Friday 20 May 2011

Cycling to the Olympics?

The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) has anticipated that a third of Londoners will have to change their usual travel arrangements when the running, jumping, swimming and shooting are at their peak and each day perhaps half a million visitors will be travelling to various venues in the metropolis.
Transport for London has anticipated roughly "100 continuous days of extraordinary operation".

So there are two ways of looking at this. Everything will run smoothly under the highly professional management of Transport for London. Or there will be spectacular chaos on the tubes, trains, buses and roads. As we know, the London Underground functioned as it should, with no problems on any of its lines, for, er, just one day last year.

Should you err on the side of pessimism, a bicycle is probably a very good place to be during those one hundred days.

As we know there just isn’t space in London for cycle paths and all the rest of the infrastructure they enjoy in the Netherlands. But happily space has been found for

exclusive Olympic lanes on Euston Road and Southampton Row

and lots of other roads.

The "Games lanes" reserved for competitors and other members of the "Games family" that will be white-painted on one quarter of the network will greatly limit the amount of road space available for everyone else.

Goodness. That sounds like it might create the odd spot of traffic congestion.

Interestingly, if you look at what this privileged separate infrastructure is being created for it amounts to just

5,407 vehicles (4,112 cars and 1,295 buses and coaches)

If you look at who will be enjoying this limo lifestyle on Soviet-style private lanes for the elite, it turns out that the biggest single group will not be athletes, administrators or journalists but

25,000 marketing partners

51 pedestrian crossings in London are being removed so as not to inconvenience these important people.

Jo Londoner, meanwhile, will be stuck in a traffic jam, which means people on buses as well as in cars.

Ironically, it now emerges that the Olympic Route Network

could have a detrimental impact on air quality. Following the publication of the ODA’s revised Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Olympic Transport Plan, it has been reported that 2012 related traffic could result in the UK being fined up to £300 million by European authorities for breaching air quality standards. The publication of the Assessment follows a recommendation from the Assembly’s Environment Committee. In December 2010, it highlighted issues about the potential adverse impact on air quality of Games-related traffic

Bloody marvellous.

But wait!

More walking and cycling could be encouraged in various ways. Sustrans has suggested holding large-scale led walks and rides along the new 2012 routes similar to the Mayor’s Skyride events. It also suggests more publicity; 2012 sponsors or famous people should be shown walking and cycling to promote these modes to spectators.

I think it would be a marvellous idea if we paid David Beckham five million pounds to walk half a mile. That would be sure to get people out of their cars. With a similar sum going to Pippa Middelton to ride a bicycle for one hundred metres. Because, after all, cyclists don’t need infrastructure. They just need encouragement.

The ODA has reported that it wants “to try to tap into the four million people who live within 40 minutes push bike distance of a competition venue.”
If it succeeded that would be unfortunate, however, since

It reported that the ODA’s prediction of 3,455 cyclists per day at the Olympic Park is 50 per cent greater than the number of cycle parking spaces at the two malls at the Park (2,200).
But not to worry – Transport for London has come to the rescue:

a total of 7,000 cycle parking spaces will be provided at this venue over three sites (the northern spectator mall, the southern spectator mall and Victoria Park). TfL suggests this should be sufficient to meet demand.

Victoria Park? But that’s not in the Olympic Village. It’s the other side of the river, in ’orrible ’ackney. A bit of a walk to the Olympic Venue. Not, in my view, a very attractive location for bike parking, and a bloody nerve in the light of the Olympic Village’s substantial car park.

The provision of more way marking to encourage spectators to walk may also be useful. In its report ‘Walk this Way’ (October 2010), the Transport Committee highlighted the expansion of TfL’s on-street signage and mapping system, Legible London, as one of a number of actions that could be taken to encourage people to make more journeys by foot.

Who dreams up this kind of crap? Obviously not anyone who ever does any walking in London.

But someone is out there is a realist. Forget all the eco-fluff and the PR handouts. When it comes down to it

just five per cent of spectators at the Olympic Park are forecast to walk or cycle [to it]

Which in itself may well turn out to be a wild over-estimate

For example, everyone in Leytonstone, Leyton and Walthamstow lives within 40 minutes cycling distance of the Olympics, but with a modal share of less than one per cent very few local residents with tickets are likely to cycle to the Olympics.

It becomes even less likely when you take a look at the much-hyped Olympic cycle routes. It’s not just infrastructure like this which is perfunctory and pathetic.

The other day I came across a completed section of the Epping Forest Olympic cycle route as it passes through Waltham Forest - Epping Forest – a new route from the north-east of the Olympic Park through Wanstead and Epping Forest.
Rather strangely, Epping Forest Council advises residents to take a completely different route altogether:

Cycle routes are also being developed so that residents from the area will be able to cycle through the heart of the Lee Valley down to the Olympic Park.

But the official Epping Forest Olympic Cycle Route doesn’t go anywhere near the Lea Valley, until at the very end when you finally arrive at the Olympic Village. (Crikey, I hope no one is going to suggest that Olympic cycle routes are a load of crap cobbled together by car-centric planners who never go near a bicycle and don’t even seem to have a basic grasp of the geography of their own area.)

I am still trying to make sense out of this bizarre section of cycle path. This is where the Epping Forest Olympic Cycle Route crosses the border from Redbridge into Waltham Forest (the green sign with the coat of arms marks the entry into glorious Waltham Forest).

(Below) The idea seems to be that if you were returning to Epping from the Olympic site you would come along the lethal A114 (Bush Road) and take a left turn into Bushwood E11, then execute a sharp right turn onto the traffic island, where you wait to cross the other arm of Bushwood. (Any driver behind you may well collide with you, since they won’t be expecting this manoeuvre.)

(Below) You then cross Bushwood and join the off-road cycle path running parallel to Bush Road. You could have avoided this pointless diversion if there was a dropped kerb beyond the traffic island permitting access from Bush Road, but there isn’t one. The planners are determined you will make this futile, time-wasting diversion. After a few metres you encounter… a bus stop.

(Below) A little further on the cycle path terminates at a signalled crossing, with a sign post conveniently located in the centre of one cycle path. Cyclists heading for High Road Leytonstone will obviously be tempted to continue riding (illegally) on the pavement rather than rejoin the carriageway. The crossing takes you to the Green Man roundabout. After that it seems you have to go along Whipps Cross Road and then up Woodford New Road. Which is fine if you have strong nerves and the right prescription. You will then be obliged to go into the Waterworks roundabout underpass labyrinth, where the chances are you will probably encounter at least one scampering rat.

(Below) Looking back towards Redbridge. Please don’t get the idea that you could build a network of off-road cycle paths on land like this, because it forms part of the eviscerated remains of Epping Forest and is under the control of the Corporation of London, which has made it perfectly clear that it doesn’t want cyclists on its land. By definition, the Epping Forest Olympic Cycle Route will not intrude on Epping Forest.