diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 23, 2018

Open House: Bloomberg European HQ

The Open House programme usually includes one big new City office block the owners want to show off, then never open to the public again. This year the flashy newcomer is Bloomberg, whose nine-storey groundscraper opened last October near Bank station. And if you got in quickly with the pre-booking, they were only too happy to show you round.
My thanks to the Bloomberg guide who dumped their Tour Route cribsheet in the Metro bin at Cannon Street, and made writing the following a bit easier.

Signs that Bloomberg were taking Open House extremely seriously included a) checking ID on the way in b) issuing everyone with a pre-printed nametag on a lanyard c) handing out a deluxe full colour 50 page booklet detailing the vision behind the new building d) providing free drinks and biscuits while waiting for each tour to kick off. To be fair, the tea wasn't great, and the biscuits were the standardly average assortment served in church halls across the country, but on a miserably damp day I had no complaints.

The ground floor of the main building is strikingly unusual, centred around a three-way lobby with swirling wooden walls, a bit like walking into the Ark. They call it the Vortex. Artist Olafur Eliasson has added a silvery metallic triangle at the apex of the ceiling, because the building's big on art and architectural statements. Our group's guide was a smart and enthusiastic employee, probably from the American side of the pond, and she rattled through "Intro to Building", "Intro to Company", "History" and "Art" with excitable vigour.

The correct exit takes you to a bank of glass-walled lifts, these unusual for being located around the perimeter of the building rather than up a central core, leaving plenty of room for enormous open plan spaces on the upper floors. The heart of the building is the 6th floor, nicknamed the Pantry, where employees socialise, nab coffee, grab free fruit and watch big video screens. The atmosphere is beneficent rather than commercial. Europe's largest commercial aquarium graces the space in front of the lifts, for maximum aaaah, and one large breakout zone has a splendid almost-unobstructed view of St Paul's.

Our second guide was from Foster and Partners, the architects responsible, and he got to point at the sustainable sandstone, the aluminium petal ceilings, the bronze ventilation fins and the Green Wall. But it was left to the company employee to do most of the talking, exclaiming how excellent everything was and repeatedly evangelising the man behind it all. Mike Bloomberg opened up the public realm, Mike Bloomberg restored Londinium's Roman heart, Mike Bloomberg single-handedly saved the business who provided the wall fabrics, Mike Bloomberg even rescued the fish... or so it sounded from the number of times she namechecked the blessed chief executive.

She led us into the Executive Dining Room to see some more art, some supposedly ground-breaking microphones and the big table where the fattest cats meet. Their view is of City rooftops, including a Wren church, the terrace at 1 Poultry and the flagpole on the top of the Bank of England, not to mention most of the skyscrapers in the central cluster. Unfortunately the bland tower at 22 Bishopsgate now dominates, and it's barely possible to see the Gherkin any more except as a thin sliver. Still, I bet the wine's good.

The building's most exhilarating internal feature is the ramp which spirals from top to not quite bottom, and which has been included to encourage employees to mix and mingle. It's angled at approximately three strides per step, and links up intriguingly asymmetrically on the way down. It also takes up a heck of lot of space which could otherwise be given over to desks, but given there are over 2000 desks in the building, that's not a problem. Oh to work in a modern office where your worktop adjusts up and down electronically, rather than having to fiddle with some awkwardly placed knob and never quite getting the height right.

It was only when we reached the 5th floor that I realised our guide had never once told us what Bloomberg actually do. We'd heard much of architecture, values and vision, but nothing of core work, not even that this was a financial company. Only when we reached the central studio did she suddenly gush about the daily TV livecast, the almost-automated cameras and the green room "where world leaders wait". My strongest memory of Bloomberg TV is being abroad and discovering it was the only English language channel, and preferring a blank screen to its unctuous diet of market data and investment updates.

Whatever, the building certainly has the wow factor, from the arty internal voids to the Roman temple concealed in its basement. Working conditions are light years away from what the average Londoner currently endures, in this ergonomic hotbed of economic analysis. I'd even go so far as to say it's less office block and more micro-neighbourhood. Hurrah for Open House allowing a few of us inside to sample precisely what state-of-the-art looks like in the City in 2018. And if you weren't fortunate enough to get a peek, ah well, Bloomberg HQ will just have to remain that chunky behemoth with the restaurants underneath you occasionally walk past. [13 photos]

Open House: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

 Saturday, September 22, 2018


Annual Crafts and Produce Show

Saturday 22nd September 2018

Fish Island Community Hall

Exhibits can be staged between 9.00am and 11.45am on the morning of The Show.
Doors open to the public at 2.30pm

Exhibits can be collected after Prize Giving at 4.30pm.
A raffle will follow the Prize Giving


1. Chips, bagged, salted
2. Beans, baked of any variety
3. Unidentified Eastern European, one bowl
4. Wellness smoothie, plant-based
5. Tub of nutrients (£4.99 or more)
6. Vegan burger, bespoke
7. Pad Thai, delivered
8. Container (box, basket, trug) (max 16” x 10”) with a minimum of 6 tinned vegetables (foodbank rules apply)
9. Bagged salad, any vegetable not mentioned in schedule

10. Avocado, smashed
11. Three chillies, balcony-grown
12. Bowl displaying a variety of Caribbean fruit max 12"/30cm diameter (RHS rules apply)
13. Collection of seasonal tinned fruits - any four kinds
14. Vape cloud, any fruit combination

15. Buddleia, mixed (3 spikes)
16. Supermarket bouquet, one variety
17. Hemp, grown indoors this year
18. “An arrangement in a small prosecco glass”
19. “Bow Flyover”. An arrangement with a choice of herbs, berries and foliage.
20. “Brexit”. No accessories. (max. size 16"/40cm depth and width. No height restriction)

21. Bramble jelly, sourced from canal towpath (one jar)
22. Five pop-up sausage rolls, gluten-free
23. Bread, hand-purchased (1lb/400 grams)
24. Gin and tonic, individually curated
25. Jalfrezi, street-cooked, tempered with fresh garlic, served in an iron skillet, hot
26. Afternoon tea for two. A selection of 4 items, sweet and savoury, to be presented in an area max. 20"/50cm x 15"/38cm. Judged on presentation and price.

Dizzee Rascal trophy - most points in classes 27-30
27. Two breast pieces, floured and fried, in a cardboard box
28. Three wings, halal, excessively spiced
29. Five identical nuggets, not more than 1½” in diameter
30. Selection of three individual dips, peng

31. Three pills, white, assorted
32. Three pills, white, adulterated
33. Three pills, coloured, enhanced
34. Powder, white, wrapped (1/8)

35. Spliff, phattest
36. Coffee, best design in froth
37. Needlework, tattooed name of offspring (including birthdate)
38. Needlework, most ill-advised piercing
39. Crocheted item, for manbun or topknot
40. Knitted accessory, non-binary

41. Painting using fruit or vegetables to depict the dangers of air pollution
42. A funny dinosaur made from recycled jars and bottles
43. Most exotic Minecraft landscape
44. Miniature garden in a seed tray, max. size 15"/38cm x 10"/24cm, can include accessories such as cigarette butts, sweet wrappers etc.
45. Best dressed potato which could represent a Disney Princess or Marvel Superhero (max size 6"/15cm)

46. Self
47. Self, with bezzie
48. Self, with plate of food
49. 'Our night out'
50. Kitten or puppy (animated gif)

51. Binbags, pile of three
52. Chewing gum, presented on slab
53. Phlegm, three pools
54. Microwave, discarded
55. Graffiti, tagged
56. Bicycle, stolen
57. Bagged turd, canine-sourced

 Friday, September 21, 2018

Yesterday Art On The Underground installed a photo-collage above the entrance to Brixton station. It's by Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby, and depicts a post-Windrush generation seated in front of wallpaper incorporating images of past lives. The artwork's conveniently unobstructed in the photograph circulated with the press release. It's a lot harder to capture in the tumult of passengers thronging up and down the stairs.

