Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cycling in the Olympic Park

In 2007 an area of East London that was mostly industrial or wasteland was bulldozed to build the Olympic Park. Much was made of the 'legacy' of the park once the games were over, promotional videos were made about how accessible the park would be via public transport and that cycling and walking would be the main way that people would get around the park. For the East Village a fly through promotional video explained that there would be a bike space for every home and also appeared to show to show a future world where despite there being roads, not a single car exists and instead everyone is using a bike. There were also lots of diagrams showing how the park would be crisscrossed by 'green' cycle routes

The park is 560 acres in size, about the same size as Hyde Park, is located about four miles from Central London and will eventually have over 8,000 homes. Therefore this was a real opportunity for a small part of London to finally 'go dutch' and to do it the right way. Imagine if the dutch built an entire new district just four miles from the centre of Amsterdam. There would be wide and well maintained segregated cycle paths on the busiest routes with physical barriers in place to ensure the quieter routes are almost car free. Cycle tracks would get their own bridges, traffic lights and tunnels. So how does London match up?

In the 12 months since the games they've been busy clearing away all the pedestrian walkways and rebuilding the roads and on Monday afternoon the park, or The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to give it its full name, finally opened to the public. Not all of it mind, just the northern area of the park. The former Olympics Village, now called 'East Village' is due to open later this year. The southern area of the park where the stadium and Aquatics Centre are based, along with the Velopark in the northern half of the park will open in April 2014.  Just an hour after it opened I strapped my 14 month old daughter into her seat on the back of my dutch bike and we went down to explore it.

There are two ways to get into the park, from the Stratford side via Westfield Avenue which, you may guess, runs along the Westfield Centre behind Stratford station and from the Hackney side via White Post Lane, near to Hackney Wick station.

White Post Lane was closed in 2007 to build the park which left Hackney Wick as an island with no through roads at all. Since then very few motor vehicles can be found here most of the time, only vehicles actually accessing somewhere tend to visit, rather than those passing through to somewhere else. The area is also home to lots of artists, some cool little bars and restaurants. As there is also little public transport round here the bike is king. If you're cycling to the park with small children, like I was, or just prefer a traffic free route to get there then this is the route to use. Just head along the canal until you get to White Post Lane and you can access the park straight from the canal.

This is the entrance from White Post Lane

The security guards will tell you to dismount from your bike and you have to walk along the pavement until you get to Waterden Road. All the way along to Waterden Road there are security guards, I counted 12 of them, all making sure you don't cross the road when there is traffic coming and don't step out into the road unless you are at a designated crossing. Presumably that is because this is still a building site and not a public road so if anyone was injured or killed on this road, it would be taking place in a workplace and not on a public highway.

Once I got past the security barrier the line painters were busy putting the road markings down. There is no cycle lane until a few metres before the ASL.

Note the blue bike sign on the lamppost as well. There is plenty of room for a segregated cycle lane here. As much room as they wanted really as this has been a construction road for the last 6 years so they could have made it as wide as they wanted. Instead we get narrow roads, ASLs and shit cycle signs on lampposts. This is one of the 'green' cycle routes in the map above but I can't see how they can possibly qualify it as a green cycle route when it doesn't even have a cycle lane on it. From April 2014 this road will be open to all traffic. Not only that but it will be the main road to the Aquatics centre and one of the main bus routes for buses serving the park so I can see traffic levels being quite high here. For the next 8 months though you have to turn left to go up towards Waterden Road. There is another ASL for bikes coming down from Waterden Road but no cycle lane leading into it

Also at the top of this road where it meets Waterden Road there are two lanes for traffic and an ASL in front of them but no cycle lane leading into it. Therefore no way of getting to the ASL if more than one car is at the traffic lights.

Continue straight on over the toucan crossing here to access the park.

To access the park from the Stratford side you have to get to Westfield Avenue and to do that you have to cycle along Montfitchet Road, which has the most narrow bike lane I have ever seen in London. So thin they could barely fit a cycle symbol into it, never mind an actual bicycle. Again this is one of those 'green' cycle routes in the map above. As I mentioned I was cycling with my 14 month old daughter on the back of my bike so there was not a chance of me cycling along that road, therefore you'll just have to have this picture taken from the pavement

It leads into an ASL

There is a tiny cycle lane painted onto the pavement

which then leads to a shared use path until you get to the cycle tracks, which are on the same level as the pavement but with kerbs to segregate them from the pavement itself

The tracks are generally quite smooth, except they've planted a lot of trees alongside them and they have these square cobbled areas surrounding them which also cover half of the cycle path and are very bumpy

I was on a dutch bike so they didn't bother me too much but if you're on a road bike you may want to use the other side of the path to avoid these. Oh, unless they also stick a roadworks sign on the path, then you have no choice.

