Last week the Mayors of Tower Hamlets and Newham came together to open a new ramp beside Bow Creek at Canning Town. The administrative geography of the location is complex, thanks to interlocking peninsulas, the ramp being in one borough but the onward connection being to the other. The ramp took nine months to build and cost £593,000 as part of a long term plan to increase accessibility along the last miles of the Lea. I was surprised, therefore, to discover than it unlocks nothing new.
I've been reporting on plans to connect up the lower Lea for morethantenyears. The problem is that south of Bow Locks what footpaths there are tend to be dead ends, so even the official Lea Valley Walk gives up and follows the canal to Limehouse instead. Originally the new riverside path was to be called the Fatwalk, but thankfully someone recognised that was a dreadful name and now it's the Leaway instead. And it's that Leaway name which has now appeared on a big sign beside the A13 flyover, and which is written in the pavement at the top of the ramp too.
The ramp's barely 50m long and runs immediately alongside the DLR (whose trains rush past behind a high fence). A metal sign at the top of the slope points towards Bow Creek Ecology Park and something optimistically called Canning Town Riverside, which it turns out is a cluster of vandalproof benches and a litter bin overlooking what's either a brimming river or a muddy trench, tides permitting. I bet it looks more enticing in the summer. This is one of only two locations in London where I've ever thought "Uh oh, I'm about to be mugged", and although that never happened this additional connectivity can only be a good thing.
Except it's not a fresh connection because a set of steps already leads down to this point from the pavement above. What's new is that bicycles, pushchairs and wheelchairs can now get down here too... although what's odd is they could already thanks to the Blue Bridge a few metres on. But what's even odder is that any cyclist who comes down the new ramp has to continue their journey by crossing this Blue Bridge... which leads back to the pavement they were previously on. According to the Mayors the new ramp exists to "allow people to walk or cycle from Silvocea Way to Canning Town station avoiding the busy A13", but all it's really doing is bypassing 100 metres of perfectly good cycle superhighway.
If there is a point to the ramp, it's to improve connectivity for links yet to be created. The riverside path continues round a thin peninsula to the back entrance to Canning Town station and will eventually continue further, but doesn't yet. A much more direct route could follow the metal footbridge over the DLR, except for some reason that's always locked in the middle despite both halves being individually accessible. And the Leaway itself will one day continue through the tunnel beneath the flyover, just don't try following the route yet because it's horrible.
Wharfside Road already has all its Leaway collateral, including a paved area with benches, a Legible London minilith and 'Leaway north' written in the concrete on the ground. The map on the minilith confirms that the Lea Valley Walk continues along Stephenson Road, but not what a godforsaken hellhole Stephenson Road is pedestrianwise. The industrial area which follows boasts decrepit warehouses, skip hire facilities, car repair units and recycling yards, and is frequented by numerous trucks and lorries. I passed through while a forklift was unloading scrap into a shed, so had to cross to the opposite narrow 'pavement' alongside the Jubilee line, except someone was coming the other way so I had to wait for a minute to avoid being crushed by passing vehicles. Stephenson Road may be an important employment cluster, but no way does it deserve to be on any official accessible walking trail.
The Leawayshould pass along the riverfront instead, but landowners on the Electra Business Park have never played ball. One short strip of promenade is sealed off and waiting, while the remaining chunk lies beyond a razed brownfield site that awaits redevelopment. One decent fence along the waterside should fix it, wharfage rights permitting, allowing existing commercial interests to continue unabated while cyclists and pedestrians power through. In the meantime that grim inland diversion via Star Lane DLR remains necessary, and the official onward connection through the Prologis Business Park isn't much better.
If the new path is ever opened up it'll connect to Cody Dock, an unqualified success as a community facility since it opened in 2012. I passed through while the gravestones for the Hallowe'en event were being tweaked and local families were decorating a tent for the evening's extravaganza. But the riverside beyond is as wild and empty as ever, an amazing resource underconnected and underused because it still doesn't quite go anywhere. The Leaway cannot come soon enough... although when it finally does, I suspect ten thousand homes won't be too far behind.