The five circles of transport hell?

i writers battle London's Olympic restrictions – and each other – to cross the capital

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The Independent Online

It was the day the "gridlock Games" were supposed to bring misery to the streets and subways of London. As the Olympics countdown clock showed there were just 48 hours to go, 34 miles of Olympic lanes came into force around the capital for the sole use of the armies of athletes and officials heading to the Olympic Park. Fines of £130 awaited exasperated drivers and cyclists who strayed across the white lines. To discover just what scenes of suffering lay above and below ground, our team of writers ignored the advice of Olympic organisers to race across the capital.

We set off from Hyde Park Corner at the height of morning rush hour, 8.15am, by car (Sean O'Grady), bicycle (Simon Usborne), train (Kevin Rawlinson) and boat (Poppy McPherson) to determine the quickest, most painless way to traverse the capital from its centre to the Olympic Park in the East.

Commuters with more critical journeys yesterday found 12-mile tailbacks on the M4 approach to London and severe Tube delays on several lines. Some major roads were twice as busy as normal, traffic analysts said, with jams on main roads into London including the A4 and the A40, while Tube trains creaked in the heat. Transport for London played down the reports, saying traffic in the centre of the city overall was 13.5 per cent lighter than on a normal weekday. It insisted "compliance levels have been high" on Games Lanes, the majority of which remained open to all traffic.

The most unusual transport difficulty was the breakdown of the new £45m cable car in east London, trapping passengers 300ft above the Thames. More than 30 cars, carrying around 60 people, came to a halt due to a technical problem with the Emirates Air Line at 11.45am. Passengers were evacuated after a 30 minute delay and the system ran normally.

Kevin Rawlinson

The Tube can never quite be described as comfortable – but this journey was easy. Yes it was still packed, hot and unfriendly. But there's not much Locog could have done about those longstanding problems. While the first train at Hyde Park Corner was too full to board, I managed to force myself onto the second and a seamless change to the Jubilee Line won back some time. Having said that, my total journey to Stratford still took a full 12 minutes longer than a man on a bike.

Poppy McPherson

I got the N9 to Piccadilly Circus, dashed down Haymarket past Trafalgar Square and reached Embankment pier in under 20 minutes. The first Westbound boat engine was loud and stank of diesel, but it was a beautiful ride on one of the hottest days of the year. The journey to the North Greenwich Arena, which will host the gymnastics, basketball and wheelchair basketball finals, takes just over an hour, but feels far quicker as we cruise by landmarks.

Sean O'Grady

Driving around London gave me an excellent impression of what it might be like to under the heel of a foreign invader. The traffic enforcement officials were polite and helpful, but I couldn't help seeing them as Quislings. I made it across central London in about 47 minutes. Most traffic lights along the main east-west arteries were suspended, as were many of the turns in and out of the lanes. The Olympics lanes were pretty empty, but maybe they will fill up.

Simon Usborne

I breezed to Trafalgar Square before my car-driving colleague had even reached for his air-con. I may have been fastest, but was also sweatiest. Bike parking areas are being set up outside the east and west gates of the Olympic Park, but the main racks will be in Victoria Park, a 20-minute walk from the velodrome. The cycling was quick, but the time it will take spectators to park their bikes and reach the Games is anyone's guess.