Backing up this commission is the simultaneous publication of a Brixton Mural Map, celebrating a long tradition of wall-painting by local Lambeth communities. Seven Brixton murals are featured, in comprehensive and colourful detail, along with a map to help you track them all down. It's all been splendidly produced. Copies are supposed to be available in the racks at Brixton station, but they weren't there on launch day, so it's just as well I'd downloaded a digital copy in advance.

The map's just the right side of schematic, so I didn't quite get lost tracking the murals down. The joyful faces of Children At Play have adorned the back of the O2 Academy since it was the Astoria. Nuclear Dawn first faced Coldharbour Lane in 1981, its mushroomed skeleton now part-obscured behind a tree in a parking lot. The other Brixton station has boasted market-showcase murals since 1986. All the background to their origination is explained in the 16 page booklet, along with pictures of some of Brixton's lost murals, long since painted over or demolished.

My favourite was up Acre Lane, or rather just off it, on the side wall of a wonderfully ordinary terraced house. Big Splash presents a sylvan view of Brixton on the banks of the Effra, with waterfowl and swimmers in the foreground, and a multiracial collection of characters staring down from windows above. One of the windows is real, and sensibly net-curtained. If you do choose to track this lot down, I'll warn you it's neither an easy nor a brief ramble, but you do pick up an alluringly earthy flavour of Brixton's lively culture on the way round. Bravo.

Five years ago, when TfL revived the idea of a Bakerloo line extension, residents of Camberwell dared to dream. One of the two options on the table was routed through their neck of the woods, bringing a potential rail connection to an area whose last station closed in 1916. Wheels grind slowly, so it took a couple of years for TfL to announce that their chosen route wasn't via Camberwell, it was down the Old Kent Road. Never mind, they said, we'll look into the feasibility of reinstating the station that closed 100 years previously, and deliver a business case in due course.
Camberwell remains not as well connected as it could be, so I've been off to visit a) places where old stations used to be b) the bit of Camberwell that's over a mile from any station c) places where new stations might be built.
Only this month has that business case finally seen the light of day, in a 110-page report which brought good and bad news. In good news, TfL investigated eight different solutions to ending Camberwell's railway isolation (including boosting services at Loughborough Junction, improving cycle links and resuscitating the Cross River Tram) and concluded that a new Thameslink station was indeed the optimal option. In good news, they noted there was a clear strategic case for the station at a local level, because it would stimulate development and increase connectivity. But in bad news, because of the economic environment we now live in, the project is dead.
"This report concludes that a reinstated National Rail station at Camberwell would deliver local benefits but in overall terms would not be a good use of public funds at this time."
Firstly, there wasn't enough scope for new housing near the new station (maybe 300 to 400 homes). Secondly, the station would cost too much to build (an estimated £36m for the barest-boned option). Thirdly, the funding gap would therefore be enormous ("with no obvious ways of closing it"). Fourthly, there'd be "disbenefits" for commuters on the Sevenoaks line (whose journeys would become two minutes longer). And fifthly, bringing all of that together, the all-important Benefit-Cost Ratio was actually negative (no better than -0.34:1). Even the defunct Metropolitan line extension had a better BCR than that.
"While the provision of the station would clearly improve connectivity to surrounding areas, and central London, the lack of development opportunities and negative impact on existing rail users currently outweigh the benefits to Camberwell. This would make any decision to proceed with this project on the current basis questionable in terms of the use of increasingly scarce public funds."
Camberwell has fallen foul of the mayoral necessity that major transport works are only justified if they unlock residential and/or commercial growth. The Northern line extension is driving the phenomenal uplift of Nine Elms and Battersea. The Overground's eastern extension is solely to bring tens of thousands of homes to Barking Riverside. The proposed Bakerloo line extension has its eye on various sites along the Old Kent Road. Camberwell alas already exists, so its residents are due nothing.

This map shows existing stations in the local area, marked in red, and the rail desert that exists between them. The two brown blobs are the proposed stations on the Bakerloo line extension, which will shrink that desert on the northern side. But that still leaves the blue circle without rail access, the dot in the middle being at least 20 minutes walk from any station. Ironically that blue dot is very close to the Thameslink railway line, but adding a station on the viaduct here would be prohibitively expensive, and hasn't even been considered. Meanwhile the yellow dot is the site of the proposed Camberwell station, so you can see how not-very-brilliantly located it actually was.

Bad luck Camberwell. Best hope they don't slash your buses.

 Thursday, September 20, 2018

1 mile from central London

The centre of London is generally taken to be Charing Cross, specifically the statue of Charles I in the middle of the roundabout. For today's post, I've visited the points one mile due north, one mile due east, one mile due south and one mile due west, to see what's there. Regular readers will recognise this as another in my long-running series "Using Some Kind Of Geographical Rationale To Pick Pseudo-Random Locations In The Capital And Reporting Back On What I Find".

ONE MILE NORTH: Russell Square
(western corner, by the Cabmen's Shelter)

The Little Green Hut in the corner of Russell Square is one of just 13 remaining Victorian shelters providing rest and sustenance for London's cabbies. They get to hide away inside with a cuppa and a fry-up, but anyone can step up to the hatch and place an order. A cup of tea's a quid and the holy grail of an egg and bacon roll is £3.20, the same price as a liver sausage baguette. The hut's exterior is draped with hanging baskets, tubs and bunting, while two tubs of geraniums brighten the outside benches. Why so many students are heading back to lectures clutching a Costa remains a mystery.

The red phone box by the garden gates is locked. Inside are a stool, a shelf and a couple of power points, courtesy of the Pod Works mini-office start-up, although they've gone bust so the computer screen is missing and the clock's stuck on 00:00. At least ten trucks and trailers are parked around the square facing Senate House, hired from Bristol TV Film Services, whose catering staff are tidying away the serving trays after the lunchtime rush. I don't know what they're filming, but the names stuck to the dressing room doors suggest I should look out for Camille, Heather, Jake and Sebastian in the credits at a later date.

Through the gates, Humphrey Repton's restored gardens are primed for relaxation and recuperation. A woman sits cross-legged on the grass beside a suitcase, reading a book. The approach of a sleek black labrador startles a group of pigeons. A small boy kicks through the bare minimum of fallen leaves. Four office workers arrive in sports clothes and proceed to jump, squat, jog and wave their arms, or indeed any other athletic movement the fifth member directs them to perform. A whiff of spliff walks by. Two students are practising their lines from a playbook. A woman on an electric tricycle circles the lawn before spotting an empty bench and occupying it with a beer and a sandwich. Someone's attempting one last sunbathe before autumn draws in. Plane trees rustle. Fountains gush.

