The Orbit

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Part 2 of a writeup of a press preview tour of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – thanks to Diamond Geezer for passing his invite to me – see Part 1, about the South Park itself, here.

The visit to the South Park was finished up with a trip to the Orbit – the huge red sculpture that is “Marmite” to east Londoners. I hadn’t made it up during 2012 when it was last open, what with needing a combination of a timed Olympic Park ticket and a timed Orbit ticket, both tricky to obtain, with a lot of people presumably wanting to go up it to see what was going on in the Olympic Stadium. I wasn’t convinced that, with a now empty stadium being reconstructed in a park that still has a number of other “brownfield” sites, the view would be that interesting, but was very happy to be proved wrong.

The main viewing platform at the Orbit is 80 metres high – the sculpture itself being 114m tall. That’s not nearly as high as the Shard or even the London Eye, but because east London is still relatively low-rise, and because the surrounding Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is spacious and not crowded with the buildings of an inner city, the platform gives the illusion that you are actually quite a lot higher.

13550326755_6acb06c8d6_bWhile you wait for the lift up you can admire the giant rust-coloured metal bell which fills the lower space. The sculptor insisted on total darkness within the space, so tiny pieces of light shining through rivets and welds had to be fixed, the result is a surreal experience of being below a giant bell-shaped dome, receding into darkness and apparently suspended in mid-air.

Once up in the Orbit itself, there’s a couple of outdoor platforms, facing north-west and south-east – and also an indoor space, from where you can look south-west and also to an inner void looking down the structure of the Orbit itself. The glass was a little bit dusty (maybe from the Saharan weather we have at the moment) and also somewhat reflective, so the experience is much better on the outside platforms. Semi-pro photographers might be perturbed that the outside platforms have quite small mesh fencing, so it’s difficult to poke a DSLR camera lens through for a clear shot. Plenty of space for cameraphones though. Once you’ve drunk in the view, there are a number of helpful and enthusiastic staff in the indoor space, ready to answer your questions on what you were looking at – I tested them out on their knowledge of the Crossrail portal location and the appearance of some allotment huts and they seemed to know their stuff.

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The view over into the Olympic Stadium was more complete than I was expecting – this is simply because the roof and lighting gantries are temporarily gone for the footballisation of the venue. The general city views were also excellent – the City and Canary Wharf clusters of skyscrapers being roughly the same distance away, mean they balanced rather well. Stratford itself is having a go at being a third (smaller, closer) skyscraper cluster and to some extent is managing to pull off the look. Finally, to the east the Aquatic Centre (“Come swim in the World’s Best Swimming Pool”) looks especially impressive when viewed from the Orbit – the famous, and expensive, flowing roof and huge glass side looking particularly stunning from above. Westfield is – to be honest – a bit of an eyesore from high up. Ironically, the older Stratford Shopping Centre looks more attractive, with its colourful “fish scale” wall glinting in the distance. In time, Westfield will get masked by the International Quarter development which will squeeze behind the Aquatic Centre.

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The other thing to note is it’s not all about the view. The primary purpose of the Orbit is not as a building (like the Shard) or a tourist attraction (like the London Eye) but it is first and foremost a piece of public art. A very red, rather large and not at all subtle piece, but an artwork nonetheless – and unmistakably an Anish Kapoor creation. A lot of people will look at its asymmetric, organic skyline, from a distance and think it ugly. I did and still do – from a distance. It delights in being the opposite of Paris’s Eiffel Tower, with a geometry as imperfect as possible. Up close though, it reveals itself as a very complex beast and does have a subtle beauty from certain angles.

One disappointment is that the Orbit will not be open to the public in the evenings – so no great views of sunsets over central London, at least in the summer months. I suspect this is due to a nervousness that it will not attract the level of visitors needed to justify staying open in the evenings – I wonder if the struggling Cable Car has proved that not everything built in London is instantly popular. It’s a shame though as the evening is probably the best time to experience the view. Certainly, being up in the tower, when the pulsating red lights are shining on and from it in the evening, is a bit of a spectacle.

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Finally, getting back down is an experience in itself. First you need to pass two large distorting mirrors – a bit of a disturbing sensation if you are already on edge from the height. Then you have 445 steps down in a spiralling cage, initially anticlockwise, then doubling back. The route is not a perfect spiral, so there are some sections with a lot of empty air below the floor! You do still get a view through the cage though, and also up to the Orbit itself.

So, I’m a bit of a convert to London’s new and unsubtle sculpture, with the proviso of course that my trip to see it was free. You want to pick a day of good weather to visit, but the shape of the Orbit itself means it’s more than just another tall building to soak up a view from – the interest is as much inward to the object itself, as outward to the park and London.

All my photos from the South Park preview.

South Park Opening

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It’s been nearly two years since the Games. The Olympic Park has gradually opened back up in legacy mode, but the central section, near the stadium itself, has remained closed thus far. However the section, known as the South Park, is finally reopening this weekend along with the Orbit sculpture. It’s changed quite a bit, and it’s been worth the wait. I got a preview tour of the new park on Monday – legendary local blogger Diamond Geezer was kind enough to pass his invitation on and I was only too happy to take it up.

