diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 31, 2015

The new tube map officially hits the racks tomorrow. It's not pretty.

My photo shows the poster map (not the folded card version), which has been pasted up prematurely on the outer reaches of the DLR. If features the Overground tangle introduced in the summer, which is ugly enough, but this has now been joined by a new development that makes northeast London even more impenetrable. Welcome to the zone 2/3 overlap, embracing stations from Stratford down to North Greenwich.

The plan, you may remember, was to "maximise the unique potential of the Olympicopolis initiative" by adding Stratford's three stations to Zone 2 as well as zone 3. Fares from Central London would then be cheaper, making the Stratford area a more desirable place to visit, live and invest. The plan was later tweaked when someone spotted that passengers arriving by Jubilee line would have to pass through Zone 3 along the way, so West Ham and Canning Town were absorbed into the overlap, along with all the DLR stations inbetween. The four original boundary stations have thereby been joined by seven additions, and what used to be an overlap line has had to be extended to an overlap region. It's highly unusual for a zone border to have actual thickness, but the tube map has had no choice but to adapt.

What a mess. The new overlap zone wiggles in an awkward manner to contain all the necessary stations while excluding the rest. It bulges additionally to embrace the name of the zone, which looks like two-thirds but is actually two-slash-three. It either does or doesn't cross the Thames, it's hard to tell at a glance. And worst of all it's only a fractionally darker shade of grey than that used for zone 2, which makes it even harder to distinguish. If you're having trouble understanding what's going on, imagine how the average member of the travelling public will fare.

Various unwritten "Tube Map Rules" are to blame.
i) Zones should alternate in colour between white and grey. When zone 2 is grey and zone 3 is white, it's hard to choose an intermediate colour that isn't one or the other. Presumably they considered a hatched grey/white zone, looked at the end result and decided against.
ii) Every station on the boundary between zones should have its name written inside a white box. Normally this is no trouble, but here the white box is in addition to an overlap zone, which means there are two different ways of showing the same information.
iii) The zone should be labelled using a large font size. This would be fine if the name was a single digit but it's two and a bit, creating otherwise unnecessary deviation.
iv) All straight lines on tube maps should be vertical, horizontal or at 45° (they would be if I'd taken my photo head on). This rule usually improves the aesthetics, but in such a confined space it results in a more tortuous border, indeed in this case the resulting shape has over twenty sides.
v) Step-free access must be shown by a blob. This is the most accessible corner of the tube map, hence almost every station in the overlap zone has a blob, that's fifteen blobs in total, which is additionally distracting.
When the Tube Map Rules were written, the diagram was simpler and less congested, and most of the rules generally worked. But the concept of an overlap zone was never foreseen, nor how the northeast quadrant of the map would become a congested web, hence these rules now act more as constraints. If the designers were allowed to break the Tube Map Rules occasionally they could have designed something a bit nicer, and more legible, and easier to understand. But no, rules are rules, so this deformed grey slug is what we get.

One of the least attractive features of the new overlap zone is the Plaistow Notch. Plaistow is too far east to be absorbed into the developmental whirlwind so remains in Zone 3, but only just. The grey overlap has had to bend in and out to pass by, nudging extremely close to the Hammersmith & City line, a situation not helped by the white rectangle around Abbey Road. Then there's the unintended ambiguity at North Greenwich. South of the Thames more than half of the grey section is taken up by a white box, making it especially hard to be certain which zone this station's in, a situation not helped by the leftward positioning of the cablecar terminal.

And then there's the sheer inconsistency of it all. Several other stations are also in zones 2 and 3, but they've not been absorbed into the new zone. Take Clapton, for example, which could easily have been included by stretching the overlap beyond Stratford International. Ditto the five DLR stations south of the Thames from Cutty Sark down to Lewisham. These have always been positioned directly on the borderline, and will continue to be depicted in the old style despite the fact the overlap zone could be extended to include these too. And there's a reason for this. The new tube map isn't meant to be consistent, it's a reaction to a Mayoral decision about the Lower Lea Valley, a political distortion TfL have been forced to absorb.

Aesthetics aside, this is great news for the New East End. From Sunday tube journeys to Stratford and Canning Town will be cheaper, leaving more money in your pocket and ultimately bumping up the value of your home. Here's precisely how much the move from Zone 3 to Zones 2 and 3 might save you.

By tube from zone 1 (eg Oxford Circus) to Stratford  
Oyster single (peak)£3.30£2.9040p
Oyster single (off-peak)£2.80£2.4040p
Daily cap£7.60£6.50£1.10
7 day Travelcard£38.00£32.40£5.60
Monthly Travelcard£146.00£124.50£21.50
Annual Travelcard£1520£1296£224

Every pay-as-you-go journey from Zone 1 to Stratford will cost 40p less as a result of January 2nd's change - think on that every time you swipe your Oyster or contactless card. And this works in both directions. Return trips to Westfield or the Olympic Park will cost 80p less, for example, as will the daily commutes of all those who live down the western edge of Newham. So long as they're travelling to Zone 1, that is. Take the tube between Zone 2 and Stratford and something rather unexpected happens to the fare. Nothing.

