Cycling facilities at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park are a massively wasted opportunity, typified by the fact that the entrance is a staircase

This staircase is the main western cycling entrance to the the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in NE London 

Cycle across Victoria Park, over the cycling and pedestrian bridge to Hackney Wick, down Wallis Road and you arrive at the main western cycling gateway to the Olympic Park: it’s a staircase.

Yes, a staircase – one that leads to the major east-west cycle route across the Olympic Park.   

A lift is promised, and there is already a ramp for wheeling up bicycles on the right-hand side of the stairs, but surely the authority that brought us the architectural triumphs of the Olympic Stadium, the Velodrome and the Aquatic Centre could have done better than install a staircase on a major bike route.

The Olympic legacy was supposed deliver a park where sustainability, sport, health and relaxation were in the ascendant.

Instead, under the prime authority of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the park is shaping up as yet another national treasure blighted by the ever-present noise, danger and pollution of motor traffic. 

The cycling staircase is, unfortunately, just one of the dozens of instances of bad practice in the Olympic Park zone that stretches from the A11 to the A12. As well as the LLDC, other authorities controlling the roads include the Westfield shopping centre  and Newham Council. 

It was only an intervention by LCC, with support from City Hall, that prevented the whole of the primary east-west commuter cycle route through the park being closed in the evenings. 

It’s not that there are no cycle facilities in the Olympic Park – it’s just that a large proportion are poorly designed, downright dangerous, or well below the official London standards.

And on some busy roads there is, or will be, either a token gesture to cycling or nothing at all to mitigate the risks from motor traffic.

All of which is a crying shame because for once London had a chance to build a textbook perfect cycling zone from scratch, for children as well as adults, in an area that features parklands, waterways and major sports and leisure attractions.

It is also an embarrassment that both public and private money has been, and is being, spent foolishly rather than purposefully.

Even the Mayor felt it necessary to say in his Vision for Cycling:

“We will do our best to improve some new schemes, such as the Olympic Park, that were given planning consent under previous regimes with insufficient provision for cycling.”

Two positive measures are being implemented in the park thanks to campaigning by LCC and others: a 20mph speed limit throughout the park is promised (but not yet extended to cover Newham run roads), while part of Waterden Road, the link from the motorway into the shopping centre, has been reduced to two lanes from four.

It’s a pity the two positive changes weren’t accompanied by a full revision of the cycling infrastructure as we suggested.

The adoption and implementation of the low-grade cycling facilities and roads that are likely to become rat-runs has continued despite repeated representations from LCC including a formal presentation to the planning committee that oversees park planning applications.

Officers of the Olympic Delivery Authority (since changed into the LLDC) rejected our arguments and our suggestions for dozens of improvements, saying the cycling connectivity was good enough.

This photo shows the 'good' connection to Stratford International station and Leyton:

You can see a selection of poorly designed cycle routes in the recently opened North Park – improvements there will have to be retro-fitted.

The southern section of the park is still being built and there is a still an opportunity to tackle bad facilities.

But, unless plans are changed, the main car route through it (Carpenters Road) will have a yet another minimum standard painted advisory cycle lane, despite car volumes that are expected to be 9000+ every day.

The so-called Southern Loop Road, another potential rat-run, features bends that lend themselves to high-speed driving, and will have only token provision  for cycling unless the Mayor intervenes.  

A tour of the park’s cycle routes

So let’s take a bike tour around the accessible parts of the Olympic Park and surrounding roads, and look at the detail.

Starting in the south, we ride down Warton Road, where the cycle track begins on a roundabout with a hard-to-see kerb edge (this is supposed to be a smooth dropped kerb) approached at an angle that will surely unseat a cyclist sooner or later.

Then, you have to suddenly switch from one side of the road to the other at a traffic light that's just been installed but not switched on (mid-january 2014). This replaces a completely unprotected and highly hazardous crossing and, if you are heading in the other direction, you still are ejected, off a cycle track, into the path of traffic entering the roundabout.

The two-way cycle track (or the alternative 1m-wide sub-standard cycle lane) leads you to a junction where, using the multi-stage cycle crossing, it'll take you 2 minutes or so to turn left. 

Your patience will be rewarded with sight of Britain’s only brand-new cobbled cycle track.

The concrete cobbles, part of the tree planting programme, were removed and then replaced (yes, replaced) after the initial error had been made public (along with highlighting the car parking sign in the centre of a nearby cycle track – the solution to this has been to paint a cycle lane between the two posts).

As you pass the Westfield shopping centre, you're invited to take the ‘find the cycle parking challenge’ – it’s taken two years to persuade Westfield to put up any signage, but even with the new map you won’t find it easy to trace the cage for 100 bikes (currently fenced off).

