Thursday, October 29, 2015

plaque at Lewisham stationIn case you've been wondering what's been happening at my local bus stop in Bow Road, the answer is nothing new.

Four weeks on from the big switchover, here's an update.

1a) On the TfL website, and various apps, the list of routes serving Bus Stop M fails to include route 25 [NOT FIXED]
1b) On the TfL website, most of the time, the list of departures at Bus Stop M fails to include route 25 [NOT FIXED]

2a) On the TfL website, and various apps, Bus Stop E still appears even though it's been erased in real life [NOT FIXED]
2b) On the TfL website, and various apps, Bus Stop G still appears even though it's been erased in real life [NOT FIXED]

3a) Mismatch between name displayed at stop (Bow Church) and digital name (Bow Flyover) [NOT FIXED]
3b) Buses approaching Bus Stop M display an incorrect next stop (Bow Flyover) [NOT FIXED]

4a) Timetables displayed don't match times at new location (and route diagrams incorrectly shaded) [NOT REPLACED]
4b) New bus shelter has no bus maps, even after being open for four weeks [NOT PUT UP YET]

5) Bus Stop M displays a tile for route 205, which has never stopped here [STILL A MYSTERY]

6) Bus Stop M has no road markings (nor the words 'BUS STOP' written in the road) [NOT COMPLETE]

7a) Bus stop bypass remains blocked by the stumpy base of a former lamppost [STILL NOT REMOVED]
7b) Bus stop bypass has yet to open [SEE ABOVE]

8a) Repacement lamppost not functional, so it's unexpectedly dark here in the evening [AWAITING ELECTRICIAN]
8b) New bus shelter not plugged into electricity supply, so this provides no light either [AWAITING ELECTRICIAN]

9) Most passengers continue to use Bus Stop M without showing any signs of distress [KEEP A SENSE OF PROPORTION HERE]

10) Five other sets of bus stops along Bow Road have yet to be temporarily closed for Cycle Superhighway upgrade works [PRAY FOR US]

 Saturday, October 17, 2015

plaque at Lewisham stationEspecially for Bert and Jane, here's an update on Bus Stop M at Bow Church.

Some digital fixing has been going on behind the scenes. I'll try to keep this simple.

Wrong on Wednesday: 1) List of departures at Bus Stop M fails to include route 25 [ALMOST FIXED]
If you use an app or the TfL website, or if you text '55457' to 87287, route 25 now appears on the list of departures. This means it is now possible to check when the next number 25 bus is due. However, route 25 does not yet appear in the list of routes serving stop M, which still reads '8 276 425 488 D8 N205'.

Wrong on Wednesday: 2) Location coordinates for Bus Stop M incorrect [FIXED]
Bus Stop M's digital location has been updated from where it used to be (down by the flyover) to where it is now (opposite the church). This means electronic timings from the stop now match reality. If Bus Stop M had a Countdown display (which it doesn't), this would now show a correct list of departures.

Wrong on Wednesday: 3) Timetables displayed at Bus Stop M not quite correct [NOT FIXED]
All paper timetables remain those which were on display when the bus stop was located a minute down the road. Timings (and route diagrams) have not been updated to match the new location. It's highly unlikely that any passenger has noticed, been inconvenienced or cares.

Wrong on Wednesday: 4) Mismatch between name displayed at stop and digital name [NOT FIXED]
The name on the bus stop is 'Bow Church', but the digital name is still 'Bow Flyover', which was the name of the old stop down the road.

Wrong on Wednesday: 5) Buses approaching Bus Stop M display an incorrect next stop. [IMPROVED, BUT NOT FIXED]
Until yesterday, buses on route 25 displayed a next stop of 'Warton Road' (1km down the road). From yesterday (as a result of '1'), buses on route 25 now display 'Bow Flyover', the same as all other buses. Unfortunately (because of '4') they should be should be displaying 'Bow Church'. So we're not there yet.

Mystery on Wednesday: 6) Bus Stop M displays a tile for route 205 [STILL A MYSTERY]
I haven't mentioned this before, and it's not really a problem because the tile says 'Alighting point only'. But why did somebody decide to add a tile for route 205 when route 205 doesn't terminate here, and never has?

 Wednesday, October 14, 2015

This is yet another post about three bus stops on Bow Road...

...becoming one.

Last week the last remains of Old Bus Stop E were removed, and this week Old Bus Stop M's gone the same way.

With both superfluous bus shelters removed, only one bus stop remains, and passengers cannot possibly be confused as to where to wait. And wait in the right place they do, so that's no longer the issue. The issue remains what the one remaining bus stop is called.

We now know for definite what the new bus stop is called, because yesterday TfL updated their consultation on diverting route 25 permanently over the flyover. They added a big extra chunk of text at the top, confirming that Old Bus Stops E and M are dead and Old Bus Stop G is indeed new Bus Stop M, and extended the consultation's closing date by a fortnight.
Update - 13 October 2015

Changes to Bow Church and Bow Flyover bus stops

As a result of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade, bus stop M (Bow Flyover) is now closed and bus stops E and G at Bow Church have been amalgamated into one stop, which has been re-designated as bus stop M.

Route 25 will continue to serve this new stop M, as will all other routes that previously served stops E and G. These changes do not affect the proposals for route 25.
Nothing changes the proposals for route 25, whose permanent diversion will still go ahead, indeed is already in place and has been since March. Closing one bus stop and renaming another doesn't materially change the outcome of the consultation at all. But that renaming continues to be only skin deep, in a way which does affect passengers on route 25 and will continue to do so until fixed.

Nobody on the ground gives a damn about the letter stuck on top of the bus stop pole. The fact this bus stop used to say G but now says M is irrelevant to passengers waiting for a bus. The fact that the bus stop two hundred metres down the road used to be called M, and now this stop is, is also irrelevant. The fact that all bus stop M's timetables are one minute out, because they've been physically relocated from the flyover, is of no interest whatsoever. Everyone just gets on the bus when it comes, and everything's much as before.

But the electronic systems underlying the re-designation are bust. The entire switcheroo was most probably based on the idea that moving bus stop pole M up the road provided the simplest underlying digital transition, but things haven't quite worked out like that.

To explain, I need to list what the iBus system has been saying about each of the three bus stops during the transition period. Starting back in January when everything was normal.

January 2015 IDLocationRoutes stopping
Old Bus Stop E50834Bow Church8, 488
Old Bus Stop G77309Bow Church25, 276, 425, D8, N205
Old Bus Stop M 55457  Bow Flyover 8, 25, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205 

For example, an eastbound number 25 bus would have stopped first at stop G (by the church), then at stop M (by the flyover), then continued round the roundabout. If only this had stayed the case, we'd have no issues today.

But instead in the spring it was decided to divert route 25 across the flyover, to catch up time lost to Cycle Superhighway works back near Aldgate. This meant missing out stop M, so the iBus data ended up like this instead.

