The London Marathon is the best day of the year in this part of south-east London, right? So wouldn’t it be great if there was another one?
And no, not the return of Run to the Beat.
Just announced today, and coming on 4 March 2018, is The Big Half – a half-marathon using the central chunk of the London Marathon course. It’ll start at Tower Bridge, wind its way back around Canary Wharf, then back over Tower Bridge to end at the Cutty Sark. It’s organised by the same team behind the London Marathon.
The event in full…
– The Big Half, a mass participation race over the classic half marathon distance, starting at the iconic setting of Tower Bridge and finishing in Greenwich
– The Little Half for younger runners will be held on a 2.1 mile route from Southwark Park to the stunning Finish Line by the Cutty Sark in Greenwich
– The Big Relay, exclusively for community groups from the four host boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Southwark, Lewisham and Greenwich, with distances ranging from one mile to five miles
– The Big Festival in Greenwich with a huge range of food music and entertainment, including performances from community groups and fun activities and fitness classes for the whole family to enjoy
Entry is open now if you fancy doing it yourself. There are 5,800 places in the main race (making it much smaller than either the main marathon or the unlamented Run to the Beat) with a limited number of discounted places for people from the host boroughs (Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets).
Quotes from the press release:
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “The Big Half has the potential to become one of the most remarkable days in our sporting calendar. And putting local people at the heart of a world-class running event is a masterstroke. Sport has the power to change people’s lives, and we hope The Big Half will become an annual event that can help inspire tens of thousands of Londoners to get involved in sport and in their local communities.”
Hugh Brasher, Event Director, The Big Half, said: “If you were inspired by Sunday’s London Marathon, this is your chance to get involved in an event like no other. Sport can be an incredible way of joining people together and getting communities to interact together. We are creating an event that is unique, that is fun, that people will want to come back to year after year. The Big Half is a celebration of community and life.”
There’ll still be a bit of disruption (I imagine people in Wapping will feel sore) but nothing like the mass closures of full marathon day. And it looks like it’ll be a huge day for Greenwich town centre. So stick the date in your diary…
Like most of the good things Boris Johnson promotes, this is another one that actually started under the previous mayor. Yesterday’s Ride London Freecycle – once the London Freewheel – was great fun as ever.
But getting to the start at Tower Hill and back showed how far London has to go in really becoming a cycling city, and how little progress has been made since then. A weekend of two-wheeled fun is one thing, but the real hard work is in making sure the whole capital is a city fit for cycling.
On the way up there via Blackheath, I saw a cyclist wearing a Ride London bib pull out of Westbrook Road into Kidbrooke Park Road, a road which makes for hairy riding at the best of times. But he didn’t pull out onto the carriageway, he did a left onto the pavement and cycled up that instead. I couldn’t help wondering if he’d actually just taken a train to Blackheath rather than cycled all the way back.
I took a friend who was riding in London for the first time, and while cycling along the Thames Path isn’t the quickest way to get to central London, it’s certainly the most scenic and pleasant. And riding over Tower Bridge is usually great fun. It wasn’t yesterday, though – a bottleneck of traffic and a badly-parked ice cream van meant it was slow and unpleasant going – and this was the main route into the Freecycle for many from south of the river. On the other side, there were people wheeling their cycles back on the pavement, rather than taking on the traffic. I even saw a bike being carried on top of a car, but that could have been unrelated. Closing this iconic old bridge to motor traffic was clearly a step too far for a “cycling city”.
The Freecycle itself was great – it’s been made bigger, thankfully, cutting the bottlenecks of the past. Being surrounded by children having a whale of a time was something special. But while making loads of noise in the Blackfriars Underpass was fun, I saw a couple of nasty crashes – when it’s sunny outside the underpass, it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light inside.
On the way back, we took one of the few genuine innovations that has done some good – Cycle Superhighway 3, through Wapping and Poplar, before swooping down through Cubitt Town to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. It’s a step above the other cycle superhighways, but while linking the route up has been a good thing, CS3’s separated cycle lanes – and traffic signals – were there long before blue paint was slapped down.
How easy did Transport for London make it to get back from Ride London? By not bothering to adjust the traffic signals, long queues of cyclists built up at the end of Royal Mint Street, where they were only given eight seconds to cross Leman Street. Clearly TfL’s “smoothing traffic flow” only applies to those on four wheels.
