diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 26, 2012

Getting In and Out of the Olympic Park

There are four entrances to the Olympic Park - one north, one south, one east, one west. They're all very different. But which is best? I think that depends...

Stratford Gate (east) - from Stratford and Westfield
Stratford GateThis is the big one, the gate that the great majority of Park visitors will use. That's because it's closest to Stratford station, which has train connections from all over London, and is the first place most people think of when they think about the Games. It's also one of the most resilient stations in London. If you check the graphics on getaheadofthegames.com, several stations like London Bridge and Bond Street are due to crumble at the slightest hint of spectators. Not Stratford. That's only predicted to have serious queues for 4½ hours out of the next 400, thanks to a major refit and upgrade over the last few years.
In: Arrive via Stratford and your troubles are more likely to be outside the station than in. A series of pink signs will guide you through the station labyrinth and out into the Westfield shopping centre, either at lower ground or overbridge level. Whichever, expect to be directed towards The Street - Westfield's outdoor boutique mall, and then swiftly left towards the edge of the Park. That's at least five minutes walk so far. If you're lucky there'll be no queues and you can go straight across to security. If not, there's a very large space here where you might end up standing in the barriered slalom for ages. Rest assured there are scores of squaddies and scanners and tents, so you should be fine, but be prepared for a wait. And then it's a few more minutes walk into the heart of the Park, across a broad footbridge above the Waterworks River, dipping underneath the nose of the Aquatic Centre. In optimum conditions you could get from seat on train to seat in the stadium in less than 20 minutes. Time it wrong, could be much longer.
Out: When exiting via the Stratford Gate, you'll be funnelled into one of three broad exit lanes. Lane 1 is for Stratford International (the Javelin will probably be busy, the DLR definitely won't). Lane 2 is for Stratford (through Westfield and over the footbridge) and so is Lane 3 (round and down to the near side of the station). If you don't want to catch a train, take lane 2. If you fancy doing some shopping, don't take lane 3. On Monday I was in the first ten thousand out of the Stadium, and there were no queues, and I got on a train pretty quick. I hear things weren't quite so good for some of those further behind.
Rail options: Central, Jubilee, DLR×2, Overground, National Rail, Javelin
Local buses: 25, 86, 97, 104, 108, 158, 238, 241, 257, 262, 308, 339, 425, 473, D8

Greenway Gate (south) - from Stratford High Street and West Ham
This is the gate the Olympic organisers would like you to use. They'd really really like you to arrive via West Ham station, to ease the pressure on Stratford. What they're not too keen to mention is that this involves a walk of about a mile along the top of a sewer, and then another half mile past security to reach the hub of the Olympic Park. [more info here]
In: The walk from West Ham to the Park takes about 20-30 minutes, depending on your walking speed. Along the way you'll see the Victorian Abbey Mills pumping station, given a proper brush-up for the Games, which may be an unexpected treat. It's also possible to gain access to the Greenway Gate from Stratford High Street itself, beside the footbridge, and this is a very brief walk. I entered the Park this way on Monday, and it was a breeze. The tented scanners are designed to cope with several hundreds, so if only dozens choose to trickle this way you'll get through really fast. Plus the path into the Park is much prettier than via Stratford, past banked flowerbeds, in case that's a bonus.
Out: You might not think to depart the Park this way. But the Greenway Gate has one huge benefit which is that the path whisks you beneath the railway, which is such a barrier at Stratford, so you'll be straight out into the real world without queueing. What you'll then face is a longer walk to reach a railway station. West Ham - the designated station - is just under a mile away. Abbey Road, Bow Church and Bromley-by-Bow are slightly closer, but only if you know where you're going. If you turn left Stratford High Street DLR is closest of all, but there are no obvious signs telling you that.
Rail (plus walk) options: DLR, District, Hammersmith & City, National Rail, Jubilee
Local buses: 25, 108, 339, 425, D8
Cycle Hire: Bow Church, Bromley High Street

Victoria Gate (west) - from Victoria Park and Hackney Wick
This is the small one. It's crammed onto the Greenway near Old Ford Lock, so there isn't much room for security tents, so it'll never cope with an onslaught of spectators. That's OK, it won't get one.
In: Cyclists who've parked their bikes in Victoria Park will enter this way (the signs say 14 minutes walk, I reckon nearer 10). Anyone's who's splashed out on a Water Chariots barge trip will enter this way (you'd expect a very short walk after a £45 ride). Local residents within walking distance will enter this way. But that's not many people. The great majority of Olympic Park spectators will never even notice that the twisty path round the back of the Stadium exists.
Out: I think I can guarantee there'll be no queues to exit this way. But that's because there are very few transport options, apart from any bike you might have ridden here in the first place. Your one mainstream exit is Hackney Wick station, which is three quarters of a mile's walk away (and deliberately poorly signposted). It's recently been announced that the westbound platform at Hackney Wick will become exit only at 1pm each day during the Games. Most spectators will be wanting to exit to the west, so the proposed solution is to get on an eastbound train one stop, stay aboard, then ride it back the other way to your destination. Be warned, this'll take a while, but at least you'll have a seat when hundreds of people pile aboard at Stratford.
Rail (plus walk) option: Overground
Local buses: 276, 488

Eton Manor Gate (north) - from Hackney Marshes and Leyton
This is the remote one, unless you happen to live nearby, in which case it's a no-brainer. It's also the way in from the Eton Manor Transport Hub, which is where you'll be arriving if you come by Park & Ride coach.
In: The northern entrance is very convenient for the Velodrome, Basketball and Hockey - less than ten minutes walk in each case. But it's inconvenient for the Olympic Stadium and Aquatic Centre, which are more than a mile's trek south.
Out: Unless you're local, or live up the eastern end of the Central line, this is probably best avoided. Even if you do live up the eastern end of the Central line, be warned that it's nearly a mile to Leyton station, and that's on top of any long-distance walking you may have done to reach this gate in the first place. Two buses pass by the exit but be warned, the nearest two bus stops are closed.
Rail (plus walk) option: Central
Local buses: 308, W15

dg's verdict
In: Stratford station has been designed to cope with Olympic Park traffic, so Stratford Gate is a good choice. But if you know you're coming at a busy time, queues for security might cancel out any advantage you've gained from arriving so close to the Park. If you don't want to queue, but don't mind a mile's walk, West Ham and the Greenway Gate are a more reliable bet.
Out: Again, Stratford should cope admirably, except at times when the Stadium itself is chucking out. If queues to exit the park are bad then the Greenway Gate is your best swift escape, although it won't leave you close to a station. The trouble is you may not realise Stratford's queues are bad until you're stuck in one, in which case Stratford International DLR is your surefire escape route.

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