The future of Hammersmith Bridge

The closure of Hammersmith Bridge to motorised traffic in 2019 was not the disaster that has been reported. Until it was closed to everyone on August 13th 2020, many people were delighted that they could now use the bridge in relative peace and safety.

After it was closed to cars, the bridge was being used by around 16,000 people a day, walking and riding bicycles. But now, all of these people need to find a new route across the river. It's obvious that something needs to be done urgently.

The bridge has always been pretty flimsy, and there must be a limit to how far the underlying structure can be reinforced. It's Grade II listed, as well, so making huge alterations to the roadway is not an option.

What are the options?

Stabilise the bridge

At the public meeting with the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, it was explained that:

  • work is still underway to assess the damage to the bridge;
  • once this is finished, the first stage of stabilising the bridge can start;
  • at this point, people will be able to cross on bicycles and on foot - this should be sometime in the spring of 2021;
  • further work will then have to be undertaken to strengthen the bridge for motor traffic - this will take over six years.

Since the first stages of stabilising the bridge will allow people to walk or bike over it again, it would seem to be the best option to reopen the crossing.

A ferry service

The Manser Practice, a firm of architects based near the bridge, has come up with an imaginative scheme for a ferry crossing that would be accessible at all states of the tide. This is the best of several options that have been suggested for a ferry service, including one from Thames Clippers and Beckett Rankine, a marine engineering firm, who say they can run two vessels 16 hours a day, carrying up to 1,200 people an hour in each direction.

Another idea is to use the abandoned concrete wharf at Harrod's Depository which has recently been sold, and is almost opposite the pontoon at Fulham Reach. The new owner, Jamie Waller, has issued a press release offering the use of the wharf as part of a ferry service, suggesting that it could connect with the Fulham Reach pontoon on the north side of the river.

It's an imaginative plan, but having taken a look at it, I'd say it's unworkable, because:

  • the wharf is in a bad state of repair, and would need a lot of work to make it safe;
  • it is about 400m walk along the uneven towpath from the bridge;
  • at anything other than high tide, boats can't moor alongside, so an extended pontoon would have to be built;
  • at low tide, even the Fulham pontoon doesn't offer enough depth for even a small ferry.

The Government's "Taskforce" have said that their favoured temporary option is, indeed, a ferry service. It's interesting to note that they are already managing expectations, and warning that the ferry may not run 24 hours a day, because it will be constrained by the height of the tide. They are also unclear on whether or not people will have to pay a fare, or whether bikes can be carried, or even where the ferry will land.

A temporary bridge

As reported here, proposals have been put forward to build a temporary bridge alongside the existing bridge. The temporary structure would carry pedestrians and people on bicycles.

The idea is to build the bridge from existing components supported on two sets of piles. It would run from just east of Hammersmith Bridge on the south side of the river to join with Queen Caroline Street on the north side.

The temporary bridge would have a deck just over 5 metres wide. A two-way cycle lane would be separated from a lane for pedestrians by a raised white line.

It's a neat idea, and it would relieve pressure on the powers that be to "get something done". Importantly, it wouldn't accommodate motor vehicles at all.

However, a lot of people have been demanding a temporary bridge for motor vehicles, although this has already been ruled as "not feasible" by Dana Skelley, the Project Director of the Taskforce. You can read more about this here.

Other ideas

Of course, there's a lot of clamour among the usual windbags on Nextdoor and Twitter to knock the bridge down and build a new one. Or keep the existing supports and chains while building a stronger deck between them. Luckily, it's not that simple. It would be disastrous for the bridge to go back to being a crossing for cars.

In the long term

The closure of Hammersmith Bridge gives us a huge opportunity to create a new space for people to walk, ride scooters and bikes, meet up, chat, have coffee, enjoy the views, etc etc.

A number of surveys have shown that a large proportion of local residents and users of the bridge are against opening it to cars again. They don't want the noise, pollution and congestion to return. However, there is a lot of support for allowing buses to cross the bridge.

Now, obviously, buses weigh a lot more than cars, and if the bridge were made strong enough to carry them, you can imagine that motorists would wonder why they couldn't use it as well.

So, hopefully, someone with some imagination can come up with a plan for refurbishment that would give space on the bridge for walkers, people on bikes and buses. If cars were also allowed, all these other types of transport would be disadvantaged for the perceived convenience of a few - so it mustn't be allowed to happen.

Let's not forget that, although they took up most of the room, the number of people that used to cross the brige by car and/or motorbike was only 23% of the total, according to LBRuT's survey (PDF).

Keep Hammersmith Bridge car-free

If the bridge is opened to traffic again, the familiar, crawling traffic jam will return. Over 9,000 car journeys that used to be made across the river have disappeared - but they would soon be back.

It takes about 20-30 cars to completely jam one side of the bridge; in the morning commute, that's around 20-30 people. That number of people would just over half fill a number 33 bus. Why should they be allowed to occupy such a huge area, while polluting everything around them?

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