13549758935_0274da160b_mThe tour itself was relatively short – after a visit to the breathtaking (and warm) Aquatic Centre, it was a wander up and down the narrow strip of parkland that sits between two water channels, with the stadium across one waterway and the Aquatic Centre beside the other. Two years ago, this was the main thoroughfare between venues in the park, built to move up to 200,000 people. Now, with the future crowd routes likely to be directly between the stadia and park entrances, the space will not see a huge level of “through” traffic and so the opportunity was taken to turn it into a rather unique park – part designer children’s playground, part traditional promenade.

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Some of the highlights:

  • One of the five bridges that connects the park to the “Stadium” island has disappeared, and its abutment on the park has turned into a bright orange climbing wall.
  • The playground area is quite organic in feel, with strange bumps in the ground, a set of bubbles to climb to get up to the slide, and some carefully hewn rocks beside a sandpit. A fountain trickles water down one of the rocks into the sandpit – it somewhat bizarrely reminded me of a miniature version of the Princess Diana fountain in Hyde Park.
  • The playground spills over into the promenade in places, rather than being in a single place, so removing the traditional fenced off “zonal” feel of regular parks.
  • There is a small wooden outdoor stage and auditorium near the playground.
  • The area that was known as the Spotty Bridge has opened up – the bridge having metamorphosed into three narrow metallic bridges arranged in an “N” shape. In the resulting void, sets of steps lead down to the lower towpath level and, surprisingly, pine trees have been planted around the area. The strong and pleasant pine smell was not one that I have experienced in London before!
  • There is another fountain feature nearer to the Orbit and Aquatic Centre. It wasn’t working on the day of our visit, but it promises to rival the Russell Square or More London “flat ground” fountains, in terms of interactivity, on a hot day.

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The Carpenter’s Road lock, which connects the canal and river channels together, has not been restored, which is a shame, but the Canal & River Trust who own the waterway still have plans to do so, and the passage of boats through the channel, surrounded by the three metallic bridges and the wooden seating panels, will be quite a spectacle when it all comes together.

So, although a smaller park than I was envisaging, it’s quite different to a traditional Victorian space such as the nearby Victoria Park, and certainly more interesting than a big slab of grass (you can visit Hackney Marshes for that) or a giant paved space for outdoor concerts that I had feared. It’s clear that the park designers have been enthusiastic about the project and have worked to make it distinctly modern and quite different. Best of all, it will be open 24 hours a day. The area will be gently lit at night – not too brightly as the Lea is London’s “bat motorway” apparently, but enough for it to be a welcoming space at all hours.

I was pleased, when I got home, to discover I had unwittingly taken three photos that were more-or-less the view that I had taken two years ago, shortly before the opening ceremony for London 2012:

  • View from Carpenter’s Road Lock – 2012 vs 2014.
  • The turquoise bridge – 2012 vs 2014.
  • View of the stadium from the South Park – 2012 vs 2014.

Full set of my photographs of the South Park preview here.

Part two, about the legacy-mode Orbit, to follow on Thursday.

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Mapping the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

[Updated - Event webpage here]

The southern section of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opens on 5 April. Much of the northern section is already open.

I’m considering organising an OpenStreetMap mapping party (likely using Walking Papers as a basemap for people) to map the park in its new, legacy mode. Currently, much of the area is shown on OpenStreetMap as it was during London 2012, or as out-of-bounds.

The date is the evening of Wednesday 9 April from 6pm until dark (7:30pm?) followed by beers in The Crate pub. People can then add their discovered detail into the map in their own time or (if they are really keen and bring a laptop/dongle) at the pub.

Post-event pub will be The Crate pub in Hackney Wick, which is right beside an exit to the park, and is a nice pub and brewery that does great pizzas and serves some great beers brewed on site and also Dalston Cola, made just down the street by my bro. It’s a more relaxing experience than the pubs at Westfield.

Stratford is easiest to get to by tube so meeting at Westfield (ground level – that’s UP from the station exit level) at the Westfield end of the big iron bridge that goes over the station, would be the best location. I am planning on setting out from there shortly after 6pm, and then meeting people at The Crate pub (which is at the other side of the park) at 7:30-8pm. The Crate pub is near Hackney Wick station for those who don’t want to walk back across the park afterwards.

The idea is that everyone picks a slice of this cake – if we get more than 10 people, then we can double-up in the complex central sections, and if we get fewer, then we can concentrate mainly on the central area.