By tube from zone 2 (eg Canary Wharf) to Stratford  
Oyster single (peak)£1.70£1.70nil
Oyster single (off-peak)£1.50£1.50nil
Daily cap£7.60£6.50£1.10*
7 day Travelcard£24.30£24.30nil
Monthly Travelcard£93.40£93.40nil
Annual Travelcard£972£972nil

Because of the peculiar way tube fares are structured, pay-as-you-go journeys within zone 2 cost exactly the same as journeys crossing from Zone 2 to Zone 3, And this means that Sunday's zone change will have absolutely no effect on the fare from zone 2 to the overlap. Travellers from Canary Wharf to Stratford, or from Mile End to Stratford, or from Highbury & Islington to Stratford, will be making no savings whatsoever, they'll just think they are.
* Technically there is a cut to the daily price cap, but because this only kicks in if you make four peak (or five off-peak) tube journeys, it's practically irrelevant.

And if you're any further out, because Stratford remains in Zone 3, there's no change either.

By tube from zone 3, 4, 5 or 6 to Stratford  
 Z3Z2/3  saving  
Any kind of fare whatever    same   nil

In summary, from Sunday travelling between Zone 1 and seven stations in the Lower Lea Valley will get 40p cheaper. To depict this, from tomorrow the tube map gets an ugly grey smear down the right hand side. You win some, you lose some.

 Wednesday, December 30, 2015

dg 2015 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2015
1) Helicopter over London: It may be prohibitively expensive and ridiculously brief, but flying above the Thames in a chopper is an unbelievable experience. [photos]
2) Millennium Mills: As part of Open House, I donned a hard hat and they allowed me on the roof. Fabulous. [photos]
3) Round Tower: For a true sense of place, I can heartily recommend walking around the outside of your borough (unless it's Sutton). [photos]
4) Arsenal v Dynamo Zagreb: Finally I got to watch almost an entire football match, at this Champions League stormer.
5) Charing Cross: A night out at the cinema takes on a whole new dimension when the screen is set up in an abandoned tube station.
6) Clapham South Deep Level Shelter: Apparently TfL are planning on doing a lot more trips down this wartime shelter. That's excellent news.
7) The House of Commons: It was unexpectedly simple to walk in off the street and watch a Commons debate - democracy in action.
8) Contrasts: Courtesy of a documentary from 1968, I followed Sir John Betjeman up the Edgware Road. [photos]
9) The Aftermath Dislocation Principle: The KLF's dystopian model village in a railway arch near London Bridge (open for four more weeks). [photos]
10) The Line: Against the odds, the Lower Lea Valley is now a riverside art trail. [photos]

Runners up: Dr Johnson's House, Sky Garden, Spielgelhalters, five London mazes, Hampton Court, Peninsula Square, High Tide/Low Tide, Model Traffic Area, Novelty Automation, London Eye, Forty Hill, Bethlem Museum of the Mind, the Capital, Greater London at 50, Crossrail Place, Croydon Airport Visitor Centre, Boring Conference, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Honourable Artillery Company, Garden Bridge, London Tree Week, the first air raid, Eco-Sainsburys, Heathrow Biodiversity Site, RAF Bentley Priory, Merton Abbey Chapter House, the Proms, City Hall, Edward VII pillar boxes, Bow Tesco, London Open House, Rainham Hall, Charlton Horn Fair, Woodlands Farm, three galleries, Carlyle's House, Strawberry Hill House, Scratchwood services, On Westminster Bridge, BAFTA, Northolt Park, the Blitz

Trains/stations: All Lines Challenge, Parliamentary train to West Ruislip, King's Cross subway, interchanges, Theydon Bois to Epping, Buxton Water, naming of lines, Tales from the new Overground, TfL Rail, Croxley link update, Anorak Corner, Hackney footbridge, called something else, Caution gap, Night Tube Owl, Crossrail 2, the Poppy raffle, train length, Tottenham Court Road, Emerson Park, Northern City Line, Battersea Power Station
Tube maps: new tube map, Overground map, the kitten tube map, tube walking map
Ticket offices: closing down, Bromley-by-Bow, Visitor Centres, Bow Road, final countdown, the last three
Buses: Hail and Ride, route 50, Bow Church changeover, extreme bus stops, SMS codes, A-Z of bus stops
Cablecar: Year of the Cablecar, My Single Friend, Valentine's Day, Danglestuff, extended service, number of passengers, Ruislip Lido Railway, how to avoid the rush hour

Bow Roundabout: Bow Vision, 25 flyover, new pedestrian crossings, Vision for Bow
CS2: Schedule of works, pedestrian crossings, schedule of works, September update, cycling survey, the saga of bus stop M, bus stop M continued, December update, countdown crossing
E20: Orbit annual pass, 2½ year anniversary, the real EastEnders, Since 9/11, QEOP South, ten years later, the old footbridge
Unlost rivers: River Shuttle, Mutton Brook, Dagenham Brook, Wealdstone Brook, River Moselle, River Beck, Pool River, River Pinn, Mayes Brook, Dollis Brook, River Rom, Beam River, Silk Stream
London Loop: section 13, section 15, section 2, section 24
Things to do in Outer London: tons of them - a handy guide

Three favourite foreign destinations
1) Berlin: A perfect long weekend in the German capital - both halves. It's on the list to revisit. [photos]
2) Rome: A classical treasure, enjoyed out of season, the heart of the city is utterly charming. [photos]
3) Brussels: The centre of Euro-bureaucracy is well worth a daytrip, for the Atomium alone. [photos]

