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:

34 thoughts on “Closing the Greenway”

  1. “Greenspace was looking into making cycling groups aware” – Did they get as far as actually doing it? I didn’t hear anything! If they really wanted to go mad they could have asked for our opinion on what they were doing!

  2. Sounds like they could try harder. It’s important to document these processes, good work. At the heart of it is a systematic lack of regard for cycling as a mode of transport. You can’t be going anywhere important on a bicycle, while the NHS crumbles under a tide of obese children. For so many reasons, this will have to change.

  3. The diversion is rubbish. It’s only safe to turn onto Manor Road because there are temporary traffic lights under the bridge. Getting onto Leywick Road is quite awkward. At the traffic lights I turn left onto Abbey Road rather than make the awkward and long diversion to Stratford but this brings me past the foot of Canning Road anyway! I cycle along the Greenway twice daily and have never seen anyone leafleting on it and have never heard of Greenspace.

  4. Great blog, we have all had to put up with dangerous diversions in East London over the years but this one really is a complete balls up. Someone will get hurt.

  5. I lead social bike rides for the Waltham Forest branch of the London Cycling Campaign, the Walthamstow Family Bike Club and more. The Greenway is a vital link to many parts of London, including the Thames Path, and – via the Woolwich Free Ferry – the entire south-eastern area!

    I have also used it for teaching new, nervous and inexperienced cyclists of all ages the very basic techniques you need to ride safely in a safe and totally car-free environment.

    There are few such areas in London, so the closure of the Greenway for so long is a major problem fom many people in many ways.

  6. As a member of many cycling groups I was unaware of any attempt to make us aware – they might have looked, but assuredly did no more! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  7. Newham Cyclists have now kindly followed this up, and ridden the diversion with someone from Newham Council:

    Obviously, properly signing the route and making sure that there is a safe way across Manor Road is an improvement on what we have, but it does nothing for cyclists who will abandon the greenway (and perhaps their whole commute) because this diversion is too long. Honestly, I don’t think that visibility on the Canning Road/Abbey Lane junction is too bad (check it out yourself:, and no worse than many other manoeuvres cyclists need to make to get around. The council could make both diversions available, advising more traffic averse cyclists to use the longer route. They could at least not actively prohibit anyone from using this section of the greenway. If the implication is that this exit is unsafe for cyclists, then I wonder if we’ll ever see it open again once the precident has been set.

    I suspect that full visibility of the health and safety assessment, as well as communications between the council and those interested in driving heavy goods vehicles around the Abbey Lane area would make for an interesting read.

  8. From the NC ride this morning, it looks like there have been a lot of things that should have been done and weren’t. There are various things in the pipeline that are being pushed to improve this diversion route (signage for a start – including one to tell you that it’s temporarily shared use under the bridge when you first come off the Greenway ramp). However, none of that helps with the fact that this is a long and convoluted diversion which will put people off using the Greenway and that it was rushed through with little or no thought.

  9. Im lucky enough to live around the detour area so knew the detour route, first notice of detour was the yellow signs with graffiti put up a week or so before closure (thanks for the heads up!!!), why the hell they shut it down before canning road is a joke i use the route daily to qork to see nothing on the bridge over manor road, something about safety but fine for people to walk up and down canning road to the islamic praying site at the bottom of canning road so now have to cross manor road which as an experienced road cyclist scared me let alone riding over abbey road bridge going towards stratford is scary enough! Even worse heading east as your on the wrong side of the road!!!

    I swear someone is going to get seriously hurt if they keep this up for 44weeks just open up the greenway to canning road takes out the worst and most dangerous part of the detour, sorry to rant on! Also this is the first blog i have found pointing out the dangerous i have posted this site on fb hopefully get a few more people to point out what a screw up they are making of the detour


  10. Thank you for posting this. I was on the DLR from Woolwich with my bike the other day, travelling to Stratford Internationl from where I usually cycle to Tottenham along the towpath. I knew the greenway ran past West Ham station so I decided to get off early – then ran into this sign a little way along. I was flummoxed – really I had no idea where I was, no signs re diversion, and into rush hour so I couldn’t t get back on the DLR. I ended up just heading towards the tall buildings in Stratford I could see, taking a daft route through estates and walking bits. At least I now know a bit better for the future. (This wrecks my plans for moving on to cycling the whole Tottenham-Woolwich commute over the summer 🙁 it will be a big loss while it’s out for many people)

  11. Thanks for posting this i am not a cyclist but one of the residents of Leywick street what can i say this is really shocking i cant believe some one has approved and decided this narrow street is safe for cyclist to use i am so scared every morning taking my three years old daughter and five years old son to school our pavement is like the M25 now five houses in our street have got kids all of them from the age of three to five and one house with two old people every time i am leaving my house i am looking right and left its like crossing a busy road the council have now put a diversion sign leading to our pavement this is really unbelievable they should have used the Oder pavement on the other side of the street this needs an urgent looking at before one our children get hert

    1. Well, as you see I predicted this months ago 🙁 The residents of Leywick street are even worse affected by this than cyclists and walkers tossed out into the dark by this shoddy diversion. I think we’re at the point where we need to campaign actively to get this changed, as the tactic of whining on the internet and bothering councilors doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.

