Thursday, 13 June 2013

Boris' bridge of whimsy

The Evening Standard today splashed with ’Floating Garden for New Thames Bridge’. It elaborated the only mysterious aspect of Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s otherwise tedious 2020 Vision unveiled last week, a 'garden bridge'.

Then no further details, other than it would be a bridge across the Thames lined with trees, were given. And now we see why.

Apparently, the plan, conceived by Thomas Heatherwick - he of the petal torch at the Olympics and the considerably less successful B of the Bang in Manchester - has won a Transport for London contest to ’improve pedestrian access across the Thames’. A fine idea, I'm sure we can agree, but the proposed location linking Covent Garden to the Southbank is possibly the worst spot they could have chosen.

For that area of the Thames possibly has among most generous provision of bridges, pedestrian and otherwise, anywhere along the river. Only in 2003, I was one of several journalists who covered the opening of the two, excellent Golden Jubilee Bridge. Flanking Hungerford Bridge, the two link from the Embankment, by Covent Garden, directly with the Southbank.

And disregarding the crossing at Blackfriars, the Millennium Bridge is only a 20 minute walk away, so peaceful pedestrian crossing is not hard to find.

According to the Standard piece, mayoral advisers believe the new bridge ’would bring to life the quiet stretches around Temple and the east of the Southbank Centre’. 

Firstly, I'm not sure where this quiet spot on the Southbank is as it's a hive of activity from Westminster Bridge to London Bridge and beyond. Secondly, the peace around Temple offers a welcome respite. The gardens of the Inns of Court sit there as well as several small, but well-tended and used public parks. And the peace of this spot is questionable anyway considering the traffic of the Embankment roars by ferociously.

The other great problem, which the Standard fails to mention and Boris perpetually does his best to avoid, is the concept of building a new bridge in the relatively well-catered for West End would be an enormous two fingers to the poor people of East London who are desperately in need of a new river crossing.

Beyond Tower Bridge crossings are dreadful and despite the growing population one of Boris' first acts as mayor was to cancel a planned new bridge. No new provision has been made, though there was talk of a new tunnel which has got nowhere. Though there is, of course, Boris’ ludicrous, increasingly costly cable car, going from nowhere to nowhere.

The excellent blogger MayorWatch has charted the increasingly sorry story of the #dangleway: the foolish ambition; the misguided planning and strategy; the obfuscation; the swallowing of public money despite promises otherwise; and now, the pathetic decline in numbers and it’s horrible unreliability. It was and will ever be a vanity project, one which the next mayor will have no choice but to firmly wash of their hands.
The whole bridge scheme remains very flimsy - theoretically, not practically of course. Though, I should say, the concept of a garden bridge, in another location, remains very appealing.

But this plan apparently has Boris’ support, though the Standard has no supporting comment from the blonde, shaggy one. Boris, today described by Nick Clegg as a slacker’, obviously enjoys these flights of whimsy as it seems to make him think he’s doing his job. And as the piece makes clear no money is in the offing from either his office or TfL, it would be no surprise if it was right up his alley.

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