Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Olympic Park in 2017, Part Three: Westfield Stratford City

The vote for the 2012 Olympic Games to be held in London was very close. Had Paris or Madrid been announced then it is likely that Waterden Road would still be bus depots rather than inspiring to be the home of digital startups and that salmon would still be smoked on the Industrial Estate where West Ham Fans now venture every other weekend. However Stratford City was already planned to be a new town centre on former railway brownfield land with shops, homes, community facilities and a bridge over the railway tracks linking it with "old" Stratford. Indeed even before the vote was announced Stratford International station construction was already well underway and it was around this area that development would continue. However the votes swinging in London's favour accelerated and expanded the development of this project, which was the reason the bid was made in the first place

Westfield Stratford City

Let us imagine you're in East Village and want to visit Marks & Spencer in Westfield, or need to catch a train from Stratford and want to get there via bicycle, as it is less athan a third of a mile away, as the crow flies. Your first route is either via Penny Brookes Street or International Way, both wide roads with wide footways and inadequate cycle lanes.

These roads join up with Montfichet Road, the main road running along the Eastern edge of the Westfield Shopping Centre and where the entrances to two of the three car parks are located. A bidirectional cycle track is located at the start of the road but you'll have to cross over three signalled toucan crossings to get to it. It is shielded from motor traffic by greenery

but then stops almost immediately to become a shared footway

It then restarts after a pedestrian crossing with markings on the road indicating for cyclists using the road to join in the obstacle dodging fun

That's assuming the cycle track isn't blocked off altogether of course

We're then back to a shared footway where you have to doge round trees

a bus stop

past the vehicle entrance to the Stratford City energy centre

around some more trees, cycle parking and a bus stop with barely enough space to actually ride a bike never mind sharing this space with people walking

and then to the pedestrian crossing, which leads to one of the main entrances to the shopping centre, and a cycle track the full width of the footway beyond that.

Crossing over the four lanes of traffic and we're at what is probably the busiest entrance and exit of Westfield. If you come to Westfield or the Olympic Park by public transport then the tube and train exit from Stratford station is here. The main taxi rank is also located at this spot and the terribly pedestrian unfriendly Stratford City bus station is a short walk around the corner. The area above here is also where pedestrians walking from Stratford town Centre on the wide bridge over the railway tracks will enter Westfield and there are lifts, stairs and escalators joining them together. It is also obviously a popular place to arrive at Westfield by bike, it being one of the few ways you can arrive by road and with some (poor) form of cycling infrastructure alongside. There did used to be a small amount of cycle parking here and it was hugely popular with often 3 or 4 bikes locked to every stand, I almost always used to (and still do) use the guarding on the opposite side of the road and walk over instead. Rather than expanding the hugely popular cycle parking here Westfield clearly saw it as a problem and so removed it altogether.

and so now the guard railing is covered with bikes on both sides at all times

Although I've noticed they've recently begun locking bikes here with their own locks with notices saying "Your bike has been locked due to it being parked in an unauthorised area" with the phone number 0208 221 7333 underneath, which I assume is the phone number you can call to ask Westfield why they do not provide adequate bicycle parking.

Less than ten years ago this entire area was completely undeveloped brownfield land, a complete blank slate to work on. They rebuilt Stratford station with a new entrance incorporated into the Westfield shopping centre, as a result the number of tube passengers using Stratford station has gone up from 22m in 2006 to 67m in 2016 and National Rail passengers using the station has gone up from 8m to an astonishing 41m in the same period. Not to mention the huge shopping centre with parking for 4,500 cars but absolutely no parking here for bicycles. Compare this to the new 12,500 capacity bicycle parking facility in Utrecht railway station in the Netherlands, which has also recently been renovated, just like Stratford. Why can't we be that ambitious in London?

Back on the other side of Montfichet Road there is a painted cycle track the full length of the footway from here to the junction with Westfield Avenue and it used to have a "no pedestrians" sign located on it at both ends, however this was replaced by "shared footway" signs early last year

The reason for this is because a new TFL cycle hire docking station was installed on top of half of the cycle track, however it was quickly noticed that no one was actually able to legally dock their bike here and walk away afterwards unless the signage was changed

This is a pretty inconvenient place to locate the docking hire stand, directly opposite the entrance to the other car park and around a 500 foot walk away from the nearest pedestrian crossing, with that walk having to take place on a cycle track. I don't think these stands get used much and I rarely see people walking here, but it is still a pretty shitty cycle track to use most of the time

