High Lines 2. The Greenway


This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

The Greenway is an existing “High Line” in east London, however it does not follow the route of an abandoned railway line, rather it runs along the top of the Northern Outflow Sewer, one of London’s huge Victorian sewer pipes (the odd vent in the path’s tarmac provides you with a reminder of what is below!) The route heads east from Hackney Wick, which certainly ticks the “High Line” boxes of a post-industrial, loft-living neighbourhood, before slicing through the still-evolving Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. However, the remainder of the route is through big industry sites and a low-density residential area – Plaistow – which doesn’t give quite the same feeling of slicing through an inner city fabric that the NYC High Line, or yesterday’s featured route, the East London Line Extension, does. Abbey Mill is a highlight if you do keep going further east though.


The first part of the Greenway received a substantial upgrade just before the Olympics, as it provided two potential entry points into the Olympic Park during the Olympics themselves. (They were little-used in the end.) However a section was also blocked during the games, as the athletes’ route between the warm-up track and the main Olympic Stadium passing across it. However, the improvement works were designed with the legacy in mind too and the resulting path is of a good quality, lit and with good views to the Olympic Park structures and the various residential skyscrapers going up along Stratford High Street. Cyclists use it as a commuting link, however the path is wide and visibility good.

The route will be further improved when the Crossrail works finish in 2018 and a section near Stratford, which has been closed since 2007, finally reopens. If walking along this first part, a stop off at the “View Tube“, a coffee shop made out of lime-green shipping containers, perched at the point where the Greenway route descends to cross under a railway line, it has an excellent view from the top deck. There may be further buildings appearing in the future – such as the UCL East campus and other similar projects, which mean that this section might eventually form more of a “High Line” feel, but it will never be an oasis in a dense inner-city, simply because it is too far out from central London.


Top: The Greenway in the Olympic Park, following improvements made in 2009-10. Bottom: One of the signposts installed before the Olympics. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.

High Lines 1. The East London Line Extension


This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

One problem with a High Line for London is that we never had very many abandoned, elevated railways in London. The capital largely escaped the so-called Beeching cuts of the 1960s, when many rural and other little-used lines were closed. After these cuts, laws were changed to make the closing of railway lines much harder to do, so even when railway usage reached its nadir in the 1980s, few additional lines were closed. Since then, number of peoples of trains have soared, particularly in London, and there is virtually no prospect of any existing lines being closed in the foreseeable future.

highlineosmPerhaps the most promising candidate for a High Line was one of the few lines that were closed – the elevated railway between Broad Street (beside Liverpool Street Station) and Dalston in north inner-city London. In fact, the line survived Beeching, but succumbed to closure in 1986. The route lay abandoned for many years, with some of its bridges removed but otherwise being largely intact. However, instead of turning into a High Line type walking route it has in fact recently (2006-11) been turned back into a railway, the East London Line Extension (ELLX), arguably more useful and certainly acting as a catalyst for the regeneration of the Dalston/Haggerston/Hoxton area that it runs through.

The new line has a different characteristic to many of London’s lines that act just to get people in and out of the central core. Instead of its central London terminus beside Liverpool Street Station, the line takes a sharp left across a set of new bridges in Shoreditch (see below), linking up to the old East London Line. This is part of a new orbital London railway, the London Overground, and is already very heavily used. So, while London’s best candidate for a High Line was lost, the benefits of turning back into a real, working passenger railway have been quickly realised.

A short abandoned elevated link remains between the Broadgate Tower/Estate – now built across where the old central terminus station was – and where the turn across Shoreditch is – now blocked by Village Underground, a popular music and arts venue which notably has some old Jubilee Line tube carriages on its roof (see below on left) as workspaces. The link however it very short, barely 100m long, so not really viable for the creation of a High Line. You can the remaining link as the patch of green in the foreground on the left below.