Just beyond Westfield, there is another time-consuming multi-stage junction (a 90 second wait is typical).

Go straight across to discover another brand-new sub-standard 1.2 m cycle lane painted on the carriageway in International Way.

This joins a busy road with no cycling facilities leading to Stratford International Station and another road, Celebration Avenue, with minimum-width advisory lanes past Chobham Manor School.

The speed limit past the school is 30mph – which appears to be the case on most roads in the park zone that are not under the direct control of the LLDC.

Head back to the Olympic Park proper (left at the multistage junction) and you join a two-way cycling track along Waterden Road.

Although it’s off-road and brand-new, sections of it are just centimetres away from fast-moving traffic.

Within metres you arrive at give way markings (possibly for pedestrians whose only route option is to run across the four-lane road without a zebra crossing to help them) .

At the first proper junction, there is confusion and an absence of clear signs.

Turn left and you appear to be encouraged to stay on the pavement, which then becomes very narrow with railings alongside it.

Turn right and you join another two-way track which, surprisingly in this context, has been designed to have priority over the side streets.

The first side street (past the Copper Box sports centre), which will eventually become the western end of the grand East-West cycle route, leads to the cycling staircase (pictured at the top of this article) over the River Lea Navigation Canal.

It’s worth the short ride westwards to see the staircase for yourself.

Returning to Waterden Road and heading north on the cycle track, you reach the lights, where confusion reigns once again: crossing the very busy Lea Interchange further up from the lights remains hazardous and confusing by cycle.

The right turn before the Lea Interchange to circumnavigate the Park is currently blocked off by road works.

The road in question, Temple Mills Lane, is straight and, when it was open, dominated by high-speed motor traffic.

All that is planned for cyclists, despite the speeds and traffic volumes, is a 1.5-metre minimum-standard,  painted advisory cycle lane.

As an antidote to all the bad practice, you might wish to head back towards the Copper Box and cycle eastwards across the very wide footbridge to enjoy a view of the spectacular Velodrome and have a cuppa at the Unity Café (where the bridge ends), where there are plentiful bike stands.

The current traffic-free route section and convenient parking stands illustate what might have been possible in the rest of the park. 

Returning to the Copper Box, follow Waterden Road southwards and then to the east over the road bridge and you return to Stratford International Station.

Westfield could have provided a convenient cycle route from Stratford International to Stratford Regional Station along Hitchcock Lane using a section of the road used by delivery vehicles running between the two stations, but have chosen not to. You can however walk your bike along the path.

If you visit the Olympic Park and feel strongly that the cycling infrastructure should be improved, write to the Mayor at mayor@london.gov.uk.

The Mayor usually responds to comments and he retains authority over the London Legacy Development Corporation, which is responsible for the installation of poor-quality cycling facilities in the Olympic Park. Other authorites. like Westfields and Newham Council, control roads bordering the Olympic Park and they too need to address badly designed routes. 

For a detailed leisure ride around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Victoria Park, see the electronic edition of  London Cyclist monthly – free to LCC members and newsletter subscribers.

Replies

Please publicise that there is currently a consultation up: put cycling back on the agenda: http://www.londonlegacy.co.uk/planning-policy-and-decisions/the-local-plan-3/local-plan-current-consultation/

 

I responded with:

Comments on transport and connectivity proposal starting on page 127, especially page 135:

The Olympic Park should carry on the legacy of our cycling success & medals by being a world class location for cycling, however this is not currently the case.

Due to the major roads and the river Lea, there are few cycle friendly East-West routes in the area, in addition there are many busy and dangerous main roads around the park. The park should be designed to link to surrounding areas and allow cyclists to avoid dangerous and intimidating main roads.

 - Avoid conflict and potential collisions between cyclists and pedestrians: ALL locations where cycling is allowed on pavements to have a clearly marked lane.

 - All cycle lanes should be physically separated from the traffic. Where this is not possible lanes should have mandatory status.
 
 - All cycle lanes to meet 'London Cycling Design Standards' or better: Upgrade all existing lanes to be the recommended 1.6m wide. (Although many lanes are of high quality, in some locations lanes appear to be unnecessarily narrow and not in line with good practice).

The current plans do not meet the Local Plan's objectives of health, inclusive spaces, sustainability, climate change and energy or convergence. The plans do not seem to implement the policy T4 on page 135, which appears to be treated as an aspiration rather than a policy which will actually be delivered.

The fact cycling and walking share a single page in a 234 page consultation pretty much sums up the lack of focus on these issues.

The consultation needs far more detail on cycling and walking, with specific measures and standards identified to realise the objectives and the Mayor's Vision for Cycling.

Comments on the sustainability appraisal: the park fails to adequately support sustainable travel and the sustainability appraisal should identify this clearly in the introduction and summary of the document.



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