      That said, do take the time to contact your ones! If you want to get in touch to see if we can get the diversion changed (and hopefully the greenway closure shortened) let me know!

  12. If anyone wishes to contact me about this they can. Happy to meet residents or Greenway cyclists and do cycle/walkabout.

    John Gray (West Ham ward Cllr and cyclist)

  13. I ride this route every day on my commute and could not agree more with the comments above.

    Make no mistake – It is a serious accident waiting to happen:

    Firstly cyclists are herded off the Greenway downhill onto a busy and narrow pavement (yes, pavement!?!). There is no clear sight of what is coming in the other direction, either for cyclists or pedestrians. In the mornings, this pavement is full of pedestrians heading to school or to West Ham station. The diversion needlessly places both at risk.

    Then we are encouraged to cross Manor Road, although there is no set crossing point so cyclists are simply forced to zip accross where they can, causing a nuisance to traffic and placing ourselves at risk. Not to mention the disapproving glances from pedestrians on the pavement who understandably don’t seem thrilled to be sharing the space with bikes, or residents emerging from their homes directly into the path of oncoming bikes.

    Next we are forced down a residential road (Leywick Street), again via the pavement where small children are milling about on their way to school.

    Lastly the joys of Abbey Road, with it’s shockingly bad road surface, blind hill crest and fast moving heavy vehicles and vans speeding past way too close due to the narrowness of the lanes. There is not even so much as a warning sign for motorists – “take care, route temporarily being used by Greenway cylcists” sign or similar would be nice.

    As a reasonably experienced and confident cyclist I am grinning and baring it, despite the route being hair raising at best, and despite having almost been hit twice by fast moving vehicles. However, I could understand if many cyclists aren’t prepared to risk it. I can also understand the concerns of residents on the route, particularly those with small children. I would not like it either if the pavement outside my house was designated an approved cycle lane for a year!

    When the announcement signs first went up in January that the Greenway would be closed I was disappointed but obviously understood the need to upgrade the sewer pipes and bridge. However, I confidently expected that Canning Road would be the diversion – the most sensible and a much safer option that avoids all the hazards outlined above. I could not believe the route that they came up with as it’s so obviously dangerous.

    As a cyclist it makes me yet again suspect that we are an afterthought, such is the ineptitude of the thinking behind the existing diversion.

    I would strongly urge a change to the use of Canning Road before someone gets hurt or even killed.

  14. Hello there-yes the Manor Road closure is bad enough but any news on the
    closure between the High Street and Viewtube/?Olympic stadium, this involves another tricky detour to get either across to Vicky Park or up to the Lea valley (I think this is crossrail) Plaistow to the park used to be 15 minutes now at least twice that.

    1. I think that’s an even more distant prospect than the southern closure (which has now been put back until April – wait for further slippage). That northern part now seems to be closed very long term. Years, upon the years it’s already been closed.

      I generally use Marshgate lane and the shared use pavement on the north Side of Stratford high street to divert around it. Which is a pain, but nowhere near 15 minutes of diversion for me personally.

  15. Does anyone know when the route is open again? I know December was proposed but the only way for me to find out at present is to ride up the ramp by the bridge. I’ve done this a couple of times over the past few months only to find it blocked further down. Annoying at the least!

  16. After 14 years of using the greenway to commute and 30 years on London roads I have travelled on the tube to work since th clocks changed in October as I can’t face my journey in the dark, the diversion is so dangerous and I have had so many near misses on the narrow lanes with cars speeding that I am no longer willing to take the risk. Not to mention thAt I can no longer take my children westwards along the greenway and all that they have missed out on over this year. It has been mentioned here that habits will be broken forever by this closure high is true of our family. Can’t wait much longer for it to open again.

  17. Still not open, and very little work has been done over the last 4-5 months. I work at the plant hire company mentioned in the report so can see the Greenway out of my window. Early on there was a lot of machinery and workmen working through the night, but as I say, nothing noteworthy for many months, at least at the Manor Road to Canning Road stretch. I initially misread the signage as ‘closed for 4-5 weeks’. 45 weeks!!! and still nothing.

    1. Great to have someone working there comment! Manor Rd to Canning Road was only ever closed because the turning from Canning Road on to Abbey Rd was considered unsafe, the major work is happening on the bridge over Abbey Lane.

      I went for a walkabout to see that turning with some councillors, and there’s a yard jutting out which does indeed make the turn very blind. It’s tricky, but surely they can do something.

    1. Phoned Thames water yesterday. I’m waiting to hear from them. Spoke to one of the workman last week who said it could be a few months more before it opens.

  18. Thames Water got back to me today and have said that it would open on Wednesday the 18th of May. Do not hold your breath!!

  19. Still not open, but large white fencing and gate have been taken down and replaced with a large wire one. Since I last phoned I have seen people working there for no more than 10 days. Will phone again tomorrow.

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