Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The redevelopment of Hackney Wick Station

My local train station, Hackney Wick, was built in 1980 by British Rail when passenger trains returned to the North London line between Camden Road and Stratford. In 2007 TfL took over the Silverlink Metro services along this line, rebranded it London Overground, and passenger usage has rocketed from 366k entries and exits in 2006/2007 up to 2.1m entries and exits in 2015/16. Access to the platforms was via ramps, with the Westbound platform having three sets of lengthy elevated ramps to climb. I can't tell you the amount of times I've seen a train pull into the platform as I'm on the ramp and not been able to sprint quick enough to reach the platform before the doors close, resulting in a frustrating ten minute wait at times. Halfway up the ramp to the eastbound platform there were half-a-dozen bicycle stands but no facilities for anyone arriving at the station by bicycle wanting to travel West, with "bicycles attached to these railings will be removed" signs plastered all over the handrails of both ramps. As a result the railings outside the westbound platform ramp were almost always full of parked bikes

The former Lord Napier Public House, alongside the westbound platform ramp with a collection of locked bicycles outside

Each platform had a basic waiting room with a small ticket office on the Eastbound platform and a footbridge linking the two

Hackney Wick station, a few days before the footbridge was demolished
The station was clearly due a rebuild, especially with the huge amount of new residential developments either under construction or planning in the immediate area. The railway line through Hackney Wick station marks the boundary between two boroughs, with the Eastbound platform and everything north of it in Hackney, and the Westbound platform and the south side of the station in Tower Hamlets. However all of this area falls within London Legacy Development Corporation land and so planning and construction falls under them, rather than the two boroughs. It also mean that TfL did not have to pay for the station reconstruction, as the LLDC coughed up the £25m instead. The new ticket hall has been built in Tower Hamlets, on long empty land south of the station

The plot of land as it was prior to station upgrade construction 
Building work begins
The completed new ticket hall and station entrance 
During construction White Post Lane was closed directly outside for over a year and became part of the construction area

This caused no issues at all, as this map validates, motor traffic was easily able to divert via Rothbury Road and Hepscott Road with access to all local businesses and Queens Yard car park remaining for those on four wheels. The most impressive engineering feat was the construction of a new underpass under the railway line, built in four days over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Although passengers using the station on the Tuesday after it reopened couldn't really tell from Platform level that anything had changed  

The newly built underpass under the North London line, constructed in four days last year 
The construction of an underpass under a railway line is such a short space of time is something I've been alerted to several times before, but only ever in the Netherlands 

Cycling underpasses under railway lines are a very common sight in the Netherlands, both in rural areas and at train stations themselves  

A walking and cycling underpass under Rotterdam Centraal station, built in 2014 as part of the station reconstruction 
A walking and cycling underpass through Amsterdam Centraal station, opened in 2015

Before and after from Google streetview: Utrecht Lunetten station, a road and car parking removed to create a walking and cycling underpass allowing quicker access to the train station, with the car park reduced in size to accommodate relocated buses and more cycle parking
Utrecht Lunetten station, a view from a bicycle
However there is no cycling in the new underpass at Hackney Wick station. Just under half of the underpass is currently a link between the only open entrance on White Post Lane and the Eastbound platform

On the other side of the removable glass wall lies what will become a pedestrian route through the station 

The closed underpass a few days after the upgraded Hackney Wick station opened. It has since been securely closed with hoardings, presumably to prevent anyone sleeping or spray painting inside
Almost all buildings either side of the new station will eventually be demolished to create Hackney Wick Central, a new mixed use neighbourhood with a pedestrianised north-south route surrounded by retail units, all animated as either coffee or bike shops in the visualisations pinned to the outside of the station

The route of the new pedestrianised road which will run through the station 
From the Eastbound platform you can view where the new pedestrian route will run, with most of the warehouses soon to be replaced by flats and retail units 
It'll also link up with the cycle and footbridge from Wallis Road into the Olympic Park, part of quietway 6, and will allow residents of East Wick quicker access to their local station. It is of course entirely possible that cycling will be allowed through this underpass and along this route once it opens, however it would clearly be better for everyone if a cycle track was built to clearly separate walking and cycling, rather than a shared space design

However this is the LLDC who are not very keen on creating cycle routes but are keen on "cyclists dismount" signs, so it is unlikely this will become a walking and cycling route. 

As for cycle parking there are currently seven new bike stands outside the new entrance on White Post Lane with another inaccessible eight behind fencing at the, as yet unopened, northern entrance. The current seven stands are clearly nowhere near enough as they are always full and were from day one, with lamp posts and railings nearby often used as well. If 15 stands will be the eventual total bike parking at Hackney Wick station then clearly that will be nowhere near enough 

Typical cycle parking under a railway station in the Netherlands where 40% of all train passengers arrive by bike. Clean, light and spacious with room for thousands of bicycles to park for free. Hackney Wick does not need thousands of spaces but it does need more than 15 bike stands and with the new station due to be surrounded by new buildings with spacious basements it would have been great to have seen more ambitious bike parking facilities at Hackney Wick 
Bicycle parking at a bus stop in the suburbs of Amsterdam. With large unused space outside the new station could something like this have been built at Hackney Wick? 
It was disappointing to see that as soon as the new station opened so did White Post Lane following a closure of more than a year, despite being a little used road and alternative routes for through motor traffic in the area. This would have been a great opportunity to filter it directly in front of the station and create a new public space and improve the safety of those leaving the station on foot

The new Hackney Wick station, with on street car parking retained directly outside
Indeed as White Post Lane is currently the only way to access or exit the station it is a shame that this road was not even resurfaced and remains in a terrible state. It is particularly unpleasant as a pedestrian, with high kerbs remaining at no longer existing side entrances; if you're in a wheelchair or have a pushchair walking in the road may be the only option to get to the station

Pedestrian activity will increase here considerably in the near future, with huge apartment blocks very close to the station  nearing completion and even bigger ones still going through the planning process. However Hackney Wick will also be the local station for residential areas such as East Wick and Sweetwater in the Olympic Park and the developments under construction on Fish Island which will all be a good 10 to 15 minute walk away. Hackney Wick is also my local station and is at least a 10 minute walk; I usually do walk it but on occasions use the bike, especially if I know I'll be coming back with shopping and a child which is much easier to transport home from the station by bike than on foot. I suspect many residents in the North of the Olympic Park will prefer a short bike ride home from the station, rather than a longer walk too.

As a local resident I'm grateful for the station upgrade and it is a stunning addition to the area but I can't help feel this was a missed opportunity not to create new cycling routes. Meanwhile the next time you see a Dutch video of a new cycling underpass being built over the course of a weekend please remember we can also do that in the UK too, we just choose not to. 

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