April 2015 IDLocationRoutes stopping
Old Bus Stop E 50834 Bow Church8, 488
Old Bus Stop G77309Bow Church25, 276, 425, D8, N205
Old Bus Stop M 55457  Bow Flyover 8, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205      

Over the spring and summer each eastbound number 25 bus stopped only at stop G (by the church), then skipped stop M (by the flyover) before flying over the roundabout. If you asked the TfL website or an app for a list of departures at stop M, buses on route 25 never appeared - quite rightly, because they were no longer stopping.

Now let's jump ahead to this month. Old Bus Stop E is closed so TfL have deleted it from the database, and querying it now generates an empty list of departures. Old Bus Stop M also closed, but TfL didn't delete it from their database, they deleted old Bus Stop G instead. They could have chosen to add route 8 and route 488 to Bus Stop G and everything would have worked perfectly, but no. Instead they re-designated what had been G as M, because that looked like the least work, and transferred across the existing list of bus routes. But somebody forgot about the flyover diversion, and they've continued to forget about it for well over a week.

This is what the current real life situation is.

October 2015 IDLocationRoutes stopping
New Bus Stop M 55457  Bow Church 8, 25, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205 

But this is what TfL's database thinks it is.

October 2015 IDLocationRoutes stopping
New Bus Stop M 55457  Bow Flyover 8, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205      

And now we have our disconnect.

So there are two main issues. The first issue is that, according to TfL's database, route 25 no longer stops at Bow Church, even though it does. If you get out your favourite app to see what's stopping here, it says the 25 isn't. If you text '55457' to 87287 you get back a list of departures in which the 25 does not appear. If you want to check when the next number 25 bus is due, you can't, and all because somebody chose to delete bus stop G rather than bus stop M.

And the second issue is that, if you're a passenger aboard a bus, the next stop appears wrongly named. Approaching Bow Church on a 276 or 425 you ought to see 'Bow Church' on the electronic display, but you don't, you see 'Bow Flyover' instead. The iBus system remembers what Old Bus Stop M was called, which is not what New Bus Stop M ought to be called, so flashes up the wrong name instead.

And these two issues combine in one glorious failure if you try to ride a 25 bus eastbound along Bow Road. If you get on at Bow Church DLR station then the list of consecutive stops ought to read as follows...
Bow Church Station
Bow Church

(whizz across the flyover)
Warton Road
But TfL's database no longer includes a stop at 'Bow Church', only at 'Bow Flyover', where the 25 (as you'll remember) doesn't stop. So the onboard display thinks the stops are...
Bow Church Station
(whizz across the flyover)
Warton Road
which is just plain wrong. If you board a 25 at Bow Church station the next stop is now given as 'Warton Road', which is three quarters of mile distant, even though the bus will in fact be stopping at Bow Church inbetween. Passengers on board hoping to alight must be mighty confused by the error. I could add to the confusion by pointing out that Warton Road is also designated Bus Stop M, which means there are two consecutive stops with the same letter, but that'd be a mere sideshow, so probably best I don't.

TfL appear to be intent on calling Old Bus Stop G New Bus Stop M, despite the electronic balls-up this redesignation has wrought. In which case all somebody needs to do is a) rename the stop 'Bow Church' instead of 'Bow Flyover' b) add the 25 to the list of buses that stop here. In an organisation that prides itself on agile digital development, how difficult could that be?

I have my fingers crossed. I mean, imagine how nice it would be to fire up this blog in the morning without the fear I might have written about those bloody Bow Road bus stops again.

 Sunday, October 11, 2015

Last month there were three bus stops along my local bit of Bow Road.

Now there's only one.

Thanks cyclists, you did this.

Old Bus Stop M was incompatible with the Cycle Superhighway, blocking access to the segregated lane immediately before the Bow Roundabout, so had to die. Only the shelter now remains, barriered off and awaiting removal. Anyone who used to catch the bus here now has to walk 200 yards up the road to catch a bus, which is hardly the end of the world, but annoying all the same.

Bus Stop E was also incompatible with the Cycle Superhighway, there being insufficient space behind to carve a bus stop bypass, so had to die. On Wednesday the bus shelter was surrounded by barriers, but on Friday it was removed altogether. Workmen moved in to wrest it from the pavement, making good the paving slabs in its wake, and creating ample space for pedestrians for the first time in years. So thorough was their work that there's now no clue that a bus stop was ever here... apart from the words BUS STOP written in the road, and that won't last long once the Cycle Superhighway drives through.

Which would be the end of the story, indeed for passengers turning up to catch a bus it is. They all now head for New Bus Stop M, on the site of Old Bus Stop G, and nobody waits at Old Bus Stop E at all. But one outstanding issue remains, which is that the electronic information regarding New Bus Stop M is incorrect, and all because somebody took a cheeky administrative shortcut behind the scenes.

To explain the mess I need to go back a year. Back then every bus stopped at either Stop E or Stop G, and then every bus stopped at Stop M. Here's a list.

Old Bus Stop E (Bow Church): 8, 488
Old Bus Stop G (Bow Church): 25, 276, 425, D8, N205
Old Bus Stop M (Bow Flyover): 8, 25, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205

Today there's only one bus stop, and every bus stops at it. So it must have made sense to somebody somewhere to hang on to that bus stop, and its letter, and its timetables, and shift it 200 metres up the road.

New Bus Stop M (Bow Church): 8, 25, 276, 425, 488, D8, N205

Contractors were ordered to rip out the bus stop pole by the flyover and reinstate it by the church, remembering to change the nameplate (from Bow Flyover to Bow Church) in the process. None of the route number plates or timetables would need changing, and all the electronic "next bus" jiggery pokery would work too - it should have been the perfect easy option. Apart from three things.

Firstly, buses reach New Bus Stop M a minute earlier than they reached Old Bus Stop M. This means all the timetables are wrong, both at the stop and online, because nobody's bothered to adjust them. They're only a minute out, which you'd think ought to be no big deal. But this means app users who turn up when a bus is "due" will actually have missed it, because it'll already be a minute down the road. And there are accurate timetables, I know, because they were posted up at Bus Stop G when it stood in precisely the same spot in August. In a world of accurate data this smacks of slapdash inconsistency.

Secondly, if you're on board any bus heading east, the electronic display shows the wrong name for the stop. It should say 'Bow Church', but instead it says 'Bow Flyover', because that's the name in the database associated with the bus stop lettered M. This too suggests that somebody behind the scenes hasn't completed all the digital changes associated with the switchover.

Thirdly, and more awkwardly, route 25 stopped stopping at Old Bus Stop M back in March. TfL rerouted the 25 over the flyover to speed up the service, skipping Old Bus Stop M and the next bus stop on the other side of the roundabout in the process. They've since decided to make this rerouting permanent, and are currently running a box-ticking consultation to ensure this happens. But this diversion meant the list of bus routes stopping at Old Bus Stop M became one bus short, with the 25 deleted...

Old Bus Stop M (Bow Flyover): 8,     276, 425, 488, D8, N205

...and TfL's computer still thinks this is the case.