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Some notes on the slices:

  • 1. Eastern part will still be a building site but plenty of detail to be both added and removed elsewhere.
  • 2. The southern half of the new South that will be newly opened, includes the Orbit and associated buildings. If time then it’s worth progressing to section 2b – unclear how much of this is open but there are a couple of new links here. The Greenway Gate area may still be inaccessible.
  • 3. Northern half of the new South Park, including the Great British Garden on the other side of the stadium. Lots of natural detail to be added.
  • 4. Not sure if the Waterglades will be open – but if not, some other new detail to add here.
  • 5. May still be under construction in places but definitely some changes from what’s on the map – even simply things like bus stops.
  • 6. The north park is already open but could do with a lot more detail, e.g. the Olympic Rings sculpture, vegetation, and link path to the north.
  • 7. Quite far away and mostly will still be a construction site. Good for someone on a bike.
  • 8. May not be too much to see here as under construction and/or fenced off for the cycling.
  • 9. This part of East Village is partially open and lots of residential detail can be added in.
  • 10. This part of the East Village is mainly closed but some bits, e.g. the park bit, are open.

I will aim to print Walking Papers maps for each of the slices and bring them to the pub.

I’ve added this to the London wiki and Lanyrd. If it’s raining cats-and-dogs on the day we can just go to the pub.

We held a similar mapping party back in late 2011, to map Westfield Stratford City. We based the party at the Cow pub on the edge of the shopping centre. Here’s a neat video that Derick created, showing the map evolving as people added to it, following the party.

Things to add to the map

  • Bus stops (& number of bus service)
  • Car parks (no. of spaces, disabled-bay information)
  • Roads and paths – particularly at park edges/entrances: official or unofficial, walking or cycling, steps
  • Vegetation – woodland, grass, garden, marsh, water
  • Individual trees, if distinctive or ‘street’ trees, ie planted in hard standing or grass
  • Facilities – toilets, concession stands, playgrounds
  • Fences, walls and gates
  • Electricity substations
  • Artworks, sculptures (with name)
  • Traffic lights, zebra crossings
  • Names of areas, places, things – many of these are new – look at what signs say
  • However do not copy names or details from official maps – these may be copyright and not open data

The Munros: I – Ben Vorlich

This is the first in an occasional series of chronological posts about Munros that I have climbed. I have so far climbed 206 of the 284-odd Munros – these are mountains in Scotland that are at least 3000 feet (914m) high, with a distinct (but, curiously, not defined) drop between each one and the next. I’m planning to go through the 69 (so far) expeditions where I successfully made it up the the summit of at least one Munro. I’m been keeping track of the Munros I climbed on a Google Map (v2 API – old!) here. The page is old, but has somehow survived my current infatuation with all things OpenStreetMap and OpenLayers. Red pins are climbed Munros and blue ones are those still to do – generally these are well away from the south of Scotland or convenient railway stations.

Expedition 1 – Ben Vorlich

(location)

Ben Vorlich was my first Munro, climbed on 3 May 1992. It was one of the nine trips, carried out once a term in a three-year cycle, by the Junior section of my school’s active and popular Mountaineering Club. Most of these trips didn’t involve Munros, but a couple did, and this one, being right on the edge of the Highlands, was judged OK for kids aged as young as 10 to ascend (I myself had just turned 12). I had been up a few hills before – the 454m Ben A’an in the Trossachs, aged 10, being a highlight, but Ben Vorlich was obviously quite a bit bigger.

I don’t remember too much from the trip, except that, despite an intermittent view at the top, it was a cold, wet and windy day, and I didn’t have a proper outer shell, just a single-layer nylon thing. I developed mild hypothermia (going beyond the shivering stage and into a slightly zen-like state), on the long walk back down the glen to the north of the mountain. This has not happened to me since, but it was scary experience and thankfully one of the adults spotted me in a bad way and gave me a proper cagoule to shelter in for the remainder of the descent. The traditional stop in Callander for fish and chips soon cheered me up again (50 school kids piling off a coach and into the local chippies – so “locking out” the locals for a good half an hour).

One other thing I remember is that one of the kids had this high-tech device, called a GPS receiver. It was a Magellan (Garmin hadn’t really got going with consumer GPSes back then, I think) At the time, the GPS signal was still degraded by the US military – it was just after the Gulf War – so it was only accurate to around 100m. It also had a short battery life, so my friend switched it on every hour or so, waited to get a fix, recorded a waypoint and then switched it off again. Such a device seemed amazing – suddenly, we could “cheat” and find our location on the OS map without having to mapread. But the whole switching on-and-off thing was cumbersome and at the time I thought it was not a practical tool to have.

I don’t have any pics from the expedition unfortunately.

OpenOrienteeringMap now Worldwide

I’ve released a new version (v2.1) of OpenOrienteeringMap today, and there are now three editions – UK (as before), Ireland and Global. An earlier global version existed from 2010 to 2012, and has been able to be re-implemented thanks to a server upgrade at work. I hope to have it running for as long as possible.

OpenOrienteeringMap allows you to easily create high quality vector PDF maps, of OpenStreetMap data styled to look like simple orienteering maps, optionally with “score” control points included. It was originally released in 2009, with a major update in 2012 commissioned by British Orienteering. OpenOrienteeringMap is intended for use for urban training exercises and simple street events. As OpenStreetMap (the wiki world map) is updated, both by orienteers and by the general public, so OpenOrienteeringMap also improves. More info about the service.

