I'm pleased to be able to report that the Cycle Superhighway upgrade works at Bus Stop M appear to be finished.
And it only took ten months.
July 2015: There are 3 eastbound bus stops between Bow Church and the Bow Roundabout, two by the church (E and G) and one by the roundabout (M) August 2015: Bus Stop G is dug up to create a bus stop bypass, so all buses now stop at Bus Stop E. The road alongside is narrowed from three lanes to two. September 2015: Bus Stop M is permanently closed, and its pole is moved to the site of former Bus Stop G. October 2015: Former Bus Stop G reopens, now renamed Bus Stop M. Bus Stop E is permanently closed. The transfer of services from E to G, now M, is spectacularly mismanaged. November 2015: Digital data regarding the three bus stops is mostly fixed. A new lamppost appears beside the bus stop bypass rather than in it, but is not yet switched on. December 2015: Timetables at the stop are updated, and a bus map is installed in the shelter. December 2015 - April 2016: Bus stop bypass appears complete, but remains blocked by orange plastic barriers. May 2016: Bus stop bypass is finally opened. Lamppost is finally switched on. Countdown display installed in bus shelter. Bus stop pole is carted away on the back of a lorry. June 2016: Bus stop pole returns. Bus Stop M and bus stop bypass now fully functional.
Why the pole for Bus Stop M needed to be carted off for four weeks is a mystery, especially just when it looked like everything else was finally complete. But suddenly it's back, seemingly exactly the same as before, and the good people of Bow can now catch their buses as intended.
So I thought this was finally the time to tell you about the other inbuilt design fault at Bus Stop M, which has been glaringly obvious since last summer, but I didn't want to mention it until I was sure we'd reached 'Final Configuration'.
Actually we might not be quite there yet, because I think this yellow board is supposed to have a sign on it, but that's probably just an oversight.
As one of TfL's new bus stop bypasses, you'd expect Bus Stop M to have all the usual features, and indeed it does. Specifically that's a cycle lane round the back of the bus stop, which keeps cyclists safely out of the way of traffic and stopped buses, plus a long thin 'pavement island' beside the road where passengers now wait. The awkward bit for pedestrians is that they now have to cross a bike lane to get to or from the bus stop, and that means crossing the path of oncoming bikes.
TfL have of course considered this and created a crossing point, centrally, where the cycle lane rises up to pavement level and where pedestrians are meant to cross. They don't, of course. Some do, especially those with pushchairs, but the majority wander across the cycle lane wherever's easiest, which is usually either at one end of the island or the other depending on which way they're going. Sometimes they even treat the blue strip as an extension of the bus stop and stand in it while they're waiting.
None of this is good if you're on a bike. But none of this is unusual.
What's unusual is that Bus Stop M doesn't have one island, it has two.
Finding space for a bus stop bypass along this stretch of Bow Road proved problematic. Diverting a cycle lane behind a bus stop eats up a lot of pavement, which narrowed the options somewhat (indeed it's the main reason there's now only one bus stop here where there used to be three). It's also not a good idea to place a bus stop bypass in front of any premises with vehicle access, and here this issue proved insurmountable. The optimal site proved to be inbetween the Bow Arts Trust and the Metropolitan Police Garage, both of which have considerable need of vehicle access, and this has been maintained. But there's also a residential block between the two with car parking round the back, and this clashed directly with the selected bus stop bypass location.
TfL's solution was to chop the bus stop bypass in half, allowing residents to drive in and out through the middle. The front half is slightly longer, and contains the bus stop, the bus shelter and almost all of the passengers. And the back half is shorter, and generally empty, but still technically necessary to create a facility of adequate length.
So here's the rub. If only one bus turns up, no problem, everybody gets on and gets off fine. But if a second bus turns up, the configuration of the bus stop means that the doors open in the middle bit.
Generally the front of the second bus pulls up beside the back of the first bus stop island, so that's fine. Here's a man with a walking stick getting on.
But the middle doors almost always open in the gap, where the cars drive in and out, and where there's no raised pavement. Here's a lady with a pushchair and a small child getting off.
TfL rightly make a big thing of bus stop accessibility, indeed they have a target that "95% of all bus stops in London will be accessible by December 2016". In particular "the ideal range in terms of kerb height is 125–140mm, however 100mm is the minimum for it to be compliant". But arrive on the second bus at Bus Stop M and there's no kerb at all, which fails the accessibility test outright.
Obviously if you're in the second bus in a wheelchair, the driver will wait until the first bus leaves and move forward, or hang back and stop on the other island, so that the ramp can be deployed. In this respect Bus Stop M is probably technically accessible. But generally the second bus pulls in at the gap, and those with limited mobility or pushchairs are forced to step down further than necessary - I've watched it happen many times.
One solution would be for the second bus to always hold back and stop beside the second island. However that's not going to work long term because Bus Stop M has to cope with over 40 buses an hour, so there needs to be space for a third bus to pull up behind.
A simpler solution would be for the first bus to stop a little further ahead than it does now - there's room - which would allow the second bus to stop with all its doors alongside the first island. Indeed a few 'first' bus drivers already do this, stopping beside the front of the bus shelter and leaving sufficient room behind. But most drivers naturally stop beside the back of the bus shelter, because that's where the bus stop pole is, and where it's considerably easier for those waiting all around to board.
Shifting the bus stop pole a few metres forward would entirely solve the "second bus access" problem. Unfortunately it would create fresh issues with boarding the first bus, with access now only from the sharp point of the island, past the shelter, and much harder for those with pushchairs or wheelchairs to reach. It seems there is no optimal solution here, which is why no optimal solution has been imposed.
Still, at least it's better now than it was last autumn when the bus stop bypass was first built. Some idiot planted one of those yellow warning signs by the kerb at the back of the first island, where it totally got in the way of anyone trying to board the second bus. That lasted a couple of months before somebody else thankfully noticed, and had the sign completely removed.
Another issue when the bypass was first built was the lack of direct step-free access from one half of the island to the other. Anyone with mobility issues alighting on the rear island was expected to cross the cycle lane to the pavement, proceed up the pavement and then cross back onto the other island if they wanted to catch another bus. Again, thankfully, somebody spotted this, but it required additional roadworks to introduce dropped kerbs either side of the central gap, wasting funds by having to build these bits of the island twice.
So the final configuration of Bus Stop M is better, but still doesn't quite work. It's a bus stop in two parts, a bus stop with a hole in it, where you might be dropped off onto the kerb or you might not. It's hugely better for cyclists, who can now whizz by in safety, but not quite as good for bus passengers as what was here before. Not everybody wins out when a Cycle Superhighway passes through. Let's hope that TfL learns to mitigate the downsides as plans roll out elsewhere, so that nobody in any other part of London need ever suffer the fiasco that has been Bus Stop M.