diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 18, 2021

I don't know about you, but I've reached the Tracking Down an A-Z of Bus Stops stage of lockdown. As you can see, I did quite well.

Many London bus stops have a letter on top to make them easier to identify. These 'point letters' are particularly useful in busy locations with several routes heading in various directions, and can be helpfully depicted on maps, timetables and in apps. Very very roughly speaking half of London's bus stops display a single letter, a quarter display two letters and a quarter display none at all. A, B, C and D are the most common single letters, with about 500 of each across the capital, whereas by the time you get down to X, Y and Z it's more like 200.
[Bus stop data comes from an FoI database released in 2014]

Letters generally appear in clusters and were probably once allocated alphabetically, although subsequent changes can muddy the water somewhat.

For example, whoever first lettered the bus stops in Bow placed A and B outside the station, C and D up Fairfield Road and then turned their attention to the church. The north side would originally have had E, F and G, although F had disappeared before I moved here, while across the road were J, K and L. The Bus Stop M debacle of 2015, inspired by the evolution of a cycle superhighway, rather mucked things up. E vanished, G was replaced by M, K was removed and L no longer takes passengers... and this is why the lettering of bus stops sometimes appears to make no sense.

The task I set myself was to try to take a photograph of a complete alphabet of bus stop letters while sticking as close to home as possible. As you can see A, B, C, D, J, L and M were easy to find, and the rest of the alphabet required a bit of searching. I scrolled around TfL's online maps, which are better at showing bus stops than bus routes, to try to find the nearest example of each letter, then went out for a long walk with my camera. It took an hour and twenty minutes. It turns out a wet weekday morning during lockdown is ideal for such purposes because a) most of the stops had nobody waiting at them b) the sun never caused problems with dazzle and shadow c) what else am I going to do?

A/B: Outside Bow Church DLR station. Easy.
C/D: Up Fairfield Road. Easy.
E: This required my greatest deviation from Bow Road. Originally this stop was called M but when G got renamed M in 2015 that meant there were two Ms on the same spider map so they changed this to E because there wasn't an E locally any more after the previous E near G (now M) had been removed.
Former Bus Stop E still appears on TfL's digital map despite being removed six years ago.
F: This required the longest walk from home, almost a mile down to the Regent's Canal.
G/H: Mile End has the perfect A-H collection on the four arms of its big crossroads.
J/L: The two remaining stops south of Bow Church. All buses stop at J because L is now solely a bus stand so goodness knows why it still has a letter on it.
K: The disappearance of Bow Church's K meant a hike down to Coborn Road.
Former Bus Stop K still appears on TfL's digital map despite being removed five years ago.
M: The legendary Bus Stop M is easily reached.
N: This one's on Tredegar Road (opposite the E that used to be an M).
P: The westbound Bow Flyover bus stop.
Q: Top of Fairfield Road (opposite a P, but I've already got a P).
R/T: The last surviving stop in Bromley High Street.
S: Tailstop at the top of Campbell Road. This required my longest wait because the two people waiting definitely wouldn't've appreciated being photographed and the next 108 was still some way off.
T/U: Northbound on St Leonard's Street (for buses nipping off the A12 to serve actual houses).
V: The bus stop outside Tesco (currently the first stop on route 488).
W: The other Bow Flyover stop (possibly the only London bus stop preceded and followed by a Bus Stop M).
X: The last stop on route 488, so you can't actually catch a bus here.
TfL's digital map thinks you can catch the 488 and D8 at Bus Stop X but you can't (and indeed never could).
Y/Z: Finally, the important pair outside Bow Road tube station. I was lucky to find a Z, there are fewer than 150 in London.

If you've been paying attention you'll have noticed that I've only visited 24 different lettered bus stops, not 26. This is because Is and Os are rare beasts and there aren't any near where I live.
"I asked TfL about this and apparently they try to avoid using O and I these days because they look too much like 0 and 1. Reportedly, the team responsible were “surprised” that there were still O and I stops at all, which is slightly disconcerting." (Ed Jefferson, City Monitor, 2018)
Only about 30 bus stops in London are lettered with an O, which averages out at one per borough. In fact Tower Hamlets has one, Hackney has two and Newham has two, and these are the only Os within walking distance of my home. The nearest is outside Cambridge Heath station, and that required an extra mile's hike on top of all the wandering I'd done so far. I'm still not 100% sure why I made the pilgrimage but I can confirm, yes, the stop by the chicken shop does indeed have a letter O on top.

But I has stumped me. I believe there are only six Bus Stop Is in London and none of them are anywhere near me. One's in Southall, one's near Sudbury Town station, one's in Whetstone, one's round the Sutton ring road, one's in the centre of Wimbledon and one's on Bromley High Street. The latter is closest to where I live but it's still 9 miles away so there's no hope of getting there... which means my A-Z bus stop tally falters at 25 out of 26.

So is there any neighbourhood in London where the A-Z bus stop challenge can be completed? It'd have to be in one of the six locations in the previous paragraph, all of which I've checked on Streetview to confirm that Bus Stop I genuinely exists. This Bus Stop I then has to be somewhere near a Bus Stop O, and all the other 24 letters have to fall into place.

Sudbury Town fails big time. Wimbledon's missing O and Q. Whetstone nearly works if you head towards Finchley but the end of the alphabet's absent. I don't think Bromley succeeds (but TfL's online map is littered with fake bus stops so I can't be sure). Southall ticks off the lot but only if you include a walk to Dormers Wells. So the sole true winner seems to be Sutton town centre where the entire alphabet from A to Z appears in and around the ring road, suggesting the whole thing was carefully planned. I'd like to show you this on the Sutton spider map but TfL's Cartographic Pulp Squad have withdrawn that so you'll have to search things out for yourself. But hey, if you are in Sutton and have nothing better to do, why not enliven your day by tracking down an A-Z of lettered bus stops?

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