diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 25, 2017

TfL published their new Business Plan yesterday. It features news of many big transport projects planned in the next five years, and their financial implications, but doesn't contain much news that's actually new. Please go out and enjoy your weekend.

For those of you still reading, here are ten things that are in it.
1) Contactless payment is now used for 43% of pay as you go journeys. We expect this figure to grow as more customers adopt mobile payment as it is progressively enhanced by the payment providers.
That's a heck of a high percentage for a method of payment which was only introduced three years ago. TfL must be delighted, because that's 43% of passengers who aren't using paper tickets or Oyster, which means less processing costs for them to bear.
2) We have seen lower growth in demand for our services than previously forecast for this year, largely owing to economic factors affecting the whole of the UK, including the uncertainty of Brexit. Early indications are that the Mayor’s policy of keeping fares affordable has helped to dampen the effect of these negative economic factors.
Fewer passengers are using public transport in London, thanks to national political decisions, but the Mayor's fare freeze has retained some passengers who might otherwise have been lost. Basically, could have been worse. But figures elsewhere in the report suggest TfL's total income will be 4% lower this year than last year, so that's not good.
3) A significant proportion of our expected revenue growth will come from the opening of Crossrail. In particular, the final opening phases from 2019 will bring new passengers from outside London onto our services.
That's useful. Commuters from Maidenhead, Southall and Abbey Wood are about to start giving their fares to TfL rather than the existing rail operators.
4a) We need to reconfigure bus services to match changing patterns of demand in specific locations.
4b) We are reducing services in central/inner London, matching demand while still supporting excellent access and complementing wider schemes, such as the transformation of Oxford Street. Capacity in suburban areas is being improved, within funding constraints, particularly to support housing growth and associated travel.
A separate table reveals that TfL expect buses to cover only 456 million km in 2019/20, compared to 486 million km this financial year. That's a 6% cut in service volume in just two years. That's a lot fewer buses. Indeed in the last six months as many as 46 London bus routes have had their daytime frequency cut - that's around 10% of the total. And whilst TfL claim capacity in suburban areas is being improved, only one bus route has had its daytime frequency increased over the same period. It's all looking a bit one-sided at the moment.
5) Technology is allowing us to update our advertising estate, and boost commercial revenues. We will install more than 750 digital screens on the Tube and Crossrail, along with 120 cross-track projection screens. This will mean our advertisers can reach their target audience with even greater impact.
Oh joy.
6a) By 2041, 80% of journeys will be made by walking, cycling and public transport compared with around 65% today.
6b) The growth of the capital’s population – towards 10.5 million by 2041 – could put increasing strain on transport networks.
That's an interesting pair of statements (from separate pages of the document). London's population is currently 8.8 million, and is expected to be 20% higher by 2041. That suggests 20% more journeys by 2041... but TfL's target also requires 15% more journeys to be sustainable. Bashing the percentages, this would mean 47% more journeys made by walking, cycling and public transport than there are today. That's a hell of an increase. Even with planned capacity upgrades, and more people working from home, could our transport network cope?
7) Activities to reduce costs include consolidating our head office accommodation, vacating older buildings and co-locating staff to our new hub in Stratford, saving more than £0.1bn by 2022/23. This will also improve collaboration and enable smarter, more flexible working.
There we go. I was wondering last weekend when they were going to get round to mentioning that.
8a) From 2021, the £500m raised every year from Londoners paying Vehicle Excise Duty will be collected by central Government and only invested in roads outside the capital.
8b) The net operating costs of London’s roads and the cost of renewing these roads are effectively being cross subsidised from fare-paying public transport users. This is neither sustainable nor equitable.
London's drivers aren't paying for London's roads, London's public transport users are. That's either scaremongering or it's appalling. I fear it's appalling.
9) Our £550m Growth Fund will finance transport infrastructure schemes that lead to tens of thousands more homes and jobs, and unlock development and regeneration opportunities in some of London’s most important growth areas. Over the next five years, schemes include funding for new stations and road schemes; and larger projects such as the new Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing and an extension of the tram network in Sutton.
As last year, and for reasons now fully confessed, the Metropolitan line extension doesn't get a mention anywhere in the document.

This one's intriguing. It looks like the cablecar's passenger numbers will be stable until 2022, and then suddenly double. But that's not what the data really says, that's an illusion caused by rounding to the nearest million. Last year the cablecar had 1,490,000 passengers, which is very very nearly one and a half million, but still rounds down to one. The previous year it was 1,540,000, which is only just over one and a half million, but rounds up to two. What TfL's projection says is that cablecar numbers are going to stay below 1.5 million for the next four years, and hopefully nudge a bit above in the fifth. This is not a transport connection that's going places.

If you do feel the need to comment on today's post, please start with the number 1)-10) of the bit you're talking about.

 Friday, November 24, 2017

The London Plan is the Mayor's top-level planning document for the Greater London area, a spatial strategy to guide development for the next 20 years, and regularly updated. Within the document is an official hierarchical list of 200 'town centres' outside the central zone, each classified according to role and function, to aid future decisions on what ought to be built where. Here's a map showing how erratically London's town centres are scattered.

I've been out to visit an example of each tier, from International Centre downwards, with a field study focus on the London borough of Hounslow.

1) INTERNATIONAL CENTRES are London’s globally renowned retail destinations with a wide range of high-order comparison and specialist shopping with excellent levels of public transport accessibility.
Total number: 2
Specifically: West End, Knightsbridge
n.b. It may be that Stratford and Shepherd's Bush join this list by 2036

Case study: Knightsbridge

They've heard of Knightsbridge overseas, and the weak pound entices even more to visit. A small cluster of high-end stores froths and bubbles to the south of Hyde Park, pivoted around Harvey Nicks at the top of Sloane Street. The big draw is obviously Harrods, once part of House of Fraser and now owned by sheikhs, which smothers an entire city block on the Brompton Road. Doormen in peaked caps welcome taxifuls of bounty hunters, beckoning them into an ornate warren of 330 departments selling luxuries with an appropriately elevated pricetag. To walk through its salon de parfum when you're clearly not part of the target audience is to experience an exquisite form of collective snubbery. Shops devoted to individual luxury brands nudge up on roads close by, from Rolex to Lacoste and from Gucci to Dior. Those thronging the pavements are immaculately turned out with sparkling teeth and tans, and only the finest outerwear, whether just flown in or dropping by from their Belgravia townhouse.