The 25 bus does stop at New Bus Stop M - it's the last stop before the flyover. But the 25 doesn't appear in the list of departures on TfL's webpage for Bus Stop M, even though all the other buses do. If you text '55457' to 87287 you get back a list of departures in which the 25 does not appear. In fact I believe it's impossible to get next bus information for route 25 at new Bus Stop M, whether you use the TfL website or an app, now that Bus Stops E and G have been electronically eliminated. And all because somebody somewhere decided it would be a smart idea to switch Old Bus Stop M 200 metres up the road, rather than retaining Bus Stop G and amending the routes served.

Nobody outside Bow cares, I know, but when you actually live here this stuff matters. It also matters that Old Bus Stop E used to have a Countdown display in its shelter, but new Bus Stop M doesn't, so the people of Bow Road are now making do with less information than they had before. And I haven't even started to tell you about the other problem with New Bus Stop M, namely the big gap in the middle. Once the lamppost stump is removed and the final barriers come down, I'll be back to tell all.

 Thursday, October 08, 2015

I need to return (briefly) to three bus stops on Bow Road.

The one that's open (was G, is M?) doesn't appear to have changed. But the other two (E and old M) have sprouted additional accessories to emphasise that they're closed. And I think somebody's overdone it.

Old bus stop M was first. A loop of orange and white plastic barriers was positioned around the shelter, removing all pedestrian access. As signals go, it's pretty unambiguous. Would-be passengers can no longer hang around and wait, even if they'd like to. Perhaps more importantly, bus drivers can clearly see that they shouldn't be stopping here any more, so they don't. So far so good.

Then yesterday somebody did the same to Bus Stop E (pictured above). Except this time the ring of barriers sticks out a bit, because it's not been carefully placed. Again it's now obvious to all and sundry that this is no longer a bus stop, so nobody waits, and no bus stops. Bus passengers, tick. Bus drivers, tick. But who have we forgotten? Ah yes, the local pedestrian, who'll now find it harder to walk past. The pavement past Bus Stop E was always fairly narrow, but the haphazard positioning of chunky barriers has made it narrower still, unnecessarily obstructing the footway. At the pinchpoint I'd say the pavement is now only 60% of its former width, a problem with a pushchair, and impossible to anyone with any sort of mobility aid. By adopting a sledgehammer approach, the bus stop's closure may at last be blatantly obvious, but at what cost?

 Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hurrah, this is yet another post about three bus stops on Bow Road.

Because yesterday, at last, everything got sorted out. Apart from the things that didn't.

Nothing new happened on Sunday.
No change. Still a total organisational mess with passengers running from one stop to the other, and buses stopping mostly at G, sometimes at E, and occasionally at both.
And nothing had happened by daybreak on Monday.
A lady waiting at Bus Stop E looks up at the sign reading ALL BUSES STOP HERE and wonders why the last three didn't.
But on Monday morning, official things started to happen. I know this because somebody called Ray left a comment telling me all about it.
DG, your blogs WERE read by TfL and things started happening this morning.

I arrived to have a look at 11.45 and a guy in a TfL hi-viz was there to have a meeting at midday with a couple of people from the Cycle Superhighway project. While he was waiting, I mentioned Diamond Geezer and his somewhat lengthy reply made it plain that you were the reason that he was there. He explained that the Cycle Superhighway people have been doing work ahead of the date that had been agreed and scheduled, with the result that TfL were not aware when changes had been made around bus stops. Judging by the vehemence of his explanations and his determination to show that TfL were in no way at fault, it would seem that your blogs have been rattling around the command structure.

The Cycle Superhighway people arrived at midday and I left, as it had started raining. Hopefully, if you check this evening, the problems with the bus stops will have been sorted.
I arrived home after dark, and I was delighted to see that changes had indeed been made.

Stop E

Two very important things have happened here. Firstly the temporary bus stop sign on the lamppost has been removed, so there's no longer a roundel with the message ALL BUSES STOP HERE to lure in passengers. And secondly a proper 'Bus stop closed' sign has appeared. It's yellow, and proper, and stuck to the bus shelter so it's legible from within and without. We at last have conclusive proof that Bus Stop E is intended to be closed, and if the Cycle Superhighway upgrade continues as planned, it'll never open again. So that's all clear.

Not everybody's noticed yet, of course. You'd think a 'Bus stop closed' sign would be pretty unequivocal, indeed it's hard to do much more to get the message across. But some people are still waiting at what used to be Bus Stop E through passenger inertia, because it's been a bus stop for years, and for the last six weeks it's been the only bus stop hereabouts. And whilst it'd be good to think that people only wait where they see a bus stop sign, in fact they'll happily wait wherever they see a bus shelter, and it'll be a while before that's physically removed. But I was surprised to see a few buses still stopping at ex-Bus Stop E - during the couple of minutes I was there a 25 pilled in followed immediately by a 276. Perhaps a bus stop isn't truly closed until someone tells all the drivers... or perhaps the drivers are simply being thoughtful in rescuing passengers who shouldn't have been waiting there in the first place.

Stop G (or is it M?)
Where once there were three bus stops, now there's only one. Bus Stop G is the great survivor, mothballed for six weeks so that a bus stop bypass could be carved out behind, and now mostly unveiled in linear island form. Only one change took place at Bus Stop G yesterday, which was a tweak to the timetables on display. You'll remember that the pole for Bus Stop G has been recycled from Bus Stop M down the road, where the buses were the same except that route 25 didn't stop. So the important change has been to remove the yellow notices stating that 'Route 25 is diverted and will not be serving this stop', revealing the timetable for route 25 underneath. This is all good.

But everything else that's on display here is simply what was on display down the road uprooted. The pole says M on top instead of G. The timetables are very definitely those for the Bow Flyover stop rather than Bow Church - no more than a minute out, but technically inaccurate. And nobody's altered the 'next bus information' panel at the top of the pole, so if you text '55457' to 87287 you still get the next bus information for the bus stop by the flyover, where the 25 didn't stop, and so whose services do not appear. I'll return to this mysterious G/M dilemma shortly.

Stop M

Meanwhile down by the flyover, as suspected, the former Bus Stop M appears to have absolutely definitely closed. A 'Bus stop closed' sign has been pasted up on the bus shelter, the same as at Bus Stop E, to warn passengers that there is no point in waiting here... even though the occasional bus still stops. More importantly, a proper individualised notice has gone up too, officially printed with specific information. It too says 'Bus stop closed.' It gives an actual start date, which is Monday 5th October, despite the fact the stop's been dormant for over a week. It says the closure is 'until further notice', which is the polite way of saying forever, because Cycle Superhighway plans require that it never reopens. And that's the niggle-free part of the notice.

The remainder isn't quite so helpful. Underneath the headline somebody's printed out a list of what they think are the affected bus routes, namely the 25, 276, 425, D8 and N205. But unfortunately they've missed two routes out, namely the 8 (which has stopped here since the 1980s) and the 488 (which has stopped here since 2008). The list of affected routes would be correct if this was Bus Stop G and it was last year, but it's not, and so the list is 28% incomplete. The notice then goes on to advise passengers to use the bus stop on Bow Road at Bromley High Street, which is not a helpful way of describing the location, indeed it suggests what whoever wrote the notice has never been here. And most importantly the notice tells passengers, indeed urges passengers, to please use Bus Stop M.

