As if there weren’t already enough crises, London’s bridges were “falling down” in 2020. Three were closed for vital repairs. Hammersmith Bridge remains suspended in limbo while the other two, London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, reopened after months of work. Yet, none are totally in the clear. London Bridge’s reopening included significant daytime traffic restrictions. Traffic restrictions may be implemented for Vauxhall Bridge, if money cannot be found for more repairs. Financial straits threaten Hammersmith Bridge as well. It was first closed to vehicular traffic in April 2019 and closed to all traffic, pedestrian and bicycles over and boat traffic under, in August 2020 due to widened cracks feared to portend imminent collapse. The estimate to repair this bridge is £140 million and nearly seven years of work.
In my experiences walking bridges, it seems common to wait until a bridge is almost falling down to invest in it. It appears politically unappealing to direct funds to maintaining bridges, so we live in a world with a dire refrain of our collapsing infrastructure.
In Pittsburgh, bridges are often left to run the course of their lives without regular maintenance, then are replaced with a new bridge. The resulting demolition ceremonies and ribbon cuttings make splashy political news stories. The river bridges are an exception. Probably because of their character and contribution to the city’s photogenetic downtown, they are occasionally partially or completely closed for maintenance.
London’s river bridges have more history and, sometimes, more character than Pittsburgh’s bridges. Hammersmith Bridge is one of the city’s unique and historical bridges. The steep price tag to repair this bridge, perhaps the result of mounting deferred maintenance, begs the question of at what point in the decades of non-investment is the threshold crossed beyond which repair is no longer an option.
The decades of neglect in Pittsburgh and London overlooks bridges’ frequent role as practical infrastructure built to assist in crossing an obstacle. Even temporary closings can cause extreme headaches and delays to those who rely on the bridge. Hammersmith Bridge was left to deteriorate so long, it had to be closed before a plan was in place. As funds and a repair approach are sought, the residents and businesses of Hammersmith continue to be seriously inconvenienced by not being able to cross the river close to home.
The last bridge in London I walked over was the Tower Bridge. It is by far the most elaborate bridge across the Thames. I had assumed it was also the oldest of the bridges I walked in London. It turns out that this was a false assumption. The current Tower Bridge was built in the 1890s. According to the dates I found online, Southwark Bridge (see Aug 5 post) is the oldest existing bridge I walked having opened in 1819.
The Tower Bridge is the last bridge across the Thames before it empties into the sea. The view downstream gives some indication of this as there are no bridges in sight and the views from all the other bridges showed either another vehicular bridge, underground bridge, or pedestrian bridge. That the Tower Bridge is the end of the bridges over the Thames is somewhat surprising to me because as the crow flies the mouth of the river is nearly forty miles away and as the river flows is even farther. There are some tunnels under the river between the Tower Bridge and the sea, including at least one pedestrian tunnel. I considered walking the pedestrian tunnel, but the idea of walking through a tunnel under a river seemed long, dark, and scary, and as I had already walked myself off my feet, I chose not to.
Some of the oldest parts of the city are near the Tower Bridge. The northern shore is where the infamous Tower of London is located. The Tower itself was built in 1078. Crossing the bridge and turning right are several very narrow, medieval-like lanes. Yet right near this old fabric is a very new development, situated almost directly across the Thames from the Tower of London, which from this view seems to include the controversial Shard skyscraper. The Shard is located near the end of the London Bridge so I believe there must be some separation between the new buildings in the foreground and the skyscraper. I understand that there is some controversy over the building as many people believed it was too close to the older fabric of the city where they wanted to maintain the historical building heights. In the midst of the historic neighborhoods I observed this skyscraper looms up as the current tallest building in Europe. According to an article about the official opening of the building on July4, one of the many features of this building is “double-decker lifts.” I feel like that is the kind of thing that I’m going to have to see it to believe it. How would a two-story elevator work? And why would you want a two-story one? I think it would only complicate things.
So ends the story of my journey walking across 13 bridges in London. Hope you’ve enjoyed it! For those interested in bridges, stay tuned as I continue to walk bridges in Pittsburgh and other cities. For those interested in London, I plan to post about the adaptively reused churches I found in London in the near future.
London Bridge, perhaps the most famous of the bridges I walked because it fell down, rivaled the Waterloo Bridge for boring-ness (see July 29 post). Both were similarly plain concrete structures. The London Bridge is slightly more interesting for having a dedicated bus lane, but I can’t stand the maroon color of the bus lanes. Luckily the surroundings were more interesting than those at the Waterloo Bridge.
