Closing the Greenway

At the end of last month’s Newham cyclists meeting a Newham council officer told us that a critical part of the greenway, a walking and cycling path that cuts right across the borough of Newham, was going to be closed until December. A major bummer in a part of London where cycling and walking conditions are already not-great.

They're what now?

The graffitor is a little harsh to TfL, because as far as I can tell this affair has nothing to do with them. The greenway is built on the Northern Outfall Sewer, and as such we only walk on top of it by the good grace of its owner, Thames Water. Sadly, one of the bridges by which both the Greenway and a good portion of London’s sewage travels is in a terrible  state, and at risk of collapse. If it does, it would cause something that could quite literally be described as a shit storm, or, as Newham Council put it: “a London wide critical incident due to the public health risks”. So far, so fair, please, fix the bridge.

Thing is the greenway carries a lot of pedestrians and cyclists through the least active local authority in England. You’d expect, therefore, for there to at least be a safe, well signed alternative to take people to where they want to be. So, let’s take a look at the route they’ve suggested for us active travellers of East London:

This sucks! And why is the cycling diversion so long? That’s got to be about double the distance! If only they could have closed it at Canning Road, a few hundred yards along the greenway, then they could have saved us a long, complicated diversion.

They could have. I’m informed by Newham council that “Highways did consider using Canning Road but thought this too high risk and dangerous to cyclists due to construction traffic, and a nearby plant hire company.” I don’t want to understate these risks. I know that HGVs pose a serious risk to cyclists, and it’s likely that the cyclists that choose to use the Greenway are more vulnerable, choosing it as a safer alternative to the road. I want to see the risk assessment that was done where it was decided that this should be closed. I’ve a pending FoI request that will hopefully net this, and I’ll will request a copy following up the enquiries I’ve made to one of my local councillors. If it’s a matter of just installing a set of temporary lights at the junction with Abbey Lane and making sure Thames Water use banksmen, it seems a small price to pay not to murder the best traffic free path in the borough.

Still, at least we have a well signed, safe diversion … er, no. The sign above is the only indication of the diversion I found. A map. That you have to remember. At street level there’s nothing, nothing I can find at least. But It’s not just unsigned, it’s unsigned crap.

The crappiness starts before you even leave the greenway. The final exit offers two ways down off of the greenway on to manor road: a ramp and some stairs. The entrance to the ramp is quite a way before the diversion notice, which doesn’t tell you that the ramp is available. If you do remember that it exists and want to use it, you have to walk back to it, like the two ladies in this picture:

Presuming you’ve not brained yourself while unnecessarily carrying your bike down the three steep flights of stairs, when you get off the greenway you need to make a right turn on to Manor Road, a blind right, under a dark bridge, behind a pedestrian barrier:

Mmm, inviting, presuming you can remember it. I should imagine what an unconfident cyclist, previously able to use the nice, traffic free Greenway will want to do here is use the pavement. A bit further down it’s shared use, this bit isn’t signed well enough for me to know if it is or not. A bit of clarity would be nice, and extending the shared path and signage is a no brainer.

Anyway, what’s next? Once you’ve crossed the massive A road, you have to turn left … past another pedestrian barrier, and a crash barrier, presumably there because cars like to hurtle round that corner at speed. Most cyclists will have given up or got lost by now, but let’s hope that the residents of Leywick street don’t mind pavement cyclists if any hardy souls make it that far!

Mmmm, appealing. An unsigned turn that I can’t be bothered to post a picture of later, we come to Abbey Lane DLR station, where we have to cycle past a load of bollards into a tiny, narrow little path. Am I allowed to cycle on it? Nothing says so, and the default is no, so on we walk:

The rest of the route is OK, by Newham standards. It’s on road, and links me back up with CS2, albeit about half a mile away from where I wanted to be. So let’s make the obvious points:

This diversion is crap, and nobody is going to use it. Big roads, tiny alleyways, blind turns, no signs, and hugely longer than the Greenway or the pedestrian diversion. Some of the people who don’t use it will walk and cycle less. Maybe they’ll be school kids who could have picked up a good habit for life and now never will. Even when the Greenway re-opens, they’re unlikely to use it, because they’ll have just started taking the bus instead. I know other cyclists who have rerouted to skip out the greenway entirely, because it’s no longer a viable option for their commutes. You’ve taken an excellent, cross borough path and killed it.

There is a better alternative. Newham and Thames Water should let people get to and from Canning Road. They can put really good signs up, and modify the traffic flow on Abbey Road and Lane to make it safe for cyclists and pedestrians to use. That way you can make the best of a bad situation. I fail to see how a blind right from the pavement on to a busy road, a load of pavement wobbling and a walk down a dark alleyway are safer than Abbey Lane.

Or don’t, but don’t ever pretend you give a toss about cycling, walking or the health of the borough if you don’t. I’ve taken this to my councillor, you should take it to yours. Here’s the written response. I’m pointing him to this blog post as a reply: