diamond geezer

 Monday, March 12, 2012

London's easternmost cycle hire station: East India DLR
London's easternmost cycle hire station is so far east that it falls off the map. Get hold of a paper copy, or check the pdf online, and the ultimate red blob is outside Blackwall station. But there's one more docking cluster beyond the black margin, where nobody who takes the scheme literally will ever find it, and that's at East India station. It's spread out in a single line across the concrete piazza at the foot of the DLR staircase, very close to the line marking the Greenwich Meridian (but still very definitely western hemisphere, not east). If you believe the map imprinted on the side of the terminal, the O2 across the Thames in North Greenwich is only five minutes cycle ride away, but that'll be because these maps are automatically generated by computer and proofread by idiots. A more sensible location for this docking station would have been on the northern side of the thundering dual carriageway, where the Cycle Superhighway is, because getting there at present requires lugging your bike up and over lots of steps. But the estate on the other side is private, and management only admitted CS3 under sufferance. There's no blue stripe here, only a scattering of pathetic handkerchief-sized blue squares ironed onto the tiles. A docking station would never have been permitted on this private land, no matter convenient it might have been for office workers and Tower Hamlets Council employees. On Saturday, during the quarter hour I observed, only one bike departed the East India docking station. It should have been two, but the second bloke tried and tried and failed to get the system to work. He read the instructions, he walked up and down, he pressed buttons, he inserted his card, he pressed more buttons, he inserted his card again, and then he walked away and caught the train instead. I couldn't tell what the problem was, it could have been the system or his bank details, or maybe he was only pretending to look like he wanted a bike. Whatever, chalk that one down to "customer lost".

London's southernmost cycle hire station: Kennington Oval
I had thought the southernmost cycle hire station might be at the tip of the Isle of Dogs, but no, the Cycle Hire zone has also extended down Lambeth way. It's only been extended by one single solitary station, but if you're a cricket fan you'll be pleased because it's directly outside Surrey's County cricket ground. That's the Kia Oval, or at least it is this year until some other sports-irrelevant company comes along and appends its brand name in the motor manufacturer's place. Nip out of Hobbs Gate and there's the docking station, curved along the roadside opposite a row of turnstiles. It's very pretty at the moment, blessed by spring blossom poking over the fence from neighbouring Lockwood House, plus a rogue traffic cone upended over the adjacent parking regulations sign. This parking sign is a sudden anachronism, because "pay at machine, maximum stay 4 hours" is no longer possible along this strip of road now that the docking station has arrived, and nobody's thought to remove it. On Saturday afternoon the bike stands were almost all full bar a single gap at one end and sprinkling alongside the terminal. Meanwhile at the docking station up the road, by the Post Office, every single stand was filled. Unfortunately, this being one of the original terminals, the map on the side doesn't show the new cycle hire station by the Oval. It's only a minute's ride away, but it might as well not exist until someone gets round to replacing the old map, which I'm guessing would cost too much and won't happen. Plus, interestingly, the online statistics for this docking station claimed that there were several spaces here at the time of my visit, whereas my eyes told me a completely different "this is chock full" story. Lesson learned, if you're using some website or mobile app to help guide you towards an empty station, it might not be empty when you get there.

London's westernmost cycle hire station: Ariel Way, White City
Here's a good one. London's westernmost cycle hire station doesn't exist. I mean there is a westernmost cycle hire station, obviously, but it's not the one shown on TfL's printed map. According to that there's a cycle hire station on Wood Lane alongside the bus station, but if you go and stand in the designated spot it doesn't exist. It did seem slightly odd that there'd be two docking stations on adjacent sides of the same street corner, but that's what the map said, and it turns out not to be true. So the westernmost cycle hire station is instead on Ariel Way, which is fractionally further west than the fresh cluster outside the new library. That had volunteers giving out leaflets on Saturday afternoon, so it was throbbing, whereas Ariel Way was unattended, unloved and unused. This surprised me, because you'd think the much-trumpeted Westfield extension would be busy as anything. Not so. The graphs for two of Westfield's four docking stations pretty much flatlined over the weekend. You could have fitted everyone who used them into a single single decker bus, so irrelevant was their presence. But pedestrian footfall at Ariel Way was very high, perhaps not surprisingly because the docking station's been built directly across the path to the traffic lights. I watched hundreds of punters walking directly between the bikes on their way to/from the tube station - some through a specially designed gap, but others slightly awkwardly between adjacent pedals. Only a couple of adults stopped to inspect the terminal, and the only other positive interaction was one young child who hopped up onto a stationary saddle hoping this was a new playground. The lack of interest appeared to be shopping-related. When you're lugging a carrier bag or three, these basket-less hire bikes are absolutely no use whatsoever for getting any medium-to-large purchase home. Local residents might find the western extension zone useful, but Westfield shoppers seem far less likely to go for a ride.

London's northernmost cycle hire station: Castlehaven Road, Camden Town
To complete the quartet, here's yet another brand new docking station. It's part of the Camden Town extension, which brings the cycle hire scheme right into the heart of this youth-friendly tourist magnet. Castlehaven Road is very close to Camden Lock and its associated markets, opposite the Hawley Arms, and near an open space where foreign teenagers gather to scoop noodles out of trays. Not surprisingly, then, this was the busiest cycle hire station I saw by some considerable margin. It was also almost devoid of bikes when I turned up. I arrived just in time to watch a group of friends faff around by the terminal and slowly, oh so slowly, work out how to ride four of the last bikes away. They cycled haltingly towards the railway bridge, straight into a torrent of incoming traffic (it's a one-way street, who knew?) so had to divert swiftly onto the pavement to avoid crushing embarrassment. Two goths nabbed another pair of bikes, with one's purchased artwork slung precariously in front of the handlebars. And this left one lonely bike, plus 26 empty spaces waiting in vain for anybody to cycle in and replenish the stocks. A few groups wandered along and stared at the situation, but one bike wasn't going to be sufficient for their needs so they walked on. If they'd checked their printed map they'd have noticed another docking station very nearby in Hawley Crescent, except if they'd visited they'd have discovered that it doesn't exist. There's a lot of building work going on here beneath MTV's giant satellite dishes and in front of the Open University building, but as yet there's no sign of a municipal bike rack. It does sound very much as if the new printed cycle hire map went to print too early, or wasn't properly proofed, or both. Some of the new docking stations it's clear are already hits, while others look like distinct misses. But it's early days for cycle hire in the new extension zone, and whether this is a major infrastructure improvement or an costly white elephant, that's yet to be proven.

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