I loved the geometry of these buildings visible from the London Bridge. I went onto Google Maps to try and discover what they are as I did for Lambeth Bridge (see June 28, and Maps are Awesome! posts), but when I did, I found that Google Maps has the London Bridge miss-labeled. The pinpoint for London Bridge sits right on top of the Tower Bridge. As I mentioned in my Waterloo Bridge post, I had also at one time mistaken the Tower Bridge for the London Bridge. While the London Bridge is the most famous in song, the Tower Bridge is the most famous in images. I believe that it for this reason–that both bridges are the most famous in London, but in different media–that they get mistakenly identified. (For some reason it is hard to imagine that there might be more than one famous bridge in London.)
The pointy building in the background is the London offices of Zurich, an insurance company. The blue glass building houses Northern and Shell, a media company. Next to that building and lower down is the Old Billingsgate Market, which used to house the largest fish market in the world (the market moved to Canary Wharf area, but is still the largest in the UK based on its website).
A battleship was parked in between the London and Tower bridges. At first, I thought it was the battleship I saw on the news in the days before walking the bridge as the one moving up the Thames in an exercise to practice for the Olympic security measures. Afterwards, I realized that this one (the HMS Belfast) was probably a permanent fixture and had not just traveled up the Thames. It turns out I was correct the second time as the HMS Belfast is now part of the Imperial War Museums.
The Southwark Bridge had the most, or at least slowest, vehicular traffic of any of the bridges I walked in London. It was also the only one with a painted bike lane. I believe this lane is part of London’s Cycle Superhighway system. These bike lanes are intended to make bike travel to central London from the surrounding areas easier (see website). I really liked the bright blue color of these lanes. It is highly visible and makes it quite clear this is not a place for cars. Of course I am sure it costs a lot to paint miles of bike lanes solid.
The little domes on this building had been visible to me long before I saw the rest of the building. I was in anticipation for several days to learn what it was. I assumed it would be something really interesting like a church built by Eastern European immigrants, in which case its prominent location on the waterfront would led to a fascinating story, I’m sure. Consequently I was a little disappointed to learn that it was only a train station. (Note: I learned what the building was while on the Southwark Bridge, but the view above was taken from the London Bridge on the other side of the station from Southward Bridge.)
In this view upstream, the Millennium Bridge, which was so photogenic from the other angles (see Aug 2 post), becomes invisible against the background of the Blackfriar’s Rail Station spanning the Thames (see Blackfriar’s Bridge post).
The Millennium Bridge is the first of two pedestrian bridges that cross the Thames. The second, the Jubilee Bridge (click to see post), opened 3 years later in 2003. While the Millennium Bridge is sadly only one color, I think it was probably the most photogenic bridge I walked in London. Although I like the picture above less for the bridge and more for the buildings behind it, which show the city’s transition from a time when church steeples were the tallest thing around to today when that honor belongs to the skyscrapers.
The location of the bridge was very good. It leads directly to St. Paul’s Cathedral. In some ways I am surprised that it wasn’t until 2000 that a bridge was built at this location. (I picked up some souvenir maps while in London depicting the city in 1520, 1666, 1843 and 1902 and none have a bridge or even ferry boat at this location.) On the other hand, the other side of the bridge connects to the Tate Modern, which didn’t open as the international modern and contemporary art museum until 2000. Before then the site was a power plant from 1947 until 1981 when it became redundant and closed, remaining vacant until the Tate took it.
The views from the Millennium Bridge show two things of interest related to the other city bridges. First, upriver is a view of the first rail station to span the Thames and the longest solar bridge in the world (see July 31 post). Downriver, the Tower Bridge, which I believe is the most iconic London bridge, comes into view for the first time.
I started this post by claiming that the Millennium Bridge was the most photogenic of the London bridges. The views of it above are pretty interesting, but the best shot was the one I took from the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral looking down.
One thing that stuck out to me while in London was the amount of construction going on. It seemed like everywhere I went in the city there were cranes and/or something was being built, and I didn’t go anywhere near any of the sites for the Olympics. While on the bridges, cranes could often be seen at a distance, but the Blackfriars Bridge seemed to be in the heart of a construction area.