You can still experience the “High Line” feel, passing by the second floors and roofs of old industrial buildings and loft apartments, with excellent and unexpected views across to central London, by travelling along the East London Line Extension between Dalston Juction and Shoreditch High Street – just that it’s in a train rather than on foot. The new stations, particularly Hoxton – have developed a “High Line” style coffees-amongst-brickwork feel to them. The trains are modern and airy, and run every few minutes. It’s not quite the same but it’s probably, in terms of area and feel, the closest that we have right now.

See also: This note from Paul Mison.


Top photo: The view from Hoxton station, one of the new stations on the East London Line Extensions. Below: Looking at the southern end of the Dalston-Shoreditch part of the East London Line extension, from Broadgate Tower. Photos by Diamond Geezer. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.

High Lines in London


London has been looking for its High Line, the elevated abandoned railway line in inner-city New York City (above) that has become a pleasant linear park, huge tourist attraction (I made a specific point of visiting on my recent trip) and regeneration stimulus in a brick-warehouses-and-cyclists part of Manhattan. Gliding peacefully above the busy traffic, moving through buildings and alongside wild flowers, the experience is rather surreal, and, on experiencing it, it’s easy to see why it’s been such a big hit.

A “High Line” needs to be a route which is traffic free, not broken up by road or railway crossings. It is a route which is not designed to be a commuter link or an otherwise “fast” route, so with no opportunities for cycling at speed along it. And it is a route which allows to see a densely populated part of a city in a new way, the novelty and theatre of the route created by maximising the contrast between the mean, traffic-choked city streets below and soaring buildings above, and the green oasis of the route itself.
But with the winning entry in the recent competition being an underground walk, we probably need to go back to the drawing board.

What are the options?

Over the next twelve days, starting today, I’m going to outline twelve ideas for London “High Lines” – some of which already exist, some of which had a chance of being a genuine High Line but recent events took them in a different direction, and some which have potential. On the last day I’ll unveil the one which I think has the most potential, for a number of reasons, but which, curiously, little has been written about so far.

  1. The East London Line Extension


Top photo: The High Line in New York. Old rails embeddded in wooden planks and surrounded by wildflower gardens, all two storeys above the Manhattan streets. Lovely. Bottom photo: The street “theatre” view, created by the line kinking across a street by a junction.

Traffic Calming Bank Junction

An idea from the City of London – to ban through traffic (except buses) from the seven-way junction at the very heart of the City, modelled on the part-pedestrianisation of Times Square in New York It’s a no-brainer, surely.

Here’s how I would do it – opening up the attractive space around the Royal Exchange for pedestrians only, adding a SW-NE cycleway through the junction as an extension/diversion of CS7 (which currently ends up at the less-well-located Guildhall), and allowing traffic (taxis) very near to the junction from four of the seven radial streets, while cutting out all through-journeys. Lothbury/Gresham Street is a quiet street and certainly able to take the east-west traffic, along with Cannon Street.




Here’s a great idea well executed – MapOnShirt uses OpenStreetMap data and some nice custom styling – and an easy-to-use website, to allow you to design your own T-shirt of anywhere in the world. It works best in large built-up places, particularly across new-world cities with their grid structures and other large-scale planned road topologies, but familiar shapes in older cities work too – such as the River Thames.

MapOnShirt was kind enough to create a mock-up of a shirt for the recent Street-O race in London that I organised. I reckon these kinds of shirts would make for great prizes for such events.

OOMap 2.4 – Add Plaques from Open Plaques


OpenOrienteeringMap can now automatically import the locations and details, of public plaques, as suggested controls, into the area where you are creating a map. The service uses the API from Open Plaques, which is a global open-source database of public plaques. In the London, the most commonly known plaques are the “Blue Plaques“, which are put up by English Heritage and typically mark the houses where the great and good of times past live. However, there are many other types and colours of plaques which are also recorded in the database and accessible now on OpenOrienteeringMap. Thanks to Jez and the team at Open Plaques for building a comprehensive open database, with a fast and flexible API to access it. Once you’ve placed your map, just click “Add Plaques” and a control will be created to represent each plaque. The locations are sometimes imprecise so ground-truthing is always recommended.

