Cyclists protest the closure of the Olympic Towpath Cycle Route
East Londoners protested the closure of the Lea Navigation tow-path alongside the Olympic site, a vital safe cycle route across the area as well as a recreational footpath, marching to the closure site and holding a picnic there.
A vital part of London's Olympic bid was the promise that this would be the greenest Olympics ever, and it is a promise the London games have failed to live up to on every level. They failed to realise the opportunity of the allotments on the site, closing them down; they failed to use the canal system to remove waste and bring in materials; canal transport to the games will be a horrendously expensive largely corporate jolly rather than a genuine water bus service, and while they promoted the idea of people cycling to the games, instead they have closed the two major cycle routes in the area, which were also widely used by walkers.
The Greenway, used by many to travel to work as a short and direct route from Hackney Wick to Stratford closed in May, and will at least be used by those attending the games. As it passes between the stadium and the warm up arena, keeping it open as a through route during the actual event would not have been possible, although it is impossible to justify closing it over two months in advance.
Another key route for cyclists is the Lea Navigation tow-path, and there had been an undertaking to keep that open during the games, with a 10 ft high electrified fence having been erected between it and the Olympic site, bristling with security cameras.
Ten days ago this too was closed, and it is not expected to be reopened before September 12th. Alternative routes are roughly 50% longer and include cycling on some busy roads, ending at the notorious Bow Flyover roundabout where two cyclists have recently been killed.
The 'Open Our Towpath' campaign point out that the Olympic games web site still shows the tow-path as a route for cyclists, and say that the closure is illegal, and ask for the path to be returned to public use. Today the held the third weekly protest against the closure, meeting together with member of the Save Leyton Marsh Campaign next to the 'temporary' basketball practice site erected on Leyton Marsh, and walking from their down the tow-path to the closure a few yards south of the Eastway Bridge over the navigation.
There they set up a barbecue and held a protest picnic, having failed to persuade the security men on duty at the gate to let them through or the two PCSO's present to take action against what they allege is an illegal blockage of the right of way.
Although the protest was not a huge one, in the couple of hours I was there, literally hundreds of cyclists on their own or in small groups arrived at the fence, expecting to be able to cycle along the tow-path. Some saw the notice and barrier and simply turned away immediately, others stopped to read the notice and some to try asking the security men why the tow-path was closed. Many of them expressed their frustration at the closure and others asked the protesters for help in finding a route avoiding the closed path.
The Lea Navigation is also closed, and the narrow boats normally moored just above here have all been forced to move. The moorings have been made available for the Olympic period at extremely high rents, and there were a few flag bedecked boats moored there as we passed. Just above the Eastway bridge there is a yellow barrier strung across the waterway to block the area to boats, although the water bus service (£95 VIP return, £45 normal return) will apparently make its way past. The protesters as well as a barbecue and large awning had also brought along 3 inflatable paddling pools which they could have used as primitive craft on the canal, but as they began to blow them up a small security boat with two men on board appeared ready to repel any nautical invasion.
A police van had come to Leyton Marsh for the start of the protest, and as well as the two PCSOs who stood watching over the picnic for an hour or two, there seemed to be no shortage of security men hanging around this end of the site, with several groups seemingly totally unemployed behind the prison-like wire fence as well as the two on the boat and five behind the flimsy fencing across the tow-path. At one point several police also turned up an peered at the picnickers through the fence for a few minutes.