Mare Street Narroway in Hackney restored to two-way cycling

A long-held aspiration to restore two-way cycling to Mare Street Narroway, the main shopping street in Hackney's old town centre, has been fulfilled — at least temporarily. 

Northbound cycling on this key desire line – part of an ancient drovers' route from Essex to London, variously known as the Porters' Way and the Black Path – has been prohibited ever since it was included in a huge one-way system introduced in the 1970s. Thankfully the long-forgotten gyratory was removed in the 1980s, but Narroway remained one-way southbound, with access for buses and deliveries and southbound cycles only.

This arrangement resulted not just in frustration for people wanting to cycle north, but also in a diesel-choked street, filled for many hours of the day with a very slow-moving queue of buses. Retailers have struggled to thrive in this unpleasant shopping environment.

Since the 1980s, Hackney's local LCC group has been calling for bus services to be re-routed around Dalston Lane and Amhurst Road so that the Narroway could be turned back into a predominantly walking and cycling street. With the help of supportive councillors, they eventually succeeded in having this aspiration included in the Hackney Central Masterplan, which in due course resulted in a six-month trial which started in mid-June 2013.

“The Narroway is the historical and contemporary heart of Hackney,” said Trevor Parsons, co-ordinator of Hackney Cycling Campaign. “People can now appreciate it for what it is, enjoy spending time in it, and pass through it on foot and cycle without delays and inconvenience.

“We commend Hackney Council for pressing London Buses to go ahead with this experiment. They could have played it safe and maintained the status quo, but instead they took a chance to make a big improvement. Already in the first couple of weeks of the trial that gamble seems to be paying off, with no obvious problems for bus services, and a transformed street environment.”

Two-way cycling in the Narroway goes a long way towards re-establishing the continuity of London Cycle Network Route 9, which follows the course of the old drovers' way. The strikingly straight route is easily traceable on a map from Hackney town centre through London Fields, Broadway Market and Goldsmiths' Row, before it loses its identity south of Hackney Road. Progressively more filtered against motor traffic through the years, the route has been a huge asset to the resurgence of cycling in the borough.

If the arrangement is made permanent, Hackney Cycling Campaign will work with their colleagues in Hackney Living Streets to push for further logical improvements, such as the reconnection of Narroway to Clarence Road, where the cycling desire line is currently blocked both legally and physically, and better crossings at the southern end, where the pedestrian crossing is currently way off the desire line.