Three days ago, London's <Greedy bank>Cycle Hire zone extended eastwards. I would have mentioned this earlier, except it didn't extend as far as Norfolk which made on-the-spot reviewing difficult. It also didn't extend across the whole of Tower Hamlets, as TfL's official Cycle Hire webpage claims (bad luck, Fish Island, there's nothing for you). But it did extend as far as Bow, which means I suddenly have a Cycle Hire terminal or two very close to my front door. Have I been for a ride? Hell no. Sorry, cycling evangelists, because I know you think two-wheeled is the way to go. But I'm a liability on a bike, utterly hopelessly uncoordinated, so I keep my life expectancy higher by staying out of the saddle.
What follows, then, is a pedestrian's view of the Cycle Hire scheme extension. I'm not a cyclist, so feel free to disregard my blatherings. What would I know about whether the keys work properly, how smooth the ride is, or what happens when you try to dock your bike? But I've been for a walk down the eastern edge of the extension zone anyway, and here's what I found.
Bow Church's docking station isn't actually outside the station, it's a minute or two up the road. It's been laid out along what used to be the widest strip of pavement in the local area, but has since been sliced once for a Cycle Superhighway and now again for a row of 39 bikes. There's still plenty of room to walk past, thankfully, but suddenly it's much more difficult to nip through and cross the road here. More than half of the bikes here were used yesterday, right down to a period mid-afternoon when only a couple were available. Walking from the tube I passed three smiling riders (of an appropriately mixed demographic) biking away from the docking station, which was more than I thought I'd see. A mild overnight success, I'd judge, although I'm very glad no TfL planner chose to site one right outside my front window.
A slight problem involves the three different kinds of black enamel totems along Bow Road. Various Cycle Superhighway miniliths depict the blue strip from Bow to Whitechapel, but not the docking stations along the way, because they were installed last summer and there was no Cycle Hire back then. A brand new Legible London minilith was erected on the pavement outside Barclays last month, but it doesn't feature any docking stations either. Only the maps on the docking station terminals themselves show the location of any other docking stations, and then only those within a five minute walk, which is barely any distance at all. Unless you've checked a paper or online map before setting off, you have absolutely no idea where all the other docking stations are. Stick to the main roads and you'll be fine, but veer off the beaten track and you could be cycling round for ages looking for somewhere to park your steed before the 30 minute free period expires.
At the end of Bromley High Street is Cycle Hire's northeasternmost docking station. If you're hoping to ride to the Olympic Park, sorry, this is as far as you're going to get, because that's a Lloyds TSB domain so Barclays aren't welcome. It's an almost ideal location amid a broad sweep of pavement well away from anyone's front door, but equally a very bad location alongside a dual carriageway where cycling would best be deemed unwise. A curve of 23 black docking points leads round towards the bus stop, should passengers arriving from North Greenwich fancy a ride through the streets of E3. I was only here for a minute or two, but in that time four bikes were undocked (a bunch of recreational weekend travellers who tottered off somewhat uncertainly) and one bike arrived (a young lad who pulled in and sauntered off in seconds, with all the expertise of a Cycle Hire regular).
It's instructive to see where the docking stations aren't. There's no docking station outside, or even nearly outside, Bromley-by-Bow station. Get off the tube here and, sorry, you're going to have to reach your destination on foot. Ditto at Devons Road DLR, where the nearest Cycle Hire location is at least five minutes walk away, as if whoever assembled the map of chosen locations didn't give a damn about enabling cross-modal journey interchanges. Fancy a bike ride along the Limehouse Cut towpath? Nobody's really attempted to make that easy, either at the Bromley end or the Limehouse end. But Langdon Park DLR does have a bike rack almost alongside, as does All Saints, even though somebody's forgotten to show the latter on the published map.
Then on Teviot Street I discovered possibly the least used docking station anywhere on the Cycle Hire network. According to TfL's datafeed absolutely nobody used it on Saturday, not a single withdrawal or deposit, at least before eight o'clock in the evening. Other stations nearby saw bikes dripfeed in or flood out, but nothing shifted here on the Teviot Estate. The docking station's sited in front of a morose parade of shops that'll never see any kind of chain store, let alone a Barclays. Half were shuttered down yesterday, and even the other half were part-shuttered in case the proprietors ever need to shut up shop suddenly. The parade's convenience store is branded "Local Shopper", the unisex hairdresser looks more utility than salon, and the T.F.C takeaway won't be troubling Time Out's restaurant reviews any time soon. I'd suggest that the community around here aren't the sort to waste their hard-won cash on luxuries like bike hire, hence they're not especially interested in Boris's gift of a docking station.
And finally to Aberfeldy Street. According to TfL's printed map there's no Cycle Hire docking station here, whereas according to real life there is. Again it sits outside a parade of wholly underwhelming shops and community drop-ins, providing a service to those within walking distance and absolutely no further. If you ever need reminding that London's no wealthy land of milk and honey, I can strongly recommend a walk through the Teviot and Aberfeldy Estates to make the point. You could even come by bike, although you might look a bit out of place, because so far only a tiny handful of people have.