diamond geezer

 Monday, November 16, 2015

The northernmost, easternmost, southernmost and westernmost bus stops in London may be well defined, but the centremost is harder to pin down. There are various ways to define the middle, and many kinds of average, so I approached the task with caution. Opening up TfL's database of bus stops I calculated the mean of all 20000 easterly coordinates and the same for the entire column of northerlies. This generated a location approximately halfway down Lambeth Palace Road. Hang on, I thought, I'm only supposed to be considering bus stops in Greater London, so I deleted all the bus stops outside and recalculated. And this gave me a location barely 200 metres away, at the top of Lambeth Palace Road, so I was willing to believe the truth of my calculation. So what follows may not be 100% verifiable, but if you believe the most central bus stop in London is anywhere else, feel free to write your own post about it.

The centremost bus stop in London: St Thomas' Hospital / County Hall (eastbound)
[bus stop ID: 73922] [routes served: 12, 53, 148, 159, 211, 453] [borough: Lambeth] [postcode: SE1 7PD] [map]

The heart of London's red bus network, if averaged bus stop coordinates are to be believed, is almost exactly where you'd hope it is - at the eastern end of Westminster Bridge, within clock-reading distance of Big Ben. What may be harder to come to terms with is that it's in south London, on the wrong side of the river, if only by a few hundred yards. We're in Lambeth, on the approach to Waterloo, somewhere around the middle of Westminster Bridge Road. County Hall is only a few steps away, emblazoned with gold lettering commemorating this as the centre of London local government 1922-1986. On the opposite side of the road looms St Thomas' Hospital, relentlessly utilitarian in style, the nearest building also housing the Florence Nightingale Museum. And just down the street is the former roundabout which used to hold an ugly administrative concrete ziggurat and now holds a swooshy grey luxury hotel. Sounds very central London to me. Even more typically, this bus stop sits outside an independent supermarket stacked with Pringles and cola, namely A. P. Food Express. But this is not the store's true modus operandi, which won't surprise you given the location... an outlet branded 'Westminster Souvenirs'. An entire embankmentful of tourists spill over onto Westminster Bridge a short distance away, and enough make their way down here to ensure that 'My Mum went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt' t-shirts sell reasonably well. And there's another reason that this tack-bazaar exists alongside the bus stop, which is that this stretch of pavement leads a double life. As well as serving half a dozen TfL services and three nightbuses, it's also an official stopping off point for The Original London Sightseeing Tour. Its open-topped double deckers stop several times an hour, as customers swap the commentary and complimentary rain poncho for the opportunity to visit the London Dungeon and Aquarium. A company representative in red jacket lurks by the postcard rack hoping to flog £30 daily tickets... or you can pay 20 times less to take an ordinary bus all the way to Plumstead or Streatham. Swipe your Oyster and, from the centre of London, you could end up almost anywhere.

And there are big changes afoot. Last week TfL announced plans to remodel streets around the area they describe as Westminster Bridge South. Essentially that's the Park Plaza Hotel roundabout and roads on the approach, creating freshly segregated lanes for the benefits of cyclists. There's a lot of this going on in London at the moment, so perhaps it's no surprise to discover that this almost-random bus stop is about to be transformed too. What's currently the spot where buses stop will be paved over to become where passengers wait, what's currently the middle of three lanes of traffic will become where buses stop, and a bus stop bypass for cyclists will be driven safely behind the lot. That's unless the consultation decides otherwise, of course. Expect major transformation next year.

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