2) METROPOLITAN CENTRES typically contain at least 100,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace with a significant proportion of high-order comparison goods relative to convenience goods. They have very good accessibility and significant employment, service and leisure functions, and generally serve wide catchments.
Total number: 13
Specifically: Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Harrow, Hounslow, Ilford, Kingston, Romford, Shepherds Bush, Stratford, Sutton, Uxbridge, Wood Green
n.b. It may be that Brent Cross, Canary Wharf and Woolwich join this list by 2036

Case study: Hounslow

A former staging post on the Bath Road, this market town remains far enough from Westminster to exert its own pull on the surrounding suburbs. It's possible to buy pretty much anything here, either along the pedestrianised High Street or in the shopping mall plonked alongside. The halo of smaller shops on the periphery reflects the cosmopolitan nature of the borough's residents, showcasing exotic fruits and Eastern European imports. But edge in closer to the centre and here nationwide chains predominate, including Mothercare, Moss Bros and one of west London's half dozen Primarks. Hounslow's bustling enough to have chuggers, but not so exclusive that it can't boast two Greggs and a McDonalds. All the biggest names are in the Treaty Centre, where Debenhams retains a traditional department store stacked with Black Friday tickets, the library is being replaced by a Job Centre, and the food court caters for unadventurous diners. Meanwhile a colossal Asda, plus offices, now rises beyond a building site beneath the railway. No out-of-town alternative has yet extinguished Hounslow's hub of retail opportunity.

3) MAJOR CENTRES have a borough-wide catchment, and generally contain over 50,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace with a relatively high proportion of comparison goods relative to convenience goods. They may also have significant employment, leisure, service and civic functions.
Total number: 34
Specifically: Angel, Barking, Bexleyheath, Brixton, Camden Town, Canary Wharf, Catford, Chiswick, Clapham Junction, Dalston, East Ham, Edgware, Eltham, Enfeld Town, Fulham, Hammersmith, Kensington High Street, Kilburn, King’s Road East, Lewisham, Nags Head, Orpington, Peckham, Putney, Queensway/Westbourne Grove, Richmond, Southall, Streatham, Tooting, Walthamstow, Wandsworth, Wembley, Wimbledon, Woolwich
n.b. It may be that Canada Water and Elephant & Castle/Walworth Road join this list by 2036

Case study: Chiswick

Chiswick's high street stretches for a full retail mile, lined by smart shops and numerous refreshment vendors. It serves the more upmarket end of Hounslow, beyond the pull of Hammersmith, its commercial offering inclusive of daytime and evening hours. Drop by for fired tiles, rare books or a futon, search for a bargain in one of the carefully curated charity shops, or delve into Poundland for confirmation that not everything in the neighbourhood is necessarily rosy. The council kindly permits a string of off-street parking spaces between the Hogarth statue and the police station to cater for those who wouldn't come if they couldn't drive. For food grab a table at a bistro-cum-brasserie, or something from the fruity stalls outside Le Pain Quotidien, or there's always bone broth from the organic cafe. At first glance the only supermarkets appear to be a Waitrose and an M&S Food Hall, but a whopping Sainsbury's is hidden out of sight behind the empty shell of Blockbuster Video Express, which will soon be flats.

4) DISTRICT CENTRES are distributed more widely than the Metropolitan and Major centres, providing convenience goods and services for more local communities and accessible by public transport, walking and cycling. Typically they contain 10,000–50,000 sq.m of retail, leisure and service floorspace.
Total number: 151
n.b. Bromley by Bow, Colliers Wood, Crossharbour, Hackbridge, North Greenwich and Tottenham Hale may join this list by 2036

Case study: Brentford

How the mighty have fallen. The former county town of Middlesex currently boasts nothing more than a minor high street, set against a backdrop of run-down industrial wharves at the mouth of the river Brent. The splendidly classical Magistrates Court has been turned into a cafe/bar/diner at the heart of a scrubbed up market square, surrounded by surely-1970s flats whose ground floor retail units have yet to escape the 20th century. Here are shops selling fibreglass and interior design goodies, but also kebabs and cigarettes, plus a home furnishings stalwart at Goddards Corner. I hunted for a bakery but only found a Greggs, thronged with residents hunting down a cheap pastry-based lunch. The south side of the street includes an original Victorian Nat West bank and the once smart frontage of County Parade, all of which are due to be swept away in a massive waterfront regeneration which is currently at the compulsory purchase stage. "New retail with a mix of leisure, entertainment and cultural uses" is on its way, which is the London Plan in action, and another triumph for anodyne homogeneity.

5) NEIGHBOURHOOD CENTRES typically serve a localised catchment often most accessible by walking and cycling and include local parades and small clusters of shops, mostly for convenience goods and other services. They may include a small supermarket, sub-post office, pharmacy, launderette and other useful local services.
Total number: hundreds

Case study: Heston

A medieval village swallowed up by encroaching suburbs, the heart of Heston is still identifiable around the war memorial and St Leonard's Church. Its retail offer is limited, but greater than originally anticipated when the curving shopping parade was opened between the wars. I only recognised two high street names - Ladbrokes and Paddy Power - maybe three if you'll accept Mace. Elsewhere the off licence doubles up as a Polish shop, the bakery specialises in eggless cakes, and the launderette is proud to be "Speed Queen equipped". At Favorite Chicken most of the seated clientele are wearing turbans, and the menu includes a special £1 poultry bap to cater for the after-school rush. Only a black-fronted florist raises the tone, its interior currently overflowing with silver baubles, with a sophisticated style neither of the two hairdressing salons can match. But so long as Hounslow town centre remains just that bit too far away to be convenient, Heston's local offering will always be the first everyday port of call.

 Thursday, November 23, 2017

Here's a question for you about the Hopper bus fare.
The Hopper allows you to make a second bus journey for free up to X minutes after the first.

What number is X?
If you said 60 minutes, you'd be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, and actually allow 70 minutes for a free transfer.

I know, I was surprised too.

Here's what they said in a recent Freedom of Information request.
The system is set up to allow a customer 70 minutes to be given the free second bus journey, so the grace period is 10 minutes.
The extra 10 minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your bus might run late, the bus you're connecting onto might run late, the traffic might be bad, your watch might be slow, all sorts of reasons. So, just to be on the safe side, TfL's software permits an interval of 70 minutes rather than an hour for that free second journey. That's very kind of them.

Previously I assumed that if you caught a bus at 10:30, you had to catch the second by 11:30 to get it for free. But no, it turns out you'll still get it free all the way up to 11:40.

Thanks to clever wording, what it says on the TfL website is technically true.
Make a journey using pay as you go on a bus or tram, and you can make a second bus or tram journey for free within one hour of touching in on the first bus or tram.
But in fact you have 70 minutes, thanks to TfL's grace period, which might be an unexpected treat... or might even stop you running madly down the street to catch your next bus.

Even better, when the Hopper is extended next year to cover unlimited changes, the 'free hour' should still stretch to 70 minutes. As many buses as you like, in 17% more time than you thought you had, sounds like an absolute bargain.

Here's a question for you about off-peak travel.
When touching in on a weekday morning, at what time do TfL start charging off-peak fares?
If you said 09:30, you'd be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, allowing a three minute grace period, which means off-peak fares are actually charged from 09:27.