Hang on, this is Bus Stop M! The bus stop pole always used to have an M on it. If you look at the bus map in the bus shelter it very definitely describes this stop as Bus Stop M. If you head to the TfL website, Bus Stop M is still this stop, the bus stop by the flyover. And yet - as we've seen - what used to be Bus Stop G up the road now has an M on top, so maybe that's the new Bus Stop M, even though the TfL website still thinks it's G. Perhaps the final outcome of this major bus stop reshuffle is that bus stops E and M have closed, and Bus Stop G has survived but been renamed M.

And by this point you might think I'm merely quibbling, but there is a reason why this matters. TfL are currently running a consultation regarding the rerouting of route 25 over the Bow Flyover which will involve the skipping of certain stops. In that consultation they clearly state that route 25 will no longer be serving Bus Stop M, but will continue to serve Bus Stop G, indeed there's even a helpful map showing where bus stops G (Bow Church) and M (Bow Flyover) are. But the consultation no longer matches the situation on the ground, where M is G or G is M and the old M no longer exists, or something, my brain is quietly throbbing at this point.

It's also made clear that Bus Stop M will be closing later this year, which (if it's the old M) it already has, and (if it's the new M) it had better not. Whichever is actually the case, there's now an official consultation giving entirely contradictory information to reality, or a reality giving entirely contradictory information to what's intended, it's hard to be sure. And the consultation still has ten days to run. I hope that somebody can clarify which stop's actually called what before the deadline passes.

Sorry, I never meant to write four long posts about three bus stops you'll probably never use. But I hope it's been illuminating to see how poor communication and poorly thought-out processes can impact on bus users in unanticipated ways. It's amazing how long a misinformation issue can go unnoticed, with the travelling public inevitably the losers. Equally it's been encouraging to see the bus companies, Cycle Superhighway contractors and TfL management finally talking to each other, and if this blog gave that a nudge, then hurrah. I don't think the situation's yet sorted, and there are still some illogical inconsistencies in labelling and in the provision of customer information. But give it a few days and I suspect Bow's bus passengers will finally work out where they ought to be standing, as if none of this ever happened.

 Sunday, October 04, 2015

Sorry, this is yet another post about three bus stops on Bow Road.

Because yesterday, once again, things got worse.

This time nothing changed at the stops themselves.

Bus Stop E still has a shelter, a roundel and a sign saying ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G is still half-unveiled, with a shelter and a proper roundel on a pole
Bus Stop M: still has a shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop

What's changed, overnight, is the behaviour of the drivers. On Friday they stopped at Bus Stop E, then sped past Bus Stop G before continuing towards the roundabout. But as of yesterday they speed past Bus Stop E and stop at Bus Stop G instead. It's as if a message has gone out to all the bus companies that Bus Stop E is now closed and Bus Stop G is open. Unfortunately nobody's thought to tell the passengers.

On Friday it was passengers standing at newly-unveiled Bus Stop G who were left standing, and a little bit angry. But on Saturday things were the other way round, with passengers at Bus Stop E left behind as buses stopped thirty metres down the road. And they weren't happy. They especially weren't happy when drivers passing Bus Stop E looked across and pointed repeatedly down the road, as if to say "But the real bus stop is down there!" They might have been thinking "But the real bus stop is down there you stupid idiots!" or they might have been thinking "But the real bus stop is down there so I'm not allowed to pick you up!", it was hard to tell. But they still made no attempt to pull in, as passengers found out the hard way that allegiances had been switched.

For example. A family group arrived at Bus Stop E and settled in the shelter. "Are you sure this is the right place?" asked Mum. "Yes," said Grandpa, with some certainty, "they switched all the buses over here several weeks ago." When a 425 went past and stopped down the road they barely blinked, but when a 25 also failed to stop they finally started to twig. The passing of another 25 was the signal for them to dash off in an attempt to catch it at Bus Stop G further down the road. The kids arrived first and held the bus for Mum, slowing down the service for longer than if it had stopped at both stops in turn. Later a 276 headed on to G in preference to E, causing a young bloke with a suitcase to career off down the pavement. He made it, while the granny following on behind wasn't so lucky.

Just when I thought I'd got the hang of what was going on, a number 8 arrived and pulled in at E instead of G. Other buses then all chose G over E, but then several minutes later another 276 picked E over G. If a message has gone out to all bus garages that Bus Stop E is now closed, then not every bus driver's got it.

But then who wouldn't be wildly confused?

Bus Stop EGM
Bus stop pole?NoYesNo
Bus stop sign?YesYesNo
Bus timetables?NoYesNo
Bus shelter?YesYesYes
Bus maps?YesNoYes
'Bus stop' written in road?YesNoYes
Sign saying bus stop closed? NoNoNo

What I think has happened is that we've reached the end state of the Cycle Superhighway upgrade, i.e. that Bus Stop G is open and bus stops E and M are permanently closed. If so we've reached that state three months earlier than initially scheduled, and without anybody on the ground being told.

The issue here is simple - a mismatch between what the drivers are doing and what the bus stops are saying. All that's needed is for any bus stops that are closed to actually look closed, either through the removal of street furniture or the addition of a big sign. Could somebody official possibly pop down and sort this mess out?

 Saturday, October 03, 2015

Sorry, this is another post about three bus stops on Bow Road.

Because, unbelievably, yesterday things got worse.

When I left you on Thursday, the situation was this.
Bus Stop E: Soon to be retired bus stop, with temporary sign - ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G: Almost upgraded to bus stop bypass, but still coned off - recently gained pole from Bus Stop M
Bus Stop M: Still has its bus shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop (probably)

Nothing's happened at Bus Stop E, it's still (for now) the place to wait to catch a bus. Disappointingly nothing's happened at Bus Stop M, it's still seemingly dead but with no definitive sign to confirm one way or the other (so passengers are still waiting, and drivers are sometimes stopping, sometimes not). Instead all the action is in the middle at Bus Stop G, which may (or may not) have opened. You couldn't make it up.

Very early on Friday morning, contractors working on the Cycle Superhighway Upgrade were out to remove the cones and barriers from around Bus Stop G. It's been sealed off for six weeks to create an island bus stop with a bypass, and half the island is now deemed ready for passengers. A new shelter has been added, as yet with no maps within, and a recycled pole with roundel has been plonked by the kerbside. To all intents and purposes it looks like a fully functioning bus stop, admittedly still with a lot of roadworks alongside, but convincing enough to persuade passengers to come and use it.

And come they have. Nobody seems to have blinked with surprise to see Bus Stop G open again, as if it's somehow never been away. So they're standing by the stop, and they're sitting in the shelter, and they're waiting for buses... that alas aren't stopping. All the buses still stop at Bus Stop E, thirty metres up the road, so naturally they're not going to stop again. A lot of angry fist-shaking has ensued.

