diamond geezer

 Sunday, January 26, 2014

Route 308: Wanstead - Clapton Pond
Location: London northeast
Length of journey: 8 miles, 50 minutes

This isn't another bus around the edge of London, it's a new bus through the Olympic Park. Or rather it's an existing bus re-routed through the Olympic Park, and then extended a bit at one end. Or rather it's a bus that used to run through the Olympic Park before they sealed it off, but had to be diverted, and is now back again. Starting yesterday. And it's not really worth riding... apart from the bit that is.

The 308's route looks like it was drawn as a dot-to-dot in an attempt to join up lots of bits of London that hadn't been joined up before. From Wanstead it heads south, then west, then north, then west, then north again, then as of this weekend it adds an extra bit of west at the end. You wouldn't ride it from end to end - indeed most passengers ride it for a mile or so to the station, to the shops, wherever. I rode the lot, but don't worry, I won't relate the whole thing in detail. I'll skim through the extremities, and focus on the Stratford bit.

pre-Stratford: The 308 kicks off in Wanstead beside what locals like to think of as a village green. The next green along the way is a modern fake, rebuilt on top of the A12 when that carved through in the 1990s. But Wanstead Flats is the real thing, a surprisingly large expanse of heath owned by the City of London. The 308 stops by Jubilee Pond, a shallow embryo-shaped pool that brims with waterfowl. The route then shadows the 'Goblin' branch of the Overground, pausing at Wanstead Park station for the first mass exodus of passengers. Forest Gate station is only 300m down the road, so Crossrail may give this Newham back-end a lift. And then the 308 veers off unexpectedly to follow Forest Road, the mainline railway on one side, and E15's only Albert Square to the right. For further geographical box-ticking it avoids the obvious route to Stratford High Street and sneaks in via the Romford Road instead.
Interlude: So there I was minding my own business on the run down Forest Road when I felt a tap on the back of my arm. I half turned round to see an old man sat behind me, and he had something slightly odd to ask. "Did you know this bus has got a change on its route today?" So obviously I said yes, because I did know, which took the wind out of his sails somewhat and he sat back in his seat. He didn't say another word all journey, nor attempt to pass this timely fact on to any other passenger. I felt a little guilty for being the only clever-clogs on board who knew at least as much as him, and for dampening his enthusiasm so mercilessly. But honestly, who starts up a conversation on a bus these days, it's against all social norms. We rode on in silence.
Stratford: Here beginneth the guided tour. Stratford's one-way system forces the westbound 308 to circulate round more of the town centre than you might like, One stop in the High Street gets rid of many of the passengers, then one stop outside the main station gets rid of the rest. But it's a long way to the next stop at Westfield, even though it's only a short distance away, thanks to the railway getting in the way. Left, right, left, left, left - the last two of these new this weekend as the 308 no longer continues straight ahead to Leyton. Instead it enters the Stratford City complex and does one entire revolution of the bus station before retracing its steps to Stratford International.
Interlude: What an appallingly designed bus station Westfield Stratford City is, with its single entrance/exit, its limited signage, its central pedestrian crossing, its inadequate shelters and its impractically located traffic lights. I hate having to catch a bus from here, and the 308 diverting out of its way especially to visit feels especially annoying. Almost as annoying as the excessive number of traffic lights installed at junctions around the shopping mall's perimeter. The level of traffic hereabouts isn't yet enough to justify this level of signalling, so buses frequently get held up waiting at red lights when absolutely nothing else is coming. And then again. And then again.
Velo Park: The diverted 308's raison d'etre is to serve the new cycling facility in the Olympic Park. Not that anyone'll be bringing their bike to the Velodrome by bus, but spectators need to get here too and they won't all be on two wheels. The 308 heads north out of the East Village along Temple Mills Lane, a road that's been closed since 2006. Two new bus stops have been sited here, and I was looking forward to getting off and walking through. No such luck. Both stops are "Not in use", for the very good reason that building work continues apace immediately alongside. Indeed the central section of Temple Mills Lane is still barriered off at both ends, with the bus negotiating construction traffic and workmen inbetween. But there is a very good view through the window of what looks like the edge of the new mountain bike course. I spotted muddy tracks and inclines with wood and stones to ride over, as part of what looks like being an extensive, and rather fun, activity. If opening day's in March then there's a lot to do, and that would explain the hi-vis army out in force on Saturday shaping the land and digging the verges.
Interlude: At the first stop north of the Olympic Park a fragile old lady stood and walked towards the driver. She'd been confused by the bus's unusual passage and was worried we weren't heading where she wanted to go. "Aren't we going to Leyton?" she asked, because the 308's gone to Leyton every day for the last seven years. "Not any more," said the driver, and pointed across the busy main road at the stop where she could catch another bus there instead. The old lady collected her basket on wheels and pulled it very slowly along the pavement towards the traffic lights... which she might or might not have crossed before the next W15 arrived. TfL had indeed put notices at every bus stop announcing the 308's diversion, but nobody reads those, and this poor dear had been entirely caught out. If only the old gentleman on Forest Road had tapped her on the arm instead of me, a much more useful conversation would have ensued.
post-Stratford: For the final leg of its journey, entirely disjoint to the first in terms of passengers, the 308 heads into Homerton. Past the football pitches on Hackney Marshes, past what used to be the Matchbox factory but is now flats, and pulling off the main drag by the hospital. A long run up Chatsworth Road follows - a bit shabby on a Saturday, but transformed on Sundays into the kind of bohemian street market that makes Time Out's feature writers over-excited. The 308 used to terminate by Millfields Park, which is indeed where all the remaining passengers alighted, but I stayed on to ride the new connection to the Lea Bridge Roundabout. The bus says 'Clapton Pond' on the front but doesn't quite get that far, instead stopping short to pause awhile inside the roundabout. And then it's back to Wanstead, not that anyone in their right mind is going all the way.

I don't quite understand why the 308 has been prematurely diverted to serve the VeloPark several weeks before it's open, and while the road outside is still a building site. One day those two extra bus stops will be justifiably useful, but for the time being the new route is a wasted shortcut, and the residents of Leyton are missing out unnecessarily.

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