The second of London's so-so Quietways is on its way to being ready, and in the spirit of investigation I cycled its length, from Waltham Forest to Bloomsbury, with some kind people from Sustrans.
Starting at Walthamstow Central, on Selborne Road we headed west along this pavement cycle path, with a row of grass and tall trees in the middle. It’s also shared with pedestrians, so anyone cycling here will need to be patient - it looks like a normal pavement, aside from the bike symbols.
Update - this is actually a new section of pavement. See below:
The route heads right on Willow Walk, via a shared, signal controlled crossing (pictured below - as you see there's a vast amount of road, with a splayed turning, and a narrow pavement). It then follows a dedicated pavement cycle path (there's one on each side of the road), to traffic lights, where you're funneled onto the road to turn left. This bit of the route is still to be decided on, so there’s nothing notable yet on the road we took. The route then follows Coppermill Lane, past some water treatment works and the home of some strong NIMBY protestations against the Quietway, apparently.
You then cycle under a VERY low bridge. We’re talking hunkering down over your handlebars to get through (you’re advised to dismount, but I never have). This underpass can become flooded after heavy rain.
Then it’s along a wide, traffic-free, gravelly path, and up, over and down challengingly steep bridge ramps - strategic gear pre-selection, brute force, advanced bike handling skills and still pleased you made it to the top (or push the bike up), steep - to the Lea River towpath.
On the other side of the river there’s a wide road section (I've cycled here hundreds of times and never seen a car on it as it doesn't go anywhere for cars), then back to the towpath, with couple of tight chicane-style barriers on it. The path gets quite narrow in places, with overgrown shrubs on one side, buildings forming a wall on the other and wonky paving in the middle – at one point it’s only really wide enough for one person to cycle through comfortably. If someone’s walking here I will wait for them to pass before proceeding.
After a wider, pretty stretch surrounded by new flats, where Lea Bridge Road (of Waltham Forest’s future Cycle Superhighway) crosses the river you can go under on a metal towpath bridge structure, or over via a shared crossing. We went over, after briefly detouring to stare at the finished Cycle Superhighway section on Lea Bridge Road - that's the blip on the Strava map.
The route turns south, away from the river, at Millfields Park where the former separate cycle and walking route through the park were merged to a shared space, and widened. Some kind of engineering is happening at the junction with Chatsworth Road to help riders cross and proceed up Powerscroft Road - a welcome intervention on this at times aggressive rat run.
Powerscroft is a horrible road. Central speed cushions encourage traffic (including double decker buses) into the centre of the road, leaving very little space either side between them and the parked cars. I lived on nearby Clapton Square for five years and cycled here several times a week; I found it reliably stressful.
This route is used by drivers short-cutting from Lower Clapton Road to Lea Bridge Road. I’ve seen a driver doing what I estimated to be about 50mph while overtaking a mother and child, who were cycling.
Then there’s the one way section at the south west end, with its contraflow cycle lane. Again the speed cushions draw drivers into the centre of the road, where they stray into the cycle lane, which is already in the door zone. Every time a driver’s wheels edge over that white line I feel my stress levels rising. By then you’re in “one false move…” territory.
Some drivers enter the contraflow bike lane to overtake cyclists, whether there are oncoming cyclists or not - one person deliberately drove at me, because I gestured for him to move over. I frankly can’t believe Hackney hasn’t used the Quietway to do something about Powerscroft Road.
Then comes the really, genuinely, good bit. The closure of one arm of Clapton Square to through traffic creates a briefly excellent section, and a public space at the south east corner of the square, outside the café where I used to write. There’s bendy bollards so emergency vehicles can get in, and a new, realigned, wider shared cycle and pedestrian crossing to the desire line with Churchwell Path (right, and below, left).
There’s school kids all over the path on Quietway Day and we proceed slowly to the new crossing of Morning Lane, to Chatham Place. This, incidentally, is the newly branded Hackney Walk, a designer destination where you can buy fancy clothes apparently, at what I assume to be knock down prices. Or maybe just fancy clothes (below).
This is another Hackney road that fills me with trepidation. A nicely dressed youth once threw a bottle at me here from his car, after I took the lane (wide enough for a single vehicle) on my rather slow Dutch bike. I thought he would run me down. I went to the police, but investigations were halted after it emerged he had since been stabbed, in an unrelated incident. A reminder people don’t reserve their anger for cyclists alone.
Never mind. Traffic now can’t turn from Morning Lane to Chatham Road, reducing the likelihood of a similarly well-dressed bottler doing the same to someone else.
On we head, through one way Brenthouse Road, newly made bidirectional for cycles, and meandering, via St Thomas’s Square, to cross Mare Street, where there will be some sort of crossing for cycles. After cycling through London Fields (a park) we join Middleton Road, the site of modal filtering battles – more exciting than it sounds.
Left - crossing of Mare Street - and some bobbies on bicycles
A compromise to the horror of halting untrammeled motor vehicle access to residential streets was a width restriction at either end. The route then crosses De Beauvoir Square – an area of longstanding modal filters – and Cycle Super(quiet)way 1, and along Northchurch Street.
Nothing much has changed here, aside from the widening of an already traffic-free modal filter, and pretty much nothing changes on the route’s entire length through Islington, apart from widening of the already traffic-free bits - a concrete illustration of how reliant Quietways are on boroughs actually wanting to tackle motor traffic.
From here to Bloomsbury was long a commuting route of mine, as for many, many other cyclists. It was never heavily trafficked but has some sketchy bits, including the roundabout of Northchurch and Southgate Roads where drivers often forget to give way to cyclists approaching from the right.
Cleveland and Elmore are the same, though some give way priorities have changed on Ecclesbourne Rd to favour the cycle route, which are welcome. The route zigzags, via filtered Popham and Bishop St, to Prebend St, Gerrard St, Colebrooke Row, and across the old City Road/A1 cycle & pedestrian crossing, which has been, thankfully, widened, and the narrow bit through Owen St improved, to fix a former cycling bottleneck and conflict with pedestrians.
No change through Middleton Square, Amwell St or Margery St (still Islington), until the route’s end, at the junction of Pakenham St, where the north-south cycle superhighway will intersect. Work will start on that route imminently.
As with all Quietways, these routes are at the mercy of the borough the roads run through, and how brave or inclined they feel about restricting traffic. Nothing on this route has tackled through traffic, apart from the excellent bit at Clapton Square and the one-way section by the designer shops.
Chatting to my kind Sustrans guides it's clear a lot of work has gone into making this route the best it can be with what boroughs will permit. This is not months, but years, of painstaking, at times no doubt dispiritingly boring work, with little to show until the very end of the project.