Yesterday, finally, the last piece of the Olympic Park bus jigsaw fitted into place. Several tweaks were made in 2011 when Westfield opened, and more changes post-2012 as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park transformed. In the earliest phase the D8 was diverted via Warton Road to Stratford City, passing under the railway to serve the mega shopping mall rather than the old town centre. But the plan was always to send the bus via Carpenters Road instead, because this is the route buses used to take until2007, and because this would allow it to serve the Aquatics Centre. But when the big swimming pool opened in March, no change was made. The 339 was diverted here via a different route, but the railway bridge on Carpenters Road stayed resolutely closed, for no readily discernible reason. Yesterday, finally, all that changed.
The Carpenters Road estate has had a rough deal of late, not least Newham council's determination to decant as many of the residentsas possible and board up their empty properties. Now those who remain get their own bus service, at two freshly implanted bus stops along a smartly landscaped streetscape. It all looks remarkably public-spirited. But the real reason for the change is that it allows the D8 to corkscrew round the maze of roads to the south of the Olympic Park and pull up round the back of the Aquatics Centre. There's no entrance to the pool at this end, only the car park, but a couple of minutes up the Lea gets you to the customer service desk, or you can cross the river and end up in the Park proper instead.
And that's true. The D8 used to dash past the Olympic Park without stopping, but now it stops and local residents can alight if they want. The thing is, they don't really want. Almost everyone on the D8 at this end of its route is heading to Westfield or Stratford station, and going for a swim or a £15 ascent of the Orbit is the last thing on their mind. What the D8's re-routing has done is delay them by an extra few minutes, on a detour born of community aspiration rather than regular need. The bus now passes three additional sets of traffic lights, two of which are programmed to wait unnecessarily long for traffic that isn't always there. Whatever TfL's press release says, most people aren't going to be thanking them.
I rode the D8 on Friday, a speedy run, though admittedly with no chance of alighting near the Olympic Park. And then I rode it again on Saturday, joining a large band of merry shoppers to see how they'd react. The couple sat in front of me nudged one another in surprise when we didn't turn off down they road they'd expected. We had to crawl for longer up Stratford High Street, slower than it once was since a Cycle Superhighway ate up the bus lane. Then we headed up Carpenters Road, where one resident got on, so that was good. Then we waited at red to emerge fromunder the railway bridge, and then we waited on red for almost a minute at a junction where we were the only vehicle in sight. It's ridiculously quiet down here at sub-Westfield level, but the lights are set as if all the proposed flats have already been built and the roads are heaving with traffic. And then nobody got on or off outside the Aquatics Centre, nor was there anybody even walking down the road, let alone waiting on the other side. And then we queued on red for another minute to join the stream of traffic on Montfichet Road that we would have already have been a part of until yesterday.
So it's great that the D8 now serves the Olympic pool. But it's also a timewasting diversion for most. Swings, roundabouts.