diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 09, 2012

It's now a month since the end of the London 2012 Games. It seems much longer, but it's truly only thirty days since that shirtsleeves evening at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. It's got so much cooler and darker since then, alas, and that elusive national hallelujah feeling has all but slipped away.

Time enough to begin the removal of the temporary infrastructure to the south of the Olympic Park. Like the big footbridge on the Greenway spanning Stratford High Street, a six-lane pedestrian overpass installed to cope with the anticipated flood of spectators to and from West Ham station. A smart wooden bridge was built, blessed with the persistent whiff of timber, complete with two internal walls for late-night lighting. Despite LOCOG's regular pleadings the route from West Ham was never packed, but the bridge served a vital purpose all the same. And now it's going. After several weeks of being open but going nowhere, suddenly metal barriers have gone up and deconstruction time awaits. I hope they'll recycle it well.

Meanwhile, underneath the footbridge, a useless pedestrian crossing. There never used to be one here, so those using the Greenway had to divert a few minutes up the road to wait there instead. A direct crossing was essential during the Games for those with wheelchairs or other mobility problems, joined by spectators who couldn't be bothered to walk across the bridge and preferred the level option. But the crossing was always supervised, to prevent delays to Games Lane vehicles, and for the last month it's been barriered off as if the general public can't be trusted to use it. It is located rather close to a major road junction, the southern entrance to Westfield, and excess button pressing might impede traffic to this important retail centre. The good news is that the pedestrian crossing will be permanent, just not quite in its current form. The Olympic crossing stopped all traffic on both sides of the dual carriageway, whereas the revamped crossing will be staggered with a brief dogleg in the middle. For this the central reservation needs to be widened, apparently, which'll require the removal of one eastbound lane of traffic. Better for walkers and cross-flow cyclists, worse for cars and buses. But no sign of that happening yet, presumably they want the bridge out of the way first, so for now the Greenway crossing remains an ungrasped legacy.

As does the Greenway itself. It's still open south of Stratford High Street, but it's no longer green. Major works were carried out for a year or two before the Games to ensure that the formerly narrow footpath could cope with predicted footfall. A split-surface path was created, one side for bikes, the other for pedestrians, taking up just under half the width of the sewertop. The concrete mix used in the cycle half included Ground Granulated Blastfurnace Slag, honest, while the pedestrian half contained Pulverised Fly Ash, a by-product from power stations. Quite attractive, and extremely sustainable, but, alas, nowhere near wide enough. So the contractors tore up all the remaining grass and flowers and laid tarmac instead, right the way across. Purely temporary, designed for four weeks' use... but it's still there.
During the Games the Greenway will provide access to the Park for around a fifth of spectators. To accommodate these spectators, 2.5km of the Greenway – from Wick Lane to Manor Road near West Ham Station – will be upgraded. Entrances, ramps, the footpath/cyclepath and vegetation will be renewed and improved. Resting places will be provided and signage will be improved. The majority of these changes will be retained, making the Greenway safer and more inviting after the Games. (Parklands and Public Realm planning update September 2008)
I went to a planning consultation event four years ago at which we were assured that the Greenway would be made beautiful for the Games. There'd be interesting cobbles, and wooden benches, and beds of wild flowers, and general eco-loveliness, so they said. The benches went in, and some nice flowers, but the latter didn't last. Instead we've got a solid superhighway, all the way from Stratford to West Ham, optimised for pedestrian numbers that'll never return. One hopes that legacy plans involve someone coming along to dig up all the extra tarmac and lay grass instead, but that would cost money, and as yet there's no sign. In the meantime this is not so much a Greenway as a Greyway, and a shadow of what it ought to be.

More bad news by Abbey Creek, where the footpath down to Three Mills has been sealed off, again. It had been closed for five years at British Waterways' whim, then silently reopened early in 2012 for what turned out to be not long. A temporary closure during the Games has become more permanent, alas, now blocked off by a sturdy fence. A sign announces that Thames Water are constructing a culvert for the neighbouring Abbey Mills Pumping Station, a fact confirmed by the general destruction of vegetation immediately beyond. This is work associated with the Lee Tunnel, a major project designed to ease river pollution hereabouts, and therefore essential. But it does mean the path will be closed "for a period of 27 months", which means diversions until at least (sigh) Christmas 2014.

At the Greenway's West Ham exit, the Olympic lift has been decommissioned. Someone'll surely be along soon to dismantle it, it's a complete waste of machinery otherwise. But the temporary staircase is still there, so maybe it's not temporary after all, which would be good because the alternative descent is a three minute ramped detour. Meanwhile at West Ham station, the footbridge at the far end of the District line platforms isn't long for this world. It was installed to move a million Stadium-bound spectators, but probably managed rather less than that. On Sunday a digger moved in to scrape away at its foundations, watched by at least a dozen chaps in hi-vis, presumably on overtime. That's one of the reasons the District line was closed last weekend, and will be again next.

So, to summarise, just because the Olympics have finished doesn't mean everything's hunky dory round here. Various bits of infrastructure are being removed, various post-Games improvements have yet to take place, various acts of beautification show no sign of happening, and various paths are going to be closed for years. A month on, only a month on, and still so much yet to be done.

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