Let's look at this situation from a bus driver's point of view. They pull in at 'temporary' Bus Stop E, as they have for the last six weeks, to pick up passengers who've learned they now have to wait there. Then they head out into the traffic and see passengers waiting at a mysterious bus stop thirty metres down the road. Of course they're going to skip it, it's far too close. And as for the passengers waving a lot, well they should have got on at the proper stop, shouldn't they? They should jolly well be waiting in the proper place, wherever the proper place should be.

It's taking passengers at Bus Stop G a few minutes to work out that they shouldn't be waiting there. First they're surprised to see a bus sailing past, then they're shocked to see another, then they twig that all the buses are stopping further back up the road, and then they wander off. Sometimes they shift quite fast - a group of schoolkids I saw bombed it up the road to catch a 25, but older folk generally aren't making it in time. And then the bus stop is people-free again, so looks normal, and a new victim wanders up, and the whole vicious cycle starts again.

Except it's not quite that simple... it never is. Because a few buses are stopping at Bus Stop G, presumably out of either confusion or guilt. I've seen drivers stop at both, having spotted potential passengers wildly gesticulating, despite the fact the stops are so close. I saw a D8 pull in at Bus Stop G, but in vain because nobody waiting actually wanted it. And I've watched a string of number 25s go by - five of them in one minute - but only the very last one deigned to stop where the others had not.

Meanwhile I think the odd bus is only stopping at Bus Stop G. This might be because they've been specifically told to, or it might be because they always used to, I don't know. But I definitely saw a number 488 skip past Bus Stop E and drop off its passengers at Bus Stop G instead, which might or might not have been what those passengers wanted. Their experience is ultimately the future, because Bus Stop G is supposed to be permanently replacing Bus Stop E on an as yet unspecified date. But alas some idiot has opened Bus Stop G without closing Bus Stop E, creating a node of uncertainty that's baffling passengers and inconveniencing their journeys.

And, just to add to the fun, Bus Stop G still appears to be called Bus Stop M. Workmen borrowed the pole from defunct Bus Stop M last week, and remembered to change the name from 'Bow Flyover' to 'Bow Church', but went and left the M on top. On Thursday I reported they'd failed to add route 25, and I'm pleased to say that overnight a proper '25' tile appeared, so that's all good. But they forgot to change the timetables, so there are still two big yellow notices announcing 'Route 25 is diverted and will not be serving this stop', even though it will. And they also forgot to change the 'next bus information' panel at the top of the pole, so if you text '55457' to 87287 you get the next bus information for the bus stop by the flyover, where the 25 doesn't stop and which (probably) no longer exists. I don't know who's supposed to be doing the joined up thinking here, but they absolutely haven't.

So as of Friday evening, the situation is like this.
Bus Stop E: Soon to be retired bus stop, with temporary sign - ALL BUSES STOP HERE
Bus Stop G: Reopened, and looks convincing, but factually inaccurate, and buses generally aren't stopping
Bus Stop M: Still has its bus shelter but has lost its pole, and is probably no longer a bus stop (probably)

In summary, buses are stopping at E, but people are still waiting at M, and now additionally at G, because nobody's told them not to. My end of Bow Road currently has one open bus stop that's soon to close, one possibly open bus stop that appears still to be closed, and one probably closed bus stop that still looks open. Could somebody official possibly pop down and sort this mess out?

 Thursday, October 01, 2015

This is a post about three bus stops on Bow Road.

These are the three eastbound bus stops immediately before the Bow Flyover. They're my local bus stops. They're served by 45 buses an hour on half a dozen different routes. They're currently being re-engineered because of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade. And with the transition well underway, I have to say the temporary arrangements aren't entirely ideal.

Buses are supposed to stop at either bus stop E or bus stop G (which are quite close), and then at bus stop M, before proceeding round the roundabout. But by the end of the year the needs of the Cycle Superhighway mean that bus stops E and M will be closed, and all passengers will need to wait at bus stop G to catch their bus. It's going to be a busy one.

Stop E

The first roadworks along the pavement by Bow Church began at the end of July. During August bus stop E started to be downgraded, with the removal of the Countdown display inside the shelter and the removal of the bus stop flag. A temporary sign was put in place on a nearby lamppost, announcing ALL BUSES STOP HERE, but this wasn't initially the case. Some drivers still carried on to bus stop G, which at that point hadn't quite been closed, leaving passengers waiting in vain until another bus turned up. That swiftly sorted itself out. But the temporary sign doesn't give the numbers of the services that stop here, and there are no timetables, which isn't terribly helpful. It's been like this for at least five weeks. TfL have said they'll close this stop permanently "from late October".

Stop G

Bus stop E has been very busy since late August because bus stop G is temporarily closed. Planners decided that of all three stops along this stretch of road only G could accommodate a bus stop bypass, and that transformation is well underway. It began two months ago with the realignment of the kerb and an awful lot of digging. What used to be the inside lane of the A11 has become a bus stop bypass island, with space for cycling carved through the pavement behind. Soon this section of Bow Road will be only two lanes wide, rather than three, but cones and roadworks have meant that for the last month it's been only one. If you're on a bike this has been particularly bad news, because you've had to take your chances sharing a much narrower flow of traffic. That'll improve dramatically once the bus stop bypass opens, but tantalisingly it hasn't yet. The upgraded bus stop has been almost ready for a while, except there's still a lamppost in the middle of the new cycle lane so the safe route can't be opened yet. Until the old lamppost is removed and the new lamppost alongside is switched on, freshly-spacious bus stop G remains closed.

Stop M

Poor old bus stop M. It's the last stop before the roundabout, and used to be served by all buses. Then planners decided the 25 should be diverted over the flyover to make up time elsewhere, an iniquity I've moaned about elsewhere. Now the 25 speeds by, and will continue to do so forever subject to the results of a consultation which ends on October 16th. So I was particularly surprised to walk past the stop last Wednesday and see that the number 25 had been removed from the routes displayed on the bus stop. Up until this point the 25 had been crossed out with red sticky tape, pending discussion, but suddenly the tile had been removed altogether as if the outcome had already been decided. Bloody hell, I shouted at the bus stop, talk about pre-judging your own consultation.

When I returned on Friday, I was even more surprised to discover that the bus stop had disappeared. Not the shelter, and not the painted lines in the road, but the pole on which the bus stop sign hung had vanished. Had bus stop M suddenly been terminated, as the Cycle Superhighway roadworks drew too close? The inside of the shelter still contained a bench and bus map, but there was no roundel on a pole, no list of route numbers and no set of timetables. Potential passengers also looked confused, waiting where they'd always waited and discovering that buses weren't stopping. When I walked past late on Saturday evening, an elderly lady was sitting in the bus shelter clutching a bag of shopping, wondering where the next bus might be. She too was waiting in vain, the poor woman, and this was after eleven o'clock at night. Bloody hell, I thought, someone has really bodged this up.

