Neighbouring Boroughs In Conflict Over Putney Bridge Closure:

Which European countries have the worst traffic congestion? According to INRIX, a transport information company based in Washington, USA, Belgium is at number one, followed by Holland, the UK, Italy and France. Further down the list is Spain, at No.11. It’ll come as no surprise to London residents that the INRIX statistics indicate the capital’s drivers are stuck in traffic for 66 hours per annum (compared to 45 hours pa in Manchester and 39 hours pa in Liverpool) or that the “commuter zone” should definitely be avoided between 4pm-5pm on Fridays.

The results of a survey conducted on behalf of newspaper & magazine publishers “Trinity Mirror plc” portray an even bleaker scenario: 82 hours wasted in traffic jams during 2013 (just one hour less pa than in Brussels), with the A4/ Central London to the M4, the A217/Morden to Chelsea and the A406/Chiswick Roundabout to Neasden Junction being classified as three of the capital’s most crowded roads. Radio Jackie’s “top ten” includes Uxbridge Road in Ealing  and Trinity Road in Wandsworth – both of which (they say) experience “more than 80 hours of queues”.

All of this raises the question as to what impact the closure of Putney Bridge on Monday 14th July for “essential repairs” will have on traffic in the west London area. The bridge, originally built in 1886, was last refurbished in 1994. Wandsworth Council’s engineers have concluded that “its water-proof membrane, which protects the internal structure from water penetration, needs replacing”. The defects in the membrane constitute “one reason why the road surface on the bridge has been in a poor state recently and why it has suffered badly from potholes”.

Wandsworth Council have had, in effect, two options available to them: Either a 3 or 6 month full closure (depending on how much time would be needed to complete the work) or an 11-month partial bridge closure, with “at least one of the walkways open and a single lane kept open for buses and cyclists”. The second of these has been strongly favoured by Councillor Nicholas Botterill, the leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council (H&F): He has described closing the bridge entirely as a “disaster”. The main routes in and out of H&F (he has pointed out) “are incredibly busy with huge volumes of traffic, notably the road connecting Fulham with Putney. While we understand this work must be done, we want to see it happen over 11 months, which would cause less disruption for our borough, residents and people who work in H&F”.

In response to these concerns, Wandsworth Council has announced that the repair timetable has been “drastically reduced” to just (an estimated) three months. The vast majority of the works (contracted out at a cost of £1.5 million to F.N. Conway, an infrastructure company based in Dartford, Kent) “will be carried out during the school summer holidays when traffic levels are at their lightest. This should also ensure that the bridge will re-open in plenty of time for businesses to take advantage of the busy Christmas shopping period”. The contractors will be permitted to work from 6am-midnight, Monday to Friday and 10am-4pm at week-ends, but mustn’t make “excessive noise at unreasonable times”. They will be penalised if they take longer than the agreed schedule (emphasizes Isaac Kwakye, Wandsworth Council’s Principal Engineer), samples of the materials they use will be sent for testing and a GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar) analysis will be conducted to check that the job has been professionally carried out. 

Pedestrians will still be able to use the bridge, “as will cyclists, although they will need to dismount”. Buses will operate a “shuttle service from both ends of the bridge: Passengers will be given a piece of paper by Tfl (Transport For London) staff as proof that they’ve paid for their journey. They will then have to cross the bridge on foot – which, as was mentioned to Wandsworth Council officials during a “Question & Answer” session at Putney Shopping Centre on 24th June, could be an ordeal for handicapped or elderly people – and then hand it to the driver of their next bus.

But what will motorists do? Wandsworth Council will not be providing any “formal redirections”. Their view is that “drivers will know best which alternative routes they prefer”. However, figures provided by “hfcyclists.org.uk” suggest that 34,104 cars go over Putney Bridge every day. After 14th July, these will have to be diverted to Wandsworth Bridge (currently 29,815 per day), Hammersmith Bridge (18,857 per day) or, even further away, Chiswick Bridge (28,668 per day).

Comments by the public on the Wandsworth Council website have been mainly sceptical about the wisdom of completely closing Putney Bridge: “Where’s all the traffic supposed to go? (asked Mark Langfield). Hammersmith Bridge can’t cope and funnelling any more traffic towards Wandsworth will create massive tailbacks”. Another contributor, “Lucy”, queried why the Putney Bridge project hadn’t at least been delayed until the Hammersmith Flyover weekend closures (to implement water-proofing) have ended in August. There “doesn’t seem to be (she asserted) a high level of co-ordination with other major road-works in south and west London. Crossing Hammersmith Bridge is going to be hell”.

 

 

Filed under: Society | Posted on June 30th, 2014 by Colin D Gordon

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