Cranes can be seen on the southern shore in the first image above. The downriver view from the bridge was completely blocked and will remain blocked by “London’s first station to span the Thames.” At first I find this very annoying, as I think there would be a good view of the city looking downstream from Blackfriars Bridge. However, building a station over the Thames is actually an interesting idea. In a city as dense as London there isn’t much room for expansion. There doesn’t appear to be anywhere else this close to the heart of the city to build a new large station. The rail website explains that this station, which is being built on top of a Victorian railway bridge, will allow for longer commuter trains and improve access to the Tate Modern and the Globe Theater. Another piece of note about the bridge is that it is being fully equipped with solar panels and will be the longest solar bridge in the world. Apparently, the competition for the title “World’s Longest Solar Bridge” is not particularly tough at the moment as there is only one other known solar bridge in the world which is the pedestrian Kurilpa Bridge in Australia.
My favorite part about this revamped railway bridge is that it challenges the function of a bridge. Today, most bridges function simply as a way to get from point A to point B. One exception to this is the Galata Bridge in Istanbul (see June 25 post). I remember seeing and using a bridge in Bath, England, when I was a kid that had shops on both sides so that you couldn’t even tell you were on a bridge while crossing it. Bridges like this seem to have been popular in medieval Europe. In a class I took on the history of cities, we looked at medieval Paris which had multiple bridges with buildings lining both sides. Perhaps with the invention of transportation technologies that permit sprawling cities, there is no reason to use bridges as anything more than a connector.
I suppose if there were more bridges with mixed functions like carrying shops as well as roads, then there would be less great views, still it’s an interesting concept. Bridges often end up adding to the dead space of a city, but this might be more because of what they connect than because of their function to move people along.
To pick up where I left off with the London bridges I walked earlier this year, the next bridge is Waterloo Bridge. (The last one I discussed was Jubilee Bridge on July 10.) The Waterloo Bridge was the most boring bridge in London, though I didn’t realize it at the time. When I got home however, I realized I only took two pictures from it and hadn’t taken any of the bridge itself. The picture above was one I took from the Jubilee Bridge to show the downriver view from the bridge, which happens to include the Waterloo Bridge.
I was expecting that the London Bridge would be boring. Sometime before my trip, I mistakenly identified the Tower Bridge as the London Bridge. The discussion that ensued, in which I was corrected, led me to believe that the London Bridge was plain and uninteresting and as such, I was not the first to mistake the Tower Bridge for it. While the London Bridge itself was boring and like the Waterloo Bridge lacked the colors and sculpture found on the other bridges (see the examples of the Albert Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge), it there were many interesting things to see from the London Bridge. While crossing the Waterloo Bridge, I was only inspired to take shots of the downriver and upriver views.
The most interesting thing to note about these views, is in comparing the downriver view from the Jubilee Bridge with the downriver view from the Waterloo Bridge (pictured above) it appears that the new buildings are pushing the classical buildings such as St. Paul’s out of the frame.
When I come across a situation like this, where there isn’t much to say from my experience, I turn to the internet to give me something to fill out with. I found two intriguing bits in my Google search. First is that while I found the views from Waterloo Bridge uninspiring, Wikipedia suggests that the views of the city from this bridge “are widely held to be the finest from any spot at the ground level.” The second is that Hollywood has made two films called “Waterloo Bridge” in 1931 and 1940 in which the main characters meet on the Waterloo Bridge. The interesting part is that the movie Production Codes changed in between which resulted in two fairly different films–the first about a scarlet woman accidentally killed, the second about a proper woman who commits suicide to save the man she loves from scandal.
The Jubilee Bridge is quite unique, at least compared to the other bridges in London. First, it is the newest bridge I crossed–Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra dedicated the bridge on July 2, 2003. Second, it is one of only two pedestrian bridges. Third, it crosses the Thames twice.
Built on either side of one of the underground bridges which connects to the Embankment station, this bridge is really two bridges. Particularly for my project, it was very thoughtful of the builders to put a bridge on either side of the underground one so that pedestrians can choose which view of the river they get.
Downriver shows a great view of the changing skyline of London Town. St. Paul’s Cathedral still dominates its part of the skyline, but more towers are popping up around it. It almost seems like there are more cranes than buildings in this view of London.
The upriver span of the bridge provides an excellent view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. And speaking of Parliament, I recently saw that Big Ben has been renamed Elizabeth Tower (see article in the BBC news). While I agree that it is a great accomplishment for Queen Elizabeth to have reached her 60th year on the throne, I am quite dismayed by the decision to rename Big Ben. Big Ben is such an iconic and catchy name. I don’t see how Elizabeth Tower could possibly catch on. It is one thing to rename the King’s Tower as Victoria Tower, but quite another to rename Big Ben. It seems like there surely must be something else that Parliament could rename to honor the Queen.