I had hoped the confusion would be only temporary, but when I walked past yesterday evening nothing had changed. The bus stop is still pole-less and roundel-less, and there's still no sign saying "This bus stop has closed" to confirm the outcome. On this occasion there were five people waiting, who looked particularly pissed off when a 276 whizzed by despite their desperate waving. Some deduced something was up and headed off up the road to bus stop E... only to be even more pissed off when a 425 pulled up and picked up those who'd decided to stay. Later in the evening I saw a 488 pull in to drop off some passengers, this despite the fact the onboard iBus display was already showing the next stop as if this one had been deleted. Bloody hell, I said, they've created a ghost stop that only half exists, through a mixture of incomplete planning and incompetence.

According to a letter TfL poked through my door in July, "bus stop M will be closed permanently from late December." Have they really shut it three months earlier than expected, and without telling anybody either? Do they expect regular users to spot that the pole's not there so this isn't a bus stop any more, despite never once putting up a sign announcing closure? Or is it in fact still functional, or is this week maybe a temporary blip before a couple more months of service? Not even the bus drivers seem to be sure. The TfL website still shows next departures from bus stop M, even though there aren't any, while a different webpage suggests the bus stop has already been moved uphill concurrent with stop G. This is how unwanted bus stops die, not with a bang but with a befuddled whimper.

Stop G

Which brings me back to bus stop G, which will imminently be Bow Church's only surviving eastbound bus stop. It has a brand new shelter awaiting first passengers, and also a brand new bus stop pole... which looks familiar. The letter on the top is the big giveaway - this used to be the pole for bus stop M and it's been relocated 200m up the road. And that would be great, except the list of buses no longer shows the 25, and the 25 will definitely be stopping here because it's the last stop before the flyover. I trust someone'll be adding the 25 before the bus stop goes live, and I hope they'll be adding that Countdown display they removed from bus stop E up the road too. Of course I mustn't grumble about bus stop G as yet, it's not operational, and there might be final tweaks yet to come. But trust me, I'll be back to blog about bus stop G some more - I mean, a bisected bus stop bypass, whatever were they thinking...?

 Monday, August 31, 2015


For my Local History Month this year I'm going to walk around Tower Hamlets.

That's all the way around the edge of Tower Hamlets, starting in Bow where I live, and heading clockwise around the perimeter of the borough. You will not believe quite how far it is.

I'm fortunate in that Tower Hamlets has a better defined border than most boroughs, with the eastern edge delimited by the River Lea and the southern edge by the River Thames. To the west it butts up against the City, before following Hackney Road, the Regent's Canal and the northern rim of Victoria Park. And there are some cracking places of interest along the way. The cobbles of Limehouse and Wapping, for example, and the Tower of London, and the heart of Spitalfields, and even a central slice of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. On a less well known note there's London's only lighthouse, the launchslip of the greatest ever Victorian steamship, the former liberty of Norton Folgate, an alcove rescued from a previous London Bridge and an actual Blue Peter garden. If you'd like to view this fascinating boundary in full cartographic detail, click here.

A few rules. I'm not walking dead ends, so if the closest path to the boundary requires me to retrace my steps, I'm not going there. I'm sticking to public rights of way, so there'll be no trespassing along someone's back passage to take a shortcut. And I've decided to stay within Tower Hamlets at all times, never straying to the other side of the boundary, even if that requires a lengthy diversion because the obvious path lies just outside the borough. For example the Regent's Canal towpath runs along the Hackney bank not the Tower Hamlets bank, alas, while the better path down the River Lea is usually across in Newham. And finally I reserve the right to break these rules if there's something really interesting nearby I'd otherwise miss.

And for a sneak peek of what's coming up, here are 214 photos.

A walk around the edge of Tower Hamlets
Bow Roundabout → Bow Creek
(2½ miles) [20 photos]

For my August extravaganza this year I'm walking clockwise around the edge of Tower Hamlets. And for reasons of local convenience, not least so that I can collapse into an armchair when the twenty mile circumnavigation is over, I'm kicking off at the Bow Roundabout. [map]

The entire eastern edge of Tower Hamlets runs down the centre of the River Lea, so for the first few miles all I need to do is stick as close to the water's edge as possible. Thankfully at the Bow Roundabout that's easy, thanks to the floating towpath slung beneath the flyover. This was installed in 2011 to continue the Lea Valley Walk without the dangers of rising to cross the traffic, and has been an overwhelming success especially with cyclists. I usually have to dodge out of the way of a couple of them when passing through, and at the start of this journey there are pedestrians and a canoe paddling too.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Stratford High Street

A phenomenal amount of building work is underway around the roundabout, especially on the Newham side, with the 34-storey core of investo-luxe Capital Towers rising from the northern quadrant, and Strand East beginning to emerge to the east. But the Tower Hamlets shores aren't immune, the Calor Gas yard doomed to become a car dealership, apparently, and the Bow River Village scheme preparing to replace the remaining commercial premises with yet more not-especially affordable brick boxes. Apologies, I'm likely to bemoan the tedious nature of modern apartment architecture several more times before this circuit is complete.

For now the riverside footpath is a peaceful backwater, with industrial premises and building site screened behind an old brick wall. A few moorhens swim through this summer's algae, and even the occasional narrowboat chugs through. Give it a year or three and there'll be chair-sized balconies opening out above the river facing chair-sized balconies on the opposite bank, plus a narrow bridge solely for a bus service to cross the Lea.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Three Mills Lane

At Three Mills the first downside of my Round Tower walk becomes apparent. Here the towpath switches to the other side of the Lea where it passes the oast-like Clock Mill and the 18th century House Mill (report: 2010), reputedly the largest tidal mill in the UK. But that's across the boundary in Newham so I'm not allowed to go that way, the rules of my challenge forbid it, so instead I face a lengthy diversion away from the waterside via the closest available road. Regrettably it's a diversion that'll last the entire remainder of today's post, but bear with me.

While the Tower Hamlets boundary countinues through Tesco's (dead end) car-park, I'm forced to walk round the front and up to the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. This GLC-planned dual carriageway was driven parallel to the Lea to minimise community division, which was fine in the 1970s but now rather more people live to the east of it and there are thousands more to come. I'm plying the pavement on the southbound side, past the crumbling office block opposite Bromley-by-Bow station and the freshly-relocated (and kaleidoscopic) Bow School on the corner with Twelvetrees Crescent. Breathing in the A12 air too deeply is not necessarily advised.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: District line, Twelvetrees Crescent

What I'd like to do next is cross down to scenic Bow Locks, because that's on the border, but the narrow towpath arrives through Newham, and anyway there's no way down. Meridian-based sculpture trail The Line has a similar problem, and has just tweaked its route to take in Bow Locks rather than the A12 pavement. Alas they've made another mess with their signage, just as they did when they launched in May, with several signs missing, one pointing in the opposite direction and those at the top of the Limehouse Cut affixed unreadably to a open gate. A great way to lose all your potential punters en route, I fear.

