diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 18, 2018

(Sorry, today's post goes on a bit)

Stratford's had a one-way gyratory for 50 years.

But yesterday things started to change, big time. Following a consultation and a mammoth amount of roadworks, Broadway has been switched back to two-way traffic, and everyone's trying to get used to exactly what that means.

These red and white barriers are temporary at present, to keep everyone on the correct side of the road. God help us when they take them away.

Here's a rough schematic map of the stage we're at.

Previously all the blue arrows were one-way, clockwise only. As of Monday morning, traffic along Broadway now runs both ways (with two westbound lanes but only one eastbound). The red arrows depict junctions where only certain turns are possible. Traffic heading east along Broadway can't exit at Tramway Avenue, and can only continue onwards towards Ilford at the far end. Meanwhile traffic emerging from Tramway Avenue can only turn left, same as before, no change there.

Importantly, this is only stage 1 of the transformation. Stage two is scheduled for five weeks time, when all the one-way blue arrows become two-way blue arrows, and the gyratory essentially disappears. General roadworks and finishing touches will continue until summer 2019.

If you'd like more specific detail, I wrote about the road changes in November 2016 when they were at the consultation stage, and I wrote about the bus changes in June 2017 when they were at the consultation stage. Essentially, all the consultation proposals for roads and buses have been accepted in full.

I've been out to see how things are going, once in the middle of the day and again in the evening rush. I think it's fair to say that things are still bedding in. From what I saw, car drivers had one set of problems, cyclists had another set of problems, pedestrians had another set of problems and bus passengers had another set of problems.

And I can outline a number of these problems by looking at the one remodelled junction that's supposedly complete - bottom centre on the map - where Tramway Avenue meets Broadway.

This junction used to be a lot more convoluted, with threads of traffic cutting all over the place and a separate access road for buses entering Stratford. But from Monday it's become a plain T-junction, and is notionally much simpler... though not necessarily good. Things are good if you're travelling east. Things are OK if you're a vehicle travelling west. Things are slow if you're a cyclist travelling west, or a pedestrian trying to cross the road. But if you're a vehicle entering Stratford up Tramway Avenue it's a disaster, thanks to miserly phasing of the lights.

Here's how the phasing of the lights works. Green means a green light phase, and red means a red light phase. Each column is approximately 14 seconds long. The entire cycle lasts just under a minute and a half before repeating. And, as you can see, some of the green phases are a lot shorter than the others.

 14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec
Broadway (W)
↰↑ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (E)
↑ 🚗 🚌 🚲      
Broadway (E)
↱ 🚌      
Tramway Ave
↰ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (W)
↑ 🚲                
Crossing🚶 🚶 🚶 🚶                

For half the time, traffic flows freely east and west along Broadway. That bit's fine. Then there's a 14 second slot when traffic continues flowing east, and manoeuvring in and out of Tramway Avenue occurs. And then there's the bit where pedestrians and cyclists heading west get their turn... assuming they haven't got bored and tried crossing already.

14 seconds isn't very long to get a queue of traffic out of a busy side road like Tramway Avenue. In particular it isn't long when many of the vehicles are buses attempting to make a left turn. I couldn't believe how slowly things were going, so I watched ten times to see how many vehicles got out when the lights were green. Once seven vehicles made it out, because a couple of them nipped through naughtily on red. Once only one vehicle made it out, because traffic was backing up on Broadway. But the average was definitely four, just four, which quite frankly isn't enough.

An extra complication is that traffic turning left out of Tramway Avenue onto Broadway immediately comes across another set of lights for a pedestrian crossing, which is at red. The red light has an extended cover on the front because it's only meant to be seen by traffic on Broadway, but I observed numerous drivers from Tramway Avenue thinking the red light was for them and stopping, halting all the traffic coming up behind. Because it was Day 1, the contractors had a man standing ready beside each set of lights in case of mishap, and he jumped out every time to urge the stopped car forward. But unless someone manages to shield the lights better, this badly-signalled misunderstanding is going to happen a lot, and hold up the traffic even worse than it already is.

