The Olympics have actually emptied much of London. I cycled in to work yesterday, and it was quiet. Russell Square, between the tube station of the same name and the British Museum, has been made into some sort of Olympic(TM) bus hub, with all the regular bus stops closed. There aren’t many cars about. A student came to see me at 5pm and had to get security to let her in because our building was locked up tight – usually, the front door’s open until 9. All very nice, if you’re riding a bike, though I expect most restaurants in central London will lose quite a bit from this big festival.
On the downside for bikes we have the Olympic Lanes – affectionately called “Zil lanes” after their Soviet inspiration, reserved for the “Olympic family” which includes athletes, officials, visiting politicians, journalists, and an undisclosed number of people representing the commercial sponsors (McDonald’s, Coca Cola, BMW, Lloyds Bank … this is a brand festival: don’t try to make a joke of it, or you might get arrested for
criminal damage to Trafalgar Square spilling custard… no, really). The Olympic Lanes displace bus+bike lanes, which needless to say creates a few bottlenecks which in turn are one of the reasons why we’ve been asked to work from home during the Olympics.
And then there are the securocrats, who do not miss an opportunity to extend their dead hand – they’ve been on a roll for over a decade now, and their business model is to turn an opportunity into a crisis. One of their bright ideas has been to close a section of the towpath along the canal that parallels the River Lea from the countryside, through East London, to the Thames. The towpath is a heavily used walking and cycling route, a segment of Route 1 in the National Cycle Network, and one of the best ways to get close to the Olympic Park by bike. Too close, it seems, though they’re mum on what the actual threat might be. Cyclists are diverted to busy streets. For good measure, the closure began July 3rd, 23 days before the opening ceremony, and is scheduled to last up to September 10th, after the end of the Paralympic Games.
So, in protest, I’m looking forward to joining the “Ride the diversion” flashride (and walk) at 1.30pm, Sunday 29th July; it will take an alternate route through the dangerous Bow roundabout (part of the mayor’s ‘Cycle Superhighway’ network, no this is not a joke either), where two cyclists have been killed by trucks in the past year (on Sunday, we’ll count on safety in numbers).