The extra three minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your watch might be fast, meaning you thought it was after half past nine when it wasn't, or the off-peak train you need to catch might be scheduled to leave so soon after nine thirty that you couldn't possibly dash down to the platform in time.

So, to avoid passengers claiming they've been over-charged, TfL's software kicks off the off-peak period three minutes early. That's very kind of them.

Only last week you could have found me hanging around outside Lewisham station waiting for 09:31, just to be on the safe side, in order to save myself £1.30. It turns out I needn't have been so cautious!

So, another question for you.
When touching in on a weekday afternoon, at what time do TfL start charging peak fares?
If you said 16:00, you'd be wrong.

And if you thought, aha, there's a three minute grace period, so it must be 16:03, you'd also be wrong.

TfL are slightly kinder than that, allowing a five minute grace period, which means peak fares are actually charged from 16:05.

The extra five minutes is to make up for the fact that life doesn't always run smoothly. Your watch might be slow, meaning you thought it was before four o'clock when it wasn't, or the bus you'd caught on the way to the station might have got stuck in traffic. So, to avoid passengers claiming they've been over-charged, TfL's software kicks off the peak period five minutes late. That's extremely kind of them.

Here's what they said in a recent Freedom of Information request.
AM peak starts at 06.35.
Off-peak starts at 09.27.
PM peak starts at 16.05.
Off-peak starts at 18.57.

Please note that the grace times quoted above apply for both Oyster and Contactless. The quoted times are as set at the particular validation devices and these may sometimes vary from true time; the grace times are therefore not guaranteed to apply from the perception of the user.
So TfL can't 100% guarantee these wider intervals, because devices aren't always synchronised properly, but by adding these grace periods they can ensure that passengers are never overcharged.

I note that the TfL website still says this.
Peak fares apply Monday to Friday (not on public holidays) between 06:30 and 09:30, and between 16:00 and 19:00.
But in fact peak fares are only charged if you touch in between 06:35 and 09:27, or between 16:05 and 18:57. Two late starts and two early finishes mean peak periods are actually 16 minutes a day shorter than TfL told us they were. Who knew?

And if this information prevents you from hanging around outside a station until half past nine in the morning when you could have touched in at 09:27, the time saved could add up to 12 hours a year.

I wonder how much revenue TfL loses as a result of this pragmatic and magnanimous decision. Perhaps someone could put in a Freedom of information request and find out.

 Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Winter Wonderland is celebrating its 10th birthday in Hyde Park. Hordes will fill its festive enclosure at weekends and after dark until New Year's Day. But what's it like on a weekday morning in November? Not as quiet as you might expect...

I wasn't expecting queues, not on an autumnal weekday morning. But when I turned up at the gate closest to Hyde Park Corner I had to wait in line for six minutes while the jobsworths ahead checked over those hoping to get inside. Anyone with a bag had it scrutinised, not just for anything bomb-sized but a proper poke/squeeze/empty in the search for liquid contraband. Bottles of half-drunk water were located and chucked unceremoniously into a bin. Men without bags were asked to stand with their arms outstretched for a pat down, at least in the line I ended up in, and I felt more humiliated than festive by the end of it. I walked round later and observed that procedures at the other two entrance gates were less draconian - bags checked, but everyone else waved straight through without the need for prodding. The inconsistency of approach was irritating, and suggested that the prime purpose of the 'security' perimeter is to ensure quarantine for the drinks-peddlers inside.

Whoa it's big! An attraction which started out as a few stalls along a path has mushroomed into a full-blown entertainment corral covering 350 acres, and walking round the perimeter took absolutely ages. I was quite convinced at one point I must be nearly back to where I started but I was barely halfway, as a quick check of the map confirmed. Do pick up a map from one of the kiosks, they're free, and it's only with one that I managed to gain any sense of how the sprawl of paths and attractions was laid out. But it's pretty much the same layout as last year, if that helps.

Who are the people who come to Winter Wonderland on a Tuesday morning in November? Students, rather than schoolkids. Young-ish tourists. Retired couples. Groups of mates with the day off work. Mums with pre-schoolers in strollers. Pickpockets. And yes, redundant bloggers.

What I genuinely wasn't expecting is that, even on a Tuesday morning in November, the whole place is open. Every burrito stall, every hook-a-duck, every MDF chalet serving themed drinks, the lot. Even when there was no hope of sufficient punters turning up, bratwurst still sizzled on oversized grills, innumerable lights flashed on silent rides and staff behind makeshift counters waited to pull unwanted pints. The whole complex is vastly over-resourced during daylight hours, simply so that it's primed for an evening bombardment. And this is why a weekday daytime is the best time to come, assuming that you're coming to have a go at things, and not simply for the social experience.

Winter Wonderland is stacked high with three kinds of things - experiences, refreshment and merchandise. There's a heck of a lot of each. But essentially you're walking round a giant fairground, which I suspect is why the whole place works. Travelling fairs visit most other big towns and cities during the rest of the year, but central London sees nothing comparable until WW turns up for a six week blowout before Christmas. Where else, and when else are you going to get your house of mirrors, ghost train and rollercoaster fix? No wonder people come.

Bring cash, assuming you intend to spend money (and there's not much to do here if you don't). This isn't an especially card- or contactless-friendly environment, being in the middle of a Royal Park, so assume it's still 2007 and stock up on coins and notes appropriately. Cash machines are provided, but they all charge £2.95 per transaction, and you could nearly buy a tray of chips for that.

Ah, the smell of the blazing brazier, how evocative is that? Just don't huddle up with your mulled wine too close for too long, else you'll get back to the tube smelling like a bonfire.

The paid-for attractions are the real moneyspinners for the organisers. Turn up on spec at the weekend and they'll likely be booked out, which forces people to pre-purchase online and fork out at least £3 extra for the privilege. But turn up on a weekday daytime in November and you can walk onto the observation wheel, have the ice rink almost to yourself, and dine alone in the vast Bavarian bierkeller. The amazing Munich Looping in the centre of the site - the world's largest transportable rollercoaster - only runs once it's gathered enough squealing punters, which was yesterday was only three or four times an hour. And over at Bar Hutte they're standing outside almost begging groups to come inside to try the karaoke chalets, at least before the office crews turn up after work for a blast.

Food's not cheap, but neither is it ridiculously expensive, at least as fairground fare goes. Eight quid's a lot for a cheesy hotdog, but not unheard of in the world of event hospitality, while most pubs in Soho also charge a fiver a pint. It all adds up though, especially if there's a lot of you and you end up on the beer plus associated snacks. The food choice is, if anything, too wide. Tucked in amongst the more generic meatshacks and sweet vendors are genuine streetfood vans, vegetarian burgers, halal options and fish and chips, for starters, so it could take some time to decide which one 'main meal' option is going to be your choice. You couldn't possibly eat even a fraction of what's on offer, although when it comes to churros, waffles, iced doughnuts, giant pretzels, mini pancakes and Haribo, some attendees are clearly up for giving it a good go.