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
1) Liverpool: On the day our Cilla was laid to rest, I visited as much of this great city (and the Wirral) as I possibly could. [photos]
2) Isle of Wight: A tube train, a steam train, a hovercraft and a clifftop theme park, all in one day? Hell yes. [photos]
3) Imber: Once a year a fleet of Routemaster buses invade Salisbury Plain. [photos]
4) Stoke-on-Trent: This fascinating faded industrial town had a lot to teach me about the state of modern Britain.
5) Beamish: It rained all day, and almost nobody else was there, but what a brilliant window on the past. [photos]
6) Poundbury: I'd heard so much about Prince Charles's model town, and in May I trod its chocolatebox streets. [photos]
7) Birmingham: There's much to see, heritage-wise, in the City of A Thousand Trades.
8) Route 11: Birmingham's 27 mile orbital bus route isn't for the faint-hearted, but if you ever have three hours spare...
9) Bournemouth: Easter Monday on the sunny south coast? Get in! [photos]
10) Runnymede: The day before the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, I wandered around to watch the preparations.

Runners up: Bicester Village, Lichfield, Birmingham eclipse, Colchester, Ramsgate, Harwich, Dorchester, Southend, Norfolk, North-Kent-on-Sea, Durham, Chequers, Banham Zoo, Hamble, triple-header double run, Bredgar & Wormshill
Beyond London: Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Spelthorne, Slough, South Bucks

Ten other favourite posts from 2015: Creme Eggs, 901 voters, London Above, The Time Out Guide to the new London Overground, Over 1 mile from a station, Night Tubelessness, How dirty is your mug?, Midtown, Solving the housing crisis, Hats

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Tuesday, December 29, 2015

75 years ago today, much of the City of London burnt to the ground. The worst night of the Blitz began just after 6pm on 29th December 1940, as Heinkel and Dornier bombers rained down their cargo of more than a hundred thousand bombs. By morning an area larger than that destroyed during the Great Fire of London was ablaze, from Cheapside to Moorgate and from Aldersgate to Cannon Street. Nineteen churches were destroyed, along with almost all of the City's guild halls, although St Paul's Cathedral famously survived, its dome somehow still visible above the firestorm.

The German plan was tactically brilliant. A Pathfinder squadron would be first across the Channel, its job to light up the target before the first wave of bombers arrived to saturate the area with incendiaries. A second wave would arrive later in the evening, laden with high explosives to raze the City's weakened buildings. The raid should take place on a Sunday because the buildings would be unoccupied, and locked, increasing the chances that rooftop fires would spread. The Thames ought to be at low tide, making it difficult for the Fire Brigade to raise water to their pumps. And low cloud was needed so that the bombers could slip across the Channel unseen before dropping their surprise cargo onto an unsuspecting City. All of these factors came together on the evening of Sunday 29th December, and the Luftwaffe duly swept into action.

St Paul's Cathedral: Twenty-eight incendiary bombs landed on St Paul's that night, most quickly extinguished by cathedral staff and volunteer firewatchers. One particular magnesium cylinder landed in a hard-to-reach spot on the dome, where its heat started to melt through Wren's lead covering, but thankfully loosened and fell outwards (onto the Stone Gallery) before catching light. At Churchill's behest the cathedral's survival was given top priority, and this attention paid dividends when just after midnight the All Clear was sounded. Poor weather across the Channel had forced the cancellation of the second wave of bombers, the planned bombardment of explosives deferred, and by such meteorological good fortune the total destruction of the City was prevented.

Paternoster Row: Immediately to the north of St Paul's Cathedral, Paternoster Row was not so fortunate. As the centre of London's book trade it burned fiercely, with an estimated five million books lost in the conflagration. It took until the early 1960s to rebuild the area, in an architecturally undistinguished style which was itself replaced at the turn of the century by something almost as unpleasant. The new Paternoster Square is a sweeping glitzy piazza, home to food outlets and the Stock Exchange, with one of the most virulently unfriendly access policies in London. According to a sign at the entrance every public entry is technically a trespass, the owners giving limited consent for access to "offices, retail units and leisure premises" which can be revoked at any time. Such are the unfortunate repercussions of a single night's bombing, even 75 years on.

Christ Church Greyfriars: To the north of Paternoster Square, on the corner of Newgate Street and King Edward Street, lies the footprint of a twice-destroyed church. The Great Fire took the thirteenth century version, while Wren's replacement was burnt in the Blitz. Once important enough for royalty to be buried here and for Mendelssohn to play, its congregation had long been in steady decline, hence a decision was made after the war not to rebuild. The tower survives, with ornately worded memorials still in situ on the northern face, while the rebuilt vestry now houses a dental surgery. But the nave has become a rather pleasant rose garden, paid for by Merrill Lynch whose offices overlook the site, with two lines of wooden frames where the pillars used to be and a stubber for the benefit of cigarette smoking bankers.

St Alban, Wood Street: Another Wren church which suffered a similar fate lies a short distance to the west in Wood Street. The first St Alban's was founded over a thousand years ago, with Wren's building not the first replacement, and George Gilbert Scott adding an additional apse in the 1850s. Again all that survives is the tower, the ruins of the remainder having been cleared away after the war, leaving a ninety foot anachronism in the middle of the road. The tower is now a private dwelling, overshadowed by office blocks and itself overlooking the City of London Police HQ alongside. If you were writing a list of London's 100 strangest houses, number 35 Wood Street would almost certainly feature.