However I certainly don't think pedestrians should have been banned from walking here in the first place. This road should be completely redesigned with one lane of motor traffic in either direction, which would leave ample space for people walking, a well designed cycle track and plenty of space for bicycle parking

At the traffic lights at the top of Montfichet Lane, where it climbs over the North London Line we come to the junction with Westfield Avenue; both of these roads and this junction were simply plans on a drawing board a decade ago. To cross over into Westfield Avenue from the cycle track by bike there is a toucan crossing over the four lanes on Montfichet Road and then a staggered toucan crossing over the five lanes on Westfield Avenue, with a wait in a caged pen after lane three, a manoeuvre that would be very difficult for a family on a cargo bike

Although this has always been the case since these roads first opened in 2011, what has changed is that there was a bidirectional cycle track running from here to the crossing leading from Westfield into the Olympic Park, which has now been removed

The beginning of Westfield Avenue in 2013 and this year, with the cycle track removed
This is the first section of the International Quarter and the cycle track here was ripped up a few years ago for construction to begin, along with one of the four lanes of Westfield Avenue. However whilst the dual carriageway has been perfectly restored the cycle track outside Glasshouse Gardens, the two residential towers which were the first section of the International Quarter to open, has been replaced by car parking

Westfield Avenue in the summer of 2013 and the same location this summer, with the safe space for cycling removed

I responded to a boastful International Quarter tweet regarding the great variety of transport links, referencing the removal of this cycle track, which they took exception to

Whilst the cycle track has certainly not been reinstated outside Glasshouse Gardens it has been reinstated, within the last few weeks, outside the freshly completed office block which Transport for London has just moved into (and as diamond Geezer points out, has 50 car parking spaces on the ground floor)

A major  issue with this cycle track that there is no way to get onto it from the toucan crossing further back, unless you cycle on the pavement. Perhaps this is what you're meant to do, but there are no shared footway signs to indicate this. If you're travelling in the opposite direction then there is no option but to use the pavement, apart from cycling the wrong way down a dual carriageway. The cycle track is also presently very short and terminates just before the next construction site at the point where the main pedestrian crossing from Westfield to the Olympic Park is being reinstated (thankfully as one direct crossing, rather than a two stage crossing with a congested wait in a narrow pen, as it was originally). However give way markings have been placed on the cycle track on approach to where this crossing will be

Which was exactly the case when the previous incarnation of this cycle track was here and this was the main issue with using it, as you had to give way to both people using the crossing as those waiting for the green man to cross, meaning you had to stop and give way at almost all times, rendering using the cycle track virtually pointless 

Westfield Avenue, despite being less than a decade old, was always a terrible road with a terrible, intermittent, debris-filled cycle track. It is quite a remarkable achievement that three years on from it being ripped up it is even worse now it has been reinstated and has partially been replaced by car parking! Thousands of people will work in these buildings and use this crossing to get to the Park everyday so this cycle track is useless in its current design. The construction of The International Quarter was a golden opportunity to finally sort out the mess that is Westfield Avenue and reconstruct the entire road. My hope that this would happen was briefly lifted two-and-a-half years ago, when I was shown plans to change this 

Yet here we are in an even worse position than we were when I first reported about this road back in 2013! 

Before and after in Nijmegen, a road with cycle lanes in the door zone is upgraded to cycle tracks behind the car parking. I used this road almost exactly a year apart. Why does it take us so long in the UK to sort out terrible road schemes? 

As pedestrian and cycle traffic is so high on this road and motor traffic seems to be very low (as the main car parks to Westfield are located elsewhere) it would make sense to make Westfield Avenue a through route for buses and cycles only. It closes every other weekend when West Ham are at home, or when concerts are held, and was closed for most of the summer when the anniversary games was on. Making the road accessible to buses only might be a good way to keep the road open during events and encourage people to arrive by bike and by public transport, with pedestrian priority

Construction work continues from here to what has been the main walking and cycling crossing over Westfield Avenue between the Olympic Park and Westfield / Stratford station for the last two years. What was the cycle track is now a building site and so so time will tell if that cycle track is reinstated and if so what quality it will be. This crossing was yet another staggered crossing with a wait in a pen in the middle, however prior to it becoming the only crossing point in 2014 it was rebuilt as a straight crossing. It is a very popular route with families on foot and bikes using it at all times

It also leads into Westfield shopping Centre and is the busiest place by far for people coming via bike. This is almost always where I lock my bike when I am shopping here and it is almost always full despite having a fairly large amount of cycle parking (for a UK shopping Centre)

I tend to end up using the railing in between the two sets of parking most of the time I come here, although I fail to understand why this space isn't just used for more cycle parking

It is especially tricky for parents on cargo bikes to park here

Another issue with this facility is that it is closed off every time West Ham play at home. I've lost count of the number of times we've parked our bikes here, headed off to the cinema and have a meal only to return a few hours later and our bikes are shut away and we have to walk though the car park to get them back out. (Tip: If West Ham are playing at home park your bike on Westfield Avenue alongside and enter / exit the shopping centre via the John Lewis pick up point).

