Tower Hamlets is ploughing on with its Liveable Streets initiative, and yesterday introduced a 'Bus gate' in Wapping. After a disastrous launch in Bow earlier this summer, which had to be abandoned on Day One, would Wapping's less ambitious scheme work any better? Well, yes, and yet no.
The main problem to be solved in Wapping is ratrunning. Certain vehicles are keen to avoid jams on The Highway so nip off round Wapping High Street, despite this being a narrow, twisty, part-cobbled road. The introduction of a bus gate at the junction with Sampson Street should prevent this by magically dividing Wapping in two mutually inaccessible halves (unless you're on a bus, on a bike or on foot). Also the bus gate only applies during peak hours, specifically 5.30am-10.30am & 4pm-7pm, so at all other times Wapping residents, taxis and delivery vehicles can drive through to their heart's content.
Here's a sign announcing the restrictions ahead.
Oh, I thought when I saw that yesterday morning, they haven't introduced the bus gate yet. Then I saw this.
Oh, I thought, maybe they have. Then I saw this part-covered sign.
I was now really quite confused. Fortunately I wasn't driving.
What I hadn't spotted is that I had now reached the bus gate... because there isn't an actual gate. Neither are there any barriers, nor any special markings on the road, just a pair of No Motor Vehicles signs and a digital camera pointing at the gap inbetween. The Wapping Bus Gate doesn't physically exist, so unsurprisingly a lot of other people didn't spot it either.
The couple I was sitting behind on the number 100 bus didn't spot it, even though they were deliberately looking. The lady waiting at the nearby bus stop didn't spot it, and didn't seem convinced it was switched on. And a whole stream of traffic didn't spot it either, not until drivers had it pointed out to them.
All of Wapping has been leafletted explaining the changes, and signs have supposedly been erected at on all the roads leading off the Highway. But on the first morning a lot of traffic was still heading merrily towards the bus gate, oblivious, and risking a mighty £130 fine. Local residents were very keen that nobody got caught, so a well-meaning posse flagged down approaching drivers to warn them of the penalty if they continued. Every driver then turned round and drove back again, after some somewhat awkward manoeuvring, doubling up the amount of traffic rather than reducing it as intended.
It's only a trial at present, officially for eighteen months with a review after six. Maybe that's why no expensive infrastructure has been introduced as yet. But it was astonishing yesterday to see Wapping residents out on the streets policing a traffic calming measure they don't believe in, purely to prevent drivers being unfairly penalised.
Day One on a project like this is always going to be problematic, and a lot of these drivers will know not to come this way next time, problem sorted. But I was still staggered that nobody from Tower Hamlets council was (obviously) present by the gate to provide information, warn drivers or whatever. Maybe that's because, apparently, nobody's being fined for the first two weeks of operation, only sent a letter warning them not to do it again.
But mostly I was wholly unimpressed that the phrase 'Bus gate' was being used to describe something that isn't a gate. Call it something else if you have to, but don't use deceptive jargon that members of the public won't understand, so are likely to drive straight through.