Here are the different versions:

Edition Updates Versions Contours Branding Funding
UK Daily at 8am UK time StreetO
StO xrail
PseudO
Yes (10m, from OS Terrain 50) British Orienteering British Orienteering development grant in 2012
Ireland Daily at 8am UK time StreetO
StO xrail
PseudO
No Irish Orienteering Association None
Global Every few months StreetO
StO xrail
PseudO
No Generic Ad-supported

You can access them at these links:

The Ireland (IOA) version uses the same database as the UK version, it is just a cosmetic rebranding (& without the postcode search or the contour generation). The global version uses a much larger database which takes three days to create even on the new, fast server, and uses up a lot of disk space. Hence, it will only be updated every few months, unless work dictates. Note also the global version is slower to access and use, because of the extra time taken to live-render the images, from a much larger (100GB+) database than the UK/Ireland versions (<1GB!). It will be even slower if multiple people are visiting the site at the same time, so if the images are very slow to load, wait a few minutes before trying again.

In addition to this release, I have open-sourced the Mapnik stylesheets and symbols used to create the maps, on GitHub. I encourage interested people who which to see feature additions, changes or reorderings to submit pull requests. Note that I am using the pre-release version of Mapnik 2.3.0 and the rendering is done via python bindings.

See the stylesheets on GitHub here. If you just want to see the map, here’s a link straight to the global version.

Olympic Park Rising

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The Olympic Park in east London was a flurry of colour and activity during a few weeks in summer 2012, but since then it has been largely locked away – a parcel of land opened last year, but with a security fence, access only from certain points and at certain hours, it hasn’t really felt like a proper park. A few cycleways have also appeared, but considering the “blank slate” of the area, they are laughably awful. Tradtionally the excuse for London’s poor standard of cycle tracks is that the roads are too narrow to fit them in, or there’s too much traffic to close a lane for cyclists. Both of these are rubbish reasons for many of our streets of course, but the lack of positive and effective action (apart from in a few isolated places) has allowed places like New York to leap-frog London as cycle friendly cities – during Autumn, more people used the bike-sharing system in New York than in London. I really hope it’s not too late to fix these mistakes.

The good news is that a lot more of the park is due to open very soon. The Aquatic Centre and the Velodrome are due to open in March, along with the outside BMX, mountain bike and road tracks. I’m rather disappointed that we’ll have to pay to use the latter, I had originally envisaged all the bridges being open to the public at all times, but with two of the bridges are forming the circuit, this will represent quite a large part of the park that is fenced off. I appreciate the venue buildings need to be self-sustaining in funding but it’s a shame that the outdoor as well as the indoor circuits are pay-to-play.

Then in April the south of the park reopens, and the Orbit. The orbit will, I’m sure, be about as popular as the cable car, at least until the view improves, but with the southern part of the park opening up, finally there will be a large, green(-ish) space which just might start to feel like a proper London park.

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One thing that is going to need updating is the map. The official one is really not that great (What do the dashes mean? What do the dots mean? Why are the open areas outside the park shown in the same grey as closed areas inside the park?) so we’ll have to turn to the crowdsourced map of choice, OpenStreetMap. This map (above) isn’t looking great at all either at the moment – some features that were around only in 2012, such as the athlete’s access tunnel across the Greenway, are still on there. Red dashes show out of bounds paths – how many of these will come in bounds in March/April? So we’ll need a Mapping Party some time there in April/May, and after that, the map should look pretty good.

The park was great for a few weeks in 2012, but the slow pace of opening, and the efforts so far, have been disappointing. But despite my grumbles above I’m greatly looking forward to the park opening, them sorting out the cycle lanes and access, and it maybe becoming, one day, a great space for cycling through, jogging in, or maybe even a bit of park orienteering?

Map © OpenStreetMap & contributors.

San Francisco

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So… I went on a holiday last month to San Francisco. I’d been planning on a return to the west coast of America since a trip to Vancouver for a conference in summer 2012, and San Francisco is one of those places I’d seen a lot about but never actually visited. The excuse to finally make a visit was the combination of (1) a series of orienteering sprint events – Sprint the Golden Gate (2) cheap-ish flights – £525 return, and (3) various friends from school and university who have made it over there on a semi-permanent basis.

As December approached, the orienteering series was looking a bit shaky – permit problems, which I can strongly relate to with the inevitable permissions headaches that arise year on year with the London City Race. But I went ahead and entered. US orienteering races are extremely expensive to enter compared with the UK/Europe, due to insurance and expensive park permits needing to be included, but conversely the GBP/USD exchange rate has shifted quite a bit recently, making the US a cheaper place to visit than historically.

I arranged to crash on the floor of a friend’s apartment in the Marina District, and to meet up with four others who I knew were probably nearby. I had the Lonely Planet guidebook but the plan wasn’t to look at it that much! As is reasonable for a city of such beauty, I took a lot of photos (400+) and the best 70 are linked in the text below, and can be viewed on one page on Flickr.