St Lawrence Jewry: So named because it stands beside the old Jewish ghetto, this Wren church wasn't quite destroyed by the 29th December firestorm. But the damage was bad enough for the Oxford college who owned it to lack sufficient funds for restoration, so the building was transferred to the Corporation of London who use it now as their official guild church. Alas it's closed until next Monday, if you're planning to take a look inside and be wowed.
The Guildhall: Across the piazza, the most high profile casualty of the Second Fire of London was the Guildhall's medieval Great Hall. The roof burnt quickly, as did the oak statue of Gog and Magog below, although the original 15th century stone walls survived. Sir Giles Gilbert Scott's magnificent 1953 roof is the fifth in the building's history, and I suspect fools many a visitor into believing it's properly old.

Barbican: Nowhere in the City suffered more that night than the ward of Cripplegate, its infrastructure of rag trade workshops and narrow streets almost entirely wiped from the map. What to do with the area proved a post-war challenge, the ruins left largely undeveloped until the 1960s when construction of the Barbican estate began. A 35 acre Brutalist complex now covers the site, combining concrete flats with a much-loved arts centre within an enigmatic maze of walkways. It's probably the finest example of postwar regeneration anywhere in Britain, thanks in part to the City's bottomless pockets, but mostly to the brave decision to create an unashamedly modern community on an epic scale. Had the firestorm of the 29th December 1940 never happened the City might still be a heritage warren rather than a blank canvas for wealth generation, repeatedly reinvented for a more prosperous future.

Fire engines (and a fireboat) will be holding an anniversary event today, outside St Paul's and on the river, culminating at 6.05pm with the sounding of an air raid siren and a parade. [report from Caroline]
Two commemorative walks set off at 11am this morning.

 Monday, December 28, 2015

My Christmas haul is light. I have no complaints.

I returned from Norfolk with fewer than half a dozen gifts, which is how I like it. Two of those gifts are edible, so likely won't last the week. One's half drinkable, and comes with a glass I can stick in the kitchen cupboard. And the other two are proper things, so will linger rather longer, but two is hardly a hefty amount.

I gave up on Christmas presents a while back. Abandoning gift purchase makes life hugely easier before the big day, with no need to trawl round the shops or tick bland boxes on Amazon. I don't know what people want, I can rarely second guess, so this strategy avoids buying people expensive crap they have no interest in. Trust me, it's not miserliness, it's a crippling inability to resonate with others, plus a deep-seated anguish at judging incorrectly.

It helps not to have a large circle to buy things for. The immediate family get money rather than stuff, which goes down better, and my Dad has the same attitude as me so we simply enjoy each other's company on the big day for free. My brother's inlaws aren't quite so understanding of my leftfield approach so they always get a thing, and I get a thing back. BestMate gets stuff because his birthday is today, which is a different reason altogether. But generally at Christmas I watch from the sidelines as gifts are swapped, content to sit outside it all.

On top of which I have quite enough stuff as it is, it seems.

"You have a lot of stuff," said my Christmas visitor. "All that stuff in the hallway, and all that stuff on the table, and all that stuff on the shelf, and all that stuff in the spare room. Seriously, why do you have so much?"

By rights I shouldn't have a ton of stuff. I'm not one for pointless shopping, nor do I hang around online gagging for fresh deals. I buy new clothes no more than once or twice a year, I don't top up with endless utensils or gadgets, and I never ask Amazon to send me a single package. Stuff dribbles into Geezer Towers at a ridiculously low rate, so how can there be so much of it?

It's not Christmas either, as I've explained. For many people Christmas is a time for the receipt of must-haves and always-wanteds - stuff to make home life better or more fun. And this is usually alongside stuff they neither asked for nor needed, hence this time of year invariably initiates an annual invasion of clutter. But my festive gift tally is minimal, insufficient to make a significant difference, or so you'd think.

It appears my issue with stuff isn't with the receiving, but at the other end of the process - I have a problem getting rid.

I buy clothes only rarely, but my wardrobe never empties. I buy books when I think fit, and read them generally only once, but an entire library has accumulated. I don't go on holiday much but I tend to bring stuff back, and this sits around in piles of memories I won't destroy. I have old plastic bags I knew might come in useful one day, and which a bag tax totally validates. I still have shelves of cassettes I will get round to digitising one day, but haven't yet. I have DVDs that fit a box not currently attached to my TV, which I'm sure I'll reconnect soon. I have CDs I daren't destroy in case streaming technology changes, and which anyway I still totally listen to. And I have 50 years of not many Christmas presents, which nevertheless is quite a haul because 50 years of anything is totally lots.

Rest assured my accumulation is nothing anti-socially serious, no insanitary hoard worthy of a TV documentary. But if you lived with me you'd likely demand I got rid of lots, either to make room for your own stuff or because you thought my haul was unnecessary. It helps to have a critical finger pointed every now then, if only to keep the accessory/memento mountain under control. And I always mean to get round to throwing stuff away, but without urgency there's always something better to do, and so my lifetime's pile simply grows.

Perhaps this Bank Holiday Monday I'll finally do something about it, filling some binbags for the refuse collectors or local charity shop. But there is a lot of iPlayer to catch up on, and a stack of unread books waiting to be devoured, and a capital outside the door worthy of wider investigation. Indeed I even hear the sales are on, and surely it wouldn't hurt to take a look.

 Sunday, December 27, 2015

Turfed off the train at a halt with a decent-sized car park, a stream of luggage-laden passengers shuffle purposefully off the platform. The rail replacement buses await. There are no signs.

