6♣ Bethnal Green/Poplar/Stepney Aha, it's my local playing card, specifically the three boroughs that came together to create Tower Hamlets. That's Bethnal Green to the northwest, Stepney to the southwest, and Poplar to the east. What haven't I blogged about on home territory, I wondered. And obviously I came up with this...
Bus Stop M: BOW CHURCH Location: Bow Road, E3 3AR
Former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar Buses: 8, 25, 108, 276, 425, 488, N205
I'm starting at Tower Hamlets' most famous Bus Stop M, opposite St Mary's church in Bow. Until 18 months ago Stop M used to be down by the Bow Flyover, but then a Cycle Superhighway upgrade intervened, and some muppet had the bright idea of shifting the pole 100 metres up the road to replace Bus Stop G. The ensuing systematic incompetence provided me with collateral for dozens of scornfully flabbergasted blogposts, probably enough to write a short novel, although you'll be pleased to hear that the wholesale mess does now seem to be sorted. A countdown display now ticks down the minutes until the next bus arrives, cyclists whizz past trying not to crash into departing passengers, and the bus stop island has a gap in the middle allowing residents of the adjacent apartment block to drive straight through. Legends are made of this.
Bus Stop M: BLACKWALL TUNNEL/EAST INDIA DOCK ROAD Location: Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach, E14 9PR
Former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar Buses: 108
This one's unusual, the last stop before buses on route 108 disappear down into the Blackwall Tunnel. As such it exists in a concrete netherworld, hidden below junction level on a dual carriageway, and accessed only via an unsigned set of stairs. If Tower Hamlets has such a thing as a secret bus stop, this is probably it. Would-be passengers get to wait in a diesel-belching canyon, praying that the next bus appears before their lungs degrade any further and whisks them off to south London. One potential amusement while waiting is to admire the gorgeous London County Council plaque unveiled when the first bore of the tunnel was opened in 1897, bedecked with beardy man and breasty angels, although it's impossible to step back far enough to take a full photograph without being knocked over by a passing vehicle. A special message to The People Who Update Bus Stops: The timetable panel at Bus Stop M features a big yellow notice announcing that This Bus Stop Will Be Closed See Below For Details, with bold arrows pointing downwards to no details whatsoever. What's that all about? Meanwhile you might want to take a look at Bus Stop L on the other side of the overpass, which is no longer served by any buses since route 108 was diverted last year, but which still has a spider map dated 2013 suggesting that it is.
Bus Stop M: STEWART STREET Location: Manchester Road, E14 3LA
Former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar Buses: 135, D7, N550
Welcome to the Isle of Dogs, and the first of two Bus Stop Ms on the looping road round the rim of the peninsula. Due to careful planning, or perhaps a fortunate coincidence, you can't ride a bus from one M to the other because the stops are on opposite sides of the road. This one's near the top of Manchester Road, close to the junction with Marsh Wall, beside one of those ubiquitous Tesco Expresses crammed underneath a block of newbuild flats. There is a bus shelter, positioned a few metres away from where the buses actually pull up, and not especially well used given that both daytime bus routes only continue for another five stops. Sat inside there's a nice view of the postwar council block opposite, assuming you like that kind of thing. A special message to The People Who Update Bus Stops: There are no maps inside the bus shelter, just the default travel information background. Also the timetable for route 135 is missing, and someone's stuck a Tesco 'Reduced £0.40' label over the space where it ought to be.
Bus Stop M: HARBINGER SCHOOL Location: Westferry Road, E14 9YB
Former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar Buses: 277, D7, N550
If you only associate the Isle of Dogs with skyscrapers and high finance, you haven't been down to the southern end recently. A lot of residential streets grew up to serve the docks and wharves, with yuppie infill only replacing those docks and wharves at the end of the last century. This Bus Stop M lurks amid both old and new, and is named after the five storey primary school across the street, because the Victorians knew a thing or two about squeezing education into a limited space. Directly opposite is a glum parade featuring what now passes as the Westferry Post Office, and the 'Bite House' whose menu appears to be four takeaway genres rolled into one. Alight here to see the remains of the slipway which launched the SS Great Eastern.
Bus Stop M: DARLING ROW Location: Cambridge Heath Road, E1 5RS
Former Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green Buses: 106, 254, N253
Here's the only Bus Stop M in Tower Hamlets from which you can catch a bus to another. Both are on the Cambridge Heath Road, five stops apart, with this one down at the Whitechapel end just north of the enormous Sainsbury's. It's also the only Bus Stop M in Tower Hamlets that's closed, or at least it was at the weekend, while the National Grid dig up a long stretch of pavement and poke around some pipes in temporary trenches. Pedestrians face a slalom on and off the pavement, via a series of those yellow shallow plastic ramps, with the bus stop marooned behind a row of cones at the start. Once again the immediate area is characterised by a lot of council blocks, because what did you expect on a basically-random tour of Tower Hamlets?
