A3 hits London. The ring on top is the Ace of Spades roundabout, named after a popular roadhouse, now The Cap In Hand pub. If you look down on the way round you can see the carriageway through a trapezoid hole, narrower than it ought to be so prone to jams. Enough excitement, the Hook Road north wasn't overly memorable. London's slowest zebra crossing crosser popped out to greet us part-way, which was nice, but other than there was little of note. I did spot a cul-de-sac called Graham Gardens, which'll be amusing to those of you of a certain age, and I also noticed a bus going to Mansfield Park, alas not the literary version. And I enjoyed the pre-Worboys sign beyond the railway bridge where the A243 meets the B3370, its yellow background recently restored. But other than that there was little of note. We sped through.

    And so to Surbiton, the archetypal commuter suburb, which thrived because Kingston Council didn't want a railway so the trains came here instead. The station is an Art Deco jewel, up at the top of the main shopping street, which of course all the buses round here divert to follow. I'd say Victoria Road got nicer the higher we climbed, with more charity shops at the foot and more florists at the top, though with places to nibble and graze nigh everywhere. Another suburb, another clocktower, where we turned left past another ornamental gardens. I longed for one of my fellow passengers to say something of interest, even to say something at all, but they were all downstairs, and I was still being dripped on.

    It always amuses me that Surrey County Hall is still in Kingston, but Kingston is no longer in Surrey. We passed its mighty frontage on Penrhyn Road, nearly 50 years after the administrative extraction took place, with local dissatisfaction still readily palpable. By now we were already on the brink of the Kingston one-way system, a mighty beast which threads through the ex-medieval heart of the town. The 71 stayed well away from anything overtly historic, instead focussing on furniture showrooms, undercover precincts and cinemas turned into badly-spelled nightclubs. Kingston's range of shops ranks amongst the very best in London, no really, from giant department stores to boutique-y backways. And I guess that's why everybody else on board alighted on Eden Street, and only I rode the final one-way wiggles to the bus station. That did mean I got to see the town's famous toppled phone boxes, but also added 25% to the length of my journey as we jostled through various sets of lights. I'll be back here next month (and I hope for something a little drier). 216>>

    » route 71 - timetable
    » route 71 - route history
    » route 71 - live bus map
    » route 71 - The Ladies Who Bus
    » map of my journey so far

     Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    Eight buses round my orbital route, and this is the fourth whose route number begins with 4. There is a reason for this, which is the numbering system first introduced by the London Passenger Transport Board in October 1934. Numbers below 300 were allocated to buses in central London, the 300s went to Country Area (north), and the 400s to Country Area (south). This rigid structure didn't last, but its legacy lingers. Today's first bus in fact started life as the 568, a Surrey Council route, but entered the London fold in the 1990s and earned an opening 4 for its trouble.


     ROUND LONDON BY BUS (viii)
     Route 467: Epsom - Hook

     Length of journey: 6 miles, 30 minutes

    Epsom is the non-London location served by the greatest number of London buses. Six different services flood the High Street, along with a multitude of Surrey buses in blues and greens and yellows heading elsewhere. The bussiest spot is on the High Street in the shadow of the Clocktower, where the pigeons circle in swooping loops from the roof of the Ashley Centre and back again. They don't have London bus stops here, they have white rectangles, and all the timetables look home-produced too, for which read "printed in Surrey". The 467 doesn't turn up very often, only every hour, and then not after seven in the evening (which is typical for a proper provincial bus). But the route still merits a double decker, which is extremely rare for an hourly red London bus. Or "Basic Useless Service", as the teenage boy in the smurf-like woolly hat delighted in telling his dad as they filled their time waiting for the 467 by coveting passing cars.

