diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 06, 2024

Carpenters Road has reopened again. It has a habit of doing this.

It first closed in 2007 so its rundown automotive industries could be snuffed out in readiness for the Olympics. It took until 2014 to reopen, freshly sanitised, as a link road round the back of the Olympic Park. It then closed again at the end of 2018, this so that construction could begin on Boris's Olympicopolis. And it's since been closed for five and a half years while what's now the East Bank has taken shape, finally reopening in the last couple of weeks to very little fanfare. Allow me to grumble my way down it.

The previously-shut half-mile starts by the Aquatics Centre, alongside the badly-phased traffic lights and the 9/11 statue hardly anyone knows is there. Nobody's hurried to take down the Road Closed sign, but that doesn't seem to have stopped through traffic finding its way because satnavs know about road reopenings almost instantaneously. Access to the swimming pool car park remains open, this part of the street shamelessly prioritising vehicles over pedestrians who get to go on an annoying diversion to avoid the tarmac swirl as if those on foot were an afterthought.

If you know the wide footbridge which leads from Westfield to the Olympic Park we're about to walk underneath it. On one side are some bike racks and on the other side a painted box waiting to become a bus stop. It's a ridiculously long bus stop capable of accommodating three luxury coaches, which might admittedly be the point, but the occasional double decker will look somewhat adrift. Annoyingly this bus stop isn't connected to any pavement, only to a zebra crossing where passengers are expected to cross the street safely, but this crossing is so far away I doubt most people will bother to use it.

The bus stop also buggers up the otherwise excellent cycle lane. For most of the reopened section this is broad, segregated and bi-directional, i.e. pretty much perfect, hugging the undeveloped side of the street alongside the Overground tracks. But once the very long bus stop intrudes only the southbound lane can continue, sneaking through before being dumped unceremoniously back into traffic. Northbound cyclists are instead left to share the pavement on the other side, then expected to cross the street via an unsignalled crossing, the same crossing bus stop users probably won't use either. I can see what the designers were trying to do, creating safe routes that look good on paper, but equally I can understand why the only cyclists I saw ignored the lot and rode down the road instead.

A bit further along is another crossing with very temporary-looking belisha beacons. This one's odd because the stripes are really narrow, nothing like a proper zebra, and because it only leads to a bike lane not to anywhere pedestrians should be. I suspect this may be because it's meant for cyclists rather than pedestrians, particularly those nipping out from the cycle store under UAL, but as yet it isn't signed as such. To be fair a small army of workmen are still finishing off this side of the street, tweaking laybys, beds and paving, but I doubt it'll make any of this ridiculous complexity any more practical.

The pavement side of the street follows the back of East Bank, the Olympic Park's burgeoning cultural destination. Here we find the back of Sadlers Wells, the back of the BBC, the back of UAL and the back of the V&A - not the grand public entrances facing the Olympic Park but the backdoors and the delivery bays. Pedestrians don't seem particularly well protected from reversing lorries but maybe there won't be too many of those. There's also a northbound bus stop, this time much more accessible and already with its shelter in situ. It too however is stupidly long, extending right across UAL's main delivery entrance, as if whoever painted the yellow box had no idea how little space an occasional double decker takes up.

TfL have just announced which bus route will be stopping here and it's the 241. This currently runs between Silvertown and Stratford City and the intention is to extend it to Here East via the East Bank. Along the way it'll also weave round the emerging neighbourhoods of Sweetwater and East Wick, one of which as yet has zero houses, so this is more TfL looking forward than trying to be useful now. It'll bring the number of bus routes serving the Olympic Park to three, the others being the 388 and 339, and it'll also be the third bus route to serve Carpenters Road this century, the others being the 276 and 339.

Coming rather sooner to Carpenters Road are two long staircases leading up to where the action is at footbridge level. Sadlers Wells will only be accessible from up there, not from down here, so prepare to climb four flights to the main entrance (where the You Are Welcome neon sign won't be switched on until the end of the year). The steps beside the V&A will lead up to another footbridge which'll allow swifter escape to the John Lewis end of Westfield, already seemingly complete but as yet still sealed off. One day you'll also be able to walk round to the front of East Bank at riverside level, where the refreshment concessions are built and waiting but as yet without any tenants, or indeed much in the way of footfall.

But you can already walk into UAL from Carpenters Road through the back entrance, anyone can, they welcome it. This fashion college welcomes all kinds of visitors, more usually via their front entrance on the river-facing terrace, which is also the quickest way into their latest exhibition. This was still being set up last time I came so I had to content myself with going wow at the central staircase and internal architecture. This time I explored the lot and it's excellent, plus finding all the subsections involved wandering round several public parts of the building, plus it's open until 22nd June so if you're in the Olympic Park you should go too.

The exhibition's called Making More Mischief: Folk Costume in Britain and explores culture via the special clothes people wear so it's highly appropriate for a fashion college. Morris dancing plays a prominent part, from intricately sewn waistcoats to a raggedy hobby hoss, not to mention the horned foliage of Gay Bogies on Acid from Hastings' Jack in the Green. I particularly liked the collection of rag dolls attempting to replicate the costume of every UK Morris troupe, which after ten years now encompasses everything from the Hexhamshire Lasses to the Blackhorse & Standard. Also covered in these galleries are the Notting Hill Carnival, Swan Uppers, Pearly Kings and Queens and the actual Bridport Hat Festival, that's how diverse this exhibition is.

While you're here you can also pick up a leaflet for a 3 mile Folk Traditions Walk around Hackney, Stratford and Bow. This is beautifully done and comes with an associated audio accompaniment, so for example you might find yourself standing at Bus Stop M learning about Elizabethan dancing clowns and oystershell grottos. A fully online version can be found here. The exhibition meanwhile continues downstairs with a celebration of Somali weddingwear (including a hybrid hoodie) and a corridorful of button-heavy Pearly memorabilia. And if you follow that corridor to its administrative end you'll find yourself walking out into, aha, Carpenters Road very close to the dodgy zebra crossing. It's not all terrible, Carpenters Road, indeed you may have noticed I stopped grumbling about four paragraphs ago.

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