Closing The Greenway – Pt 2 – Building a network

Nearly a year on from my last article, and on one hand there isn’t a great deal to report. Here’s a summary of the new developments:

  • The deadline has slipped. Reports from councillors now say that it’s expected to reopen in April. I suspect it will slip further.
  • After some badgering, Newham Councillors Terry Paul and John Gray went on a ride with me, and some other members of Newham Cyclists. I can confirm the that the junction of Canning Road and Abbey Lane is indeed shockingly blind. I do think that something could be done to make it safe, maybe temporary signals.
  • The closure of the section of the greenway north of Stratford High Street continues, years after it was first shut for crossrail works. I’ll update this page with a date when I get it.

This all sucks, and will further harm active travel, leisure and public health and happiness in Newham. I am pleased to have engagement with a couple of local councillors, but only to the end of making walking and cycling in Newham better. I hope we can achieve something.

In that spirit, I argue that the Greenway should be the Number One cycling infrastructure priority in Newham.

This is for two key reasons:

  1. It’s the single best investment Newham can make to encourage people to make local journeys via active travel. This is a major public health win for Newham.
  2. The Greenway allows Newham to have an active travel network, rather than a set of disconnected facilities dotted around the borough. This taps into TfLs new investments in cycle infrastructure, and the network of waterways that pass through the borough. This makes Newham a more attractive place to live and work, and better connects it to the much bigger economies of the boroughs on the other side of the Lea.

Local Active Travel

Every day I cycle about 6 miles each way to work. For me it’s easy, I’ve been riding since I passed by cycle proficiency test as a kid, I spent a few years working as a cycle courier. If I want to go somewhere, anywhere, in London I can just hop on my bike and go.

I suspect that this is completely unimaginable to most Newham residents, only 2% of whom cycle to work. Road traffic can be frightening, the distances intimidating, and navigation complex and opaque – particularly when trying to follow quieter routes. It’s a feat that most people wouldn’t be comfortable to start.

Suggesting a trip to a local centre is a much less intimidating prospect, if the conditions are good. A traffic free path with simple navigation and pleasant surroundings can make it an attractive proposition. The most amazing thing about the Greenway in this respect is that it cuts a swathe across “urban Newham”. I guestimate that it’s within easy direct reach by about a third of the boroughs population. It’s dead straight, mostly uninterrupted, easy to navigate and find, and connects up useful destinations like East Ham, Stratford and Beckton town centres. It’s an absolute gift.

Beyond that, it connects up most of the other decent quality cycle infrastructure in Newham, namely CS3, CS2, the improved cycle paths along the Lea, and the off road cycle paths of Beckton (which are nicely segregated, if badly maintained and hard to navigate) further extending its reach within the borough.

City Wide Journeys

It’s no secret that Newham has fantastic transport connections, and we’re about to see a serious improvement in the cycle infrastructure reaching Newham from the rest of London courtesy of TfL.

We already have one decent route out of the borough from TfL: CS3. It has its flaws, but does provide a mostly-segregated, mostly well-signed route to Tower Hill, and is seeing a program of rolling upgrades to address some of the issues it does have. CS2 is now seeing a major upgrade, which will provide a semi-segregated route to Aldgate. The real icing on the cake, though, isn’t in Newham. The East-West superhighway will link directly to CS3, and will give Newham a high quality cycle link directly to The City and West End for the first time, as well as connecting us to West and South London via new and existing cycle superhighways.

What TfL are finally doing is building a network by building more, higher quality superhighways and connecting them all up. Imagine a world where the tube and rail network only existed in isolated, disconnected fragments which could be closed at any time, for long periods of time, and where the only alternatives to those closures were either impractical, frightening, or both. That’s the world that cycling in London is hopefully leaving.

The Cycle Superhighways are great, but Newham needs to understand how to leverage TfL’s investment if it’s to benefit fully from them. CS2 only grazes the northwestern corner of the Borough and CS3 snakes along the south side of the A13, which can make difficult to get to. The Greenway connects both of these routes, stretching right across the borough. If Newham can keep it open (24/7/365), lit and surfaced, people can start depending on it for safe, direct and comfortable journeys into and across London.

Newham also has access to a fantastic network of waterways. I always find it surprising how many people don’t seem to know about the places you can reach along the canal network. It has it’s problems, the Regents Canal can be downright crowded, and cyclists need to be careful to share the path well with other users, but there’s no denying its importance in the absence of anything better for getting to a whole list of places. The Greenway’s connection to Victoria Park is also hugely important, because the other ways of crossing the Lea to or from Newham by bike are mostly very unpleasant!

Conclusion

TfL see the importance of having a cycle network. Newham can either benefit by taking advantage of this investment, or fritter it away. Newham has been incredibly lucky to have a historical legacy of sewage pipes (for that is what the Greenway is), canals and rivers which have given it the bones of a network almost for free. Add that to the TfL investment and it has a compelling and unique proposition. All it takes is the political will to keep it open and enhance it to invite and encourage its use.