Putney Bridge – Refurbishment imminent but mind the funding Pinch Point!

Our neighbouring borough of Wandsworth have recently won funding from the Department for Transport “pinch point” fund to repair Putney Bridge (they look after the whole bridge). It may not be readily apparent but due to water egress from a broken pipe into the structure some years ago the bridge is in need of drastic repairs. It is abundantly clear to anyone who cycles over the bridge that the carriageway itself is heavily deformed thanks to years of heavy vehicles especially buses squeezing dips in the surface. For those on a bike trying to hold a predictable or safe line over the bridge is a feat accomplished with some practice.

Funds were awarded to Wandsworth Council in May after a successful bid, but it was only last month in November that details of how the works might proceed were made public via a council paper advising on the options for construction. Intriguingly the timing proposed in the original bid was for construction to have started in August and be complete by February, clearly that did not happen!

Currently there are two options proposed:

  • 6 month full bridge closure, with at least one of the walkways kept open, cyclists could pass if they dismounted but it may be crowded at peak times
  • 11 month partial bridge closure, with at least one of the walkways open and a single lane kept open for buses and cyclists, with shuttle (alternate) working along that single 3m wide lane.

There are a few additional constraints. The Department for Transport require that their funding is spent by March 2015 (before the next Westminster government), and RideLondon is set to use Putney Bridge again in August 2014. Also, Wandsworth believe the 11 month closure would cost an extra £0.35m which they don’t currently have, so they can only afford the 6 month option. It does sound rather like the 6 month full closure is the likely option.

The 6 month option is proposed to start in June 2014 and complete in early December 2014, which presumes RideLondon 2014 will go via a different route. The 11 month option would need to commence by April 2014 at the latest to meet the DfT’s March 2015 funding deadline.

In the document for Wandsworth their officials stated:

The neighbouring London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham support the [6 month] full bridge closure option as this enables an early start to their proposed highway maintenance programme for Hammersmith Bridge.

However, in a somewhat contrasting move Hammersmith and Fulham council this week published a news piece where leader of Hammersmith and Fulham council Nicholas Botterill said closing the bridge entirely would be a “disaster” and further said:

The main routes into and out of our borough are incredibly busy with huge volumes of traffic, notably the road connecting Fulham with Putney and if the bridge were to shut completely for six months that would be a disaster. It would cause a terrible knock-on effect for the rest of the entire borough, both on our roads and on our already jammed tube trains. 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.

We should note that probably doesn’t mean the council leader in Hammersmith and Fulham changed his mind, or even that he disagreed with his officials. But we have Wandsworth and Hammersmith & Fulham council reaching opposite conclusions. Does their reasoning stand up when scrutinised?

Let’s get our understanding of the traffic right first, here’s a table of traffic over Chiswick, Hammersmith, Putney and Wandsworth Bridges. Figures in the Wandsworth council document do not include cycle figures, which is surprising. We’ve used the DfT traffic count data for this (points 6902, 8472, 73573 and 58200 respectively) northbound over the day. As it’s not robust for cycling we’ve averaged the past three years data.

Chiswick Hammersmith Putney Wandsworth
Cycles  261  1,236  2,277  1,401
P2Ws  1,498  1,218  2,283  1,104
Cars  28,668  18,857  34,104  29,815
Buses  376  1,464  1,656  915
LGVs  4,098  2,874  4,078  5,915
HGVs  1,319  215  1,049  1,049

A huge proportion of these cyclists will go over in the morning peak – we counted over 400 between 8AM and 9AM over Hammersmith Bridge in late October.

Wandsworth comment only on the effect on traffic over Wandsworth Bridge for which they say TfL predict:

a 17% increase in southbound traffic in the morning peak with no effect on northbound flow; and 27% increase in northbound traffic in the evening peak and a 3% increase in the southbound flow.

The message from the TfL modelling appears to be: congestion is so heavy at peak in the main direction of flow that almost no extra motor vehicles would be able to pass over Wandsworth Bridge. Apparently TfL believe Hammersmith and Chiswick Bridges will take the majority of the displaced traffic. It does not appear that TfL have modelled any impacts on cycling.

Chiswick Bridge’s approaches are poor, but the pavements are cycleable which is in part why so few cyclists over that bridge will appear in DfT data. What is striking is that Putney clearly has a large number of cyclists compared to the other bridges and the question is will they ride to the bridge and dismount or take another route?  Let’s look at the map of the area.

[osm_map lat=”51.475″ long=”-0.211″ zoom=”13″ width=”600″ height=”450″ marker=”51.46683,-0.21315″ marker_name=”bicycling.png”]

There are quite a few alternate routes in the area, but clearly the west side of Fulham will be hardest to reach via them. If Hammersmith and Fulham council’s now preferred option of 11 months closure occurs that surely means an extra 5 months of disruption on local streets. Over the bridge there would be easier transit by bus and bicycle, but to reach it you would have to negotiate some congestion presuming the dire predictions of Cllr Nicholas Botterill come true.

But maybe a large number of journeys will evaporate, as happened when Hammersmith Bridge closed during the late 1990s. In that context consider this statement about the effect of the closure of Putney Bridge on Putney High Street in the Wandsworth council paper:

much of the traffic on Putney High Street is through traffic and the closure of the Bridge to facilitate these essential works is likely to create a quieter less heavily trafficked and polluted High Street more attractive to pedestrians and shoppers

It will be interesting to visit Putney High Street during whichever closure occurs and see how the removal of through traffic affects it. Putney High Street breached annual emissions for NO2 in January, barely more than a week into the year. If much of the traffic that helps cause that is through traffic then it must either be coming to or from Hammersmith and Fulham or through it as well.

Hammersmith and Fulham council have repeatedly said they believe cycling can help combat congestion, if they think this closure risks it they could embrace cycling to help.  It is a pity that Wandsworth don’t identify any measures they would take to manage congestion and encourage other modes of transport. Perhaps Hammersmith and Fulham could suggest some measures, and seek supportive funding for them? Perhaps more use could be made of the quiet cycle route parallel to Fulham Palace Road and of the imminent Hire Bike scheme?

There is a consultation to which responses can be sent now detailed in the Hammersmith and Fulham Council news piece. We are considering the effects before submitting our response and welcome a discussion in the comments below.

Of course once this is complete things can return to normal, or perhaps better than normal if you help us analyse local barriers to cycling. And of course, Hammersmith Bridge is set for it’s own closure for repairs in the coming years.