ONE MILE EAST: Blackfriars Road
(just south of Blackfriars Bridge)

Queues of cars and vans and trucks and taxis line up in four directions, awaiting permission for onward passage. Cyclists have their own separate highway, busy enough that when a recovery truck driver jumps the lights and attempts to drive across it, a display of raised fists holds him back. The wind whips one man's spectacles into the path of a stalled taxi, which thankfully sticks at red long enough for the myopic stooge to locate his prey. A woman walks past clutching six kitchen rolls, a Kinder Bueno and two pints of milk. A cloud of unseen raspberry vapour lingers. Whoever commissioned the streetsigns which spell out 'Blackfriars Road' did so in a jarringly over-emboldened typeface.

Utterly dominant hereabouts is the 52-storey boomerang of One Blackfriars, whose marketing team's desire that Londoners would come to call it The Vase has understandably not come to pass. Those with business or an apartment within disappear through its revolving doors into a luxurious lobby. Mere hoi polloi can perch outside on the rim of what passes as a garden - three raised beds filled with immaculate plants and a wet riser inlet disguised as a silver globe. The white flowers in that tasteful tub at the rear turn out to be artificial. Sealed off behind temporary barriers is the low-rise chunk of the development, Sales And Marketing Suite Now Open.

Not to be outdone, the opposite side of the road awaits transformation into Bankside Quarter, a significant destination gateway (insert your own buzzword here). The previous office blocks were deemed wasted potential so have been demolished, and will soon arise as a cluster of rigidly orthogonal towers with no aesthetic sympathy for the giant banana across the way. 40% of future residents will get a parking space, because transport policies are for flouting, and Southwark council are more than happy with the windfall. A tiny suggestion box is attached to the hoardings, although it's too late to complain now.

ONE MILE SOUTH: John Islip Street, Millbank
(just north of Tate Britain, by the junction with Marsham Street)

One road back from Millbank, all is quiet. John Islip Street is a road of two halves divided, roughly at the point where I'm standing, into an unchanged older part and a sleeker modern quarter. The older part includes what looks very much like an atypical council estate, with four parallel blocks named after painters, the exterior perfectly maintained and the courtyard sparkling with potted flowers. Across the street is Tate Britain's administrative building, where the offices are, with a splendid redbrick frontage topped by a sugar-magnate crest. Lorries creep in up the side. Occasionally a lowly member of staff pushes the binbags out on a trolley.

Across the fault line is Millbank Court, a quintessentially 1970s concrete apartment block with pebbledash inserts, and a first floor lobby extending forwards between granite slabs. It looks the ideal place for a secret agent's liaison - MI5 are based just around the corner - or somewhere a provincial parliamentarian might have their pied à terre. The DoubleTree Hilton is a more recent intrusion, all glass and taxi bay, whose menu looks reasonably priced until you spot the small print saying "dishes are small and designed to share - we recommend three per person".

The pavement outside Abell House has been sprayed with red, white and blue marks, including the location of an Empty Duct. A helicopter flies across. Three workmen sit chatting on a gap in the topiary, then move to stand outside a garage door, then disappear. A stream of civil servants and Burberry employees drip down from the top of the street. It's not hard to deduce who's who.

ONE MILE WEST: Audley Square, Mayfair
(on South Audley Street, behind the Dorchester)

Mayfair is a different world. Its streets are old and narrow, and plied by a better class of vehicle. Five consecutive taxis drive towards me along South Audley Street, which I suspect isn't in any way abnormal. One drops off a headscarved woman outside The Embassy Of The State of Qatar, where the doorman checks she has appropriate business to be allowed inside. Across the road is a Merc with diplomatic plates, and another with the personalised registration QTR 1 (the first letter of which must've involved some high-level string-pulling). Yet another Merc is parked up round the corner with a chauffeur at its wheel, awaiting the call to action.

Most of the men who walk by are middle-aged, wearing suits in fractionally different shades of blue. One couple are carrying a property portfolio. The handsome sandstone building at number 2 Audley Square, with the cornucopia relief, has been owned by the University Women's Club since 1921. A Union Jack is wrapped several times around its flagpole. The sash-windowed townhouse nextdoor at number 3 is perfectly presented, and conceals a luxury 5-bed dwelling with knockthroughs and basement swimming pool behind its flawless facade. But number 4 is missing, as are the former 5, 6 and 7, because the remainder of Audley Square is a levelled demolition site behind a wall of blue hoardings.

What's been taken down is a public multi-storey car park inserted in 1962 and the disused petrol filling station behind, to make way for "the finest residential apartment building (and facilities) ever built in Mayfair and in the wider London area". The billionaire speculator making this massive boast is John Caudwell, former owner of Phones4U, whose snail's pace project was only given the go-ahead when he agreed to build some affordable housing three streets away in a former street-sweeping depot. He bought the site for £155m, but hopes to flog the three penthouses for £100m each, which should make the lower 27 apartments pure profit. One mile from the centre of London, a whole lot of shenanigans are going on.

I suspect this is a numerical feature which could run and run...

 Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Anorak Corner [bus edition]

Normally Anorak Corner means trains or tubes. But this week TfL published their latest annual spreadsheet listing the number of passengers using every London bus route, so it's time for a change. Data is for April 2017 - March 2018. Comparisons are with the previous year.

London's ten busiest bus routes (2017/18)
  1) 25 Oxford Circus - Ilford (20.3m)
18 Euston - Sudbury (17.1m)
29 Trafalgar Square - Wood Green (15.2m)
149 London Bridge - Edmonton Green (14.1m)
↑1 140 Harrow Weald - Heathrow (13.3m)
↓1 207 White City - Southall (13.0m)
243 Waterloo - Wood Green (12.7m)
↑2 86 Stratford - Romford (12.5m)
  9) ↑* 36 Queens Park - New Cross Gate (12.1m)
↓2 279 Manor House - Waltham Cross (11.5m)

The next ten: 5, 38, 53, 109, 141, 254, 253, 266, 43, 55

Contrary to expectations the 25 remains London's busiest bus route, indeed it's put on almost 2 million extra passengers since last year. Also making a strong showing is the 86, which shadows the 25 between Stratford and Ilford, confirming this as a key bus corridor. The other part of the capital with a dominant presence is north London, specifically buses from central London towards Haringey and Enfield. South London doesn't really get a look in, even if you extend your gaze to the top 20. Seventeen buses managed to convey more than ten million passengers.

London's ten least busy bus routes (2017/18)
  1) 399 Barnet - Hadley Wood (11,480)
389 Barnet - Underhill (17,319)
H3 Golders Green - Hilltop (24,115)
↑1 R10 Orpington - Orpington ↻ (27,522)
↓1 W10 Enfield - Crews Hill (28,779)
R5 Orpington - Orpington ↺ (31,804)
385 Chingford - Crooked Billet (36,004)
347 Romford - Ockendon (44,033)
  9) 375 Romford - Passingford Bridge (63,114)
549 South Woodford - Loughton (67,198)

The next ten: R8, 327, 404, 146, 15H, U10, 467, R2, 464, 359

These are all the usual suspects, indeed the top 10's barely shifted since last year. At the top are a pair of brief turns in Barnet, connecting daytime residents to the shops. All these buses are infrequent, and all are peripheral with the exception of the H3 round Hampstead Garden Suburb. The circular R5/R10 in rural Bromley continues to be more popular anti-clockwise than clockwise. You really ought to ride some of these minor shuttles one day. Route 25 is busier than the fifty least used buses put together.