Tuesday – Arriving

The flight over was OK, although the route was intriguing – going very far north, further than I thought we would, so that we were quickly into the Arctic Circle and, as happens at this time of year, even though it was the middle of the day, it got pretty dark outside. To possible take advantage of the unusually strong jetstream, which has been plaguing the UK with storms for the last month, we actually “overshot” the west coast of North America and headed right over Vancouver, before heading south-east to San Francisco itself.

I had a few hours before my friend appeared from work, so I got the BART into downtown, picked up a T-Mobile $3/day SIM, accidentally walked straight past the famous Apple Store and a bikeshare docking station, and wandered down to the Ferry Building, from where there is a great view of the Bay Bridge which currently has an evening lightshow. I then did a long, gradual walk anti-clockwise along Embarcadero, first heading past the new location of the Exploratorium and some outdoor exhibits, and then to Pier 39, a slightly kitsch but popular food/gift arcade. Taking a side-route out, I completely unexpectedly came straight across the sealion colony, which was making an amazing racket. Apparently they’ve been there pretty much since the pier was built. Checking the map, Russia Hill sounded like an interesting name, so I headed south, eventually making it to the hill up some impressively steep roads and flights of steps. I then headed over to the famous squiggly bit of Lombard and then a long walk along Chestnut down to the Marina District.

Wednesday – Walking

This was the big walk day – I walked 18 miles in the end. From the Marina District I headed north to the marina itself, to visit the Wave Organ sculpture there – with great views of Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge – we’ve all seen a thousand images of it but there is no substitute for the thrill of seeing the most famous bridge in the world for the first time in real life. I then walked around the park at the pseudo-Greco-Roman Palace of Fine Arts, and then back to the shoreline, through Crissy Field and to the Golden Gate Bridge itself – the way on to the bridge wasn’t immediately obvious so I overshot a bit at first, and ended up under the bridge at Fort Point. After various tourist pics from and of the bridge, I headed off the far end of the bridge into Marin County. The walking route north doesn’t go much further (no pavement) so I had to get a bus from here to Sausalito, where I had half an hour to wander around – little to see though – before getting the ferry back to San Francisco. The ferry takes a great route, passing nearby Alcatraz Island, and with a symmetrical view of the Bay Bridge, before ending appropriately at the Ferry Building.

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After grabbing lunch at some boutique stalls in the Ferry Building (think Borough Market but even fancier) I walked down Market to the famous cable car turnaround at Powell. After the inevitable wait in the tourist queue, watching cars getting rotated, I got a cable car over to Hyde and Bay, before walking back up Hyde – very steep – and down the wiggly bit of Lombard again. Then along Lombard to Telegraph Hill and the Coit Tower (closed) for a 360-degree sunset view. Down the wrong set of steps to Levi Plaza, back up the right set, down again to Downtown, around the Transamerica Pyramid, the Bank of America plaza & tree, and Union Square with its Christmas tree and Macy’s. Then a loop up to and around Chinatown and Dragon Gate, and a long walk along Geary, through Tenderloin (a starkly downtrodden area), to Japantown with its concrete pagoda and a pocket park. More hills found on the way back to the Marina District!

Thursday – Silicon Valley

First, a slow bus through rush hour, right across San Francisco to the Caltrain terminal. I made my connection with a minute to spare and got the huge and impressive Caltrain “Baby Bullet” double-decker train service down to Palo Alto. I then spent an hour walking to and around Stanford’s otherworldly university campus – including longer than planned in the unexpectedly massive Stanford team shop – before walking back to Palo Alto to get a lift to the Facebook HQ for a quick tour and lunch with a friend from university. Then an hour’s walk through American suburbia all the way back to Palo Alto station.

The original plan was to visit a friend at the Googleplex, but this didn’t work out, so I got a couple of buses instead over to the Computer History Museum. Highlights for me were an original Cray 1 Supercomputer (the circular black casing with “seats” still looks very cool) and an Apple I in a wooden case, signed “Woz”. Finally another long walk through Mountain View surburbia – Silicon Valley railway stations being sparse – and the Caltrain back into San Francisco. Signage is poor around the Caltrain terminal – I somehow ended up in front of the SF Giants stadium why trying to find my bus stop back. The bus gradually filled up with homeless people – it was a very cold evening, almost freezing, which is unusual for San Francisco – despite the best attempts of the bus driver: “you can’t go round and round for ever!”. It was a short walk up into Cow Hollow for an evening meal.

Friday – West

Another long-ish walk, this time south from Cow Hollow, first steeply uphill to Broadway, then to Alta Vista Park, then Alamo Park, and then the Lower Haight. I had lunch here at a cool Shoreditch-style coffee shop, but somehow missed out the more famous Upper Haight, by following the “Wiggle” cycle route to and through Panhandle Park. I cheated a bit here – Golden Gate Park and Upper Richmond go on a long way, so got a bus down to Ocean View and walked along the beach beside the Pacific, as the only clouds of the week gathered offshore. To Land’s End and the first orienteering sprint of the week, a short, but hilly forest sprint with a great multi-level ladders-and-platforms section in an old water facility. Then, a long journey from the far western tip of San Francisco, right over to Berkeley, to meet up with a schoolfriend. I didn’t see any of the university, or indeed much of Berkeley itself, as it was pouring with rain.