You then have to give way to a pedestrian crossing

The crossing appears to go no where but as you can see from the banner on the fence this area will be the Stratford City International Quarter. This is a huge new business district with skyscrapers offering four million square foot of office space and they hope to have 25,000 people working here by the time it is finished. Most of these workers will arrive via Stratford station so pedestrian crossings are needed here but the area where people wait to cross is slap bang in front of the cycle track. So motor vehicles get a free passage and only have to give way once the lights are red, whereas if you're cycling then you give way and try to cross at some point after people have started to cross the road, before people from the other side have joined the pavement and hope no one rushes out in front of you in the meantime. Should be fun at 9am when thousands are heading to work this way! A perfect example of why these tracks should have been placed at roadway level between the pavement and the road, as the dutch would do, to avoid these conflicts.

Anyway, slightly further on and there's another pointless sign placed on the cycle track, note the kids cycling along the pavement here.

Before you have to give way to another pedestrian crossing

The track then just ends and you're suddenly on the pavement

as there is a bus stop here (complete with roadworks sign to avoid!)

Just a mile down the road they are busy building cycle bus stop bypasses as part of the CS2 extension but here you're expected to just share the pavement with pedestrians and people waiting for a bus. There are bound to be a few conflicts here.

The Olympic spirit is still alive and well here as you have to negotiate an obstacle course featuring a sandbag, roadworks sign and yet another pedestrian crossing! This ride is fun!

After that, we give way to a fourth pedestrian crossing..

And then a junction. Note the ASL on the road, however there is no dropped kerb so you cannot actually access the ASL from the cycle track. They seem to have developed a two stage system here, one for 'confident' cyclists using the road and one for everyone else, rather than just going dutch and building tracks suitable for all.

You're then on the pavement until you hit a side road.

It is isn't clear, however, that you are actually supposed to give way to this side road until you've already past it. Also note the posts along the path here.

After this though the path is nice and smooth with no cobbles and nothing to give way to. This part is great.

However notice the barriers in the road. This isn't some vigilante action by cyclists to create a cycle lane, this is due to events that have been held in the park this last few weeks which have meant lots of pedestrians heading from it to Stratford station at the end. However this also demonstrates the huge amount of space here. Traffic is easily able to run in both directions on the road leaving wide spaces left on both sides of the carriageway

There is ample space here to have a pavement, a road and wide segregated tracks on both sides of the carriageway. However these barriers will soon be taken away and the road will return to a dual carriageway. 

Just before you get to the parkland they've built a separate bridge for pedestrians and cyclists but it has these awkward barriers on it

I got through fine with a bit of manoeuvring but if you're towing a trailer, like those crazy dutch people like to, then you might have to use the road instead. Presumably this is to stop any motor vehicles trying to use this rather than the road, causing the bridge to collapse.

We then come to a shared use pavement (note the ASL on the road though)

Continue along the pavement and use the toucan crossing to enter the park on your right.

If you want to access the Copper Box or travel up Waterden Road towards Eastway then after the shared use crossing the area outside the copper box is also shared use until the cycle path continues again, with an electrical box planted in it.

The cycle track has priority over the road leading into the Copper Box car park, which is good to see

But then is barried off immediately after it with a sign saying motor vehicles only past this point.

A shame as I wanted to see what the rest of the cycle lane was like along Waterden Road, especially what improvements had been made to the junction where Dan Harris was tragically killed by an Olympics bus during the games last summer. Some other time.

Now here's the interesting thing. Waterden Road existed before the Olympics but used to run from the A12 down to White Post Lane and Carpenters Road. It now bends round outside the Copper Box and heads to Westfield. However this new stretch of Waterden Road did exist pre-olympics but didn't ever open and was never used. This was the access road to Stratford International station and back in 2007 after being inspired by this post on the diamond geezer blog I cycled down to Waterden Road and took photos of various warehouses, bus depots and fly tipping before it was all swept away. It makes me feel quite old that six years on I'm now stood in the exact same spot taking photos of the same area but I'm glad I did. Here's Waterden Road (formally the Stratford International station link Road) as it is now

And here it is back in 2007 as the link road that never opened:

It may not look the same, due to the changing skyline but give or take a few feet and I'm stood in the exact same spot in the two photos above.

The most remarkable thing about the photo from 2007 is that when they constructed the link road into Stratford International they build a proper two way dutch style segregated cycle lane. You can quite clearly see it on the left of the photo with cycle symbols painted on it a bit further down. It looks nice and wide too, probably wider than the well used cycle tracks through Bloomsbury.

Quite why they built a segregated cycle lane here when so little of them existed in London at that time I'm not sure but it is nice that they did. Just a shame that not a single cyclist ever got to use it. Even more tragic is that at some point in the last six years someone took the decision to rip it up and replace it with what we have now have instead. As can be seen there is now enough space to have that exact segregated track built, this time on both sides of the road.

We'll have to wait until later in the year to see what the roads are like outside East Village, very little like the car-less video at the start of the blog if the street view image from last year is anything to go by. It's scandalous that they built a huge dual carriageway of that size in what is purely a residential area. If they have any sense they will rip one of those lanes out and build wide, segregated cycle tracks. However I'm not holding my breath.