London's ten most travelled bus routes (2017/18)
  1) 25 Oxford Circus - Ilford (2,980,000km)
↑2 38 Victoria - Clapton (2,400,000km)
↓1 140 Harrow Weald - Heathrow (2,360,000km)
↓1 18 Euston - Sudbury (2,200,000km)
↑2 53 Whitehall - Plumstead (1,970,000km)
111 Kingston - Heathrow (1,970,000km)
↑* 113 Oxford Circus - Edgware (1,900,000km)
↑1 5 Canning Town - Romford (1,890,000km)
  9) ↑1 36 Queens Park - New Cross Gate (1,880,000km)
↑2 86 Stratford - Romford (1,840,000km)

This is a chart of the routes whose vehicles travelled the greatest distance in one year. Long distance buses (like the 53 and 140) and high frequency buses (like the 18 and 38) tend to travel the furthest. Route 25 is again the clear winner, although lost half its buses this week so won't appear so highly in future. Route 113 has leapt more than 100 places since last year to enter the top 10, after being extended from Marble Arch to Oxford Circus at greater frequency. Route 73 has crashed out of the top 5 after being cut back from Victoria to Oxford Circus.

London's ten most crowded bus routes (2017/18)
  1) W7 Finsbury Park - Muswell Hill (11 passengers per km)
507 Victoria - Waterloo (9.1)
41 Archway - Tottenham Hale (9.0)
69 Canning Town - Walthamstow (8.9)
330 Canning Town - Forest Gate (8.7)
104 Stratford -Manor Park (8.7)
29 Trafalgar Square - Wood Green (8.5)
58 East Ham - Walthamstow (8.5)
  9) 109 Brixton - Croydon (8.3)
149 London Bridge - Edmonton Green (8.2)

This Top 10 is determined by dividing the number of passengers by the number of km travelled to get a 'number of passengers per km'. The higher the number, the less likely it is you'll be able to find a seat. By this measure the most crowded bus is the W7 which, along with the 41, delivers residents of Muswell Hill and Crouch End to their nearest tube stations. The 507 'Red Arrow' commuter route really packs them in during peak hours. Note the extremely strong presence of the London borough of Newham in this top 10, where buses are still the favoured way of getting around. Most London bus routes carry 2-5 passengers per km.

London's ten emptiest buses: R5, R10, H3, 399, R8, 146, R7, R2, 347, 375

The ten bus routes with the greatest annual increase in passengers: EL3, R7, 13, 483, 113, 388, 139, 390, R3, R11
The ten bus routes with the greatest annual decrease in passengers: 100, R2, 73, 83, 350, R1, 9, 436, C2, 167

Don't read too much into these last two lists. Almost all the big increases and decreases in passenger numbers since last year are the result of TfL changing the route. The 388 got extended from Blackfriars to Elephant & Castle, so its numbers went up 43%. The 100 got cut back from Elephant & Castle to London Wall so its numbers went down 47%. The EL3 and 483 were new in 2016/17, so this is their first full year of data. A lot of 'R' buses round Orpington got chopped and changed, which explains their appearance. Meanwhile half of all London bus routes have passenger numbers within 3% of last year's total. So don't read too much into this.

n.b. TfL have 'rebased' all their ridership numbers this year.They've done this "to improve accuracy of estimating the number of passengers who may not have touched in, in particular those using paper tickets or under-11s." To ensure back compatibility, they've also published last year's figures with the new methodology, which is helpful for comparison purposes. Most bus routes now have 6-8% more passengers than they would have done under the old system. But it won't have greatly affected today's top 10s.

London's ten busiest nightbuses: N29, N15, 25, N9, N18, N207, N38, N279, N98, N8
London's ten least busy nightbuses: H37, E1, H32, 307, 132, 154, 486, 114, 319, 296

London's ten busiest single deckers: 72, 235, W15, 170, C10, 195, C11, 276, 316, 214
London's ten least busy double deckers: 467, X68, 317, 498, 129, 412, 492, 215, 406, 418

London's ten busiest lettered buses: W3, E3, EL1, W7, E8, W15, C10, E2, C11, EL2
South London's ten busiest buses: 36, 53, 109, 12, 185, 93, 65, 2, 57, 133
London's ten least busy two-digit buses: 20, 61, 66, 95, 42, 26, 70, 71, 89, 99
London's busiest 400-and-something buses: 427, 468, 472, 453, 483, 436, 476, 422, 452, 414

London's most average bus: 261 Lewisham - Locksbottom (4 million passengers, 900,000km)

 Tuesday, September 18, 2018

(Sorry, today's post goes on a bit)

Stratford's had a one-way gyratory for 50 years.

But yesterday things started to change, big time. Following a consultation and a mammoth amount of roadworks, Broadway has been switched back to two-way traffic, and everyone's trying to get used to exactly what that means.

These red and white barriers are temporary at present, to keep everyone on the correct side of the road. God help us when they take them away.

Here's a rough schematic map of the stage we're at.

Previously all the blue arrows were one-way, clockwise only. As of Monday morning, traffic along Broadway now runs both ways (with two westbound lanes but only one eastbound). The red arrows depict junctions where only certain turns are possible. Traffic heading east along Broadway can't exit at Tramway Avenue, and can only continue onwards towards Ilford at the far end. Meanwhile traffic emerging from Tramway Avenue can only turn left, same as before, no change there.

Importantly, this is only stage 1 of the transformation. Stage two is scheduled for five weeks time, when all the one-way blue arrows become two-way blue arrows, and the gyratory essentially disappears. General roadworks and finishing touches will continue until summer 2019.

If you'd like more specific detail, I wrote about the road changes in November 2016 when they were at the consultation stage, and I wrote about the bus changes in June 2017 when they were at the consultation stage. Essentially, all the consultation proposals for roads and buses have been accepted in full.

I've been out to see how things are going, once in the middle of the day and again in the evening rush. I think it's fair to say that things are still bedding in. From what I saw, car drivers had one set of problems, cyclists had another set of problems, pedestrians had another set of problems and bus passengers had another set of problems.

And I can outline a number of these problems by looking at the one remodelled junction that's supposedly complete - bottom centre on the map - where Tramway Avenue meets Broadway.

This junction used to be a lot more convoluted, with threads of traffic cutting all over the place and a separate access road for buses entering Stratford. But from Monday it's become a plain T-junction, and is notionally much simpler... though not necessarily good. Things are good if you're travelling east. Things are OK if you're a vehicle travelling west. Things are slow if you're a cyclist travelling west, or a pedestrian trying to cross the road. But if you're a vehicle entering Stratford up Tramway Avenue it's a disaster, thanks to miserly phasing of the lights.

Here's how the phasing of the lights works. Green means a green light phase, and red means a red light phase. Each column is approximately 14 seconds long. The entire cycle lasts just under a minute and a half before repeating. And, as you can see, some of the green phases are a lot shorter than the others.