While talking with someone recently, we discovered we shared a seemingly rare love of maps. Maps are truly awesome and useful tools and not just for figuring out how to get from one place to another. Maps provide insight into what a place looks like, giving clues about the layout and geography of a place you’ve never been. Street names and other labels can hint at the history of the place. Historical maps show what a place looked like in times past.
I have used maps several times to help me with writing my blog and there are many more times when I should have gone to a map first. As I mentioned in the first Heth’s Run Bridge post, the G.M. Hopkins maps on Historic Pittsburgh are probably my favorite resource for Pittsburgh. Heth’s Run Bridge presented many puzzles that the maps helped me understand. I realized yesterday that I probably should have gone to these maps first when wanting to figure out which bridge remnant I saw from the Fort Duquesne Bridge (see June 19’s post). While writing that post, I did a search on the internet, but came up with nothing. The G.M. Hopkins maps came to the rescue, although there are two possibilities for which bridge the remnant belonged to. The first possibility I found on the 1900 map. This one was called the Union Bridge. By 1929, the Union Bridge was gone and another bridge connected the Point to the North Side. This one was called Manchester Bridge. This bridge was demolished in 1970, by which time the Fort Duquesne Bridge was built (see June 19th post). I made a few other discoveries about Pittsburgh while looking at the 1929 map. First, Penn and Liberty avenues used to come straight through to Water Road which ran along the northern shore of the Monongahela River. Today these avenues stop much further inland. The second major discovery was that Point Park already existed in 1929. It was significantly smaller than it is today, but it is there.
Google Maps helped me with identify the buildings near Lambeth Bridge (see June 28th post) that I didn’t take the time to stop and investigate while I was walking the bridge. Several of the buildings I was able to identify from labels that Google Maps conveniently placed on the map. The Parliament View Apartments weren’t labeled, but using Google Maps’s other wonderful feature–Street View–I was able to find a sign on the building identifying it.
The image leading this post is of another highly convenient map. On my recent trip to Cleveland, I arrived Downtown 2 hours before the person I was visiting finished work. We arranged to meet at their place of work, but I was only familiar with two or three of the streets in downtown Cleveland, and the meeting place wasn’t on any of them. I had just decided to use my skills of logic to find it (which would have been feasible in this case as one of the cross streets was a numbered street and the other was called Lakeside) when I came across this map on a street corner. It turns out that these maps are posted regularly around downtown Cleveland, which I thought was very considerate of the city. It made the city feel like it welcomed visitors with open arms, engaging them in being engaged in the city. Even though I had a plan for finding where I was going without a map, I prefer being safe rather than sorry, so I took the easy way out and used the map to figure out where I was supposed to end up. I also used it to plot out how I could spend the time I had until my friend got out of work to cross at least one of Cleveland’s bridges over the river Cuyahoga. I ended up getting distracted from this goal, but that is a story for another day….(see July 9 post)….
I mentioned in my post on Battersea Bridge that the traffic on the bridge was low, but that this was probably in part due to the fact that I crossed it on Sunday afternoon. I was so excited about walking all the bridges in London that I walked half of them first thing that Sunday afternoon when I arrived. The traffic condition on most of the bridges was similar to the Battersea Bridge–not much. I did pass several other pedestrians as I walked along the Thames River Path to get between the bridges, but the volume of the pedestrian traffic changed significantly when I reached Westminster Bridge. Crowds of people were crossing the Westminster Bridge, enough that an ice cream truck parked at one end to attract customers from the passersby.
Going back to the mysterious tower under construction next to the St Georges Wharf Apartments (see Lambeth Bridge post and Battersea Bridge post), my favorite view of these buildings was from the Westminster Bridge. The way they appear in a cluster with other buildings along the river soothes my sense of harmony, as the tower doesn’t stick out so abruptly in this view. This is one of my favorite things about walking bridges–seeing how the appearance of a particular location can change drastically when viewed from different locations. The Thames River is particularly good for this as it twists and turns quite a bit as it passes through London. This causes the incomplete tower to look like it is right next to the other tall building, when in reality they are separated by a fair distance and are on opposite sides of the river (again refer to the Lambeth Bridge post for a different view of these buildings).