    Escaping the first set of traffic lights took a while, then it was on down the dual carriageway High Street with the borough arms emblazoned on the central railings. Across the road I noticed a board advertising Famous Dave's Famous Cookware and Linen Sale, although that was the first I'd heard of it. And then we were off up the East Street on the way to Epsom's sister settlement of Ewell. My fellow passengers on the top deck were already being a little noisy. Smurf-boy's family had nabbed the front seats and were chattering merrily, while the mother sat behind them became increasingly animated into her phone. "I'm on the bus," she began, then berated her friend Shelley for not having taken some important object to a timely place. "So now I've got to go all the way home," she moaned, and continued to sigh frustratedly all the way to London.

    We passed a weeny 470 minibus near the end of its long distance jaunt from (seriously?) Colliers Wood. And then we were rumbling into the centre of Ewell, a more characterfully compact affair with redbrick Tudor shops and the odd old pub. We rode round Bourne Hall Park, at the centre of which is a most unusual flying saucer shaped community hub (library, museum, meeting rooms, that sort of thing). What with all this weather we've been having lately the spring at the source of the Hogsmill River had overflowed out of its pool and across the pavement, extending the surface area available for ducks. Our exit through West Ewell, past Ewell West, was accompanied by the tinny sound of a YouTuber who didn't believe in headphones. Thankfully she wasn't joined by the band of sullen teenage girls with piled-up hair waiting at the next bus stop. They wanted the 418 to somewhere real, not the dead end outer suburbs.

    You don't expect to see a crazy golf course packed with punters in January, but Horton Park's Jungle Adventure Golf is something else. Ten foot waterfalls tumble from fibreglass rocks while a fake snake gyrates, as if Indiana Jones might putt through at any moment. Ahead at the Bonesgate Stream, a tributary of the Hogsmill, our bus entered London for the first time. I noticed the housing estates change subtly, becoming a little less leafy, as we crossed. This council-ish outpost is the delightfully named Copt Gilders, named after the 181 acre farm it replaced, and a corner of the actual Chessington. Yes, there's not just a cripplingly expensive World of Adventures, there's a whole commuter settlement here with a history dating back to the Domesday Book. The 467 doesn't go via the zoo and theme park, but it does pass the bunker-like entrance to Chessington South station, and it will drop you off at Lidl.

    By this point our driver had exhibited great community spirit by waiting a little too long for a nan and her pushchair, then got stuck behind an unovertakeable cyclist for longer still. On the main Leatherhead Road the frustrated mother from Epsom was finally getting ready to alight. "WAIT!" she screeched at her pink-wellied daughter, who'd reached to press the button before the bus had left the preceding stop. But during the pause that followed it was Mum's hand that slunk round to press the button, thereby denying her daughter the treat she'd so clearly been looking forward to. I spotted one properly old building amongst the residential sprawl, a pretty white cottage dated 1669, but I missed Enid Blyton's old house - she lived here in Hook at the start of the 1920s. The final stop came unexpectedly, because the timetable said we'd terminate at Ace Parade, and I was expecting somewhere more brilliant. Instead I got a shelter on a dual carriageway beside a recreational ground near a funeral directors. Thankfully my next bus whisked me away in under a minute. 71>>

    » route 467 - timetable
    » route 467 - live bus map
    » route 467 - The Ladies Who Bus
    » map of my journey so far

     Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    The 166 is a most peculiar bus route. It runs from Croydon out to Purley and Coulsdon before nudging beyond the edge of Greater London. It then serves villages along the Surrey border, generally only as far as Banstead, but intermittently extended all the way to Epsom. It's a proper London bus, funded by London taxpayers, but spends up to nine miles in alien territory. It serves, or very nearly serves, a dozen commuter-friendly railway stations. And it's also a jolly good ride out into the country, including one hill that's a genuine struggle for bus and driver alike. I enjoyed this one.