If you discover plaques that are not in Open Plaques, then please add them to the project so that OOM and other services can benefit from the extra data. Additionally, if you discover more accurate locations for plaques, you can update Open Plaque with this information. If you take photos, add them to Flickr or WikiCommons, tagging with their Open Plaques ID to link each photo to its corresponding record.

The functionality is similar to importing postboxes, another popular control type for informal Street-O events, which was added in v2.3, except that the plaques are available across the global and other editions of OpenOrienteeringMap, as well as the UK edition. However, please note that, at the time of writing, plaques have been most widely recorded in the UK, USA and Germany, each of which has over 5000 plaques. Other countries have (a lot) fewer, so you are likely to see a “no plaques available” message when you try and import them in to places in other countries, except perhaps in the centre of major cities.

Also for v2.4 I’m using newer versions of the JQuery and JQuery-UI libraries, and have slightly tweaked the user interface for the new Plaques button. The paper orientation toggle also now has some nice logos, and some bugs relating to tip display have been fixed.

Try it out now. As ever, OpenOrienteeringMap is completely free to use, if you find it useful for your event, and it saved a lot of time for you or your club mapper, then feel free to tip, see the links in the pink box.

(N.B. The full plaque text is used as the control description, so this should be edited and partially removed, should you use the automated clue sheet option in OpenOrienteeringMap, so that the competitor has to prove they are there by writing an appropriate part of the text.)


Going Android with the Huawei Ascend G7

huawei_ascendg7This post is about an Android perspective from the the point-of-view of a long time iPhone user. I’ve been an Apple tech-enthusiast for most of my life and have had an iPhone in my pocket for a good 5-6 years. However I have now acquired a Huawei Ascend G7 phone with Android “KitKit” on it, + the Huawei interface extensions. Huawei are gradually making a name for themselves for producing phones with a premium feel and near-top-range features, for a good price. The Ascend G7 is selling for around £200 in the UK but, in spec and feel, is only a smidgen below the Apple iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 which are up at £500+. Apple is making an awful lot of money from phones so clearly there is a cheaper way – this could be it.

Plus it was the right time to move – my current iPhone 4 is working perfectly well, is fast and has a nice screen, but Apple has decided to cut me out of getting the newest software – iOS 8 – and apps are starting to appear that require this version, e.g. Trails, which looks awesome.

N.B. I’ve actually had the phone for a couple of months, but I wrote the below around 48 hours after getting the new phone.

48 Hours into Android

Things I Miss

So, there’s quite a lot I miss from iPhone. This is to be expected, but here goes:

  • Universal “jump to top” gesture. This is what I miss most, oddly. Particularly when reading long webpages, but for other apps too, e.g. Feedly and my mail app. Many apps have a way of doing this but it’s slightly different in each.
  • Web Apps are self-contained rather than being just browser views, so if you want to change to a separate website, you have to go to the browser proper rather than accesssing a URL bar there and then.
  • Combined view for multiple email accounts. This does exist, but only for the inbox, and I can’t move emails to folders, in this view. Solution is to use a better email client than the built-in one.
  • Unread notification numbers attached to app icons. They do exist for the Phone, Mail and Messaging apps but not for, for example, Twitter or Facebook. This inconsistency is really annoying!
  • The clock in the centre at the top, not on the right. I guess I had just got used to it on the right.
  • The phone is less comfortable to hold when reading with one hand, as it’s wider and thinner. I’ve partially fixed this issue by getting a case.
  • Some of the big apps, e.g. Twitter, have a surprisingly different feature set and look-and-feel between iOS and Android. I was expecting the transition to be more seamless.
  • Some apps (e.g. BBC News player) don’t respect the rotation-off setting.
  • Being able to switch the sound completely off – even to the point of no vibration – is worrying. What if I make my alarms completely silent?
  • I initially missed the physical “Home” button, I can live with the virtual one, although it would be nice if it stayed in the same place and was always visible.
  • Intuitive copy-and-paste of text. Text selection tools are clunky, particularly has different apps have different interfaces for copy/paste.
  • In a similar vein, same apps don’t allow me to see where a URL is pointing to, before clicking on it.
  • In-browser display of PDFs and other content.