A station official directs us onwards to the members of staff in yellow hi-vis, located somewhere beyond the waiting throng. They'll tell you what to do, he says, absolving himself of all further responsibility. Out in the car park a ballet of shunting buses and coaches makes way for the latest arrival, its windows steamed up in collective frustration. There are no destinations on the front of anything. There are no signs.

"Stay back where you are!" orders the senior member of staff as an awkward reversing manoeuvre initiates. A list of inaudible instructions is barked from somewhere ahead, concerning something of importance, leaving the majority of the crowd none the wiser. A red London bus draws round into the car park and stops beside a second bus behind a coach. At least one of these vehicles is making the link to London, maybe all three, but only those closest to the small shouty woman know for sure. There are no signs.

The crowd moves forwards, those with both luggage and common sense making a beeline for the coach. I'd rather not, they occasionally make me carsick, so I rejoice at the option of an actual double decker. The wheelchair space is already stuffed, but I reckon there should be sufficient room up the back for my post-Christmas suitcase and I, assuming the bus isn't too full. Within a minute the bus is very full. I shuffle my case between my legs and allow a First Class couple to squeeze in opposite. They moan, politely, about how hard the seats are, and set about planning their Hogmanay trip to Edinburgh.

Small Shouty Woman boards briefly to bark the name of our destination. I'm relieved to be on the right bus, as getting off might now be somewhat awkward. "You all need a seat," she adds, staring pointedly at a group of passengers with the temerity to be standing by the door. "I've got another bus coming, so you lot need to get off and wait for that." Those of us sat down, squeezed in with our bags and rucksacks, watch with some relief as the interlopers slink off into the night and the doors close behind them. The M25 is a long stream of headlamps distant, past plenty of signs.

I shall be catching the train home soon.

I'm having a nice time here in Norfolk thanks.

I hope you had a good Christmas.

 Saturday, December 26, 2015

 Friday, December 25, 2015

 Thursday, December 24, 2015

How old are the houses around your way? Ollie's created a small-area map showing the age of housing stock across England and Wales, coloured grey and blue for old, and orange and red for new. It gets anywhere I've ever lived pretty much spot-on. [more background here] [also in the same series, a post-war housing map and a faintly distressing house price map]
I've enthused about Threes before, the 4×4 slidy game that's better than 2048 (remember that?). Well, Threes is now available to play online whether you have a phone or not, which might just while away a few hours over Christmas. [top strategic tip: prioritise combining your reds and blues to avoid premature blockage]
Someone thought it'd be useful if my Comment Value Hierarchy was easily accessible from the blog's front page, so I've added a permanent link in the sidebar, over to the right, just above the monthly archive. [cheers Caz!]
When the onslaught of Christmas TV gets too much, escape into a simpler world by downloading the very first Christmas Radio Times, from 1923. [from an era of wireless ads, Hornby train sets and chocolate brazils from Hackney Wick] [pdf here]
Will it rain tomorrow? The Met Office's interactive rainfall forecast map now offers a 30-hour heads-up on shower/downpour strength in your locality. [if you're still fixated on the symbol-heavy five-day forecast, you're behind the times]
The new Star Wars VII is damned good, but the film bubbles with so many mysterious loose ends. Here are 33 questions without answers from the latest tour de Force. [warning: massive spoilers]
Is it possible to make a tube map out of Quality Street? Why yes it is, thanks for asking. [and thanks @geofftech for doing]
Dreamland in Margate reopened this summer, recreating the classic amusement park for the 21st century. If you've not been yet, it's opened up as The Frosted Fairground over Christmas and the New Year, with free admission up to 3rd January. [book your free tickets here] [the rides still cost, including the legendary Scenic Railway]
Have you tried the very-difficult very-transporty London Reconnections Christmas Quiz yet? You have until 30th December to send in your answers. [and no spoilers!]
As a reminder of summer, spend 50 minutes this Christmas watching John Betjeman's documentary Beside the Seaside, a bird's eye view of our recreational heritage, first transmitted on 25th December 1969. [if you've got one of those web-tellies, why not play it in big?]

Remember how the Northern line was being extended to Battersea? Not any more. The confirmed name of the station at the end of the line is now Battersea Power Station.

Yes, that's Battersea Power Station station.

Naming the new station after the power station may not come as much of a surprise, because the Northern line extension terminates outside. But up until this month the name of the station was definitely going to be plain and simple Battersea, and all the documentation and planning information described it as such. Now suddenly, and without fanfare, the appointed designation has changed. The latest NLE extension newsletter confirms that the station's name will instead be Battersea Power Station, and the NLE page on the TfL website concurs.

At present Battersea Power Station is a brick shell with deconstructed chimneys surrounded by an extensive development site. But come 2020 Battersea Power Station will be a luxury apartment complex and retail destination, with the old structure swallowed up within a gleaming halo of offices and flats. More specifically Battersea Power Station will be a brand name, not a building, so what TfL have just done is award station naming rights to a global investment brand.