     ROUND LONDON BY BUS (vii)
     Route 166: Purley - Epsom

     Length of journey: 11 miles, 50 minutes

    If you're heading round London by bus you have to time this one right. The 166 runs three times an hour but only one of these runs all the way to Epsom, and then not evenings or on Sundays. You may end up waiting rather longer in Purley than you expected, in which case a cup of tea and cake in the Downlands Shopping Precinct might suffice. I almost got to watch some 'healers' in the precinct entrance, but arrived just as they were rolling up their healing mat with their healing hands, and packing away all their healing bits into a healing box. Several buses to Caterham and Coulsdon pulled up before my 166 arrived, a bus which was already half full from its run from Croydon. Almost precisely half full, as it turned out, with each double seat occupied by a 'selfish' single traveller, forcing me to squeeze into the legroom-free corner of the back row.

    We headed south past a run of big gabled houses, most of them dentist-sized, and past several waiting passengers who weren't interested in our bus. Ahead lay Coulsdon, London's southernmost town, located at the point where three dry valleys meet. The main Brighton Road now diverts from the town centre via a sweeping bypass, but our bus turned right down the old coast road via the shops. I kept an eye open for the Bang & Olufsen where I once spent a very dull afternoon being forced to find hi-fi interesting, but I think it's finally closed after half a century's service. We rode the Chipstead Valley Road out of town, the houses here a little more mundane, and home to the little girl sat in front of me's grandma. She stopped playing with her pink tablet just long enough for her mum to pack it away, zip up her coat and bundle the pair of them off the bus. Then just beyond Woodmansterne station, and just before the railway bridge, those of us still on board exited London and headed into Surrey. I'm sure only I noticed.

    A few hundred metres beyond the border is the Midday Sun, which for many years was as far as this bus went. There was a definite sense of terminus about the place as we swung off the road to wait outside what used to be a proper pub, but is now part of the Hungry Horse chain and looked like it sold as many chips as pints. And then came the most memorable section of the journey. The most direct route ahead isn't used because the lane's too narrow, so instead the bus diverts up the residential incline of Chipstead Way. Initially I didn't think the hill looked that steep, nor was our vehicle overloaded, but the bus's engine took great exception to the contours and wheezed up really slowly. Cars parked all the way down one side of the road didn't help matters, so oncoming traffic was forced to retreat into whatever spaces it could find as our snail-like juggernaut approached. A 12% section down was followed immediately by another slow chugger up, with one brief break in the houses revealing rolling downland beyond. It wouldn't have been half as much fun riding the other way.

    At the top of the hill, 50 metres higher than we'd started, lay the centre of the village of Woodmansterne. The flint church had an attractively squat wooden steeple, the post office doubled up as a Londis, and there looked to be a nice pub down the lane but we didn't go that way. Instead we continued north, past a bus stop called Merrymeet, and unexpectedly nipped back into London again. We didn't linger, staying just long enough to turn left round the edge of a nondescript field. Had this been high summer it would have been ablaze with purple, because this is London's largest lavender farm, formerly an outpost for Yardley, now very independently owned. As well as gifts your gran would love it's seemingly impossible to take a bad photo here during the months of July and August, so best pencil in a visit via the 166 for six months time.

    Having skirted a bit of Sutton we ploughed back into Surrey, along a winding lane lined by the occasional farm, several bungalows and somewhere to buy your kindling. Before long we reached the town of Banstead, a veritable cluster of middle class niceness complete with Waitrose and M&S Simply Food. They've still got a Bang & Olufsen, I noted, and a proper family butchers called Bettameats. As I said earlier, most 166s terminate here and head back to Croydon, but I was on the extension version and we still had several miles to go. I was particularly excited to see a gentleman in a wheelchair waiting to board with his young granddaughter in tow. Firstly, this proved that London's accessible bus fleet was doing good things even on the fringes of Surrey. But mostly I hoped I'd be able to get at least a paragraph out of the pair's exploits, and so it proved as the journey continued.

