Andrew Adonis: London by bus - day four

To understand how London’s bus system works I’m undergoing a week of immersion: riding 50 routes in inner and outer London, including the most congested and popular

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The Independent Online

North Greenwich didn't exist as a station or a bus terminus 15 years ago. It very nearly didn't exist thereafter. The original plan was for the Jubilee Line extension to go from Canary Wharf to Stratford on the north bank of the Thames. It took a ferocious campaign led by local MP Nick Raynsford to make the expensive route change taking the Jubilee line under the Thames twice to serve Greenwich.

By such fateful transport decisions are communities made and unmade. Today North Greenwich is a major transport hub. The tube station is crucial; it directly serves The O2 (another triumph widely opposed when it was built as the Millennium Dome) and it is making possible the wholesale redevelopment of the Greenwich Peninsula.  However, its impact crucially depends upon the eight bus routes which fan out from the station to serve Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich and the communities beyond – including Greenwich Millennium Village, the stunning new development five minutes by bus from the station where Nick Raynsford now lives.

Over coffee Nick told me that his constituency – particularly the poorest parts of it in and around Woolwich – had been “totally reinvented” by public transport over the last 20 years. The latest reinvention is being brought about by the new Crossrail station being constructed in the heart of Woolwich Arsenal. New apartment blocks are springing up all around, alongside the impressive redevelopment for housing of the Arsenal itself.

Here again, buses are crucial. Woolwich Town Centre has been radically redesigned as a town square plus bus interchange, with the Crossrail station, and the existing DLR and Overground stations all a stone’s throw away. 

Some of these buses are ‘Hoppas’ which go through the backstreets to serve communities which would otherwise be isolated, particularly for the elderly. Until it happened I simply couldn’t believe the 386 was going to make it up the steep Vanbrugh Hill, and the narrow streets beyond, some of them parked on both sides with barely enough space for the bus to squeeze through once the traffic coming the other way had reversed out. 

It is the same story at Millwall, which I visited the day before. A huge 3,000 home development around the stadium is being made possible by a new London Overground station at Surrey Canal Road, which transport officials opposed on the grounds that there wouldn’t be enough traffic. Two new bus routes into the stadium development are also crucial (though no one could explain why TfL needs £6.5m to introduce them.)

Similarly, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which I visited later, is now criss-crossed by new bus routes linking the park to Stratford itself and to Hackney and communities in the opposite direction.   

The problem is that the buses too often get stuck. On the approach to Greenwich the 188 stalled in serious bottlenecks thanks in one case to road works and in another to a sudden road narrowing with no bus priority. It was the same the night before, when the number 25 couldn’t even get into the bus lane on Mile End Road because of a lorry blocking the approach to it from a junction; and it was to be same in Hackney on the 254 later, where the gridlock was so bad I got out and walked two stops to catch a different bus because the 254 couldn’t get into a bus lane.

In all three cases, fellow passengers told me these bottlenecks were common yet they aren’t sorted out. The advantages of red routes and bus lanes are scuppered by poorly designed junctions, unlocked bottlenecks and roadworks, which seem to overrun everywhere. Time for a bus bottleneck buster to get to work.