The planting next to the bike parking was added quite a while after the bike parking and a cynic may argue that is was put there to both force cyclists to dismount on approach to the parking and to hide the bike parking from John Lewis customers. Either way it would have been a welcome approach from Westfield to use this space to increase the amount of cycle parking here, in what will always be the most popular place to come to Westfield by bike. Behind this cycle parking is a huge void, known as plot M7 and planning permission has been granted to construct a 14 storey tower here with over a hundred car parking spaces in the basement.  This would obviously be a opportunity to create a large underground bicycle parking facility to serve both shoppers at Westfield and people working at Here East and other areas of the park, who may commute in by train via Stratford. This will not happen though, and I've feared the construction of this tower block will instead mark the end of this bicycle parking. That was confirmed to me via twitter today

This is after they removed all of the bicycle parking in "the street" a couple of years ago, for no reason whatsoever.

Some of the abandoned bikes at the soon to be removed bicycle parking have been here for years (a certain pink framed bike must be on it's third Westfield Christmas) and I was surprised to learn, via Alex Ingram, that Westfield do count these bikes, they just don't remove them
You may notice in that monitoring report that the biggest bicycle parking location, with 164 spaces, had just one single bicycle in it all day and Westfield find it "particularly surprising that location 13 is hardly used because it offers caged, sheltered bicycle parking in close proximity to John Lewis / waitrose and Stratford International station". The answer should be obvious and that is: location! When I come to Westfield I am almost always doing so by cycling through the park itself and so the bicycle parking in the car park is not convenient, it is much quicker and easier to use this parking instead. In fact, it did recently occur to me that after coming to Westfield hundreds of times, I had never once actually used the bike parking in the car park and so thought it only fair to venture to see it. Firstly, continue along Westfield Avenue where the cycle track used to pause for a bus stop 

The bus shelter has now been removed but the bus stop remains active, meaning no where for people to sit and people cycling still have to steer around people waiting for a bus 

At the next junction you can either cross here by using four sets of crossings to get from one side of the road to the other 

Crossing from one side of the road to the other next to Westfield

Or you can carry on to use the staggered crossing at Olympic Park Avenue where there is another bidirectional cycle track on the other side of the road leading to the car parks, which is almost always littered with signage 

A look back at this area in 2007 on google earth shows that this was the location of what looks like a fairly good quality bi-directional cycle track, originally destined to only go to Stratford International. A shame this cycle track was never used as it was demolished before it could officially open. 

The original mostly continuous cycle track which was built when this road was under construction in 2005 and the modern short, obstruction filled replacement, via google earth

to access the bicycle parking, you must filter over to the right hand lane to turn right into the entrance to the car parks

there is zero chance of me using this route if I'm cycling here with my young daughter and I wouldn't expect other families on bikes to use this route either 

I thought I had found the bike parking and was impressed - two facilities either side of the motor vehicle entrance, with a dedicated route into it from the road

but alas, no, as the signage makes clear this is motorcycle parking. For the bike parking you have to enter via the vehicle lane, dodge under the barrier and then cycle round the car park to a small cage right at the back. I find it astonishing that Westfield find it "particularly surprising" that families on bikes are not using this facility!

I visit Westfield a lot and have spent thousands of pounds in here over the years. Sometimes I'm there just to pick up some food for tea. Other times we'll take a trip to the cinema and have a meal. Other times I'll spend a large amount in the department stores as I can easily carry several boxes and half a dozen shopping bags on my Dutch bike. I find it insulting the contempt with which Westfield treat people visiting their shopping centre by bicycle and with the removal of the most popular bicycle parking facility I may now have to take my Christmas shopping elsewhere

If you also use this bicycle parking facility due to be removed and wish to complain about this, you can do so here. 

Next Post:
Part Four: Sweetwater and Fish Island

Previous Posts:
Part one - East Wick
Part two - East Village and Chobham Manor

1 comment:

  1. Please don't post anything more like this. It's so terribly depressing. Greetings from NL.