South of the canal a pre-1970 road called Gillender Street survives. And that's just as well because there are some gems along its eastern flank, including (somewhat unexpectedly) the oldest brick building in London. This is Bromley Hall, at the end of the 15th century the local manor house, and once home to Elizabeth Blount - one of Henry VIII's mistresses. Also now used as office space are the old Fire Station (circa 1910) and a rather grand public library (circa 1906), beside which are tucked the rather less gorgeous headquarters of Fridgehire.co.uk.

At Lochnagar Street my route at last departs the A12, but not before I've had a chance to admire the handiwork of City Wood Services. Here Danny and Suraya carve timber into whatever shape you fancy, generally furniture, but also a splendid collection of 'Chainsaw Art' (including bears, bees and fungi) arrayed on the pavement. The environment gets a bit glum on the roads beyond, all breakers yards and recycling dumps, where once were terraced streets and vibrant (if poor) communities. Leven Street beyond was once lined by a clothing works and trolleybus depot, the former now modern housing, the latter now Iron Mountain secure storage.

I've arrived on the Aberfeldy Estate, a lowrise 1950s community with a challenging reputation, now with plans for sequential redevelopment as a "mixed-income" neighbourhood. Parts don't look too bad, brightened by a Millennium Green, and the occasional leftover Victorian terraced street, ironically now seen as utterly desirable rather slum clearance. Other parts are drearier, hence the local housing association's desire to replace the whole lot with this decade's trademark brick apartment blocks, whose characterlessness will no doubt look just as dreary soon.

Leven Street lies in the shadow of the mighty No. 1 gasholder at Poplar Gasworks (the UK’s only surviving gasholder with curved and tapering box-lattice girders). Its large riverside expanse was once covered with gantries, conveyor belts and Retort Houses (the latter where the coal was burnt to produce gas), and is now chock-a-block with containers and old cars, and not yet flats. For a well connected site, close to the point where the A13 swoops across the Lea, there's considerable potential for this edge of the borough to be so much more.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: East India Dock Road

A walk around the edge of Tower Hamlets
Bow Creek → Blackwall
(1½ miles) [25 photos]

Having kicked off my circumnavigation of Tower Hamlets by following the Lea south, today I'm manoeuvring around the contorted peninsulas at the mouth of Bow Creek. [map]

The final meander on the River Lea is a natural wonder, twisting and turning back on itself (twice) before exiting into the Thames immediately opposite the Millennium Dome. The bends create two thin tongues of land, interlocking like thumbs and forefingers, with land access from completely opposite ends. The westernmost peninsula is in Newham, and is home to the Bow Creek Ecology Park. There's just room for the DLR to pass through the middle of the reserve on a lofty viaduct, with reedy watery pools to either side, and a series of benches that once had views before the surrounding vegetation grew too high. And the eastern peninsula, somewhat counter-intuitively, is in Tower Hamlets.

It's always been a dead end, this strip of creekbound land, and human activity took some time to move in. The northern tip was once called Goodluck Hope, a marshy and rural spot, while a little further south (presumably by some fruit trees) lay the single dwelling of Orchard House. The estate was sold to the East India Dock Company precisely 200 years ago, after which time timber merchants, cooperages, shipbuilders, shipbreakers and a whale blubber factory were established on the peninsula. The largest plate glass factory in southern England was established at the far end, and a small inward-looking community built up, propped up by a pub called The Crown. Their slums are long gone, but even ten years ago Pura Foods were still piping vegetable oil from a refinery on the shore.

How places change. Next year the London City Island development opens up, described as a "Mini-Manhattan" by its developers, and "a bunch of primary coloured investment towers" by me. 1700 flats will be crammed in for the benefit of foreign investors, and the English National Ballet are taking up residence to give the place artistic credibility. For those of us who'll never be able to live there, the estate offers one great bonus which is a new way into Tower Hamlets. A red (raisable) bridge has been installed across the last bend in the creek, and a bespoke mothballed exit from Canning Town station awaits the official opening. (Report: 2013)

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Lower Lea Crossing, Crossrail (to Custom House)

My walk around Tower Hamlets is half a mile shorter while Leamouth's inland isthmus remains sealed off for building works. Instead I get to walk past the council's main transport depot (all gritters and minibuses), follow a slip road underneath a giant red advertising hoarding and head beneath the concrete pillars of the Lower Lea Crossing. Orchard House used to be around here, where the hastily imported planters bloom, and a taxi repurposed as art sits on a cobbled traffic island with a sparkly tree emerging from its roof. And what I should do here is pass through the gates into the East India Dock Basin, but instead I'm going to break the rules of my walk for the first time and head down the cul-de-sac of Orchard Place.

This backwater street has been here for some time, lined by the decaying leftovers of wharves and shipbuilding yards. Thankfully historians and artists have been out to liven it up, with a large painted buoy at one end, a flimsy-looking bream hanging part-way down, and numerous heritage panels all the way down. The latter are truly excellent, and you can read much of the information contained within on this mini-website. This post-industrial remnant is the East End's most remote corner, and as far from trendy Shoreditch as Tower Hamlets gets. And at the far end is Trinity Buoy Wharf, which you must visit.

Established at the start of the 19th century as a storage space for navigational buoys, Trinity House built London's one and only lighthouse here, used for lighting trials rather than for the avoidance of rocks. It's still here, and at weekends you can step inside and climb an especially narrow staircase to the lantern to stare out across the Thames. The tower is also the auditorium for a 1000-year-long musical composition called Longplayer, designed never to repeat, and playing out from a turn-of-the-century iMac in a case at the back. Alongside is a large display of singing bowls used to play the piece, which runs until New Year's Eve 2999, and can also be heard in perpetuity here.

Longplayer's not the only cultural gizmo on site. Down by the river is a double-ended bell that rings at high tide, and in the corner by the mouth of Bow Creek is the world's first tidal powered moon clock (which looks like a flashy digital speak your weight machine, but is much geekier than that). All of this science is highly appropriate because Michael Faraday used to work on site, testing out electrical apparatus in the lighthouse, and there's a hut with a pebbled floor laid out in his memory down below.

Oh, and lots of people work here. The management company pioneered the concept of a Container City, with workspaces inside brightly-coloured stacked metal boxes. If you ever get the chance to look inside, say for Open House, then do. The latest arrivals are the temporary broadcasting containers from London 2012, now combined to create the Riverside Building (you can rent a studio here for £1150 a month). And all these people need somewhere to eat, so there are two, one the Bow Creek Café, the other Fatboy's Diner, and both open seven days a week. I dropped into Fatboy's for a superthick American milkshake, just as I did at the end of my walk down the Lea in August 2009, and slurped it in the shadow of a lightship. Did I mention that you really ought to visit?

