Murky Depths

The newest route on the loop-that-isn’t-quite-a-full-loop Superloop network hit the ground this weekend, so of course I had to give it a spin.

SL3 runs between Thamesmead and Bromley linking towns along the way including Abbey Wood, Bexleyheath, Sidcup, Chislehurst and Bickley.

Things didn’t get off to the most promising start when I opened Google Maps, clicked the bus stop at Abbey Wood station and saw no SL3 listed. Not on yet?

I scrolled down, and down, and eventually, one was listed over 20 minutes later. Quite a gap.

I then clicked the other side of the road. Same story. Scrolled down and down and a 25-minute wait until the next bus, then a long wait before another. Service intervals seemed an issue.

With time to kill, I took some photos of one going to Bromley before catching one to Thamesmead. As expected it was a quick jaunt through the town.

One thing that stood out was the USB chargers on the back of the seats. New Routemasters have never appeared in most of southeast London so whether this was new or not I wasn’t sure. Turns out they are newly installed.

I’ve barely been on these buses in the 10 years since introduced bar the odd trip to central London. If you stand in Woolwich town centre over that time you’ll have never seen one in service. It’s the same in other town centres such as Bexleyheath – until today.

This brings us on to the stretch where the first real hold-ups occurred; the route to Bexleyheath.

The route runs alongside the B11 or 301 up New Road (with a fair few parked cars) and on the way to Bexleyheath, we passed the old St Joseph convent school where Kate Bush once attended. It became part of Bexley College which yours truly attended. It’s since closed and been converted to housing.

After clipping a kerb at the junction to the top of Knee Hill (SL3 avoids it like the B11 and 301) we carried on. It appears buses were clipping a few kerbs according to other accounts of the route.

As is common, traffic was slow going at the two roundabouts on approach to Bexleyheath.

We split from the 301 route and hit traffic around Bexleyheath station. Then more as we turn towards the town centre.

And this wasn’t even on a weekday. A 301 could still be the better bet if heading to Bexleyheath town centre from Abbey Wood. It avoids all that traffic by heading into the town from the west.

The B11, which for years was the quickest route despite the long circular trip around Lodge Hill, also heads past the station.

Things have come a long way since it was my chariot when I worked in Bexleyheath town centre shops. Small single-deckers running every 30 minutes on a Sunday were a real pain.

After the slow stop-start delay through Bexleyheath town centre, we headed on.

I’m not too knowledgeable in this area but we seemed to be heading some way away from where we should have been.

We also passed what appeared to be a broken down SL3 bus to boot.

I’d read roadworks were underway but wasn’t exactly sure where, but this explained the detour. It wasn’t fast. By the time we reached Sidcup, it’d be hard to call it an express bus.

Of course, those roadworks won’t last forever but right now it’s slowing down the journey a fair bit.

By now we’d been on it for so long – and I’d been taking so many pics of various other things aside from the bus that my phone was dying. Those USB chargers would have helped – if I’d remembered my charger.

Anyway, I nipped off at Sidcup to see how the new housing development is shaping up but that’s for another post. But it’s people moving in there who will likely be the type to use the SL3. When roadworks are finished it should take them quickly to Bexleyheath town centre and the Elizabeth line at Abbey Wood.

Do you stop at…

The new route certainly raised the attention of many, from someone who proclaimed “This is a fancy bus!” after boarding to the guy who looked about 16, clad in a hoody and sportswear who whipped his phone out to take a photo of it in Bexleyheath.

There were quite a few questions en route of “Do you stop at so and so” and bells rang when nowhere near a stop. To be expected on day one. People will figure it out.

Some better maps would help though at bus stops. Also, while bus stops had signs in place there were few of the colourful Superloop roundels to be seen above the roof.

After Sidcup things weren’t too interesting (or fast) to Bromley. It was now dark and to be frank, I was bored of it. No phone power meant no music to drown out the dinging of bells and noise.

A success?

Is the route a winner? It was day one and launching with major roadworks was a major hindrance. Things take time to bed in at the best of times. It does depend on the time of day and what journey is being undertaken.

Abbey Wood to Bexleyheath? 301 is fine. Bexleyheath station to Abbey Wood station? Well the 301 doesn’t serve it and the SL3 will be a winner compared to the slow B11. It will have also already gone past the slow crawl through Bexleyheath town centre.

Thamesmead residents also get another route to Abbey Wood and it’s even quicker. That will be welcomed. Now Peabody needs to hurry up and get planning for homes in north Thamesmead.

There are annoying pinch points such as outside Sainsbury’s in Abbey Wood. It’s a completely dual carriageway from north Thamesmead until just before the station bus stop in Abbey Wood.

With forward planning when Sainsbury’s was built, this stretch could have seen the continuation of a bus lane. I recall when plans were developed and questions asked on traffic levels, the road was stated to be at around 95 per cent capacity post-shop completion.

Of course, since then the Elizabeth line has opened (and it was well known it was coming) which has seen congestion increase substantially across the area as people drive in to park or pick up.

Hopefully, the SL3 can reduce that, but its usefulness is negated if it gets stuck in traffic every day.

There could be a chance to improve the situation as plans are forthcoming to build on what is currently the BP petrol station. There’ll also be a post soon that new designs have been drawn up. Spoiler alert: it’s a bulky beast of a building.

If things like that can be ironed out the SL3 will benefit, but it simply can’t overcome some obstacles without radical changes such as around Bexleyheath town centre.

Yet for all that, once the roadworks are complete it still offers a far better journey to many all along its route.

About Murky Depths

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