Reasons for calling the new station Battersea
• it's the name of the local community
• it's a lot shorter than Battersea Power Station so would fit on the front of trains and destination boards more easily
• it doesn't sound stupid when you add the word station on the end
• it's not a brand name
• station names shouldn't be sold off to the highest bidder

Reasons for calling the new station Battersea Power Station
• it's the main reason people will be using the extension
• the new tube station isn't really in Battersea proper, which is about a mile to the west
• at some point during the process TfL will have got some money for this, which helps neutralise nasty government cuts and maintains investment in our transport network
• it gets the brand name on the front of 25% of Northern line trains, onto every line diagram in every Northern line train and onto every tube map
• even cleverer, because this is the end of the line, directional signs at every Northern line station will include the full brand name, as will every announcement for southbound trains
• if Emirates can sponsor the cable car terminals, why shouldn't this Malaysian consortium sponsor a tube station?
• there's a long history of naming tube stations after commercial concerns, like Elephant and Castle, Arsenal, and, erm, all the other ones
• we face a long future of naming tube stations after commercial concerns, so let's start big
• most Londoners really don't care so long as they pay less in fares and/or taxes
• geographical integrity is a very 20th century concept
• it could have been called something a lot worse

 Wednesday, December 23, 2015

On the same day I wrote about upcoming Cycle Superhighway changes in Bow, one actually took place - the replacement of a long-standing pedestrian crossing by a new improved version. This is the pedestrian crossing at Bow Church, the crossing that links the church on its island to the wider neighbourhood. And woo, this is cutting edge stuff, this is an LED pelican crossing with a countdown timer.

It's by no means the first countdown crossing in London, TfL have been introducing them for a number of years. But normally they've appeared at road junctions, or particularly important crossing points, and this is the first time I've ever seen one somewhere this mundane.

Previously the man changed colour from red to green, announcing to pedestrians it was time to cross, then switched immediately back to red once it was too late to start crossing. Now the start of that red phase has been changed to a countdown timer, giving those on the crossing notification of how long they've got, which in this case is up to four seconds. That's the briefest countdown period I've seen anywhere in London, indeed you might think barely worth installing. But this simple mechanism gives those arriving at the crossing the nudge that if they cross quickly, or eventually run, they'll be fine, and is a huge improvement on the blunt 'no, stop there' offered by the red man phase at the previous crossing.
Originally this crossing had been operated by an ordinary pelican, but three years ago this was upgraded to a puffin. Previously the red and green men faced us from the other side of the road, and were easy to see, but puffins work to a different design that experts decreed to be safer. At a puffin crossing the green man only appears on the pole beside you, deliberately forcing you to look in the direction of the oncoming traffic, or at least that's the idea. In reality people still look in front of them to where the green man isn't, and then miss it when it changes, and occasionally fail to cross at the appointed time at all. I hated it when we got a puffin, and assumed we were stuck with this non-instinctive means of crossing forever. But hurrah, the upgrade of Cycle Superhighway 2 has thrown unexpected cash at my local pedestrian crossing, and replaced the 3 year-old puffin with another pelican. I am beyond thankful.
I've been out watching to see how the change has gone down with local residents. Things aren't yet entirely normal, because the contractors haven't yet taken the old pedestrian crossing lights away, and much of the central reservation island is coned off for further works. But Bow's pedestrians have been using the new crossing with aplomb, as you'd expect, because it's not exactly rocket science. They press the button, they wait, and then they cross when the time is right. It's just that I haven't yet seen many pedestrians wait for the lights to change, they generally cross much earlier, in the first available gap in the traffic.

Apart from during the rush hour, traffic tends to flow along Bow Road in pulses. That's a consequence of tightly spaced pedestrian crossings, holding back vehicles at regular intervals and clearing the carriageway ahead. And this means that even if the traffic looks busy when you press the button, there'll generally be a gap along shortly which any able-bodied pushchair-free pedestrian can exploit. When the lights don't change that quickly, this tends to mean that by the time they do eventually switch, the person who pressed the button is long gone.
The previous puffin crossing had a sensor that 'watched' the pavement to check whether pedestrians were waiting. Interestingly the new countdown pelican crossing is less intelligent, with no visible sensor whatsoever, so the mechanism has no idea whether anyone's still waiting or not. The whole process is now independent of human presence, apart from the initial button press, so the red/green ballet plays out at the appointed time no matter how many, or how few, people are present.
The first time I used the new crossing, during the evening rush hour, it took 90 seconds from pressing the button to the lights eventually changing in my favour. During these 90 seconds there were at least three occasions on which I could have crossed the road quite safely, but the lights ignored these gaps and remained resolutely in favour of non-existent traffic. About ten seconds in I was joined by a young man who nipped across almost immediately, and shortly afterwards an old lady arrived, who also beat me to the other side. She even looked at me in a strange way as if to say "why are you still standing there?" and I felt like a bit of a idiot for holding out for the maximum minute and a half.
Even though it felt like a lengthier wait, I can't be sure whether the new lights have a longer maximum waiting time than before. It's easy to stand by the roadside as a pedestrian and assume you're being discriminated against in favour of cars, even though it's obviously important that traffic gets through without repeatedly having to stop. But TfL's original plans for the CS2 upgrade made it crystal clear that overall crossing times would increase, and junctions would take longer to traverse, and I fear that this may have happened here. Indeed with two halves of the road to cross, and a possible 90 second pause each time, at busy times pedestrians could be spending three minutes at a time to cross Bow Road.
When a Cycle Superhighway upgrade comes your way, so does an unexpectedly large amount of money. And this cash is not just aimed at improving facilities for cyclists, because quite a bit goes on restructuring facilities for pedestrians too. Adding a segregated cycle lane generally messes up whatever crossing layout already exists, so TfL are taking the opportunity to rebuild, realign and restructure as they go along. Some crossings are being changed from straight across to staggered, some changed from staggered to straight across, and some are getting push button controls for the very first time.

