diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 07, 2010

Want to know why the East End's Olympic marathon is vanishing?
It's because of this map.

No, this isn't the marathon route, it's the Olympic Route Network. These are the roads which LOCOG have designated as special transport links during the Games, and which will be used to move athletes and important spectators around. The red roads form the Core Route, and will be "heavily used every day of the Games with most extensive traffic management measures". In East London the key venues of the Olympic Park, ExCel and North Greenwich are all linked to each other, as well as to the Athletes Village north of Stratford. There's also a long red finger pointing west along the A13 and the Embankment, which has a subtly different purpose. It links up with the two green triangles on the map - one for the IOC's hotels in Mayfair and Park Lane, and the other for the media's base around Russell Square. This West End extension helps to keep the "Olympic Family" moving, ensuring that dignitaries, officials and sponsors can get to the main venues out east without getting stuck in traffic. Bear with me, this is important. Then there are the blue roads, which are venue-specific and only operate on certain days. Locations like Earl's Court, Wimbledon, Wembley and Broxbourne rely on these blue routes, some of the time. And finally there are the grey roads which form the Alternative Olympic Route Network - only to be used "if there is a problem on other routes". All of these red, blue and grey routes are enshrined in an official Olympic Transport Plan, and at this stage it would be legally and operationally difficult to change them, if not impossible.

Now let's have a look at the original Olympic marathon route, first announced in 2004, and very recently scrapped.

Can you see the problem here? Can you see why Seb and friends deemed this route to be inappropriate? You might think the stumbling block was the road from Aldgate to Bow, but you'd be wrong. This road is grey, not red, so it doesn't impinge on the core Olympic Route Network at all. Running a marathon between Aldgate and Bow would cause absolutely no major traffic disruption whatsoever, at least not to Olympic vehicles. The problem's not the run through Tower Hamlets, the problem's the quarter mile at either end. Specifically that's the road junction to the north of Tower Bridge, and the A11/A12 interchange at the Bow Flyover. These are both absolutely key to 2012 traffic management plans. Block off these two road junctions and, we're told, official vehicles couldn't get from the West End to the Olympic Park at all. Not via the coloured Olympic Routes, that is, because these are the only roads in play. And that's why the old marathon route is dead.
Except I still maintain that mixing runners and traffic at the Bow Interchange really shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. There's a lengthy flyover which the runners could use, and then a roundabout and underpass which would keep vehicles moving smoothly below. The flyover would deposit athletes at the entrance to Marshgate Lane, and hey presto there'd be an entrance to the Stadium right in front of them. Seriously, where's the difficulty? Which leaves the Tower Bridge problem. OK, so starting on Tower Bridge was a bad idea, and genuinely messes up the traffic. So start somewhere else. Like The Mall for example, if that's what you want. And with the bridge clear it'd be perfectly possible to segregate runners (on a loop past Tower Hill and Tower Gateway) and Olympic vehicles (via Tower Bridge and the Commercial Road), and ne'er the twain shall meet. Sounds perfectly doable to me. But hey, what do I know, I'm not an Olympic Transport Planner with a red-light risk register.

Here's the revised marathon route, announced on Monday. I may not have got all the mid-City wiggles right, but you'll get the idea.

Spot the difference. See how much more compact this new route is. Most importantly, see how little of the Olympic Route Network this snarls up. The entire eastern end of the ORN runs free, so athletes in coaches can whizz from Stratford to Greenwich without bumping into a road race. See also the big difference around Tower Bridge. The Core Route along the Embankment may be blocked, but now there are two wholly-accessible alternatives. Media vehicles can head north via Islington to their digs in Bloomsbury, and IOC vehicles can cross Tower Bridge via Southwark to their hotels in Mayfair. That leaves the marathon free to take place in the centre of town. No Olympic traveller is disadvantaged, and the traffic light on the risk register can be downgraded. Bingo, everybody's happy. Everybody who matters, that is, everybody important.

So as I see it, the big marathon fiasco happened this way. An aspirational route was published in 2004 featuring major landmarks and the East End. The Olympic Route Network was published in 2009 featuring a core route of roads for use by official traffic. And somewhere, somehow, somebody failed to ensure that the two could mesh together. It seems that LOCOG's dedicated Olympic lanes took precedence, and the marathon somehow fell through the cracks. So here we are in 2010 with a risk-averse central London running race, and a community who feel like they've been slapped in the face. Not good, not good at all.

If I might conclude something from the current debacle, it's this. LOCOG must be absolutely pant-wettingly terrified that their official Transport Plan will go wrong. Not just on marathon day, but throughout Olympic fortnight. If a mere 80 athletes on a road can force "one of the toughest decisions we have had to make", then the Olympic risk register must be full to bursting with potential transport mega-cock-ups. Londoners should therefore expect further Draconian crack-downs on their movements come 2012, and I fear our shrivelled marathon is only the start.

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