For all the great fun of Ride London, including this weekend’s amazing sight of amateur and pro cyclists charging down the A12 and through the Docklands for the London Surrey Classic (next time, how about through the Blackwall Tunnel and out to the North Downs?) it’s not going to do a single thing to make the streets safer for cyclists.
At the moment I’m watching the BBC’s Ride London coverage, where an elected politician is being treated once again as a national treasure. “It’s a magnificient symbol of what we’re doing for cycling in this city,” Boris Johnson told an interviewer, unchallenged, less than a month after two cyclists were killed in a week in central London. If Michael Gove held a national spelling competition, he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with saying it was a symbol of what he was doing for education. So why does the mayor of London get away with it?
It’s easy to shut roads for a weekend’s pedalling party, but the real hard work is in making it easy for people to cycle to work, to school, to the shops. Maybe with the appointment of Andrew Gilligan as cycling commissioner, we will finally to get somewhere with this (except in the rotten borough of Greenwich). But until we see concrete evidence (or rather tarmac evidence), while Freewheel/Skyride/Freecycle will continue to be a success in its own right, it’ll also be a symbol of a wider failure.
Update 00.15 Monday: The Ride London website quotes Boris Johnson talking about 50,000 “amateur cyclists” on Saturday’s Freecycle – does that mean people who drive cars are “amateur motorists”? It’s very unlikely Johnson came up with those words himself, but this City Hall clanger won’t do any good in persuading people that cycling is a thing that normal people do to go to the shops or wherever.
Dark holes in Rotherhithe don’t normally strike people as a must-see. But when it’s Marc Brunel’s 1843 Thames Tunnel, open to the public possibly for the last time before the London Overground rail service takes over, then access to a cold, damp tunnel becomes the hottest ticket in town.
So hot that sadly many people were being turned away at Rotherhithe railway station and the nearby Brunel Museum – it seems a TV report this morning implied tickets were available. They weren’t – they were only available online for a brief spell last week before the London Transport Museum’s ticketing website crashed. A lucky few managed to slip into the station for the tour – the rest made do with a visit to the museum and a natter with a volunteer on the door, bemused by how chaotic the whole thing was.
Rotherhithe station’s all but ready for its rebirth as a mainline stop – the old building’s been completely refurbished, only the faded ads on the escalator looking out of place, including one for Joseph and a not-quite-so-Technicolor any more dreamcoat. Health and safety spiel done, rubber gloves on – to protect against Weil’s disease – and down to the platforms it was, and the odd experience of walking in the middle of a railway track. My initial thought was that this wouldn’t be much fun for claustrophics, but once inside the Thames Tunnel proper, the lighting and the concrete treatment applied to the tunnel emphasised what a substantial piece of work his was.
Brunel’s tunnel was the first under a river anywhere in the world. Victorians would come to fairs down here, with people selling items from the arches between the two carriageways. Even on foot in the middle of the tunnels, it’s hard to imagine stalls between these small spaces. But the tunnel would have looked vastly different then – lit by gas and reflecting off fresh, clean brickwork – and no rails in the way. It was a commercial failure, and was later sold for railway use – with Victorian steam moguls eyeing this up as part of a route to the continent – via Baker Street, the Circle Line, and New Cross. From May, it’ll be rejoined to the mainline once again, but to Croydon rather than Calais.
The brickwork had concrete applied to it in the 1990s to protect the tunnel – said to be the leakiest on the Underground network – but after a row broke out between London Transport and preservation agencies, a small part close to Rotherhithe station was left alone. Rather than a reminder of how the tunnel was, the existence of the exposed brickwork just seems to justify the decision to cover it in concrete in the first place.
We walked up to Wapping, where the tunnel entrance is at the end of the station platforms, and back down to Rotherhithe again – a strange experience in itself, to be able to walk under the Thames at this point. Indeed, the loss of the old East London Line severed a useful artery of the capital’s transport system – it’ll be good to have it back in its new guide. (The nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel is actually open to pedestrians, but I can’t imagine it’s used by more than a handful of souls.)
Back out of the tunnels, and we removed our gloves – which had become sticky and sweaty during our tour. I shared the tour with Peter Watts, who remarked on how many women there were on the tour. Old railway tunnels usually bring only a certain kind of man out – but the Thames Tunnel represents so much more, a fragment of a London which has gone forever. Tonight and tomorrow the Brunel Museum is holding “fancy fairs” – recreations of just what took place in the tunnel after it opened. For me, just that glimpse of Brunel’s lost world under the Thames was enough. Enticing as a “fancy fair” sounds – it’ll be much more popular when the railway reopens.