The Good Bits

Now that that list is out of the way, here’s what I really like:

  • Google Now voice detection has no problem understanding my (rather English sounding) accent and almost always gets it right. It’s a shame however that often it just forward to a regular Google web search.
  • The camera is pretty nice. Initially it seemed to have problems with focusing but that seems to work better now and the quality of the images coming out are generally pretty good. The multi-focus feature, in particular, is a good way to almost guarantee focus.
  • Having files are great. Finally I can see what’s on my phone in an organised way.
  • The battery is good, particularly as I’d anecdotally heard this was Android’s Achilles Heel. It’s happily last more than a day.
  • Bluetooth transfer of media to other nearby phones. Although it’s still not as easy as it should be.
  • Almost every app I liked on my iPhone is also available for Android too.
  • Android is Not Perfect

    On a general (non-iPhone-user) basis, here’s a list of gripes about the phone and about Android:

    • Notification panel. Notifications get truncated and there’s no way to reveal their full text in most case – touching goes to the app concerned which may (or may not) reveal what the notification said.
    • Lots of bundled games which are severely limited (e.g they quit after 3 minutes. That’s not long enough to get hooked on a game!)
    • Apps lurk in the background using a lot of resource. This can be cleared down manually with phone manager but it’s a pain to remember to do this.
    • Google Maps app kept crashing when doing directions. This was fixable by updating to the latest version. It’s odd though that this updating of core apps like Google Maps didn’t get done automatically.
    • Some poorly designed icons clash with the theme icon containers. Facebook Messenger has so far been the worst for this.
    • Pre-installed which seem to do quite similar things. E.g. Settings and Google Settings. Google Now, Voice Search and Voice Dialler. Browser and Chrome. (Why not just Chrome?)
    • The “updater” app doesn’t update apps (see above) but (I think) just the operating system code. Instead, Google Play does the updating. Multiple apps for similar functionality…
    • I haven’t found Process Viewer yet.

    Overall – Android is pretty good, but suprisingly buggy and unintuitive, which is odd considering how much effot has gone into engineering it and how many people now use it. I’ve listed a lot of quirks above. However, looking at the bigger picture, they are nothing I can’t live with and really, considering how die-hard I was as an iPhone user, the transition was pretty painless.

    As a phone, the Ascent G7 is really nice, it feels every bit as good as an iPhone, and is really available at a bargain. Huawei are taking the time to create a high quality product without the silly pricing. In a market full of naff, cheap phones, or hugely expensive market leaders, this is refreshing. I should have switched earlier…

    Engineering Tour: The Thames Barrier


    I was recently able to have a behind-the-scenes tour of the huge Thames Barrier structure in east London, thanks to the IET London branch – I’m not a member of the IET (although I used to be) but spotted a tweet from them advertising the tour, so was able to sign up.

    As an “engineering” tour, we were able to get right onto the barrier itself, onto one of the “piers” in the middle of the river. Accessing this is fairly involved. The operational site is under very high security indeed, as befits the importance of the barrier during a flood event and the impact that an uncontrolled flood would have on various critical parts of central London, including the Canary Wharf financial district and the South Bank. Once in, getting to the pier involves crossing a short bridge over the first barrier section that is in fact completely dry at low tide) and then accessing one of two tunnels that run almost completely underneath the Thames, with stairs (for the west tunnel) or lifts (for the east tunnel) linking to the piers themselves. The two tunnels are completely separate from each other, for redundancy/safety reasons, so if one of the tunnels was breached, full access to all the piers would still be possible. The tunnels are fairly small, they have reinforced rings like a tube tunnel, but are quite a bit smaller, and contain numerous ducting cables and pipes. They are dead straight, so looking down one makes for quite an eye-catching vista.


    tbt3Each pier has two “hull like” buildings which are silvery on the outside, but surprisingly made of wood on the inside. The smaller one houses the top of the aforementioned lift shafts, while the larger one houses the machinery for rotating the huge barrier pieces. Normally, a close or open event takes a couple of hours – in fact, the barrier is quite capable of closing in a couple of minutes, but this is never used, partially because tidal events are fairly predictable with around 24 hours notice (being based on tide, wind direction, upstream flow and air pressure) and partially because a sudden closure/opening would have a negative impact on the ecosystem of the river – likely impacting flora/fauna in the river, and structures on the the banks (I presume this is from sudden changes in water salinity, level or pressure).