Saturday – Sprints

Three more orienteering forest sprints today. First, a couple in the middle part of Golden Gate Park, near the polo pitch. We were seeded and then started in groups. A warm down jog around the polo pitch’s perimeter track was 1.3km for a single lap! Then lunch in Irving – the second Chinatown of San Francisco, and then a long and slow bus right over to John MacLaren Park at the other end of the city for a final afternoon sprint. I struggled in the hilly terrain. Evening was a more formal dinner in the Mission District.

Sunday – Final Day

An early start to get to one last orienteering race – at San Francisco State University. A long way from the Marina District but thankfully a direct bus there, on a spectacular route – almost going across the Golden Gate Bridge, but turning at the last minute onto the Presidio, through Golden Gate Park and down 19th Street. The was the only campus sprint of the series and, though the area was small and limited, a good course was got out of it.

Afterwards I headed up through Stonestown to Forest Hill and Twin Peaks. Perhaps the most iconic view in the whole city from here. Then I headed north through tiny Tank Hill Park, to the edge of Golden Gate Park to the California Academy of Sciences which was having a free day (normally $25). It was, predictably, very busy, and the queues were too long for the earthquake experience, the tropical biome and the planetarium, so I only made it to the aquarium and the “Tellytubbies” garden roof, plus a rather underwhelming pen with a couple of reindeer and, randomly, some live penguins in a hall of stuffed animals. The CAS is an odd place really, the name is a bit of a misnomer, and the equivalents in London – the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Horniman Museum’s aquarium, better combine the academic, educational, cultural and fun aspects of a good museum, while the CAS is only really strong on the large part. But I think we are a bit spoilt by our great museums here in London.

Finally, the journey home. A bus back to the Marina District, then another bus, then I just had time for another Cable Car journey back, from Hyde and Bay, to Powell. Then it was the BART to the airport and the inevitable jetlag to hit two days later…

An beautiful, exciting city with something interesting over every summit – I had a real sense of regret on leaving, knowing that life is just better here than back at home! I missed out on quite a few things to see that were on my internal list – the Exploratorium, the De Young Museum, Berkley University, the Googleplex in Mountain View, San Jose, the Cable Car Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf, the fog, the viewpoint NW of the Golden Gate Bridge, cycling, Muir Woods and of course Alcatraz.

Golden Gate Lighting Post (1291)Greenland Mountains in Ice (5194)The Apple Store (5206)Bay Area Bike Share (5207)Bay Bridge Light Installation (5209)Christmas Tree at Pier 39 (5214)
Do Not Drive on Tracks (5219)Citizen Chain (5220)Wave Organ (1215)Alcatraz Island (1218)Wave Organ Detail (1223)Palace of Fine Arts from Baker (1233)
Palace of Fine Arts Interior (1246)Walk with a View (1252)Dogs and the Bridge (1258)The Golden Gate Bridge (1261)Bike Highway leading up to the Bridge (1265)No U Turn (1269)
Map of Bridge on Bridge (1271)San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge (1277)No Trespassing (1278)Golden Gate Bridge Cables (1284)Rivets in Red (1287)Golden Gate Lighting Post (1296)

San Francisco, December 2013, a set on Flickr.

Walthamstow Reservoirs

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The Walthamstow Reservoirs is a true London secret, a huge area of lakes, trees and paths, which is publically accessible but largely unknown. The only people you are likely to meet in it are anglers and birdwatchers, both groups that thrive in a quiet environment and so I’m sure would rather the secret remained! But the area covers a huge part of central(ish) London and deserves to be known by more. There are plans mooted to open it up although nothing concrete. I took a trip into the reserve on Sunday, to have a look around.

Anyone can get in to the reserve, which is generally open during daylight hours (e.g. 8am to 5pm from October to March). There is only one public entrance, which is opposite the Ferry Boat Inn, on Ferry Lane, the road which runs across the Lea Valley, between Tottenham and Walthamstow. Tottenham Hale station is about a five minute walk away. The complex is owned by Thames Water, who enforce a permit system. On entering, go to the shack immediately on the right, fill out a pink form and hand it over to the warden there, along with £1. You’ll get half of the slip back, which acts as your permit.

You then pass through a narrow passage underneath the London Overground “GOBLIN” route, past a decaying Victorian pumping station – with some attractive lampholders attached to it – and then to various paths radiating out from this point into the reserve.

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At the far end there is The Coppermill, a historic building which used to, as the name implies, mill copper into coins. These days it is used as part of the reservoir operations.

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View all my photos from the Walthamstow Reservoirs here.

The Tottenham Hale Gyratory

The Tottenham Hale Gyratory is a road structure I know well – I pass through it regularly. It’s actually made up of two gyratories: a large one around Seven Sisters, and a small one around Tottenham Hale itself, connected like a “flywheel”:

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The “feeder” roads, all two-way, are shown in black. The one-way roads of the gyratory are shown in red, with an additional bonus couple of circles in green for the unfortunate buses visiting the bus station beside Tottenham Hale station. Having made it out of the main gyratories, they still have to “loop the loop”.