The most astonishing food offer I found was on a faded menu pinned up outside a VIP restaurant at the back of the Bavarian Village. Sausage and cheese starter for four, £44. Wild goulash ragout, £38. Steak, £65, or £155 to maybe share. Red berry compote, £12. Glass of rosé, £250. Bottle of Dom Perignon, £1500. I never expected to find the Knightsbridge audience living it up in wintry Hyde Park, or maybe this is where bankers come after work before getting blokey on the coasters.

It's amazing how many ways there are to dress up a bar. One looks like a windmill, one looks like a Viking hideaway, one looks like a circus tent, one is topped with a statuesque pyramid, two rotate like a carousel, and one is even an attempted recreation of an East End boozer. It's almost a licensed Las Vegas in plywood. And it works. The rotund blokes plonk down outside Santa's pub, the Netflix couples hunker down in the Viking tent, and the late teens stop at the one with the loudest music. Every gimmick to make you swap your cash for alcohol is being tried.

You do not need a floral coinbag, a Santa hat with antlers or a glittery candelabra, but these are all amongst the bling available in the Angels Christmas Market. Many's the December 25th that'll feature some unwanted gift purchased here in a burst of festive fervour.

Do come if you like Instagramming misplaced apostrophes, you'll be spoilt for choice.

I watched one man win a giant Mickey Mouse on a ball-chucking stall by perfectly slamdunking five footballs past the shifting ice hockey goalies. But as the toy in a bag was hooked down, and handed over to his girlfriend, the lad on the stall picked up a small poster which read "Only 1 Jumbo per person" and held it up silently to prevent him from winning again.

Rather than diving in and embracing the experience I merely walked round agog, without spending a penny. No stallholders bothered me because I was a lone bloke, and Winter Wonderland is plainly for pairs, families and groups. But remember that having collective fun at Christmas can be totally unnecessarily wallet-emptying, if you allow it to be. And if you do fancy a trip to Winter Wonderland, and prefer activity to queueing, maybe try coming during the day, rather than evenings or weekends.

 Tuesday, November 21, 2017

J Barking/Dagenham
In 1965 the Municipal Borough of Barking and the Municipal Borough of Dagenham were combined to form the London borough of Barking. Residents of Dagenham were quite put out by their nominal omission, and cheered when the borough was renamed Barking and Dagenham in 1980. I've blogged about the place extensively before, including an entire week of jamjar posts in 2012, but for this report I've chosen to go back as a tourist. Is it possible to have a grand day out in Barking and Dagenham? Absolutely.

Visit Barking and Dagenham

a) Eastbury Manor House

Only one-third of London boroughs can boast a National Trust property, and Barking and Dagenham is one of the lucky few. You could drive around all day and never see it, though, unless you happened to be looking down the right sidestreet off Ripple Road and spotted the twisty chimneys. Clement Sisley's manor house on the Thames marshes is a wholly unexpected survivor from Tudor times, lingering on as a farmstead, then swallowed up four centuries later within a large housing estate. A square ring of tarmac was drawn around the house and its walled garden, and today prewar semis and parked cars hem it in on every side.

Always take up the offer of a tour if one's on offer, but the guide hadn't turned up on the day I visited, so I was left to my own devices to look around. Eastbury Manor House has three floors to explore, with the more interesting historical interpretations on the upper level, and wood panelled rooms ideal for weddings, functions and meetings downstairs. Only one of the original fireplaces remains, plus a couple of incomplete frescos, but you do get a sense of Eastbury's charm and function elsewhere, particularly in the creakier eaves. The most extraordinary feature is probably the Turret Stairs, a helix of wooden slats which climb to a small landing at almost chimney level, opening up panoramic views as far as Barking and Docklands.

The building's great, but the full experience is all down to its staff. Several were out keeping the garden in pristine condition, raking and trimming, while others readied themselves for service in the cafe. This isn't National Trust-run but is certainly up to scratch, with apple crumble crunch and squidgy dolloped cheesecake to enjoy along with a pot of tea, if not the local clientele to bring the place to life. Admission to Eastbury Manor House costs a mere £4, which is a total bargain, and only £3 if you can prove you're a B&D resident. Be aware that the house is only open on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays at present, and closes from Christmas to Easter, but several craftsy classes and events take place throughout the year. For a full review of a proper visit to this hidden gem, check out my five-paragrapher from 2012.

b) Valence House

Valence House is named after a 13th century granddaughter of King John, although the current manor house dates back no further than the 1400s. It has the look of a rambling farmhouse, with a ginkgo tree currently shedding gorgeous leaves above an old coal tax post planted outside. One gallery on the ground floor tells the story of the house, but the majority of the interior is given over to the history of the borough, which is unexpectedly fantastically diverse. One highlight is the Dagenham Idol, a naked humanoid in Scots pine (and one of the oldest wooden statues ever to be unearthed), but I was also impressed by chunks of stonework from the attraction I'd be visiting next.

How many of the borough's current residents realise that Barking was once one of England's most important fishing ports, while Dagenham was barely a medieval village? The Becontree Estate turned everything around, the LCC's largest overspill project, and an armchair tableau depicts how the first residents of the nearby avenues would have lived. Ford workers get their space, as do the panoply of famous faces who grew up in the borough, and there's even a cabinet revealing the secrets of the Dagenham Girl Pipers. Watch some old Co-Op films, and see the giant tusks which gave their name to, and once stood over, Whalebone Lane. There always seems to be another room of stuff to explore, and another local nugget to uncover.

To find the cafe and the toilets, cross the courtyard and enter the modern lowrise building where the borough's Archives and Local Studies Centre is also housed. This cafe's a lot less cake trolley and a bit more soup and panini, but pitched better towards what most nearby residents actually want. It's also open five days a week (avoid Sundays and Mondays), and as free to enter as the museum, in case you're ever out this way. If your tourism limit is Zone 1 and maybe Greenwich and Richmond, open your eyes to the suburbs.

c) Barking Abbey

Barking, yes Barking, used to boast an abbey to compare to the finest in the land. It was founded in 666AD, razed by the Vikings and rebuilt as a nunnery. Once William the Conqueror gave it a royal charter its pre-eminence was assured - to be abbess at Barking was to hold one of the most important female roles in the country. Alas all of the abbey's land was lost at the Dissolution, and almost all of the buildings save the Curfew Tower and the parish church alongside, with the stone carted off to build palaces at Greenwich and Dartford.