 14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec
Broadway (W)
↰↑ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (E)
↑ 🚗 🚌 🚲      
Broadway (E)
↱ 🚌      
Tramway Ave
↰ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (W)
↑ 🚲                
Crossing🚶 🚶 🚶 🚶                

For half the time, traffic flows freely east and west along Broadway. That bit's fine. Then there's a 14 second slot when traffic continues flowing east, and manoeuvring in and out of Tramway Avenue occurs. And then there's the bit where pedestrians and cyclists heading west get their turn... assuming they haven't got bored and tried crossing already.

14 seconds isn't very long to get a queue of traffic out of a busy side road like Tramway Avenue. In particular it isn't long when many of the vehicles are buses attempting to make a left turn. I couldn't believe how slowly things were going, so I watched ten times to see how many vehicles got out when the lights were green. Once seven vehicles made it out, because a couple of them nipped through naughtily on red. Once only one vehicle made it out, because traffic was backing up on Broadway. But the average was definitely four, just four, which quite frankly isn't enough.

An extra complication is that traffic turning left out of Tramway Avenue onto Broadway immediately comes across another set of lights for a pedestrian crossing, which is at red. The red light has an extended cover on the front because it's only meant to be seen by traffic on Broadway, but I observed numerous drivers from Tramway Avenue thinking the red light was for them and stopping, halting all the traffic coming up behind. Because it was Day 1, the contractors had a man standing ready beside each set of lights in case of mishap, and he jumped out every time to urge the stopped car forward. But unless someone manages to shield the lights better, this badly-signalled misunderstanding is going to happen a lot, and hold up the traffic even worse than it already is.

At lunchtime the queue of vehicles on Tramway Avenue was about 30 vehicles long, and in the rush hour more like 50. When only four cars are getting through the lights at a time, every 90 seconds, that's a very slow queue. I sat in that queue on a bus for over ten minutes, without means of escape, and had I tried the same thing after work I suspect it would have been more like 20 minutes. I watched several bus drivers opening their doors early and letting passengers out to walk the last bit, so calamitous was the delay. Unless something is tweaked, and soon, traffic from Plaistow faces a perma-jammed bus-disabling bottleneck.

As for pedestrians, they used to have it easier, with traffic in only one direction to look out for. Now it's two way so there are vehicles heading everywhere, which means pedestrians are supposed to wait until the end of the 90 second cycle for their 18 second crossing phase. This being east London, obviously not everybody waits. In particular, people now spot gaps where they can dash halfway across, then wait in the middle of the road for another gap to get them to the other side. Unfortunately the new road layout hasn't been designed with refuges in the middle, only tiny islands where the traffic lights sit, the end result being lots of people hovering in the middle of the road where they're not supposed to be. This may not end well.

This is particularly troublesome opposite the Town Hall which has the teensiest space to wait. A particularly 'fun' moment came when one lady stopped and waited in front of the temporary No Entry sign which is supposed to warn vehicles not to enter the new eastbound lane. A motorbike duly entered the new eastbound lane, having not seen the sign, and met some surprised traffic further down the road. The most popular time for jaywalking is the lull immediately after westbound traffic on Broadway ceases, which is just before traffic from Tramway Avenue comes round the corner, which is another reason why those drivers are stopping at that red light they're not supposed to be stopping at, stalling the traffic flow.

Meanwhile, how are cyclists doing at this particular junction? Pretty well, given that one former lane of traffic has effectively been donated for their use, either recently or when Cycle Superhighway 2 was upgraded. Some lovely segregated lanes have been carved out both east and west, albeit with a temporary unfinished wiggle outside the Stratford Centre. But there is a big catch, which is that the cycle lanes aren't always obviously distinguishable from the pavement, so you get a lot of oblivious pedestrians standing in them.

It's not the pedestrians' fault. They're forced to cross cycle lanes when crossing the road or waiting for a bus, now that bus stop bypasses are the norm, and points of overlap have not been clearly marked. I found myself standing in a cycle lane without realising on a number of occasions, and was yelled at by a miserable old man who couldn't understand why someone would be blocking his right of way on the first morning it had been introduced. When it's eventually complete, the eastbound cycle lane past the Stratford Centre and round the obelisk looks like it may suffer from considerable misunderstood obstruction.

I admit, I still don't understand this section.

Enough of Tramway Avenue, because there's a second road junction where things are almost complete, and that's where Broadway meets Stratford High Street meets Great Eastern Road (bottom left on my original map). This used to be a sort-of roundabout with a sculpture in the middle, but the introduction of two-way traffic means it's been changed into a T-junction instead.

And the bad thing about a T-junction is that sequencing the traffic lights becomes more complicated. Previously traffic had generous signal timings, pausing occasionally to allow pedestrians and cyclists across. Now each of the three arms needs its own non-conflicting phase, which means much longer for vehicles to wait, and all the pedestrian movements bundled up at the end. Like so.
I'm ignoring traffic coming out of Great Eastern Road, because at the moment it's only buses.

 14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec
High Street (E)
↰ 🚗 🚌      
High Street (E)
↑ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (W)
↑ 🚗 🚌 🚲      
Broadway (W)
↱ 🚗 🚌      
High Street (E)
↰↑ 🚲                
Crossing🚶 🚶 🚶 🚶                

Traffic flowing west along Broadway and continuing towards the Bow Roundabout gets the best deal, freely flowing for half the time. That's still worse than it used to be, but better than everyone else. Traffic arriving along Stratford High Street from the Bow Roundabout is getting a rawer deal. Previously they were more likely to sail through on green than be stopped, but now the lights are at red at least two-thirds of the time, which means slower flow and longer journeys.

Specifically, traffic arriving up Stratford High Street used to always turn left, which kept things simple. But now it has to get into the correct lane - left hand lane for Leyton and the station, right hand lane for Ilford. Traffic isn't yet very good at getting into the correct lane, because the signs are small and yellow, and the arrows on the road appear a bit too late.

For the car at the front of the queue, the sole indication that traffic is allowed to turn left is a single green filter on one of the three sets of lights. From what I've seen, that driver often doesn't notice, or might be in the wrong lane, which risks this entire 14 second phase being wasted. Only then does the full set of lights go green, and everyone moves forward... or realises they're in the wrong lane and tries to manoeuvre into the right lane and slows everybody down and oh damn the lights have changed back to red again. It's by no means as bad as the Tramway Avenue junction, and traffic isn't backing up anywhere near as far, but I reckon it'll make bus journeys from Bow to Stratford about two minutes longer. This news has not made my day.

Cyclists heading east, and pedestrians, are expected to wait until the end of the 1½ minute cycle before being able to cross. I watched a number of cyclists and pedestrians ignoring the lights and crossing anyway in a gap in the traffic, because only mugs wait an extra minute when they don't need to. A number of cyclists then joined the traffic, rather than negotiating the amusing Toytown maze in the centre of the road junction like they were supposed to. I can't say I blame them. However, cyclists joining the traffic down Broadway will then have discovered they can't re-enter the cycle lane because it's rigidly segregated, so are stuck in the main traffic all the way down to the second set of lights. As usual, what we have here is cycling infrastructure designed for angels, being used by ordinary human beings.