    Grandpa sat backwards in the wheelchair space, a pink ballet bag draped over the arm of his vehicle, while Lizzie (not her real name) sat on an adjacent seat playing with his phone. Conversation proved difficult. She was engrossed playing Shoemaker, a game which I later discovered involved sticking jewels and lacy bits on a pair of digital high heels. "Can I have the phone when you've finished?" asked Grandpa. "It just made a noise, which means I've got a message." Lizzie played on. "Music's boring isn't it?" he tried. No reaction. Every opening gambit was batted back with a muted grunt, until eventually Grandpa insisted and was allowed to check his text. "It's from Nanny," he said. "Hello We Need An Onion For Our Cottage Pie." Suddenly the pair's journey had a purpose, which made Grandpa very happy, and one-sidedly more talkative, and then suddenly conspiratorial. "Don't tell Nanny about the Creme Eggs!" he said, three times, as if she didn't know her husband was a soft touch. And then the conversation faltered, as smartphone absorption kicked back in, and Grandpa returned to looking suspiciously at the bloke sat by the window writing notes.

    During all this we'd progressed some considerable distance - past the outpost of Banstead station, up a brief detour to Drift Bridge (which sounded exciting, but proved to be a used VW dealer), and round the edge of Nork. This is surely one of the best place names in the London area, although alas Nork Way lies fractionally outside the border, and the 166 merely passes a sign to "Nork Village". It was around here that a small child called Ollie alighted, silver scooter in hand, and padded off. On any normal journey his earlier remonstrations with mum demanding to sit on the front seat would have been a narrative highlight, but Lizzie's mute defiance had stolen that crown.

    A five-way roundabout heralded entrance to the Downs, and to the "Borough of Epsom and Ewell, Home of the Derby". I was surprised to see a roadsign pointing to the village of Grandstand half a mile away, then realised this was a feature of the local terribly well-known race course, its upper levels now visible across the grass. We headed nowhere near, veering right to pass close to Epsom Downs station, the not very accessible terminus of a minor commuter branch line from Sutton. And then we started the run-in to the town centre, past the college and a "Sorry driver, it's the next one!" wrong stop. I had, somehow, never been to Epsom before, but my first impressions were coloured by the major jam in the high street where everything queued to negotiate a single crossroads. I alighted here, followed closely by Grandpa and Lizzie on their onion quest, leaving the long distance 166 to complete its epic journey a little further on at the hospital. 467>>

    » route 166 - timetable
    » route 166 - route history
    » route 166 - live bus map
    » route 166 - The Ladies Who Bus
    » map of my journey so far

     Monday, January 20, 2014

    They like experimenting on us at the Bow Roundabout.

    After Cycle Superhighway 2 claimed its first death, we got London's very first cycle early-start lights. When that didn't quite work they came back and added extra signs to try to explain which lights meant what. Then when that still didn't work they planned something even more innovative - the UK's first ever low-level cycle lights. And that's what's just been installed, on either side of the Bow Roundabout, ready to kick into action later this month.



    They're essentially miniature traffic lights, a bike graphic embedded into each, and positioned much lower than usual. The idea is that they appear at cyclists' eye level, repeating the signal shown above to make clearer whether or not it's safe to proceed. That's the idea anyway.

    Other countries have had these low-level signals for years, but they're new to the UK because they couldn't go ahead without government approval. The DfT have been trialling them off-road at a specially constructed junction - they have a 'laboratory' in Wokingham for this kind of thing. Apparently over 80% of cyclists said the low-level signals were a good thing, so last month the Transport Minister gave his approval to trying them on an actual junction on actual cyclists. Hence TfL's experiment at Bow.

    Workmen were busy installing them over the weekend while officials in hi-vis jackets stood around and watched. It was as if someone had installed a temporary car park underneath the Bow Flyover, complete with a police car keeping an eye on goings on. Police presence had been essential during the actual installation phase because that meant turning off all the lights, leaving traffic to nudge its way around the Bow Roundabout unguided. It's all back to normal now.