The remains of the abbey were excavated around 100 years ago, and a series of paths laid out around a few surviving snaking walls. It's now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, a grassy dip that's locked at night, but during the day acts as a public park for skateboarding, spliffing or downing several cans of alcohol, depending. Find a bench and reflect on the religious significance of this unlikely spot by the ring road, then maybe afterwards pop down to the Town Quay on the River Roding and try to imagine the fishing fleet in port. Outer London is full of surprises.

d) Borough of Culture - Back The Bid

This summer Sadiq Khan launched a competition to name a London Borough of Culture, one for 2019 and one for 2020. Most councils are trying to jump on the bandwagon, and Barking and Dagenham are right up there with them. What's more I can tell you all about their plans, because I turned up in the Town Square just as their bid was being launched. A group of local dignitaries had gathered on the raised podium, two stiltwalkers were waving coloured flags outside the library, several council staff had turned up to swell the numbers, and a few classes of schoolchildren had been invited along to make sure the gathering was of a decent size.

The leader of the council, whose name is Darren, was acting as MC and winding up the crowd, complete with a strand of tinsel wrapped around his neck. He introduced the local MP, that's Margaret Hodge, who gave a stirring speech confirming that B&D is definitely the best borough in London. Darren then cajoled the crowd to form a conga and to dance around the square, paying special attention to staying within the range of the camera on the balcony. The DJ in the tent played Black Lace until there was enough footage for a pinned tweet on social media, and suddenly the reason for inviting all those excitable children had become clear.

There was a serious bit, where Dazzer outlined all the wonderful things that a successful bid could mean for the borough, and then he rounded off by urging everyone to raise the banners they'd made and face the camera again. Not everyone was looking the right way when the glitter cannon exploded, so that image hasn't appeared quite so frequently on Twitter as the ubiquitous #CongaForCulture. The launch event was rounded off by some dancing, a prolonged period of gyration and bodypopping by some lads in trackies, which wouldn't have been what Bexley would have done, but the young audience lapped it up. Meanwhile Darren rushed around pressing flesh, smiling at journalists and grinning through a branded cardboard frame, before disappearing up the Town Hall steps before the dancers had finished.

I see Barking and Dagenham very much as the Hull of the competition, the wild card outlier, and a borough that very much believes it needs to win. They'd probably run a very different Year of Culture to most of the other applicants, more community based, more inclusive, and wholly unashamed to organise a conga if that's what its residents enjoy. We'll find out in February whether they've been successful, and in 2019 the rest of London may finally come and experience the cultural delights of the borough. In the meantime a National Trust house, a medieval manor and a 7th century abbey should be enough to be getting on with.

 Monday, November 20, 2017

If you've ever fancied watching part of London being created, come to Barking. Specifically come to Barking Riverside, the brand new neighbourhood being carved out of hundreds of acres of desolate Thames foreshore. Where Barking Power Station once stood, or rather on the landfill site and pulverised fuel ash dump nextdoor, preparations for an enormous housing estate are taking place. Eventually 10% of the population of Barking and Dagenham will live here, in mews and flats and apartment blocks, across a landscape that's currently mostly blank. But a phenomenal act of placemaking is underway, and to see it all you have to do is take the bus.

The EL1 heads south from Barking, crosses the A13 and nudges the Creekmouth industrial area. It turns off through the postwar Thames View estate, which was as much as anyone was allowed to build round here before transport links were improved. In 2013 the bus was extended to the first chunk of Barking Riverside, several hundred homes of much more modern provenance. But only in September was the EL1 extended - evenings and weekends excepted - up the hill, past the top flats, along a bus lane and out the other side. It's not exactly pastures new, but it is an astonishing alteration.

River Road used to be the main access to a belching power station, before decaying to a potholed track. It's where the amazing Dagenham Sunday Market hangs out, and should do until Phase 4 wipes it away. The market used to be highly inaccessible unless you had a car, or liked a long hike, but now a new road's been knocked through from the estate suddenly getting here's a doddle. Until 2013 a bus ran along River Road twice a day to ferry mostly non-existent workers to their recycling yards, pausing at some of the remotest bus stops in London. In a remarkable turn of fate the replacement bus stops now see ten buses an hour, rather than two a day, not that there are yet any passengers for the EL1 to pick up.

Immediately ahead will be the district centre for the new Barking Riverside neighbourhood, as yet entirely unbuilt other than one road. The EL1 turns off into a landscape of flattened earth, skips and cables, which will eventually be a buzzing hub of offices, restaurants, bars and retail. It feels really odd entering a zone previously entirely inaccessible, now crisscrossed with caterpillar tracks and trenches, where tens of thousands of people will one day grab a coffee. And just off to the left, perched on a viaduct, will be Barking Riverside Overground station, the key transport link which unlocks the entire development. Completion isn't due until 2021, and construction doesn't begin until early next year, so don't expect to see anything yet.

The penultimate bus stop on the route exists physically but not digitally, close to the stack of silver containers on the waterfront that Barking & Dagenham council built as an environmental study centre. Today the Barking Riverside development team have taken it over, because their need is greater, as they keep an eye on the brick-and concrete wave that's about to sweep inland. The existing jetty will be upgraded and gain a Thames Clipper service into town, and long before that a floating hotel, if the planning notice pinned up at the top of the footpath is to be believed.

The reason for the EL1's extension lies ahead, namely Riverside Campus, England's largest free school cluster. This opened in September, in the middle of pretty much nowhere, because Barking and Dagenham urgently needs more school places, as will the 29000 residents who move in later. Part secondary, part primary and part special needs, pupils are already enjoying a sports hall, four multi-use games areas, an all-weather pitch and two dance studios. The bus provides a lifeline for pupils from existing communities, and will one day whisk actual residents away from neighbouring streets, but until those exist 'every six minutes' does feel like a ridiculously wasteful service.

What's unnerving is alighting at the terminus on a perfectly formed road which leads nowhere. It has segregated cycle lanes, double yellow lines and speed limit signs, as well as zebra crossings with zig-zag markings that absolutely nobody yet needs. Ahead the road terminates at a set of temporary barriers, behind which is a forest of cranes and a workforce doing stuff with diggers. It's promised that buses will terminate up here from the summer, but in the meantime drivers turn off up a one-way access road and park their vehicles at the top of the slope, before heading back and picking up any school staff or pupils on the way. One day this'll be be a throbbing metropolis, but for now the EL1 is parking up in an amazingly remote location.

I can't begin to tell you how incongruous this transformation looks to someone who remembers how the area used to be. The footpath along the foreshore from Dagenham Dock has long been one of my favourites for its sheer isolation, and the joy of walking half a mile beside the Thames along entirely undeveloped riverbank. Originally the area inland was an expanse of hummocky brownfield, and free-to-roam, but a few years ago it was fenced off, and prolonged dirt-shuffling has finally created a level plateau upon which homes can be built. Footpath 47 still somehow survives around the perimeter of the site, flanking the river with dazzling estuarine views, but is losing its edge somewhat as the excavators encroach.