At lunchtime the queue of vehicles on Tramway Avenue was about 30 vehicles long, and in the rush hour more like 50. When only four cars are getting through the lights at a time, every 90 seconds, that's a very slow queue. I sat in that queue on a bus for over ten minutes, without means of escape, and had I tried the same thing after work I suspect it would have been more like 20 minutes. I watched several bus drivers opening their doors early and letting passengers out to walk the last bit, so calamitous was the delay. Unless something is tweaked, and soon, traffic from Plaistow faces a perma-jammed bus-disabling bottleneck.

As for pedestrians, they used to have it easier, with traffic in only one direction to look out for. Now it's two way so there are vehicles heading everywhere, which means pedestrians are supposed to wait until the end of the 90 second cycle for their 18 second crossing phase. This being east London, obviously not everybody waits. In particular, people now spot gaps where they can dash halfway across, then wait in the middle of the road for another gap to get them to the other side. Unfortunately the new road layout hasn't been designed with refuges in the middle, only tiny islands where the traffic lights sit, the end result being lots of people hovering in the middle of the road where they're not supposed to be. This may not end well.

This is particularly troublesome opposite the Town Hall which has the teensiest space to wait. A particularly 'fun' moment came when one lady stopped and waited in front of the temporary No Entry sign which is supposed to warn vehicles not to enter the new eastbound lane. A motorbike duly entered the new eastbound lane, having not seen the sign, and met some surprised traffic further down the road. The most popular time for jaywalking is the lull immediately after westbound traffic on Broadway ceases, which is just before traffic from Tramway Avenue comes round the corner, which is another reason why those drivers are stopping at that red light they're not supposed to be stopping at, stalling the traffic flow.

Meanwhile, how are cyclists doing at this particular junction? Pretty well, given that one former lane of traffic has effectively been donated for their use, either recently or when Cycle Superhighway 2 was upgraded. Some lovely segregated lanes have been carved out both east and west, albeit with a temporary unfinished wiggle outside the Stratford Centre. But there is a big catch, which is that the cycle lanes aren't always obviously distinguishable from the pavement, so you get a lot of oblivious pedestrians standing in them.

It's not the pedestrians' fault. They're forced to cross cycle lanes when crossing the road or waiting for a bus, now that bus stop bypasses are the norm, and points of overlap have not been clearly marked. I found myself standing in a cycle lane without realising on a number of occasions, and was yelled at by a miserable old man who couldn't understand why someone would be blocking his right of way on the first morning it had been introduced. When it's eventually complete, the eastbound cycle lane past the Stratford Centre and round the obelisk looks like it may suffer from considerable misunderstood obstruction.

I admit, I still don't understand this section.

Enough of Tramway Avenue, because there's a second road junction where things are almost complete, and that's where Broadway meets Stratford High Street meets Great Eastern Road (bottom left on my original map). This used to be a sort-of roundabout with a sculpture in the middle, but the introduction of two-way traffic means it's been changed into a T-junction instead.

And the bad thing about a T-junction is that sequencing the traffic lights becomes more complicated. Previously traffic had generous signal timings, pausing occasionally to allow pedestrians and cyclists across. Now each of the three arms needs its own non-conflicting phase, which means much longer for vehicles to wait, and all the pedestrian movements bundled up at the end. Like so.
I'm ignoring traffic coming out of Great Eastern Road, because at the moment it's only buses.

 14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec14 sec
High Street (E)
↰ 🚗 🚌      
High Street (E)
↑ 🚗 🚌      
Broadway (W)
↑ 🚗 🚌 🚲      
Broadway (W)
↱ 🚗 🚌      
High Street (E)
↰↑ 🚲                
Crossing🚶 🚶 🚶 🚶                

Traffic flowing west along Broadway and continuing towards the Bow Roundabout gets the best deal, freely flowing for half the time. That's still worse than it used to be, but better than everyone else. Traffic arriving along Stratford High Street from the Bow Roundabout is getting a rawer deal. Previously they were more likely to sail through on green than be stopped, but now the lights are at red at least two-thirds of the time, which means slower flow and longer journeys.

Specifically, traffic arriving up Stratford High Street used to always turn left, which kept things simple. But now it has to get into the correct lane - left hand lane for Leyton and the station, right hand lane for Ilford. Traffic isn't yet very good at getting into the correct lane, because the signs are small and yellow, and the arrows on the road appear a bit too late.