    The new low level repeater signals have been added to three existing traffic light poles on each side of the roundabout. The first has been attached to the traffic light in the filter cycle lane, which is where cyclists are supposed to stop if the main body of traffic is heading onto the roundabout. They don't always, because stopping when everyone else is going is counter intuitive, indeed highly frustrating, hence the new low level signals are supposed to remind cyclists that red really does mean stop. They may do a better job than the additional yellow sign that used to read CYCLISTS STOP ON RED (which I notice has been removed). Or they may not.

    The second low level signal has been added to the pole on the left at the entrance to the roundabout. This should be perfectly placed to alert cyclists entering the danger zone that the lights above their head are actually red, or actually green, whatever. It's been all too easy for cyclists to dismiss this second stage of lights because they've just ridden through one that was green, so why on earth would the next be red. If the second light now shows a picture of a red bike at eye level, logic has it, cyclists are much more likely to realise they have to stop, or to behave themselves and hold back. Well, that's the plan.

    And the third low level signal has been added to the pole on the right at the entrance to the roundabout. This seems bonkers. No cyclist should be anywhere near the right hand lane, absolutely none whatsoever. They'll all be on the left, because that's where the filter lane deposits you, and that's where the segregated bike lane is ahead. The only purpose of this third low level light, it seems, is to tell waiting vehicles what cyclists are doing at the moment. It's possible that drivers will be more cautious if they see a cycle light turn green before their own light changes, but I'm not convinced, and this third light seems entirely superfluous.

    There are still two CYCLISTS STOP ON RED signs in place on the eastbound, or at least there are at present - they may not survive the implementation phase. One's on a pole behind the front left low level signals, the other in the centre of the roundabout. As I said it's proved important to remind cyclists that the second set of lights isn't the same as the first, which is why TfL were forced to add the yellow signs belatedly to their original design. Perhaps the low level lights will perform this function, or maybe the fault runs deeper than that in the design of the entire junction. Until this weekend each approach to the roundabout featured seven different sets of lights, a forest of competing signals, each angled towards cyclists and/or drivers. As of yesterday there are ten, three of the new low level kind, one other just for cyclists, some solely for drivers and the remainder for both. It is potentially even more confusing than before, but TfL hope not.
    Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL said "Low level cycle signals are common place in certain parts of Europe and we are keen to make them common place in London. These new signals, which will be a further improvement to the innovative traffic signals at Bow, will provide cyclists with a better eye-level view as to which stage the traffic signals are at."
    Traffic signals at the Bow Roundabout are certainly innovative, but that's because the original set-up didn't work, and the first round of improvements didn't either. Cyclists new to the junction haven't found it obvious precisely how to react, potentially putting themselves in danger if they ride through the second red. And regular cyclists have got blasé, realising that they're several metres ahead of the traffic waiting behind, and slipping out onto the roundabout whenever there's a gap. Some might even have got annoyed, because these innovative signals are 'always red' for cyclists. Either you get stopped at the first set, or you sail through and get stopped at the second. It is perhaps unsurprising that not everybody waits.

    A brand new CCTV camera has been installed outside McDonalds to keep an eye on how cyclists react to the new lights. Last time TfL made tweaks they installed a temporary camera with a generator, but now there's a proper camera with a pole and wiring embedded in the pavement. This is only an experiment, after all, and the DfT are keen to see how things work before rolling things out elsewhere. Eleven other sites in London are pencilled in for these low level cycle signals if all goes well at Bow, and perhaps elsewhere across the country too.

    I should point out that the low level lights aren't yet operational. Shortly after being installed the signals were covered over with black plastic, pending introduction to service later this month. I should also point out that this upgrade does absolutely nothing for pedestrian safety, there still being absolutely no safe means of crossing the roundabout on foot. But for cyclists there'll soon be the chance to ride down to Bow and be a lab rat in the road planners' latest experiment. Or just carry on cycling over the flyover instead, like most of you do, until there's a proven safe solution at ground level.


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