One day Footpath 47 will be reimagined as a sanitised wetland strip with timber boardwalks and a 'coastal garden'. One day a wall of flats will replace the temporary metal fence, facing out across the river towards lowly lowrise Thamesmead. One day the road beneath the pylons will be diverted and turned into a park, because nobody wants to buy a flat under a string of fizzing cables. One day this empty wasteland will be alive with a brand new community, and one day you might even move out here to raise a family. But to witness the art of placemaking in action, and the genesis of something from absolutely nothing, a double decker bus ride is all it takes.

 Sunday, November 19, 2017

Friday's opening of the new entrance to Bond Street station ticks off a special achievement - it's become only the third step-free tube station inside the loop of the Circle line. This time last year there was only Green Park, but two Crossrail-related upgrades in 2017 have trebled the total. At Bond Street it takes three lifts to get from street level to the Central line (two downs and an up), but then you can ride the tube to the other end of Oxford Street... which'll be dead useful when it's pedestrianised and all the step-free buses disappear. Learn more about the new entrance (and the labyrinth beyond) from Ian's photos, or from Geoff's video.

Meanwhile, here's my attempt at a chronology of all the wholly step-free tube stations in Zone 1.

YearInside the
Circle line
On the
Circle line
Outside the
Circle line
1999 WestminsterSouthwark
London Bridge
2005  Earl's Court
2010 King's Cross St Pancras 
2011Green ParkBlackfriars 
2012 Farringdon 
2016 Tower HillVauxhall
2017Tottenham Court Road
Bond Street
now3 out of 21 = 14%5 out of 27 = 19%4 out of 15 = 27%
2018 Victoria
2020  Nine Elms
Battersea Power Station

This may not seem an impressive list, but most stations in Zone 1 are over 100 years old, and you can't berate the Victorians and Edwardians for their failure to futureproof. Every new tube station built in the last 40 years is step-free (Hatton Cross being the last that wasn't), but we don't build much rail infrastructure in Central London any more, which is one reason why Crossrail will be so transformational.

The next step-free connection will be at Bank, when the new Walbrook entrance to the Waterloo and City line opens next month. Making only one end of a 2-stop line step-free obviously isn't ideal, but every upgrade helps. Let's hope they solve the challenge of how to show the new blob on next month's tube map without making a complete visual mess.

With very little fanfare, indeed no publicity at all, TfL have moved into a brand new office block. What's more, it's the very first office block in Stratford's new business district, the International Quarter. You'd think someone would have shouted louder.

The International Quarter follows the strip of land between the Olympic Park and the Westfield shopping centre. The two towers nearest to the station are residential, but TfL have taken the prime commercial spot, immediately opposite the exit from the shops. It may be quiet outside now, but when the hoardings are removed and the direct route into the Olympic Park reopens, everyone will be walking this way along the promenade, straight past TfL's revolving doors.

Beyond the doors is a spacious atrium with 12 branded roundels on the wall above the reception desk, ordered alphabetically from Air Line to Underground. Turn left to swipe your card through the row of gates - I'm guessing contactless doesn't work here - and then the main lifts and a staircase lie beyond. I haven't been inside the building, you understand, merely walked past the cigarette smokers out front, but glass is a wonderfully transparent medium.

TfL's new address is 5 Endeavour Square, a third administrative hub to match their existing presence down the Jubilee line at Southwark and North Greenwich. Relocated staff visited for an induction look-around in September, started moving in properly last month, and will fill ten floors of office space. The liftshafts form a red-panelled rib down the centre of the building, and a nice touch is that the big numbers on the external stairs are written in Johnston, the official TfL font.

Most of the ground floor is taken up by 50 car parking spaces(!), as well as a creche and a selection of as-yet empty retail units. Pret A Manger and ramen-mongers Tonkotsu will soon be arriving to feed off the captive audience above, and to cater to passing hordes. The top floor features a large rooftop terrace overlooking the Olympic Park, ideal for events and receptions. As for bikes, cycle parking is provided inside on the mezzanine, a cycle hire docking station has been located a few yards towards the Aquatics Centre, and a 2-way cycle lane runs past along the pavement on Westfield Avenue.

And round the back is Balcony Park, a bijou area of stepped grass provided specifically for the residents of Glasshouse Gardens, but within easy relaxation distance for TfL staff. Come slouch on the benches, or shoot some hoops, or take a bounce on the three mini-trampolines. It's also fully publicly accessible, should you ever fancy a break from Westfield shopping, even if no signmakers have gone out of their way to suggest it exists. Likewise I wonder why TfL moving into a massive new office block has gone as yet unreported, especially given the savings and efficiencies they must have realised by doing so.

 Saturday, November 18, 2017

Stratford's post-Olympic zone continues to grow and change. Here are some updates from the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Crossrail's new electricity substation is finished, and the towpath alongside the Lea is back to normal. Pedestrians and pedallers had been forced onto a pontoon floating in the Lea for over a year while construction was underway, but that diversion is now over, and the new spiky-topped wall is already so covered in graffiti that it looks like it's been there for ages. Crossrail trains will be whooshing underneath before emerging from the Pudding Mill Lane Portal, and soon. The electrics down to Whitechapel were switched on (at 25000 volts) three days ago, and the tracks connecting the tunnels into the appropriate platforms at Stratford are already in place.

Since September the western side of the Olympic Park has had a school to cater for the surrounding neighbourhood, and for the occupants of flats yet to be built. It's called Bobby Moore Academy in honour of West Ham's greatest footballer, even if the team's illustrious history includes only 15 months playing in the stadium alongside. There are two sites, one primary and one secondary, the former for 400 pupils and the latter for 1000. Thus far only the primary site has opened, but with a cohort of Year 7 pupils who will transfer to the secondary school next year, and only then do the first reception kids turn up.

The primary school is lowrise and has its back to the River Lea, with frontage on the Loop Road, which weaves through what will one day be the neighbourhood of Sweetwater. A lot of potentially valuable building space has been taken up by the school's football pitch, which I guess is essential given who the place is named after. Meanwhile the secondary school is being built just to the south of the stadium, between the West Ham Store and the View Tube, and currently has a crane and numerous builders swarming over it. The site's quite compact, hence the building has six storeys and very little in the way of outside space, unless they open up the community running track alongside for breaktime relief.

The View Tube's view has been compromised somewhat by having a whopping great secondary school built in front of it, and the cafe changed hands earlier in the year. The new lot were from The Common, Bethnal Green, who made the menu a little trendier with an emphasis on sourdough and prices quoted to one decimal place. Passing trade is now somewhat limited, and the presence of three chalkboards and three flappy banners further up the Greenway suggested a certain desperation to egg additional punters inside. Perhaps that's why the owners have just thrown in the towel, leaving landlords Poplar HARCA to try to maintain a counter service over the coming weeks as best they can. Meanwhile the upstairs room has been hired by a small social enterprise, so is now off limits, while the containers out front have become mini studios whose artists (allegedly) open up to sell their wares every Saturday afternoon.

