New Olympic Velopark plans get a mixed reaction

Despite much progress planners and cycling groups still struggling to get the right balance between 'velo' and 'park'...

From today (Monday) potential users of the planned Olympic Velopark can have their say on the designs for the road, mountain bike and BMX facilities that will form part of London's 2012 Olympic legacy.

Last Thursday in what was billed as a pre-consultation event the new designs for the road and mountain bike areas were unveiled at a public meeting in Stratford Town Hall. The meeting was attended by around 30 people with interested parties from cycling groups across the London boroughs represented, as well as British Cycling and the Eastway Users Group (EUG) representatives from all sides that we spoke to agreed that the meeting was positive and constructive even so reaction to the plans was mixed - essentially it boils down to the thorny matter of access, what needs to be decided before the designs go forward for planning permission later this month is where the balance lies between 'velo' and 'park' in the proposed Olympiic Velopark.

So what's changed from the original plan you can see at the top of this story? Well the good news is that the road circuit has actually gotten slightly longer, 1.656Km instead of 1.6Km and the crossing of the River Lea has also been retained from the original design. Both British Cycling and the EUG were very keen to retain such an important element of variation in the circuit from the original design. The eastern third of the circuit around the BMX park is virtually unchanged, the big difference is that the river crossing becomes much more of an out and back affair - freeing up access to more of the riverbank, which is what the OPLC wanted - now, when the circuit comes back over the river after a longish straight it takes in a circuit around the outside of the velodrome.

The Olympic Park road circuit Mk11, slightly longer and now centred on the Olympic Velodrome

The other big advantage claimed for the new road circuit design is it's flexibility, as well as using it as a full circuit it can be used as either a fast truncated circuit - omitting the loop of the velodrome, or as up to three smaller coaching circuits. The full circuit has 23m of elevation change – the same as the old Eastway.

From what we understand aside from some technical questions about run off areas and fencing around the bailey bridges that take the circuit across and back over the River Lea (oh and slight concerns that the circuit narrows from 6m to 5m on the bridges) people were broadly satisfied.

There was less satisfaction though over the BMX and mountain bike facilities, according to the EUG report on the meeting the point was forcibly made that existing Olympic BMX park is simply too difficult to be left as a legacy provision unchanged. The feeling was that it will need fencing off as a matter of public safety. There were also concerns as to how suitable an Olympic standard course was as a legacy provision for non-Olympic standard riders the point was made that of 400 entrants to the recent SE Championships 120 withdrew when they saw the "gnarliness' of the course at practice.

Possibly more problematic though are issues surrounding the mountain bike course, this too is bigger than the original plan and now also comes back under the A12 to occupy what appears as an empty rectangle of land to the east of the road and BMX circuits on the original plan - which you can see at the top of this story. The idea from the planners is that the mountain bike circuit 'reaches out' from the park to the neighbouring borough of Waltham Forest which is adjacent to the park's north eastern boundary. The problem is that the boundaries to the MTB area are open and the portion of the circuit that lies south of the A12 is bisected by a diagonal path which to the consternation of the EUG only appeared on the new plan as late as mid-September. While marshalling should prevent problems during actual races the concern is what happens when the circuit is simply being used for training or leisure purposes, that is still a concern for the road circuit too.

"The designers and planners don't seem to appreciate how disadvantaged any cyclist is by all the things that the general public does in parks. Footballs and dogs are disasters waiting to happen if you get too close," Michael Humphreys told us and anyone who has used the commuter routes through some of London's royal parks will know exactly what he means.

While the old Eastway was effectively walled in so riders could race or train secure in the knowledge that a member of the public was not going to wander across their path unexpectedly, or indeed at all accessl to the new Velopark would appear to be largely open. The Velopark itself is a part of the much bigger Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park one of the biggest tasks given to the Olympic planners is integrating the park and all its facilities with the existing local communities to avoid the creation of a gentrified Olympic enclave and spread the benefits of Olympic regeneration out in to the boroughs that border the Olympic site.

The Lea Valley Regional Park Authority intends to have the new cycling facilities up and running by the autumn of 2013, there's plenty to discuss before then and users, and potential users of the Velopark  can have their say this week 7-11 November before the planning application is made on November 30th – once that is done there will be a further statutory period for the public to comment on the planning application.

Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.

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