diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 15, 2011

I wrote a post a few weeks back about how to travel to Westfield Stratford City. Almost everything I said still stands. But here's an update, based on reality.

by road
It's true, they really do run security checks on vehicles trying to enter Westfield Stratford City. Take Warton Road, for example, which is the access road for traffic approaching from the south. Cars turn off Stratford High Street into a narrower road, past a building site and a derelict warehouse until they reach a barrier across the road. Pass through and you'll meet the dreaded "man with a red bat". If you're lucky he'll point his bat ahead and you'll be able to continue under the railway bridge. But if you're unlucky he'll point his bat to the left and you'll be forced to turn off into the secure checking facility. It's really a big tent, with space for four vehicles to park up while their innards are searched. Front seat, back seat, boot - expect a thorough poking to ensure there's no nasty high explosive lurking inside your car. There's no obvious pattern to precisely who gets stopped. I saw five vehicles sail through unchallenged, then the next three selected for scrutiny. But it does feel a most unusual intrusion, more suited to the streets of 1990s Belfast than modern London. Most amazingly, they're even checking the buses. Routes 339 and D8 now travel to Stratford City via this route, and every single bus has to stop here to be checked. A security guard comes aboard and walks the length of the aisle, presumably to confirm that nobody aboard has a suspicious suitcase or rucksack with protruding wires. And nobody has, so off he gets and the bus journey continues. It's madness, sheer bloody madness... or else an essential risk management tool to ensure that nobody blows up the Olympic Park a year early. The next stretch of road runs very close to the Aquatic Centre, so the risk of damage to key infrastructure is very real, if very remote. Pedestrians appear to be allowed to walk along the entire length of Montfichet Road without hindrance, however (which I'd recommend if you fancy an unusually intimate view of the major Games venues, but it's probably best not to bring your wheelie suitcase with you).

by bus
Four buses (97, 241, 339, D8) have had their routes extended or tweaked to end at Stratford City, adjacent to the new Westfield. This came as quite a surprise to some D8 passengers on Tuesday morning, as the bus suddenly swung off Stratford High Street and headed to somewhere they really didn't want to go in the middle of formerly-nowhere. It's not a welcoming place, the new Stratford City Bus Station. The architects have merely cleared an acre of space behind the mall for buses to park up, without any coherent sense of how to make the area practical or welcoming. At the moment there are only two functioning bus stops, one for all arrivals and one for all departures, although there's space for considerably more. Arriving passengers get the best deal and can walk directly into Westfield, once they've worked out which direction it's in. Departure is less optimal. You have to walk to the opposite half of the bus station, which requires negotiating a pair of very-close-together light-controlled crossings. The only traffic is two dozen buses an hour, which isn't difficult to dodge, and yet the two pedestrian crossings expect you to wait patiently, twice, while nothing much passes. Departing buses suffer too, pulling off from their bus stop and then halting at a red light three seconds later, where they're held for a minute or more before joining the non-existent stream of traffic on the main road. Maybe by 2020 this level of red-light-ness will be justified, but current reality suggests that it's ill-timed overkill. Meanwhile, should it rain, the entire bus station boasts only two tiny bus shelters (one of which is wasted at the arrivals stop) so expect to get very wet and windswept while you wait. It's contemptuous design, this, as if bus passengers don't really matter, at least in comparison to the hi-tech multi-storey car parks next door.

by DLR
I've been back to Stratford International since Westfield opened to see how it was coping with the initial rush. And it was coping easily, because there wasn't a rush of shoppers at all, merely a gentle trickle. The High Speed station still seemed to have more staff than passengers, which made a mockery of Southeastern running additional services to cope with 'increased demand'. And the DLR station, that was relatively quiet too, at least given the supposed six-figure visitor numbers in the mall itself. Both stations are tucked out the back, in the far corner, where the majority of shoppers need never go. At least you can now walk to both, rather than having to rely on a shuttle bus or a circuitous DLR service. So I've taken the opportunity to test out the walking route, with the aid of a stopwatch, to see if it's quicker by DLR or on foot.

From Stratford International High Speed to Stratford station
» On foot (from the main ticket barriers, via the ground floor mall): 5½ minutes
» On foot (from the main ticket barriers, up the steps, along the external shopping street, then down): 6½ minutes
» On foot (from the eastern exit, via the ground floor mall): 3½ minutes
• By DLR (optimal journey): 1½ minutes walk to the platform + 2 minutes by train = 3½ minutes
• By DLR (longest possible wait): 1½ minutes walk to the platform + 9½ minute wait + 2 minutes by train = 13 minutes
Conclusion: Rather than risking the DLR, it's probably quicker to walk. Just try not to be distracted by all the shops along the way.

From John Lewis to Stratford station
» On foot (along the mall to the new Northern ticket hall): 5 minutes
» On foot (along the external shopping street and across the bridge to the new mezzanine ticket hall): 8 minutes
• By DLR (walking through the High Speed station, then riding back by train): 4½-14 minutes
Conclusion: Unless you're certain there's a DLR train due, it's very likely quicker to walk.

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