A large area bounded by the Greenway, the railway and the Lea remains empty, immediately to the north of Pudding Mill station. There was a residential furore hereabouts when it was proposed that London's largest concrete and asphalt factory be built on the site, even though that's pretty much what used to be here before the Olympics arrived. More than 12000 people signed a NIMBY-ish petition screaming about the impact of chemical dust and vehicle fumes, so were delighted when the LLDC finally refused planning permission in September. The land is still zoned for industrial use, however, so seems destined to remain a mess of mud and piled-up earth until something less belching is proposed.

The Greenway now has streetlamps along it, from Hackney Wick all the way to East Ham. Planners had originally been vehemently opposed to adding lighting, stating that this sewertop path was never intended as a nighttime connection, but that opinion has evidently changed in an attempt to improve cycling connectivity. Many riders have leapt at the opportunity, but some have been mugged along the less accessible bits, and I personally wouldn't risk any of it on foot after dark.

After the flurry of international events held here in the summer, it's good to see that the temporary barriers surrounding Stadium Island have been taken away and access to the podium and surrounding slopes is (mostly) restored. This means anyone can walk freely all the way around the stadium, admiring the West Ham branding if that's their thing, and gawping up at the never-donging-again Olympic bell. Of the World Cup statue WHFC hoped to bring from Upton Park there is no sign. As for the smartly-branded trucks and trailers parked round the rim which open up on match days, including @streetfoodkitchen, Malt & Barley (est 2008) and the Pulled Pork Co, a bit of Googling suggests their provenance is entirely fictional.

Carpenters Road Lock was reopened in the summer with a special day of festivities. Britain's only lock with double radial gates had been derelict for years, then hidden beneath a spotty walkway during the Olympics, and only now has the fully restored link been revealed. The Canal & River Trust are very proud. It all looks impressive, if perhaps a bit too modern, in its slot below the mirrored bridge. The reopening brings additional connectivity to the canal network, breathing life back into the Bow Back Rivers, although boaters have to give at least seven days advance notice if they want to pass through which must explain why I've never yet seen the counterweights in action.

Olympic Park boat tours are now suspended for the winter, so you won't be able to hop on and take a return trip aboard these former Water Chariots until March. But the fleet of boats is still moored up by the Aquatic Centre, in case anyone fancies private hire, along with the Ware to Hertford waterbus which it seems also overwinters here. Those in search of value for money should be aware that the Ware ride costs £1 less and lasts twice as long, if lacking somewhat in its view of national stadia.

A recent intervention in the Olympic Park has been the re-emergence of those famous magenta signs. They've been used to show the direction of step-free routes, which are often quite convoluted but also very important in a multi-level environment like QEOP.
The swinging bench in the Great British Garden, which had been vandalised and removed, has returned fresh and well. I love that bench.
• The Canal & River Trust has opened up a tiny Welcome Station in the hut beside Old Ford Lock.
The two paths south from the Orbit lawn to Stratford High Street remain closed.
No sign of any daffodils poking through yet.

 Friday, November 17, 2017

TfL's annual fare rise was announced yesterday.

It wasn't announced very loudly, because fare increases are no longer news, because fares are frozen. But not everyone's fares are frozen, so while many people will get away with paying nothing extra from 2nd January 2018, others will be paying over 3% more.

To add a historical context, TfL fare rises were 7% in 2012, 3% in 2014, 2.5% in 2015, 1% in 2016 and 0% in 2017. Next year, in the second year of Sadiq's four year freeze, the official increase is again zero.

Here are some of the newly unchanged fares on the tube and on the buses.

Cost of a single central London tube journey

The Zone 1 Oyster tube fare remains at £2.40. That's a 14% increase on five years ago, and a massive 60% increase on ten years ago, which perhaps helps to explain why the fare freeze has so been popular. Meanwhile anyone still paying by cash is forking out twice as much as they would if only they joined the modern world and waved their contactless.

Cost of a tube journey from Green Park to Heathrow
Oyster (peak)£3.50£3.80£4.20£4.50£4.80£5.00£5.00£5.10£5.10£5.10
Oyster (off-peak)£2.00£2.20£2.40£2.70£2.90£3.00£3.00£3.10£3.10£3.10

Journeys beyond zone 1 have barely risen in price since 2013, and Sadiq's freeze means the Z1-6 fare rise between 2013 and 2020 will be an amazingly small 10p. Meanwhile all off-peak London tube journeys avoiding zone 1 remain at the rock-bottom fare of £1.50, which is damned good value.

Cost of a single central London bus journey

The pay-as-you-go bus fare also remains unchanged in January, still £1.50. What's more, "in the first quarter of 2018" the Hopper is being extended to permit unlimited free transfers within an hour of a first paid-for journey. No longer restricted to two buses, the updated Hopper will allow you to catch as many as you like for £1.50, even if you catch a train inbetween. That's cracking news.

So who's losing out?

Fares will still rise on the majority of National Rail suburban services because they're not run by TfL, so the Mayor's freeze doesn't apply. These fares will be rising by inflation, or an average of 3.6%, which is a lot more than the 1.9% they rose last time.

The Mayor's press release is very keen to point out that this 3.6% fare rise is not his fault. Instead the evil Train Operating Companies are to blame, because they want the full whack the government permits so weren't willing to follow Sadiq's example and make a hole in their budgets. The phrase "mandated by the TOCs" appears as many as sixteen times in the text of the Mayoral Decision announcing next year's fares, just in case any journalist might miss the significance. If only Sadiq had shouted this loudly during his election campaign, perhaps voters wouldn't have been quite so surprised when his fare freeze turned out not to be a fare freeze for all.

Rail travellers are amongst those who'll be paying more. From January rail fares within Greater London are to increase by another 10p per journey, while the equivalent tube fares remain the same. For peak journeys between zones 1 and 6, the increase is actually 20p.

Years of differential increases mean rail fares are generally more expensive than tube fares, as this table shows.

Cost of a single train journey (Oyster, 2018)
Z1-2£2.90£2.90 £2.40£2.40
Z1-3£3.30£3.60 £2.80£2.70
Z1-4£3.90£4.10 £2.80£3.00
Z1-5£4.70£5.20 £3.10£3.40
Z1-6£5.10£6.40 £3.10£4.00

The difference in fares is fairly small in inner London, but rises more steeply towards the outskirts. If you live in zone 6, for example, at peak times it's 25% dearer to travel to central London by rail than the equivalent journey would be by tube. Off-peak from zone 3, oddly, it's 10p cheaper. And for journeys that stay outside zone 1, the differential is even worse. All off-peak tube journeys in zones 2 to 6 cost £1.50 off peak, but equivalent rail journeys cost anywhere from £2.00 to £2.90. While one set of fares remains the same but the other rises, this gap can only widen.