Enough diversion, let's nip back to the East India Docks and continue around the borough. This is a treat in itself, the former entrance basin now filled with shallow water and a seasonal home to migrating birds. As for the remainder of the system they were the first of London's docks to be filled in, and various homes, offices and council headquarters now reside where spice ships once moored. One such site is slightly upriver at Victoria Quay, where a monument commemorates the departure point of the first American settlers in 1606 - one of their captains would later bring back Princess Pocohontas (report: 2006). And here too is one of my favourite Greenwich meridian markers - an avenue of trees between apartment blocks, leading from a mosaic circle by the river.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Blackwall Tunnel

The next stretch of waterside is private and blocked, forcing a diversion inland along Blackwall Way. This area is becoming increasingly dominated by residential skyscrapers, once only the thin slanty Ontario Tower, but more recently the bulbous Providence Tower, unashamedly targeted at rich bankers seeking a luxury lifestyle. I felt completely out of place walking through artificial streets beneath premium balconies, dodging suited property consultants and smug clusters of outdoor yoga. I take comfort from the fact that Tower Hamlets' main Waste Transfer Station is located nextdoor. And with the return to more ordinary housing, at the entrance to Blackwall Basin, the long trek around the Isle of Dogs finally begins.

A walk around the edge of Tower Hamlets
Blackwall → Island Gardens
(2 miles) [18 photos]

A walk around the Isle of Dogs anyone? The perimeter trail doesn't appear on many tourist itineraries, which is odd because this Thames meander forms possibly the most iconic physical representation of the city of London. Even the Thames Path gives up halfway round and crosses to the southern bank, abandoning Tower Hamlets in favour of Maritime Greenwich. On this section of my walk I'm going to follow the ignored eastern half of the peninsula, through Cubitt Town, which is less blocked off (and I'd say more interesting) than the more popular west. [map]

I'm starting this section of the walk at the entrance to Blackwall Basin, located roughly where the Thames finally turns to bend east. This broad channel, opened in 1802, was once the entrance to the West India Docks and thus an exceptionally important conduit for trade. The West India Dock Company dealt in sugar and spice, and many a transatlantic sailing would have ended with a ship's passage into the basin, then on to be unloaded where the Canary Wharf development now stands. The entrance's hasty construction led to numerous problems over the years, eventually being trumped by an entrance further south and falling into disrepair. Thirty years ago all waterborne access was sealed off by the island's main ring road, and today the channel is lined by lacklustre lowrise housing. But you can still walk across the gates by the river (from which the view inland is excellent), and then head out onto a restored pier overlooking the O2 (from which the view might just be better).

A brief treat follows, through one of the few remaining pockets of 18th century maritime buildings on the island. Coldharbour is a narrow kinked and cobbled street off the main drag, with period houses that back immediately onto the Thames (and are thus visible from that pier I mentioned). Two Dock Official's houses survive, each with full-height bay windows to make it easier to watch the ships, while Admiral Nelson is reputed to have stayed at Nelson House during a fleet refit (although that may just be a story). Charles Dickens definitely enjoyed a drink at The Fishing Smack, alas now demolished, but today's ale-lovers should still be able to get a pint (or a posh gastromeal) at The Gun, the almost-extremely-old pub on the corner. Compared to what's coming next, Coldharbour is Tower Hamlets at its most enchanting.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Jubilee line

A massive lifting bridge spans the entrance to the South Dock, this still the main access to the chain of waterways on the island. Three tall cranes have been preserved as reminders of the past, but the immediate future is even taller flats, especially at Wood Wharf, the next intensive phase of Docklands' commercial-friendly expansion. A first outlier is the Dollar Bay tower, where even a tiny one bedroom studio will set you back over half a million pounds, currently rising above the back of the small Ladbrokes on Manchester Road. Indeed this crossing into Cubitt Town marks the point where the Isle of Dogs changes from bankers' playground to communal backwater, because the social housing got in first, well before riverside living became the prerogative of the wealthy.

The path heads back to the riverside here, though initially not in friendly terms: CCTV in operation, no fishing, and strictly no loitering. The façade of the Isle of Dogs Pumping Station comes as a jokey surprise - part classical, part children's playground - with vivid fins atop thick brick columns, and an extractor fan winking out like a Cyclops' eye. Ahead is the Samuda Estate, one of the GLC's very first estates, consisting of four and six-storey blocks, plus a 25-floor stack of maisonettes called Kelson House. The neighbourly spirit here is evident, and will hopefully survive the complete redevelopment of the riverside quarter into five bland stacks, currently at early partial-knockdown stage. In the meantime a lengthy inland diversion is required, through the heart of a community enduring forced evolution.

Next, a beach! A long strip of sand runs along the foreshore by Amsterdam Road, easily (and properly) accessed down a parallel set of steps. Its presence made sense when this eastern shoreline was all wharves and industry (as today's entire walk used to be), while now it's simply a top recreational amenity for those who live close by and others in the know. A couple of families were taking advantage as I walked by, but buckets and spades seemed essentially unnecessary. The view's not bad either, namely the whole of the western side of the North Greenwich peninsula from the Dome down to almost Greenwich. One day that'll all be luxury highrise and yacht terminal, a fate this Isle of Dogs borderline summarily avoided, but for now it's the far shore which appears desolate and underdeveloped.

As Blackwall Reach bends round, the housing facing the Thames has a more 1980s feel, providing many fortunate residents with the chance to live on the river. One run of Dutch-style townhouses is blessed with pergolas out front, draping the waterside path with trailing greenery, in a brief splash of architectural personality. An information panel explains that this is Saunders Ness, a marshy foreland originally stabilised by a bank of earth and stones before industry moved in during the 1840s. There is a brief return to the interior at Newcastle Draw Dock, the pub at the far end once the Newcastle Arms, then the Watermans Arms - it appears in the film The Long Good Friday. Once a mainstay of the Island's working class community, it's now the Great Eastern and does Sunday Roasts and Craft Beers, because doesn't everywhere?

The management of the Luralda Wharf development go to great pains to remind walkers that they're only here under sufferance, and technically barred between 11pm and 10am, such is the nature of private public space. And this leads through to Island Gardens, the attractive strip of parkland at the foot of the peninsula, and which gives the adjacent DLR station its name. Still a popular place to sit or sprawl, there are also two refreshment opportunities, one the official council cafe, the other a smaller kiosk by the entrance to the Foot Tunnel. And this is your escape to Maritime Greenwich beneath the Thames, should you choose to enter its Stygian depths and dodge the tourists, the pushbikers, and the naughty cyclists who pretend not to read the signs. What these tourists make of Island Gardens I'm not sure, but its finest feature is probably the view back towards whence they came.

Exit from Tower Hamlets: Greenwich Foot Tunnel, DLR

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london daily photo
random acts of reality
london bloggers tube map

ten london links
poverty map 1899
london map 1827
smoke magazine
urban 75 london
panoramic views
street sensation
london ancestor
hidden london
london pubs
time out

ten east london links
where i live
visit eastside
east end photos
east end history
discover public art
cockney translator
greenwich meridian
tower hamlets history
the real albert square
docklands development

ten london transport links
future transport projects
clive's tube line guides
london underground
abandoned stations
various tube maps
london bus routes
london bus maps
disused stations
london walks