diamond geezer

 Friday, July 29, 2022

The Olympic Park is really two parks with a massive great road in the middle.

This central road was already under construction before London won its bid, because planners assumed people would one day want to drive to Stratford International station. But it does form an annoying barrier, like the neck of an hourglass, with pedestrians and cyclists pretty much forced to cross the central traffic lights every time. The planners did what they could given the underlying Overground line couldn't be moved, nor ducked under. But with the long-term plan being to build flats either side of this constriction, the Olympic Park is really two parks with a dysfunctional gap in the middle.

But at least you can get across. There are still several genuine disconnects around the edge of the park where, even ten years on, nobody's yet managed to stitch inside and outside together.

Northwall Road: They needed this kilometre-long cut-through as a northern distributor road for back-of-house services during the Olympics. But they massively overengineered it, have subsequently blocked off both ends and it now exists as an unused concrete chasm behind the Velodrome as the archetypal road to nowhere. It doesn't help that only one footpath connects onto it from the Park, linking to a central point nowhere near any convenient exit. And it really doesn't help that there should be a second connection by the A12 junction but the perimeter fence has no pedestrian access, only a gate for vehicles that's always* locked. Several footpaths in the park lead to this deadzone, and a pedestrian crossing with ramps has been deliberately added on the other side, but it's all wasted infrastructure for the want of a simple gap in the fence.
* At the moment, thanks to the Commonwealth Games, this gate is wide open. Vehicles need to be able to get through to a festival site in the north of the park, plus Northwall Road itself has been requisitioned for secure access to the Velodrome so is brimming with police vans and a private security presence. I do not recommend dropping by what's currently an unfriendly authoritarian enclave. But in normal times, very much locked.

Leyton: There isn't an easy way into the Park from Leyton. You either divert past New Spitalfields Market or walk down to Temple Mills, two points peripherally one mile apart, because there's absolutely no access inbetween. A path alongside the A12 would solve it, or a footbridge over the railway from the back of the Asda car park, but neither of these are practical future options. It's why Leyton was never a decent bridgehead to the Games 10 years ago, and is still unnecessarily cut off today.

Westfield: Stratford's mega-shopping centre was destined to be built even had the Games not gone ahead. Alas it was never designed to be easy to get out of, because that's how retail circulation works, so revelled in being the gateway through which befuddled Games-goers would have to percolate. Passing through from Stratford town centre still requires at least one change of level, and even then there's only one direct route into the Park past shops and all the restaurants and the Aquatics Centre. Boundary stitching might improve once the cultural treats along East Bank finally open to the public, but Westfield is always going to be an accessibility blot.

City Mill River: The northbound path alongside the City Mill River was sealed in July 2007 and has never reopened. That's probably because it used to pass through a manky tunnel under the Greenway sewer which it'd be hard to tempt anyone back into, even with lighting. But it means the riverside path from Stratford High Street suddenly stops dead at a locked grille, down a ramp currently liberally scattered with open suitcases, empty capsules and lager cans, which benefits nobody.

They closed the southbound path alongside the City Mill River in September 2012 and it has never reopened. I suspect I was one of the last people down it after the Paralympic Closing Ceremony. But for the last ten years it's been permanently fenced off, despite being the obvious intended continuation of the riverside promenade through the Olympic Park, with two paths and a set of steps all leading down to a pair of 'temporary' metal barriers. This being East London someone's ripped a hole in the first and pushed aside the second, so you can in fact walk on through the mossy railway arch beyond, but ultimately there's no escape from the overgrown ramp on the far side. This is the Bridgewater Triangle, last used for security friskdowns during the Games and since pencilled in for 600 homes as part of the Pudding Mill neighbourhood. But as yet no flats have been built, and even when they are plans suggest no reconnection is intended which would be a ghastly unstitched error.

Bow: There isn't an easy way into the Park from Bow. You either divert past Pudding Mill Lane station or walk up the River Lea to Old Ford, two points peripherally one mile apart, because there's absolutely no access inbetween. Barriers include the A12 dual carriageway, a railway viaduct, an aggregates depot and a Victorian mega-sewer, four impenetrables it's basically impossible to do anything about. But it always niggles me that I'm ten minutes from the Olympic Stadium as the crow flies yet it's impossible to get there in less than twenty.

On the positive side, the western side of the Olympic Park is impressively well connected to local neighbourhoods. There's always been a crossing at Old Ford Lock, then sequentially north of that are a 2019 footbridge and 2021 road bridge, the old bridge at White Post Lane, a 2014 footbridge to Hackney Wick and a recently-opened footbridge opposite Here East. As yet there's no evidence that the Fish Island road bridge will ever be opened to buses because the last 10 metres of tarmac remains unlaid, but for cyclists and pedestrians the western boundary is encouragingly permeable.

Also, sometimes it gets unexpectedly better. There's an awkward chasm between Westfield and the Aquatics Centre, thanks to the Overground and other railways, where one loop road descends and another ascends immediately alongside. Alas nobody had the forethought to add a pedestrian connection between the two so shortcutters learned to squeeze through a narrow gap in the railings, which planners then vengefully fenced off. Now they've thought again and are busy making a proper connection even cyclists will be able to use, making it much easier to get from the new university campus to Carpenters Road or from Sidings Street to Westfield. Ten years late, but better late than never.

It's good to see someone somewhere is still thinking of ways to make access to the Park better. There are a few other places they could look next...

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