Bus Stop M: CAMBRIDGE HEATH STATION Location: Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9HA
Former Metropolitan Borough of Bethnal Green Buses: 106, 254, 388, D6, N253
Aha, bullseye on a proper transport mode. This Bus Stop M sits outside the Overground station, technically a few yards down the road from the entrance, more immediately adjacent to a run of railway arches. These are filled with a variety of businesses, most aimed squarely at the motor trade, but the enterprise in the pair behind the bus shelter is something else. Welcome to Hurwundeki, a hairdressing salon that's also a cafe and a furniture store, and by night a Korean restaurant. This portmanteau site is described on the viaduct above as a Lifestyle Space for Hackney, despite not quite being in the right borough, but looks ideal for anyone who wants to buy a tarted up toolbox before getting their roots seen to. Meanwhile stuck to the bus shelter is an A4 sheet advertising a crowdsourced personal trainer service, only £20 an hour, anyone?
Bus Stop M: MILE END STATION Location: Mile End Road, E3 4PH
Former Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Buses: 425
Another station, another bus stop. But this isn't one of Mile End's main bus stops, it's the extra one added down the road in 2008 so that a new bus service could drop off passengers before pulling out and turning right towards Hackney. Other than route 425, the only other buses to stop here are the rail replacement buses all too frequently endured at the weekend when the District line's down. The Cycle Superhighway now zooms past in a segregated lane, severing the waiting zone from the pavement, and generally disregarded by any pedestrians wandering across. Alongside is the Rusty Bike Pub, whose shell has been numerous other failed refreshment establishments over the years, but which was doing a brief roaring trade to West Ham supporters when I passed by on Saturday. A special message to The People Who Update Bus Stops: There's still a poster on the bus stop advertising the West End bus consultation that closed in January, the results of which were announced last week. Have your say? Months too late, mate.
Bus Stop M: STEPNEY GREEN SCHOOL Location: White Horse Lane, E1 4SD
Former Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Buses: 309
Here's bus-stop-as-historical-document, because the adjacent educational establishment isn't called Stepney Green School any more, it's Stepney Green Maths & Computing College. Presumably all that academyspeak was too long to fit on the flag. This part of central Stepney retains a few Victorian worth-a-packet terraces, but also large areas of postwar estate upgraded with recent flats, the chalk and cheese of an estate agent's portfolio. The bench in the shelter isn't especially wide, or comfortable, but at least you get to look at the nice side of the road whilst waiting for the dinky little bus to turn up.
Bus Stop M: CLEGG STREET Location: Prusom Street, E1W 3RS
Former Metropolitan Borough of Stepney Buses: 100
The Wapping waterfront may be packed with high value apartments in former warehouses, but step back a little and you'll discover rather more in the way of ordinary mostly-council housing, and that's where this Bus Stop M stands. Bus route 100 diverts from its course in one direction only to squeeze down Prusom Street to serve a few choice blocks with barely a banker between them, with the LCC shield prominent on one wall opposite the stop. The rectangular area painted on the road appears twice as large as necessary, given you'd never get two buses stopping simultaneously, but that'll be because there are so many parked vehicles hereabouts that the driver could never manoeuvre in and out otherwise. I watched one restaurant delivery cyclist take on the approaching bus with determined menace, although I'm unconvinced that "On your bike" was an appropriate insult to hurl.
And finally, here's a double treat.
Bus Stop MM: ACKROYD DRIVE Location: Bow Common Lane, E3 4BH
Former Metropolitan Borough of Poplar Buses: 323
Mmm, it's Bus Stop Double M, part of a large cluster of 'M Something' bus stops in the Burdett Road area. Bow Common Road has everything from MJ to MN, plus MQ, MU and MW for good measure. MM is a nondescript pole plonked in the pavement outside a former gasworks, too contaminated ever to have been turned over to housing, and through whose gates lorries still rumble serving a hotchpotch of minor businesses within. On the other side of the road are fresh flats, and a building site which should be flats by next year, and a bus stop ready to whisk away any residents who can't be bothered to walk up to Mile End station. There are over 400 bus stops in Tower Hamlets for a reason, threaded along all kinds of backwater bus routes like this, and always a good chance there's a Bus Stop M not too far away.