For the car at the front of the queue, the sole indication that traffic is allowed to turn left is a single green filter on one of the three sets of lights. From what I've seen, that driver often doesn't notice, or might be in the wrong lane, which risks this entire 14 second phase being wasted. Only then does the full set of lights go green, and everyone moves forward... or realises they're in the wrong lane and tries to manoeuvre into the right lane and slows everybody down and oh damn the lights have changed back to red again. It's by no means as bad as the Tramway Avenue junction, and traffic isn't backing up anywhere near as far, but I reckon it'll make bus journeys from Bow to Stratford about two minutes longer. This news has not made my day.

Cyclists heading east, and pedestrians, are expected to wait until the end of the 1½ minute cycle before being able to cross. I watched a number of cyclists and pedestrians ignoring the lights and crossing anyway in a gap in the traffic, because only mugs wait an extra minute when they don't need to. A number of cyclists then joined the traffic, rather than negotiating the amusing Toytown maze in the centre of the road junction like they were supposed to. I can't say I blame them. However, cyclists joining the traffic down Broadway will then have discovered they can't re-enter the cycle lane because it's rigidly segregated, so are stuck in the main traffic all the way down to the second set of lights. As usual, what we have here is cycling infrastructure designed for angels, being used by ordinary human beings.

And what of buses? A big campaign is currently underway in Stratford to alert passengers that their bus may now be stopping somewhere different from where it used to stop. Every bus stop has been decorated with a special yellow map, the bus station is liberally emblazoned with posters, printed bus stop maps were being distributed in A4 format, and a digital map is available here, if you're interested. In particular, buses are now taking full advantage of two-way traffic on Broadway, and the old bus lane round the back of St John's church has been permanently closed. And then there's the tweaking of the bus station...

Until yesterday the bus station had four bus stops, under cover, labelled A to D. Stop A was for buses towards Stratford City and Maryland, B for Ilford, C for Bow and D for Plaistow. But buses towards Bow no longer go all the way around the gyratory, so can no longer have a bus stop on the outside of the bus station, so now have a new stop on the inside labelled E. Stop E is right outside the station, alongside Robert the steam loco. Stop E has one normal-sized bus shelter, not a decent roof, so expect to get wet if it rains. Stop E has a big poster on the back of its bus shelter which says No Access To Bus Station, which nobody has yet thought to take down. At present only the D8 and the 276 stop at stop E - the 25 and 425 will be along later - which means there's currently no single stop from which all buses to Bow can be caught. It's none of it ideal.

To make way for stop E, the special 'Alighting only' bus stop where passengers are dropped off outside the station has been halved in size. The new stop is halfway down, giving disembarking hordes further to walk, and clogs up if more than three buses try to use it. Many bus drivers don't realise the alighting point has moved and are still dropping off passengers at stop E instead. For passengers on route 276 the bus stop before stop E is half a mile back opposite Stratford Park, because there's no longer a stop on or near Broadway, which is madness. Meanwhile stop B, where Bow buses used to stop, has been allocated to routes 241 and 308 instead, i.e. services towards Stratford City, but none of the new maps actually mention this. As for Stop P, awkwardly located on the opposite side of the road, that won't be seeing any buses until the end of next month.

Finally I should mention the extension of the 425 to Ilford, because nobody at TfL has. Fresh tiles have appeared on bus stops, but no new timetables have appeared anywhere, and no updated route maps have been posted. The 425 has simply been extended to Ilford in the hope that passengers will work out what's going on... which they very much haven't yet. They stand bemused when a 425 turns up, maybe checking for a timetable that isn't there. They flag down a packed 25 rather than a half-empty 425, when both are going to the same place. Occasionally they ask the driver where she's going, experience a moment of revelation and hop on. People will twig eventually, but for now you're guaranteed a quicker journey on the 425 than the 25 because it stops less often for fewer passengers.

What a glorious mess the semi-removal of the Stratford gyratory has been so far. In places brilliant, enabling more direct journeys and adding safer cycling lanes. In places depressing, introducing convoluted signal phasing and making everyone wait longer. In other places disastrous, jamming up the Plaistow road and encouraging unsafe pedestrian dashes. And of course all as yet unfinished, so with plenty of time for further change, hopefully very much for the better.

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