A map of the park in 2030 show that many more roads will be built in the park. These will include new bridges over the canals, more entrances into the park than the two that currently exists, along with lots of roads outside all the apartments. I can see no evidence that any of these roads will be restricted in any way so you can only expect motor traffic to vastly increase in this area. Not to mention the car parks they are building outside the velodrome and aquatics centre. Westfield already has 5,000 parking spaces and you can park all day for just £5 as I keep being reminded of every time I cycle behind one of those fucking adverts on the back of a bus. Oh, and let's not forget the massive multi-storey car park that is built on the north-western side of the park, outside what was the International Broadcast Centre, or iCITY as it is now known.

I look forward to coming back to this area again in 2030, if I'm still alive obviously, however with all the dual carriageways and car parks something tells me that in the Olympic Park the car will remain king, as it does in the rest of London. An opportunity missed.


  1. Great write up, thank you for taking the time. We all need to start making a stink about this. It's just not good enough. We've paid for the damn thing!

  2. Battersea Power Station will be a testimony to greed & avarice, and a huge chance missed, as with the Olympic site, we should name & shame those philistine architects and designers that obviously do not cycle a bicycle, a revolution that has to be pedalled?

  3. This is awful: cheapskate, incompetent planning, where there is no excuse for it. Thank you for taking the trouble to document it so thoroughly.

  4. Well there you go, another once in a generation opportunity missed.

  5. Twenty Twelve, Series 3, Episode 1, Legacy.

    Opening scene.

    New 'Head of Sustainability' cycles to park for meeting and after a brief discussion is turned around by 12 security guards. As she exits to find somewhere to park her bike, the 'Head of Legacy' drives in, waved thru by the security.

    This stuff mostly writes itself..

  6. You couldn't make it up .....Armando Ionnucci eat your heart out .... heads should roll at this level of incompetence.

  7. OK, so that's how the cycle-facilities turned out. Have you counted the newts ? The video promised 2000 newts. They didn't break that promise, did they ? Don't tell me that that lovely video was a work of fiction !

    Unfortunately even London's main cycle campaigning group, the LCC, completely blew it on the Olympic site. Even their plans for the are were dreadful, aiming much too low. They actually asked for things that don't look so terribly different to what you got, and branded it as "Dutch" when actually what they were calling for fell a long way short of anything that would be built in the Netherlands.

    When even those campaigning for change don't aim high enough, how can progress be expected ?

  8. Thanks for the analysis from a user - the perspective that seems to be missing when these cycle provisions are planned and implemented. Typically no-one is taking responsibility for the ineptitude and grossly inadequate cycling facilities. London Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, was asked about this at the London Cycling Summit this week, and his response was that he wasn't involved in those decisions as he was not in post. Perhaps he could get involved now and and attempt to remedy these laughable facilities.

  9. It's utterly disingenuous to blame LCC for the rubbish in the Olympic Park. We've wasted hundreds of hours trying to tell the organisers that what's been proposed is below standard, but there's been zero political will from those in charge to put in anything better. At least our plans had wide, continuous cycle tracks in them - not at all comparable to the dross that's been served up.

  10. Take it up with Boris he's a cyclist.

  11. Mike: I'm sure the task is difficult. However, there's no excuse for the low quality of what you asked for. While you branded your plans were branded as "Dutch" but they called for cycle-paths to the Olympic Park to be narrower than are provided in The Netherlands for a small community sports park.

    That's just one of the ways in which what you called for fell short of what is required and what would in fact be built in The Netherlands.

    There's no reason at all for aspirational plans produced by a campaigning organisation not to represent the very best possible quality that can be achieved, but you asked for considerably less than this.

    You should ask for at least what you want because this is a process of negotiation. By asking for less than is enough you guaranteed that the result would be inadequate, even if the developers had built exactly what you asked for.

    Of course you can't be blamed for what was actually built but you certainly can and should be blamed for putting a cap on the best possible quality that could have been achieved.

    If you're going to brand what you're asking for as "Dutch" then you need to request genuine Dutch standards. That's being honest to your members. Instead, LCC is on record as asking for a supposed "hybrid" of Dutch and Danish excused by claiming that "Essentially this is because Dutch designs are actually so good that British engineers won't go near them, and because Danish designs are pretty good (and getting better over time) but are also much more transferable." This, in fact, was neither Dutch nor Danish but something inferior and unproven which you'd made up.

  12. Great post, thanks! I've added you to the 'blogroll' on my blog.

  13. Excellent post. Thanks.

  14. Hi, how can I get in touch with you? Can you email rachel at please?
    Thanks :)

  15. Well, that's depressing. Looking at this two years on and going to the Olympic Park for the first time on a bike. Wondering whether we should bother. Or go now before the place is so filled with cars that it will be no pleasure at all....