The tragedy of Stratford High Street

Having written last week about the flaws in the essentially useless Cycle Superhighway 2, today I’m going to take a look at the continuation of that route, Stratford High Street, in the London Borough of Newham.

The original plan was for the Superhighway to continue across Bow Roundabout and eastwards along this road, all the way to Ilford. However, that wasn’t counting on the intransigence of Newham Borough Council, who have blocked any construction (or ‘construction’) of a Superhighway in their borough until after the Olympics.

The reasons for this are somewhat obscure. One of the initial reasons – in fact the main one given by Newham Borough Council – was that the colour blue would conflict with the borough’s ‘design guidance’ for road surfacing. They wrote to Newham Cycling Campaign, stating that

the decision to defer the implementation of the route between Bow and Ilford was taken by the London Borough of Newham and Transport for London (TfL) for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was the Council’s opposition to coloured road surfacing, in accordance with design guidance for the borough’s roads, without the coloured surfacing the route would not be identifiable as a Cycle Superhighway.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense, on several grounds. Why is the implementation merely being ‘deferred’ if the Council is opposed to coloured road surfaces? Are they only opposed temporarily?

Further, as the link from Newham Cycling Campaign makes clear, there is already a Superhighway on the roads of Newham Borough, Superhighway 3. When this was pointed out to them, Newham said that that Superhighway lay entirely on TfL controlled roads, not on borough roads. When it was then pointed out to Newham that this wasn’t true, and parts of the CS3 did indeed run along borough roads, Newham then said that they made ‘an exception’ for that Superhighway; they did not explain why they could not make an exception for Cycle Superhighway 2.

This was back in March last year. By May, Ross Lydall of the Evening Standard had picked up on the story. Noting that Assembly Member Roger Evans had challenged Newham over their refusal to build the Superhighway on the basis of a paint colour, Lydall discovered that

[Evans'] suggestion that Newham has refused to allow the cycle superhighway because it doesn’t like the blue colour has been refuted by the council.

A council spokesman is then quoted -

“Our primary concern is cyclists’ safety. Newham council is committed to a cycling legacy from 2012 and we are in constructive negotiations with TfL about the route. Kulveer Ranger will be visiting the borough later this summer so we can work together on the best way forward.”

So the difficulty is no longer the colour of the paint, but with concerns over safety. This reason is backed up by an assertion that ‘there are already too many roadworks in Stratford High Street.’ A period of roadworks would of course have been the perfect time to start painting a Superhighway; the disruption would have been kept to a minimum.

We move on to August, and the BBC’s Tom Edwards visits the area to find out just what the problem is.

This is what a Transport for London spokesperson said about the curtailed cycling superhighway: “Our original proposal was for Route 2 to run all the way from Aldgate to Ilford. However, the London Borough of Newham requested that we defer the section east of Bow Roundabout until after 2012 due to a number of projects planned in the Stratford area this year, including significant urban realm improvements as part of the Stratford High Street 2012 project. We hope to be able to resume construction of the remainder of the route after that time.”

Now it is clear what these ‘roadworks’, which are preventing the construction of Superhighway 2, involve – they are the ‘urban realm improvements’ of the ‘Stratford High Street 2012′ project.

One of the stated aims of this very same project is (pdf)

To create a healthy street by increasing opportunities for walking and cycling, by forming green oases and  active spaces along the way

That obviously doesn’t include the provision of an actual route for bicycles along Stratford High Street itself. And it is this plan – which has so singularly failed to provide any opportunities for cycling along Stratford High Street – that has blocked the construction of the Superhighway. An allegedly pro-cycling urban redevelopment has cancelled out another pro-cycling development. And we’ve been left with… nothing.

As Arnold Ridout, joint co-ordinator of Newham London Cycling Campaign, says -

Public money was wasted on redeveloping Stratford High Street without cycle facilities, a mistake exacerbated by then blocking the cycle superhighway.

Incredible stuff. The last ‘noise’ on the issue the Superhighway was that the Mayor’s Director of Cycling, Kulveer Ranger, was due to visit the borough over the summer of 2011. He didn’t appear to have achieved anything, and in any case is now no longer in place.

The ‘urban realm improvements’ of Stratford High Street have a passing resemblance to other  improvements elsewhere London. Just like Kensington High Street, for instance, we have smart, wide new pavements, with minimal clutter, and fancy lamp posts.

Just like Kensington High Street, we also have multiple lanes for motor vehicles, and absolutely nothing for cycling. The amount of money sloshing around here, with all the new development visible along the High Street itself (to say nothing of the Olympics, the Olympic Park lying just to the north of this road) must be staggering, and yet we’ve ended up with another huge road. The bicycle, just like in other new street designs in London, has been forgotten about.

For all the talk of active travel, and a sustainable Olympics, and the success of British Olympians in cycling, the main road to the Olympics is terrible for cycling. It’s just a motorway, three lanes wide in each direction. I think the speed limit is supposed to be 30 mph, but it didn’t seem to be adhered to, and I don’t suppose you can blame drivers, given the signals the road layout is sending out.

 The High Street 2012 pamphlet boasts that

Our vision is to create a thriving high street of which London can be proud, and which the world will admire; where there is a balance between pedestrians and  other road users

Pedestrians certainly have a nice wide pavement which keeps them away from the speeding cars. I didn’t try to cross the road here, however, so I’m not sure how much ‘balance’ has been created between pedestrians and ‘other road users’, either in attempting to cross the road directly, or in how long you might have to wait at the two-stage signalled crossings.

As a person on a bicycle, however, I’m simply treated like any ‘other road user’, even if they happen to be driving an HGV, at a speed far greater than I am capable of. How can this be the way we design streets, especially ones that are this wide, and that have so important a destination? It’s staggering.

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This entry was posted in Absurd transport solutions, Boris Johnson, Bow Roundabout, Infrastructure, London, Stratford High Street, Town planning, Transport for London. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The tragedy of Stratford High Street

  1. Paul says:

    I don’t think there is any point defending or encouraging the construction of cycle “superhighways” because they are, as you have so clearly detailed before, absolutely anathema to creating conditions for mass cycling or increasing cycling safety.

    Instead, your second point about the continued ignoring of cycling as transport in the city is where to focus our efforts. A politician can point to the CS routes and spout off what wonderful things they are doing for cycling, oblivious to cyclists’ squeaking about how poor they are. I think we can be far more effective campaigners by standing up and saying flat out that we want nothing less than Dutch quality and Dutch quantity.

  2. fonant says:

    I’m just amazed that the council seem to think that the new Stratford High Street is actually appealing to look at for anyone other than a Clarksonite boy racer. Why, if they’re worried about the road surface colour for aesthetic reasons, do they think that an urban motorway between inhuman tower blocks is attractive?

    I don’t think that planning, or aesthetics, or making a nice space have anything to do with this. The driver appears to be 100% financial, probably involving Section 106 “planning gain” bribes from developers to the council.

  3. A very good summary of what went on. I think the comparison to Kensington High Street is not justified though. They may have used similar materials, but the nature of and space on Kensington High Street are very very different.
    Regarding the reasons for cutting the Cycle Superhighway just think why the Hire Bikes have not been extended to Stratford. They are sponsored by the same bank – just sayin’.

  4. Simon says:

    The road is an absolute disgrace. I don’t go there much, but when I do I stay on the pavement, as it’s more like a motorway than a high street.

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