There are lots of problems with the design. Being a one-way gyratory, it pushes lots of traffic, from different origins and destinations, together. Traffic tends to hurtle along the single-way roads at speed. As such, it has always been an intimidating obstacle for both pedestrians and cyclists.

For example, people getting from the houses in the middle of the larger gyratory, to the northmost shopping area, or the station, have to cross a very strange road, where the traffic appears to be going on the wrong side of the road. What’s actually happening is this is where the two gyratories meet – or rather are only a couple of metres apart. As such, it is a confusing and unpleasant place if you aren’t in a car.

Recently, TfL has been working on replacing the gyratories with a more conventional layout. Last weekend, they made their main switch – completely removing the smaller gyratory, and making much of the larger one two-way. The remaining one-way section will also go two-way soon. The swirly bus station has also disappeared, and will reappear as only one circle, early next year. This is what it looks like now (including the soon-to-emerge bus station):

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As you can imagine, the change has not gone down entirely smoothly:

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Plenty of cars have ended up heading along Hale Road, to find no connection with Ferry Lane, resulting in U-turns galore and extreme congestion. Others, coming southwards from Watermead Way or High Road, are still aiming for Broad Lane – the resulting left/right manoeuvre making the congestion still worse.

I’ll not mention the seperate cycle network that mirrored the smaller gyratory and half the larger one, which has been completely dug up in the last week…

Posted partly to commemorate the passing of the twin gyratories of Tottenham Hale but mainly as an excuse to draw the diagram.

London’s Cycling Revolution

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Above is part of a graphic created to highlight the dramatic changes in London’s non-casual cycling population. It is a map showing the proportion of people that travel to work by bicycle (compared to the overall population that travels to work) – each of London’s 620-odd wards being coloured by the resulting value, that comes from the 2011 census. QGIS was used to produce the map, the colour ramp used is a “fire” one, with the highest values corresponding to “white hot” colours, then cooling through orange and red for lower values. Yellow dots show the current (pre-December 2013) extent of the Barclays Cycle Hire system, which is revealingly at odds with where the cyclists actually are.

As a keen cyclist myself, it’s fascinating seeing how Hackney is “lit up” in the map, and also how barriers such as the North Circular Road and the Lea Valley act, apparently both physically and psychologically, to stop cyclists commuting across them. Outwith these constraints, traditionally affluent south-west London boroughs have combined with “hipster central” new-wealth north-east boroughs of Hackney and Islington to create an “axis of cycle commuting” across the capital city. The northern parts of Tower Hamlets, and the eastern parts of Camden, are also starting to turn red, as the Hackney cycling cultural influence slowly spreads. Herne Hill stands out in south London as being a popular cycling location, perhaps inspired by the legacy of the Herne Hill Velodrome (from the 1948 Olympics) living on. Highgate is also another hotspot. Perhaps people commute down its famous steep hills to work in central London, and then take the bike back home on the train?

The full graphic also includes a table listing the top 100 areas (wards) for the main measure. The numbers on the map correspond to the top 20 wards in this table – striking to see how many of them are in Hackney borough. The data came from the UK Census 2011 ward-aggregated data releases made earlier this year by the Official of National Statistics.

You can see the full graphic here which includes a number of “headline numbers” I haven’t mentioned here. I’ve listed the 100 wards from the graphic’s table below for convenience.

The “Total Num” is the population (aged 16-74) that travels to work, so not including those that work from home, are students, or don’t work. “Num by bicycle” is the subset of this population that use a bicycle as their primary means of commuting to work.