    The larger pier building also has an attractive circular window, facing upstream. From the river, it is quite a distinctive feature of the barrier as you approach it. The circular shape again is a play on the barrier piers having a boat theme.

    The equipment in the piers is large and impressive. Some of it looks pretty old – the Thames having been built in the 1980s but designed in the 1970s, based on 1960s technology that had to be “proven” for a decade before, so harking back to the 1950s. But it is kept in great working order and does the job well – which is just as well, as the barrier had to close during the Spring 2014 floods nearly 50 times – almost as many times as it had closed in the preceding 30 years.

    Anyway, it was a fascinating tour, and thanks to the IET London branch for organising. The tour guides were retired engineers who had worked on the barrier itself for many years, so it was very informative visit.


    Crossrail Site Tour: Tottenham Court Road

    Crossrail organised a number of tours of their major worksites, as apart of Open Doors, this weekend, for civil engineering students and other interested parties. One of the sites was the Dean Street box, which will form the western ticket hall at the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail station. While the eastern ticket hall will connect directly with the existing Underground station (for the Central and Northern lines), the western ticket hall is quite some distance away, and in fact is nearly half way towards Oxford Circus – it will also connect to the other lines, via new pedestrian tunnels, but it will be a long walk! The Dean Street box is a huge site itself, with six distinct levels, and yet only a small part of what Tottenham Court Road station will become in 2018:

    The challenges of the site itself are illustrated just by getting to it – access is via the pavement on Oxford Street. As soon as the pavement barrier is drawn across and the doors open, the narrow pavement quickly crowds up with pedestrians, while numerous buses and angry, revving taxis, continue to squeeze along the street.

    The Crossrail platforms will stretch between the two ticket halls, and space has been made for a future extension. Crossrail 2, should it be built, will have platforms here, in further tunnels crossing below these new platform tunnels, perpendicularly and approximately half-way between the ticket halls. Some of the pedestrian passageway tunnels, which also run between the two ticket halls, have sections which will connect with the equivalent for Crossrail 2, the extent of which appears in outline on the main site diagram. Planning ahead.

    The first thing that strikes you when in the “box” is the huge number of old boiler pipes that are being used to brace the outer wall and stop the pressure of the London clay behind (which has been compressed from buildings over hundreds of years) from collapsing it. The boiler pipes near the top are smaller as they have less pressure to withstand. Some of the larger ones are starting to be removed now as the lower levels of the station ticket hall start to be structurally complete. The pressures are so huge that the engineering team is wary of suddenly removing one and causing any unwanted movement – so they are cutting notches in them to allow the pipes to continue to hold a weaker load, before removing them once the force has been almost entirely redistributed elsewhere.


    Here, reached by a very large number of steps down a couple of gantries, you can see the western end of the eastbound Crossrail platform tunnel. I initially thought that the line of yellow struts was showing the platform itself starting to be built, but actually I think it is marking the “floor” upon which the rails will be laid, as it lies right in the middle of the tunnel, and so the platform level would be marked approximately by the line of lights to the right:
    I was surprised to see the quite noticeable curve of the platform tunnel, to the right – I assumed they’d all be straight, which would enable easy boarding for those on wheelchairs and future platform-edge doors. Perhaps, should the latter happen, there will be some kind of mechanical gap infilling?

