Tuesday 11 September 2012

A Bridge Too Far

The leader of Waltham Forest Council and the Chief Executive dress up as cyclists to celebrate wasting £1.8million on a new cycle and footbridge over Ruckholt Road to provide a vital gateway for residents and visitors to access the Olympic Park during and after the Games

It’s a substandard bridge which is not fit for purpose. (The vision of thousands of pedestrians and cyclists pouring over it to the Olympic Park also turned out to be somewhat exaggerated.) For a start, it’s crazy to funnel cyclists and pedestrians into a narrow space like this.

On the other hand it’s hard to imagine any cyclists wanting to use this bridge, which you can see in the far distance here. At this point westbound cyclists heading from Ruckholt Road to Eastway are invited to leave the carriageway and join a cycle path which after about twenty metres becomes "shared use".

Having crossed the bridge, cyclists are then dumped back into a two lane highway of fast moving motor vehicles with no prior warning to drivers and no physical protection.

A similar design can be found nearby, where the award winning off-road Orient Way cycle path dumps cyclists into the face of fast moving high volume traffic heading east - again, with no physical protection.

To put it at its simplest: this bridge is a complete irrelevance for cyclists, and this kind of “shared use” infrastructure is not the kind of thing which is going to encourage people to take up cycling and keep at it. What is needed on this very busy route is complete segregation of cyclists from both motor vehicles and pedestrians. The space is there, even the money is there. What seems to be lacking is knowledge of what works to get people cycling.


There’s a parallel of sorts here:

It is particularly sad to see penny-pinching and compromises that will reverberate down future decades being built into new, expensive infrastructure. At the quaint town of Shoreham-by-Sea, the route needs to cross the harbour. A bridge built in the early 20th century about 1.5 metres wide currently carries two directions of pedestrians, cyclists (dismounted of course), buggy passengers, wheelchair and mobility scooter users, and pets. On a busy day the result is of course great frustration. 

The good news is that this bridge is going to be replaced with a new one costing £7 million, and work has already started. The bad news is that the new bridge will be only 4 metres wide. To many people I expect a 4-metre wide bridge for non-motorised transport sounds generous. But it is obvious to anyone looking at the situation now on a day like Saturday that is is not. It is a short-sighted penny-pinching compromise. Two directions of cycle travel over a long bridge on their own would need 3.5 metres, and the remaining 0.5 metres is not enough for the rest. We never seem to make bridges for non-motorised modes wide enough in the UK. We used to be a nation of great engineers: why can't we learn about this?