This particular crossing used to be staggered (the yellow lines on the map), with pedestrians having to walk along the island for a short distance before completing the second half. Not any more, now it goes straight across.

And this is great if you're crossing to the southeastern side of Bow Road, because that's where the new southern crossing lands. But it's less good if you're heading west, because the new alignment forces an annoying diversion. Previously you'd follow the staggered route via the yellow crossings, whereas the designated route now involves an additional zebra crossing located further down Bromley High Street than before. There's no way I shall be doing this every day, I shall be wilfully cutting corners, indeed I suspect I'll press the button on the new crossing and then walk up to where the crossing used to be and wait there instead.

However good it is to have a countdown timer, this new lengthier crossing is symptomatic of what's happened and will continue to happen as the Cycle Superhighway upgrade plays out, not just here but at several other locations. In 'improving' our pedestrian crossings TfL have deliberately created longer paths, as safety trumps practicality, and introduced longer waits to maintain the traffic flow. Expect pedestrians to ignore where they're being asked to cross, as well as how long they're being asked to linger, despite the designers' best intentions.

 Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The shortest day isn't always December 21st. This year it's today. And the reason is 'leap years'.

The winter solstice, when the Sun is directly overhead at the Tropic of Capricorn, took place at eleven minutes to five this morning. Winter solstices occur once a year, but they don't quite happen one year apart. The actual difference is 365 days and 6 hours, and over the course of four years all those 6 hours nudge things on. In a leap year the winter solstice occurs in the morning, but the following year it occurs in the afternoon, and the year after that in the evening. Then in the year before another leap year, as this year, the winter solstice tips over past midnight into the early hours of the following day. And the entire point of a leap year is to kick the solstice back to where it ought to be, back to the 21st, and so the cycle repeats. Like so.

Winter solstice
 Dec 21stDec 22nd
2011 5.31am
2015 4.49am
2019 4.20am

For three years in a row the shortest day is the 21st, and in the fourth it's the 22nd.

Except it's not quite that simple. As you might have noticed from the table, the gap between solstices isn't precisely one year six hours, it's about ten minutes shorter. And while ten minutes might not sound like much, every six years they add up to another hour, and every 140 years or so they make an entire day. The end result is that the winter solstice gets inexorably earlier and earlier as the decades go by, and not even the presence of the occasional February 29th can tug it back.

From now until 2043 the winter solstice will only be on 22nd December in one year out of four - always the year before a leap year. But the 2043 winter solstice occurs at two minutes past midnight on the 22nd, which means that four years later those jumps of just under six hours aren't quite enough to escape the 21st. Indeed from 2044 to 2083 the winter solstice will always be on December 21st, and from 2084 onwards the solstice occasionally slips back into the December 20th.

Here's the winter solstice table for the 20th and 21st centuries, to demonstrate how this inexorable slipping back occurs.

Winter solstice
 Dec 20thDec 21stDec 22ndDec 23rd
1900-1903  Leap year
Leap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3
1904-1939  Every year 
1940-1975 Leap yearLeap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3
1976-2007 Leap year
Leap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3
2008-2043 Leap year
Leap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3 
2044-2083 Every year  
2084-2099Leap yearLeap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3

And so things would continue, with the solstices gradually retreating from the seasons in which they occur, were it not for that special rule about century years not divisible by 400. These aren't leap years, so don't have a February 29th, which holds back the tide for 24 hours and helps things get back on track. 2100 is just such a corrective year, which is why the winter solstice table for the 22nd century returns to more familiar dates.

Winter solstice
 Dec 20thDec 21stDec 22ndDec 23rd
2100-2111 Leap yearLeap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3
2112-2147 Leap year
Leap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3
2148-2179 Leap year
Leap year +1
Leap year +2
Leap year +3 
2180-2199 Every year  

The year 2200 isn't a leap year either, which shifts things to the right again, ditto 2300. But 2400 is a leap year, allowing the solstice to slip left again, and so the whole cycle repeats every 400 years. In summary, the winter solstice can very occasionally be as late as December 23rd, and can very occasionally be as early as December 20th, but is far more usually one of the two days inbetween.

Winter solstice
 Dec 20thDec 21stDec 22ndDec 23rd

This is all GMT, of course, so readers elsewhere will need to recalculate. Time zones to the east of Greenwich are more likely to see a solstice on December 23rd, and may never get a 20th, while time zones to the west of Greenwich are more likely to see a solstice on December 20th, and may never get a 23rd. If you fancy researching or playing, try here.

And if all that's gone completely over your head, simply know this. The shortest day of the year, this year, is on December 22nd. Tomorrow will have four seconds more daylight than today, sunset will be back after 4pm by New Year's Eve, and days'll be back over eight hours long by Twelfth Night. We're on the glorious up-cycle back to summer, which won't peak until the summer solstice on, oh, June 20th rather than the more normal 21st.

 Monday, December 21, 2015

Before the year ends, here's an update on what's been going on at my local bus stop at Bow church. And because this subject bores some of my readers to tears, I'll throw in some additional developments along Cycle Superhighway 2 between Bow and Stratford, in case they find these more interesting.

Only two things have happened at Bus Stop M in the last three weeks, neither of them particularly significant. A proper bus map turned up in the bus shelter, after a two month absence, so passengers can now tell where their buses are going. And some blue paint appeared in the bus stop bypass, but not a lot, indeed only the central section. The other 75% of the surface remains unpainted tarmac, and the bypass remains sealed off by plastic barriers. Five months after construction began, cyclists are still being forced out into a narrower stream of traffic, while litter accumulates in the unused channel behind. Presumably the contractors are waiting until the Cycle Superhighway either side of the bus stop is complete, for health and safety reasons, but opening up the bus stop bypass would be undoubtedly be safer than leaving passing cyclists unprotected.