    Looking in the other direction is the running tunnel, large by tube standards but much smaller than the platform tunnel, where trains will pass along from Bond Street station to here. Because the Dean Street box was excavated before the tunnel boring machine passed through, a tube of foam concrete was added back in, to give the tunnel boring machine something to push against as it passed through. The machine continued to line its tunnel in the box and the platform area, with concrete slabs like you can see below here, but with lower quality, weaker “sacrificial” slabs as they were then bulldozed shortly again after the machine had passed through:
    It was somewhat eerie peering into the silent tunnel, with not a workman in sight, deep below the bustling streets of central London. Largely empty at the moment, with a couple of grooves in the base slab showing where the construction mini-railway had its tracks. Come December 2018, there will be up to one train every two minutes passing along here, so it will not be nearly as silent. Looking into this tunnel there is a noticeable gradient downwards. As trains travel upwards towards here, into the station, the slope will help slow them down, saving energy on braking.

    Various parts of the worksite are being built to different specifications – much of the concrete structure will be clad and so not visible to the public, but there are some parts where concrete pillars will be visible features. So, some experimentation is currently taking place to test the quality of finish they can produce with the processes on site. Here is a test pillar that they are quite happy with already, but they think they can do an even better job when they put them in the appropriate place:
    The edge of the western ticket hall box is immediately behind the pillar – notice the much coarser surface, as this will be covered with additional walls and claddings, so it will never be seen by the public. There is also quite a distinct colour/texture change line, running horiztonally along and reflecting different soil/clay conditions behind it.

    Thanks to Crossrail and the contractors (Laing O’Rourke) for organising the tours and to the staff on site for showing us their site and enthusing on their work. At TCR, they assembled a PPE-free route through the site, allowing us (mainly civil engineerings students, only a few of the “general public”) to get right into the construction area and get an excellent feel of what is going on and the challenges of such a place. It is extremely tidy for such a complex construction site – with multiple levels having simultaneous construction, they have no choice but to keep everything super-organised. Various walkways have yellow lines and blue “walkway” silhouettes on the ground – somewhat reminiscent of the lines you have to walk along between the bottom of steps from an aircraft and the terminal building. Everything about Crossrail is on a grander scale than London’s existing transport infrastructure, and it will be most impressive seeing the completed stations, which are set to become major London destinations.

    The old and the new:

    Book Review: The Capital Ring

    capitalringThe Capital Ring, by Colin Saunders, is an guide to walking the eponymous route, a 78 mile circular walk around inner London (generally Zones 3-4), one of London’s official long-distance walking trails.

    The book, a new (2014) edition, is presented in an attractive, compact format with rounded corners, so ideal for chucking in a bag when walking the trail. The new edition means that the book will have taken into account minor changes to the route that happen from time to time due to housing developments and other aspects of London’s continuing evolution. The route is split up into 15 sections, all between 3 and 8 miles long and generally starting/finishing at or near stations (with short link sections where necessary).

    The book makes excellent use of Ordnance Survey Explorer (1:25000) mapping, with different map excerpts for each mile or so of the trail, appearing inline with the route description. The route itself is overlaid in yellow on these maps. Generally, this makes the map useful for navigating, except in some small sections where the route is complicated and the yellow line is a little broad and the scale a bit small (the Ordnance Survey’s own “official” green diamond marks for the route also appear on the maps, which can further confuse). There, you’ll need to follow the route description carefully. The route itself is waymarked on the ground with posts and signs but sometimes these are missing, which is where the book comes in particularly useful.

    The clear and concise route descriptions, and annotated mapping, are augmented by short descriptions of features and trivia of local interest. The walk generally passes through interesting parts of London all the way long, so the book has many such pieces. Some of these are illustrated by photographs:


    Your reviewer test-walked a section near Stoke Newington and found the guide’s navigation effective, and learnt some new things about an area he thought he knew well! If you are looking for a good walk and a great guide to it, that illuminates just how green and varied London’s “inner city” is, you could do a lot worse than with this book.

    Get it here on Amazon: Capital Ring. (Make sure you get the newest edition, reviewed here, which has an orange cover.)

    Thanks to publisher Aurum Press for sending me a review copy. ISBN 9781781313374. List price is £12.99.