And what of buses? A big campaign is currently underway in Stratford to alert passengers that their bus may now be stopping somewhere different from where it used to stop. Every bus stop has been decorated with a special yellow map, the bus station is liberally emblazoned with posters, printed bus stop maps were being distributed in A4 format, and a digital map is available here, if you're interested. In particular, buses are now taking full advantage of two-way traffic on Broadway, and the old bus lane round the back of St John's church has been permanently closed. And then there's the tweaking of the bus station...

Until yesterday the bus station had four bus stops, under cover, labelled A to D. Stop A was for buses towards Stratford City and Maryland, B for Ilford, C for Bow and D for Plaistow. But buses towards Bow no longer go all the way around the gyratory, so can no longer have a bus stop on the outside of the bus station, so now have a new stop on the inside labelled E. Stop E is right outside the station, alongside Robert the steam loco. Stop E has one normal-sized bus shelter, not a decent roof, so expect to get wet if it rains. Stop E has a big poster on the back of its bus shelter which says No Access To Bus Station, which nobody has yet thought to take down. At present only the D8 and the 276 stop at stop E - the 25 and 425 will be along later - which means there's currently no single stop from which all buses to Bow can be caught. It's none of it ideal.

To make way for stop E, the special 'Alighting only' bus stop where passengers are dropped off outside the station has been halved in size. The new stop is halfway down, giving disembarking hordes further to walk, and clogs up if more than three buses try to use it. Many bus drivers don't realise the alighting point has moved and are still dropping off passengers at stop E instead. For passengers on route 276 the bus stop before stop E is half a mile back opposite Stratford Park, because there's no longer a stop on or near Broadway, which is madness. Meanwhile stop B, where Bow buses used to stop, has been allocated to routes 241 and 308 instead, i.e. services towards Stratford City, but none of the new maps actually mention this. As for Stop P, awkwardly located on the opposite side of the road, that won't be seeing any buses until the end of next month.

Finally I should mention the extension of the 425 to Ilford, because nobody at TfL has. Fresh tiles have appeared on bus stops, but no new timetables have appeared anywhere, and no updated route maps have been posted. The 425 has simply been extended to Ilford in the hope that passengers will work out what's going on... which they very much haven't yet. They stand bemused when a 425 turns up, maybe checking for a timetable that isn't there. They flag down a packed 25 rather than a half-empty 425, when both are going to the same place. Occasionally they ask the driver where she's going, experience a moment of revelation and hop on. People will twig eventually, but for now you're guaranteed a quicker journey on the 425 than the 25 because it stops less often for fewer passengers.

What a glorious mess the semi-removal of the Stratford gyratory has been so far. In places brilliant, enabling more direct journeys and adding safer cycling lanes. In places depressing, introducing convoluted signal phasing and making everyone wait longer. In other places disastrous, jamming up the Plaistow road and encouraging unsafe pedestrian dashes. And of course all as yet unfinished, so with plenty of time for further change, hopefully very much for the better.

 Monday, September 17, 2018

Well this is absolutely splendid.

The studio/home of a nonagenarian sculptor, a deer's leap from Richmond Park, now open as a museum.
And really quite splendid.

Its owner, Dora Gordine, deserves a quick timeline before we go inside.
1895: Born in Latvia.
1912: Moved with the family to Estonia. Started sculpting.
1924: Moved to Paris to study. Became an acclaimed sculptor.
1930: Moved to Singapore to marry a doctor. Still sculpting.
1936: Moved to London to marry an aristocrat. Still sculpting.
1936: Dora and Richard built 'Dorich House' to sculpt in.
1966: Richard died. Dora distraught, but sculpted on.
1991: Died in Kingston.
It was a condition of Dora's will that her house be preserved complete with its contents, although the usual heritage parties weren't interested. Thankfully, after three awkwardly empty years in which squatters and a BBC film crew damaged the building, Kingston University stepped in. To pay for the restoration they flogged most of Dora and Richard's collection of fine Russian art, annoyingly just before certain Russians became immensely wealthy and would have paid a fortune for it. Today the house is open as Dorich House Museum three days a week - Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays - and is, as I may have mentioned, splendid.

Dorich House is on Kingston Vale, near the Robin Hood roundabout on the A3, but up the road so substantially quieter. Originally it was an orchard. Richard and Dora liked the spot for its high ground and open aspect, and it's still remarkably secluded. The back wall of Richmond Park runs along the back of the garden. An ancient law decrees that no building may infringe within sixteen feet six inches of the park wall, a distance known poetically as a deer's leap - the distance beyond which an escaping animal could no longer be hunted. Alas the real reason is more mundane - ensuring access for routine maintenance. One corner of Dorich House nudges up as close as it can.

Dorich House Museum is a "ring the doorbell for entry" kind of place. Be patient, someone'll come. From the hallway it looks much like any slightly well-to-do interwar home. But it's a cleverer design than that, a functional stack of rooms, with studios and utilities on the lower two floors, then living quarters on top of that, then stairs to an open roof terrace.

Dora's downstairs studio was her 'messy' one, where clay was moulded and bronzes cast, including the crowd of sculpted heads staring out from the shelves on one wall. This is now an orientation room, with display boards detailing Dora's life, as well as somewhere to sit down and watch a biographical video. Blimey, her history is a lot more fascinating than my sketchy timeline suggests. Unexpected acclaim, astute Nazi-dodging, Far Eastern Grand Designs, a mysteriously unconsummated first marriage, appearing on the BBC Home Service in the 1940s to give tips on home design, and getting locked in while burglars stole choice Russian artefacts from her collection, to mention just a little of it.

On the first floor there are only two rooms, both large, facing each other across a central landing. To the north was Dora's main sculpting studio, where models slipped off their clothes and posed, and all the hard creative work took place. Dame Edith Evans looks particularly svelte as a Standing Female Nude, and you'd never guess the workman in the bronze relief for Milford Haven oil refinery started out as a flamenco dancer. Meanwhile in the saloon on the southern side she displayed her finished work for potential sale, including several ethnic heads, some headless torsos and the occasional neighbour's buttocks. The room still has the feel of an elegant classical gallery.

After climbing a further flight, I defy you not to find the couple's living quarters attractive. The dining room and the living room are individually very stylish, with sculptures and other works of art dotted carefully around. But it's the Chinese Moon Doors which steal the show, a circular opening between the two rooms with sliding woodpanelled doors that disappear into the walls as if you're aboard some kind of Art Deco spaceship. The doors are echoed in the semi-circular windows to either side, so you can line up some particularly aesthetic shots in either direction, or just plonk on the sofa and admire.

In Dora and Richard's bedrooms are what's left of their Russian art collection, a couple of cases of painted eggs and figurines and the Tsar's best crockery, plus a rather fine collection of religious icons. It makes a nice extra treat, just after you think you must have seen everything already. And then it's up one one final flight to the roof terrace, which is probably the most Modernist bit of the house, although not especially alluring in itself. The view must have been amazing before all the surrounding trees grew higher, and I'm told Richmond Park is easily seen after autumn's leaves have fallen, and all just a deer's leap away.