Also not yet completed here:
a) Bus Stop E still appears on the TfL website, sort of, even though it's been erased in real life
b) Bus Stop G still appears on the TfL website, even though it's been erased in real life
c) Timetables displayed at Bus Stop M stop don't (quite) match times at new location [REPLACED - Over Christmas a whole set of seven new timetables has been posted up, dated 19.12.15. Some are correct, while others still show either an incorrect location or a non-existent 'Bow Flyover' stop]
d) The replacement lamppost isn't functional, so it's unexpectedly dark here in the evening
e) the new bus shelter isn't yet plugged into the electricity supply, so this provides no light either

Perhaps lessons have been learned at the three bus stops on the opposite side of Bow Church, where a bus stop bypass is currently being driven through. Contractors have managed to keep the bus stop open throughout the process, aided by having considerably more space in which to manoeuvre. The original bus stops J, K and L closed only when a temporary alighting point was available, and passengers were swiftly switched back to their new island perch. Rather than combining three stops in one, as proved messy heading east, westbound passengers will continue to enjoy three separate poles. That's J for buses imminently turning off Bow Road, K for buses heading straight on towards Mile End, and L for almost-terminating buses on Route 8.

General bus congestion has been slightly eased by the temporary closure of Bromley High Street, meaning the 108 has to omit its loop through Bow. The end of the road has been blocked for some time, neither aided nor abetted by a useless yellow sign which states This road will be closed on ?/?/2015 for ? weeks, with all the dates and times missing. But there's a lot going on here, including the introduction of a contraflow cycle lane I'll be amazed to see anyone use, and the realignment of the pedestrian crossing by the Gladstone statue. Previously this was staggered, but imminently it'll be realigned to straight across, depositing pedestrians on the opposite side of Bromley High Street to before.

Adjacent to the Bow Roundabout, new segregated cycle lanes have been completed on either side of the main A11, but both remain barriered off. On the westbound that's understandable as the lane feeds into the under-construction bus stop bypass with no means of escape. But on the eastbound it appears officialdom is again being wilfully risk-averse, holding off on opening until the entire section is complete, despite the fact that cycling down this segregated stretch would be hugely safer than remaining in the traffic. Meanwhile a special Idiots Prize goes to whoever positioned the westbound roadworks sign in the cycle lane, forcing cyclists to swerve onto the pavement - I've had a couple of near misses myself.

At the Bow Roundabout itself, something unbelievable has started to happen. Controlled pedestrian crossings are on their way, for the first time in 45 years, rather than we locals having to take our lives in our hands every time we cross. At present only a few preliminary works have taken place, barely perceptible to the casual user. But from Monday 4th January the main works programme will begin, involving occasional lane and road closures, and will continue for six whole months. What with all the roadworks that have taken place at the Bow Roundabout over the last few years for the Olympics, the advanced stop lights, the CS2 extension and the CS2 upgrade, it sometimes feels as if the contractors have never gone away. When this latest reworking of the junction is complete at the end of June, maybe they'll finally leave us alone for a bit.

Further up Stratford High Street, the new road junction at Sugarhouse Lane is almost complete. This dead end street is about to become the main point of access to a hugely significant housing development on former industrial land, and for this to succeed a better connection is required. But only in one direction. Traffic from the Bow Roundabout and Bow Flyover will shortly be able to filter off and turn right into Sugarhouse Lane, but traffic emerging from Sugarhouse Lane will still only be able to turn left, otherwise a new set of traffic lights would be required and things are slow enough along here as it is. It's been coned-off misery here for months, especially for cyclists who (in a familiar tale) have been booted out of their safe lane into the main traffic. But this weekend it looked like things were almost complete, with contractors busy re-laying blue tarmac and barriers primed to go, so hopefully this temporary blackspot will be re-opened soon.

And finally, has the Greenway been reopened as promised? Has it hell. The northward link has been blocked since the Olympics and remains so while Crossrail does its thing. Back in 2010 we were promised that their disruptive engineering would be complete by 'Spring 2015', indeed there's still a sign on Stratford High Street saying so, but no. The authorities have prepared for the eventual reopening by slapping a sign with a disclaimer on the barrier, which reads This path is not a public right of way, but people are normally allowed to use it by permission of the landowner, and at their own risk. This is increasingly the future, alas, as London's shared spaces become private worlds where the public are tolerated but never welcomed.

Meanwhile the Greenway to the south of Stratford High Street remains sealed off as it has been all year. Important works related to the Lea Tunnel are taking place on Abbey Creek, and these were originally scheduled to be completed in December. The other weekend they left the gates open, and the worksite unattended, so I assumed everything was complete and wandered in. I got a long way too, right up to the big holes above the pipes, but no further. Alas the unlocked gates were simply a careless error, and on my way back I spotted the additional Thames Water notice extending possession to 30th April. A lengthy diversion thus still awaits anyone attempting to get through to Manor Road, now extended to a whole year of misery for regular Greenway users.

Sometimes I think it'll be lovely round here on the Olympic fringe when everything's finished. But increasingly I suspect it never will be, as Bow and Stratford's perpetual rebuilding cycle continues.

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