Rank Ward Borough Total Num Num by bicycle % by bicycle
1 Clissold Hackney 5988 1226 20.5%
2 Stoke Newington Central Hackney 6269 1274 20.3%
3 Queensbridge Hackney 6154 1235 20.1%
4 Dalston Hackney 7199 1395 19.4%
5 Hackney Downs Hackney 5636 1040 18.5%
6 Hackney Central Hackney 5663 993 17.5%
7 Victoria Hackney 5702 955 16.8%
8 Leabridge Hackney 5946 991 16.7%
9 Wick Hackney 4540 695 15.3%
10 Chatham Hackney 5445 829 15.2%
11 De Beauvoir Hackney 6765 1009 14.9%
12 Lordship Hackney 4620 675 14.6%
13 Mildmay Islington 5968 830 13.9%
14 King’s Park Hackney 3910 542 13.9%
15 Highbury East Islington 5765 795 13.8%
16 Highgate Camden 4538 607 13.4%
17 Bethnal Green North Tower Hamlets 6027 805 13.4%
18 Cazenove Hackney 5221 689 13.2%
19 Herne Hill Lambeth 7751 1017 13.1%
20 Haggerston Hackney 6564 837 12.8%
21 Weavers Tower Hamlets 6087 776 12.8%
22 St George’s Islington 5751 703 12.2%
23 Cantelowes Camden 5127 615 12.0%
24 Kentish Town Camden 6385 744 11.7%
25 Bow West Tower Hamlets 5863 671 11.4%
26 Village Southwark 5608 635 11.3%
27 Brownswood Hackney 5889 660 11.2%
28 Palace Riverside Hammersmith and Fulham 3285 357 10.9%
29 Hoxton Hackney 6844 737 10.8%
30 Highbury West Islington 8127 871 10.7%
31 Brunswick Park Southwark 5977 637 10.7%
32 Brixton Hill Lambeth 8544 910 10.7%
33 The Lane Southwark 7025 740 10.5%
34 Barnsbury Islington 5771 600 10.4%
35 St Peter’s Islington 5799 601 10.4%
36 St Mary’s Park Wandsworth 8833 913 10.3%
37 Wandsworth Common Wandsworth 7133 726 10.2%
38 Tollington Islington 6239 628 10.1%
39 Tulse Hill Lambeth 7544 757 10.0%
40 Junction Islington 5567 558 10.0%
41 Vassall Lambeth 6700 660 9.9%
42 Camden Town with Primrose Hill Camden 5546 543 9.8%
43 Bow East Tower Hamlets 7244 707 9.8%
44 Stroud Green Haringey 6252 609 9.7%
45 Gospel Oak Camden 4540 442 9.7%
46 Peckham Rye Southwark 6669 642 9.6%
47 Shaftesbury Wandsworth 8703 837 9.6%
48 Mortlake and Barnes Common Richmond upon Thames 5159 495 9.6%
49 East Dulwich Southwark 6536 624 9.6%
50 Oval Lambeth 8270 789 9.5%
51 Northcote Wandsworth 8532 811 9.5%
52 Canonbury Islington 5704 541 9.5%
53 St Mary’s Islington 5967 563 9.4%
54 Clapham Common Lambeth 7380 695 9.4%
55 Prince’s Lambeth 6938 650 9.4%
56 Askew Hammersmith and Fulham 7020 656 9.3%
57 Thamesfield Wandsworth 8505 791 9.3%
58 South Camberwell Southwark 5982 553 9.2%
59 Holloway Islington 6869 633 9.2%
60 Munster Hammersmith and Fulham 5953 548 9.2%
61 Mile End and Globe Town Tower Hamlets 5856 537 9.2%
62 East Sheen Richmond upon Thames 4425 404 9.1%
63 Ravenscourt Park Hammersmith and Fulham 4917 448 9.1%
64 Clapham Town Lambeth 7986 724 9.1%
65 Queenstown Wandsworth 8944 810 9.1%
66 Newington Southwark 6546 589 9.0%
67 Nightingale Wandsworth 8062 721 8.9%
68 Stockwell Lambeth 7367 658 8.9%
69 Barnes Richmond upon Thames 4146 370 8.9%
70 Ham, Petersham and Richmond Riverside Richmond upon Thames 4195 373 8.9%
71 Thurlow Park Lambeth 6497 574 8.8%
72 Clerkenwell Islington 5188 455 8.8%
73 Caledonian Islington 5935 518 8.7%
74 Finsbury Park Islington 6373 548 8.6%
75 Crouch End Haringey 6647 567 8.5%
76 Fulham Reach Hammersmith and Fulham 5892 497 8.4%
77 Thornton Lambeth 6235 525 8.4%
78 Balham Wandsworth 8660 729 8.4%
79 Fulham Broadway Hammersmith and Fulham 5583 469 8.4%
80 Hillrise Islington 5077 426 8.4%
81 Ferndale Lambeth 8868 744 8.4%
82 Larkhall Lambeth 9197 771 8.4%
83 Shepherd’s Bush Green Hammersmith and Fulham 6244 521 8.3%
84 Sands End Hammersmith and Fulham 5947 489 8.2%
85 Coldharbour Lambeth 7267 597 8.2%
86 Colville Kensington and Chelsea 3896 318 8.2%
87 Addison Hammersmith and Fulham 6154 500 8.1%
88 Fairfield Wandsworth 9123 741 8.1%
89 Bethnal Green South Tower Hamlets 5471 443 8.1%
90 Notting Barns Kensington and Chelsea 3657 294 8.0%
91 Streatham Hill Lambeth 7180 577 8.0%
92 Chiswick Riverside Hounslow 5428 433 8.0%
93 Tudor Kingston upon Thames 4128 329 8.0%
94 Hammersmith Broadway Hammersmith and Fulham 5574 444 8.0%
95 Camberwell Green Southwark 6471 513 7.9%
96 Queens Park Brent 7598 600 7.9%
97 Haverstock Camden 4900 386 7.9%
98 Spitalfields and Banglatown Tower Hamlets 4619 362 7.8%
99 West Putney Wandsworth 6772 527 7.8%
100 Fulwell and Hampton Hill Richmond upon Thames 4747 369 7.8%

The graphic was produced in association with Mediarun and Bolt Burdon Kemp.