I went round Dorich House as part of Heritage Open Days, for nothing, and you can also visit free next weekend for Open House. But probably better to come on a day when you'll have the place to yourself, for a barely begrudgeable fiver. I highly recommend taking advantage of the guided tour option, that's Fridays and Saturdays at half eleven, because being shown round for ninety minutes is hugely more informative than wandering around alone. Only Dora and Richard ever lived at Dorich House, but being a volunteer here must be the next best thing, inside this startlingly personal memorial to a formidable talent.

Also visited by...
» A London Inheritance
» The Ladies Who Bus
» Look Up London

 Sunday, September 16, 2018

60 things in my flat

• An enamelled owl.
• A cross-stitch map of Suffolk.
• Muji 'City In A Bag (London)', across the top of the flatscreen TV.
• The old answerphone that's only plugged in because it has a message from my Mum on it.
• Three silver chairs which my landlord really likes, and which he'll only discover are broken after I move out.
• A stack of old telephone directories and Yellow Pages, which it turns out make excellent bookends.
• A wind-up radio, just in case civilisation collapses and the power goes off.
• A half pint tankard from the 6th Epping & Ongar Real Ale Festival.
• A jamjar containing 33 unfolded slips of paper.
• Four Creme Eggs.

• A souvenir Rutland drinks mat.
• Several cuff links I haven't worn since my last day at work.
• All the Christopher Fowler Bryant & May detective novels, in hardback.
• My grandmother's mirror, which is the only one of my possessions my ex actually liked.
• A London 2012 tea cosy, upturned to hold various London 2012 souvenirs flogged off on the cheap in the post-Olympic closing down sale (including 1 pack Police Officer Mandeville Magic Face Towels).
• A full-size poster tube map, once randomly given to me by a member of staff on the Hainault Loop.
• A green and blue shirt which I love but has never fitted.
• A portrait of me looking out of a Scottish window.
• My last will and testament.
• Bike leathers.

• A pot of Icelandic small change.
• A letter David Miliband shouldn't have had to write to me.
• A paper cup sourced from the BBC Maida Vale Studios on 6th February 1979.
• The notes I used to make the best man's speech at my brother's wedding, 25 years ago next week.
• All the Comic Relief red noses, up until the year they started sealing them in random packets.
• The tiny plastic wristband which was attached around my arm just after I was born.
• A London Transport Night Buses timetable dated September 16, 1972.
• A spiral bound copy of the BBC Microcomputer System User Guide.
• Turn Around by Phats & Small on cassette single.
• My infant school 'Stories' exercise book.

• An empty jar of mint sauce.
• Three Typhoo 'Millennium Blend' teabags.
• A broom handle divided up into equal sections with black and red tape.
• A heck of a lot of cans of tuna fish, in case 30th March 2019 doesn't turn out well.
• A tortoise fridge magnet, now mysteriously headless, acquired from Dublin's Guinness brewery.
• The tin of lemon drops which used to be in my car's glove compartment (which I found while compiling this list, and decided it was time to throw away).
• The salt cellar I can't reach because it fell down the back of the cooker ten years ago.
• A dispenser of Carex antibacterial handwash (Love Hearts, fun edition).
• Several reusable cotton shopping bags (which I have never reused).
• Two Viners Splayds.

• Lynx Africa.
• A lifetime supply of cotton buds.
• A towel rail which falls off the radiator if you try to hang a towel on it.
• Two bottles of Adidas shower gel I was once given for Christmas, despite not having a shower.
• A branded alarm clock they once gave us at work in what must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
• 150ml bottle of Avon Skin So Soft dry oil body spray (in case I make another visit to the midge-infested Highlands).
• A comedy 'frog in a sou'wester' doorstop, bequeathed to me by the previous owner of the flat.
• The green bath towel we bought just before I went to university.
• A wipe-clean board with 193 numbers written on it.
• My new favourite shirt.

• A pair of black furry dice.
• 5 pairs of black 3D cinema spectacles.
• Two chunks of lava I picked off Eyjafjallajökull.
• Several copies of that rogue tube map with Morden in the wrong fare zone.
• The 'Isles of Wonder' Olympic Opening Ceremony CD (last played 27 July 2018).
• A fake personalised numberplate, from the era when companies were allowed to make fake personalised numberplates.
• The fairy lights you'll see unfurled down the hallway from November until March, should you ever come round.
• A spare electronic key fob, just in case anybody brilliant ever deserves it.
• Fred Dibnah's calculator.
• Squeezy pig.

 Saturday, September 15, 2018

Location: Chiswick, London, W4 2RP [map]
Open: 10am-5pm (closed Mon, Tue) (closed Nov-Feb)
Admission: £7.50
Website: english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chiswick-house
Website: chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk
Five word summary: neo-Palladian pioneer amid Landscaped gardens
Time to allow: up to an hour

Chiswick House was built in the 1720s by Lord Burlington, a bright young thing who'd been inspired by the Palladian villas of northern Italy. He wanted a house to show off, but not to live in, and so commissioned a building the like of which London had never seen before. Porticos and Venetian windows, symmetrical steps and Roman pillars, all topped off with an octagonal dome. At Chiswick he would entertain the nobility, usually as part of his unofficial role as the country's chief patron to the Arts, and they would be duly inspired by the dazzling walls and ceilings within.

To set his pièce de résistance in context, Lord Burlington surrounded his house with stunning gardens, designed by a painter he bumped into in Italy while on his Grand Tour. William Kent created a naturalistic landscape, rather than the usual formal layout, dotted with evocative classical buildings and ancient statues, plus an ornamental canal at its heart softened to look like a river. Revolutionary for its time, it's generally accepted that Chiswick is the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement. It still puts your local park to shame.

Tumbling through history, the house and gardens became the responsibility of Middlesex County Council, and after WW2 the newly-formed Georgian Group were crucial in ensuring the bomb-damaged building wasn't pulled down. Today the house and gardens are jointly owned by the London borough of Hounslow and English Heritage, who've done a bloody good job in restoring both. Anyone can wander in and enjoy the gardens, and they do, but entrance to the house costs a potentially off-putting amount... unless you're an English Heritage member, or it's Open House weekend, in which case it's free.

Chiswick House is very much an upstairs downstairs building. Downstairs isn't much, all told, with a few passages off a central lobby leading to mostly empty rooms. Some contain a few heritage displayboards, and one room plays a couple of videos (which haven't changed since I was last here in 2010). Things only come alive when you locate the corkscrew staircase at the rear and climb to the first floor where, absolutely, the general decorative 'wow' is all around. It's easy to see how 18th century visitors would have been appropriately awestruck.

Upstairs includes a Green Velvet Room, a Blue Velvet Room and a Red Velvet Room (you'll know which is which), plus a central chamber lined by giant portraits beneath a coffered skylight. A lot of the intricate decoration is only carved wood, but gilded to look expensive, and applied to innumerable surfaces. Much of the artwork is original, which adds to the ambience, and you'll need the printed guides in each of the half dozen rooms to explain precisely what's what. But what you can't do is take photographs... which I have no problem with, but it means I can't show you what I saw.

It turned out photography's not actually banned per se, because on my visit a member of staff was showing round a scouting party armed with a big-lensed camera. Her job was to point out which items of furniture weren't allowed to appear in shot for copyright reasons ("Any of the twelve Roman busts except the one on a black plinth, thanks"), and to prevent them from snapping willy-nilly. I tried to keep out of their way, then went over to Seneca after they'd left but failed to spot quite what was so prohibitive about his replica marble head.