As for Travelcards, these are funded assuming you might travel by tube or you might travel by rail, so if rail fares rise then Travelcard prices have to rise too. Everyone with a Travelcard will end up paying more next year, in the order of 3.6%, be that weekly, monthly or annual. No fare freeze here.

And as for those daily and weekly caps which TfL like to trumpet because they save you money, more bad news. These are directly linked to Travelcard prices, so they're rising too. Individual bus and tube fares might not be rising next year, but the point at which the cap kicks in is being raised, so you could end up paying more anyway.

Rise in the one-day cap
Zones travelledIncrease
Any day's travel venturing into zone 6+50p
Any day's travel within zones 1-5+40p
Any day's travel within zones 1-4+30p
Any day's travel within zones 1-2+20p
Any day's travel solely on buses and trams  +0p

Rise in the weekly cap
Zones travelledIncrease
12 or 2345 or 3456+£1.10
234 or 345 or 456+90p
23 or 34 or 45 or 56+80p

Totted up over a full year, London commuters who rely on capping could be paying over £100 more in 2018 than they did in 2017. Sadiq's supposed fare freeze is no such thing if you're a regularly-capped traveller.

According to the Mayoral Decision, "continuing the TfL fares freeze will not have an adverse impact on TfL’s ability to run and invest in the transport services that London needs to remain successful." That's rich, given recent cutbacks in bus services and the cancellation of planned rolling stock upgrades. The worst of both worlds, surely, is that millions of Londoners end up paying more, but getting less.

 Thursday, November 16, 2017

Where is London's steepest hill?

...a hill a car can drive up or down
...officially marked with a road sign
...within Greater London

I think it's Downe Road in Cudham, which I blogged about yesterday.

Having scoured an Ordnance Survey map of the capital, it seems to be the only hill inside the Greater London boundary to be marked with a double chevron.
<< means gradient steeper than 20% (1 in 5)
  < means gradient 14% to 20% (1 in 7 to 1 in 5)
But OS maps only show chevrons on 'important' roads, so triangular warning signs are probably a better indication of a steep hill. Official guidance states that these signs should only be used where the gradient is 10% or more.

Here's my attempt at a list of the steepest roads in London. I've found a 1 in 4, a 1 in 5 and a 1 in 6, each with a sign. Can you help me find some more?

25% (1 in 4)  Downe Road, Cudham (Bromley) [map]

Downe Road careers downhill from Cudham Lane, specifically from the road junction nearest the parish church. It drops sharply to a second junction (with Church Hill) before bending left and heading down the steepest hill in London. A further right-hand bend aids the descent to the valley bottom, the road now narrow enough to make the speed limit of 40mph look somewhat unwise. One of yesterday's commenters, BCW, describes the act of cycling in the opposite direction...
Cycling from Downe to Cudham is 'fun' - a long, winding downhill run into the valley, then lots of uphill, steadily getting steeper up to that killer 1 in 4 section at the end where, if you aren't careful, your front wheel can come off the ground!
Church Hill is also steep enough to merit a chevron on the Ordnance Survey map, but only one, not two. Indeed if you stand above the road junction (pictured above) it's plain to see that Downe Road (right) descends faster than the 'gentler' lane to Berry's Green (left).

20% (1 in 5)  Fox Hill, Crystal Palace (Bromley/Croydon) [map]

This one's not on the Ordnance Survey map because the road is too minor, but Fox Hill is definitely steep because a sign at the bottom says so. It's also a historic track, and was immortalised in oils in 1870 by the French impressionist Camille Pissarro (who was living in Norwood at the time). The road rises gently at first, past some fine Victorian villas and a small recreation ground, before gaining in oomph up a steep, intense climb. Most residents in the houses alongside park facing downwards for an easier getaway. At the top of the 1 in 5 bit is a old parish boundary marker, then Fox Hill peters out at Church Road, atop the heights of Crystal Palace.

17% (1 in 6)  Ena Road, Pollards Hill (Croydon) [map]

Pollards Hill is an actual hill on the boundary of Merton and Croydon, with panoramic views over parts of south London from the park at the summit. Most of the surrounding slopes have been built upon, including a grid of suburban avenues on the northern flank, one of which is Ena Road. Drive in at one end at it doesn't look too bad, but approach via Norbury Cross and a triangular sign warns of a very steep gradient just round the bend. What follows doesn't disappoint, if somewhat innocuous in its setting. White-fronted semi-detached homesteads rise to either side, the gable of one at first floor window height for its neighbour. Within 100 metres you've ascended 17 metre (which should be obvious given how gradients work), and can now gaze back across the vast vista now opened up above the rooftoops below. Beyond a flat summit Ena Road then dips more gently down... but all the finest freewheel/skateboard action must surely be on that western side, so long as you mind the sharp right-hand bend at the bottom!

Other London roads with a confirmed gradient of at least 15%
Plum Lane, Woolwich (20%)
Tormount Road, Plumstead (20%)
Canonbie Road, Forest Hill (18%)
Braeside, Beckenham (17%)
Hartfield Crescent, Hayes Common (17%)
Milestone Road, Crystal Palace (17%)
Spout Hill, Addington (17%)
Vanbrugh Hill, Greenwich (17%)
Waddington Avenue, Old Coulsdon (16%)
Bencombe Road, Purley (15%)
Hartley Hill, Purley (15%)
Granville Park, Blackheath (15%)

Other London roads with a chevron on an Ordnance Survey map
< Jewels Hill AND Saltbox Hill (on the road between New Addington and Biggin Hill) (15%) (15%)
< Polesteeple Hill (between Biggin Hill and Tatsfield) (20%)
< Hangrove Hill (also on the road between Downe and Cudham)
< Church Hill (between Cudham and Berry's Green)

Remember, this is an empirical list... so if you can't provide proof (e.g. a chevron on a map, or a snapshot of a sign) then it doesn't count.

Remember, only roads with a triangular sign are eligible... so, for example, Swains Lane past Highgate Cemetery is infamous as a steep climb for cyclists, and has a maximum gradient of 14%, 18% or 20% depending on who you believe, but it doesn't have an official sign at the bottom, so it doesn't count.

Remember, only roads in Greater London are eligible... so, for example Succombs Hill in Warlingham is infamous as a steep climb for cyclists, and has a maximum gradient of 25% according to the sign at the top, but Warlingham's just outside Greater London, so it doesn't count.

Remember, these are official gradients... so, for example, a bike app or GPX file which shows a gradient of 23% may only apply to a very brief section of road, so isn't what a triangular sign would say, so doesn't count.

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