In good news, the (free) gardens are considerably more of a timespinner. Wandering the goosefoot paths and urn-scattered lawns is a treat, as is circling the lake. I always seem to manage to spot a heron whenever I'm here, which is nice. Continued perambulation will lead you to an Ionic Temple, or a tumbling waterfall (upon which I spotted two local schoolgirls swigging a Red Bull). A substantial number of dogs were being exercised, because if you lived in Chiswick you'd walk them here too. I also suspect rather a lot of the local au pairs bring their charges here to tire them out, because I don't believe W4 has quite that many teenage mums.

One must-see feature is the Conservatory, the largest glasshouse in the world when it was built, which was 1813. It's long and thin, almost 100m in length, with a famed botanical showcase all down one side. Chiswick's camellias arrived in 1828, a fashionable import from China, and some of the Duke of Devonshire's original specimens still thrive. This isn't the time of year to see them at their best, you'll need to come back in late February or March for that, but feel free to wander in from the Italian Garden and take a look whenever. Indeed, feel free to enjoy Chiswick's historic enclave at any time, and even if you don't do the house, do the gardens.

English Heritage 2018: Apsley House & Wellington Arch, Eltham Palace, Kenilworth Castle, Dover Castle, Wrest Park, Down House, Carisbrooke Castle, Osborne House, Battle Abbey, Pevensey Castle, Ranger's House, Chiswick House

 Friday, September 14, 2018

Route 25 between Ilford and Oxford Circus is London's busiest bus route.

According to the latest figures, over 17 million people ride it every year.

25  Oxford Circus ← Aldgate ← Mile End ← Stratford ← Ilford

So it may come as a surprise to hear that, as of tomorrow, its frequency is being halved.

Up to 14th Sept: 16 buses an hour (every 3-4 minutes)
From 15th Sept: 8 buses an hour (every 7-8 minutes)

Here's why that isn't good, but isn't as bad as it sounds either.

Firstly, the reason being given for the cut, which is a decline in passengers.

Until 2015 passenger numbers on route 25 were fairly steady around 23 million, but since then they've fallen away. 2015 is the year TfL upgraded Cycle Superhighway 2, adding a segregated lane all the way from Aldgate to Bow and causing appalling traffic congestion while roadworks proceeded. The reliability of the service collapsed, so passenger numbers fell away as people found other ways to travel, or simply got off and walked. But passenger numbers never recovered after the grand project was complete, the fall so large it can't be explained simply by people switching from bus to bike.

One particularly relevant reason concerns 'short journeys'. Route 25 is one of the longest on the London bus network, so not every bus from Ilford runs the entire distance. Go back five years and half the buses terminated at Holborn Circus rather than Oxford Circus, one mile short. In 2014 the curtailment point was cut back to Bank, two miles short. Then in April 2016 the turnaround point was shifted all the way back to Mile End, five miles short. Since then buses from Ilford have alternated, one to Oxford Circus, one to Mile End. That's 16 buses an hour, eight of each type, with only half going all the way.

Let's pretend the shorter journeys are numbered 25M. They're not, but let's pretend.

25  Oxford Circus ← Aldgate ← Mile End ← Stratford ← Ilford
25M      Mile End ← Stratford ← Ilford

This is cunning, because the really busy bit of route 25 is between Stratford and Ilford. By splitting the buses this way, passengers between Stratford and Ilford still get a decent, frequent service. Meanwhile those closer to central London get a worse service than five years ago - down from 16 buses an hour to just eight. This also helps to explain why passenger numbers have gone down. When half the buses don't run on half the route, obviously fewer people will ride.

What's happening tomorrow is that route 25M is being scrapped. All the 'short working' buses are being deleted, so in future there'll only be 8 buses an hour all the way along the route. Passengers between Oxford Circus and Mile End will see no change, but for passengers between Mile End and Ilford the frequency is being halved.

And here's the mitigation.

425  Clapton → Mile EndStratford

To make up for the extinction of route 25M, bus route 425 is being extended to Ilford.

425  Clapton → Mile EndStratfordIlford

Route 425's been running, not terribly excitingly, between Hackney and Stratford for the last ten years. It twiddles around Homerton Hospital and dawdles through Victoria Park, but the last bit from Mile End to Stratford has always shadowed the 25. Now it's to shadow the 25 even more closely, all the way to Ilford. Essentially this extension of the 425 is to replace what the 25M used to be ... just not quite so frequently.

Routethis weeknext week
258 buses an hour8 buses an hour
25M8 buses an hour0 buses an hour
4255 buses an hour6 buses an hour

Passengers between Stratford and Ilford are losing eight buses an hour, but gaining six buses an hour, which is a net decrease of two. It's not great, but they'll cope.

Specifically they'll cope because another bus runs ten times an hour between Stratford and Ilford, and that's the 86.

86  StratfordIlford → Romford

With route 25 running eight times an hour, route 425 six times an hour and route 86 ten times an hour, that's 24 buses an hour between Stratford and Ilford. That's a bus, on average, every 2½ minutes. That's perfectly adequate for keeping Newham moving.

I can do a similar analysis elsewhere to show the number of buses per hour along other stretches of the route.

per hour
→ Mile End

25, 205
Mile End
→ Bow

25, 205, 425
→ Stratford

25, 108, 276, 425, D8
→ Ilford

25, 86, (425)

The biggest losers are those between Mile End and Stratford, including myself, who are suddenly seven buses down. But when you've still got a bus every 2-3 minutes, and some of the former 25Ms were somewhat empty round here, it's hard to complain.

Let's throw one more element into the mix, which is that all the figures I've been quoting so far are for Monday to Saturday daytimes only. Route 25M never ran early in the mornings, or late in the evenings, or indeed on Sundays, so the changes at these times aren't so great. But there are still consequences, for example on Sundays the average waiting time for a bus will now be longer between Whitechapel and Stratford, but shorter between Stratford and Ilford.

per hour
→ Mile End

25, 205
Mile End
→ Bow

25, 205, 425
→ Stratford

25, 108, 276, 425, D8
→ Ilford

25, 86, (425)
Last Sunday16202817
Next Sunday13182619

To summarise...
From tomorrow route 25 switches to a uniform timetable with buses running every 7-8 minutes along the whole of the route. This is approximately half the number of buses which used to run five years ago. As of tomorrow, all the short-running buses between Mile End and Ilford are being cancelled. To compensate, route 425 is being extended from Stratford to Ilford, and will now run every 10 minutes rather than every 12. Route 25 can now be run by 40 vehicles rather than 60, while the 425's fleet is being doubled from 10 to 20. The net result is that passengers may have to wait a little longer, and TfL are saving a fair chunk of money.

And a note for the future...
As part of changes for the launch of Crossrail, TfL were planning to permanently cut back the western end of the route from Oxford Circus to Holborn Circus later this year. Now that Crossail's seriously delayed, we have yet to discover if and when they'll shorten the 25, dumping passengers short, two changes away from Oxford Circus. TfL would also be able to run the service with more like 30 vehicles, rather than tomorrow's 40, as opposed to today's 60. After this kind of cull, the chances of route 25 remaining London's busiest bus route appear slim.

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