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Open Doors: Bermondsey Dive-Under

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The third tour I managed during the Construction Open Doors week of events back in June was to the site of the Bermondsey Diveunder. After visiting the (re)beginnings of a skyscraper, and a huge building development – this was something very different – a project building downwards, reusing old Victorian arches and the space between tracks on a very busy junction near London Bridge station, to allow for a “metro” frequency service into London Bridge and up through the centre of the capital to St Pancras – the so-called Thameslink Programme.

The project is building a “diveunder” – letting certain inbound services pass beneath outbound services elsewhere, so allowing a greater frequency of service. Essentially it is “grade separating” a busy junction, which happens to be part of the world’s oldest railway viaduct and once the longest viaduct of any kind, stretching over four miles from London Bridge to Greenwich.

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From a historical perspective, it is nice to see that as much use of the existing, historic arches as possible is being made – the main part of the diveunder itself sitting on them until it ducks too low and they are replaced with smaller, modern ones, and eventually solid concrete. With the first big part of the new London Bridge station concourse opening up this weekend, things are starting to gear up and hopefully the extra capacity created by the diveunder will, in the short term, help to repair the currently badly suffering Southern services through the area, once it is opened in just a few short months.

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The tour ended personally for me with a sour note – I returned back to find my bike was stolen. I’m happy to put South Bermondsey on my list of places to avoid in London in the future, except perhaps looking out of a train window at the new, sweeping lines that have been installed here.

Open Doors: Battersea Power Station

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I’ve been slow to write about all my Open Doors week construction-site visits back in June, but as well as seeing a soon-to-be-skyscraper, I also made it to two other sites, the largest of which far-and-away was Battersea Power Station – more specifically, the “Phase 1” work beside it, which is the construction of two huge 20-story-high blocks that will surround the venerable power station – itself also a building site right now as part of the “Phase 2” work.

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The blocks were all sold off-plan long ago, and construction is taking place at a frenetic pace, as the developer aims to deliver the accommodation as soon as they can. The sheer amount of activity is breathtaking, with over 2000 workers on site.

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The tour included a visit to the basement infrastructure of the new blocks, as well as looking inside a couple of the flats (which include pre-fabricated bathrooms that have been just dropped in), and – the definite highlight – a journey up a hoist to the roof, from which you looked down to the roof of the old power station, or across the Thames to central London, and to the garden of the £4m+ penthouse that will be there soon.

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There were a few additional surprises, such as a spiral staircase being constructed, and a close-up view of the power station in transformation (the route to the Phase 1 work is along a narrow pathway between the station and the river).

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It was great to see too the chimneys of Battersea Power Station being restored – having disappeared from the skyline at the beginning of the project (sulphur damage had made them structurally unstable), the first of the four replacements, constructed with the same techniques and materials, has now reappeared.

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Open Doors: 22 Bishopsgate

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It’s Open Doors week this week, where the public get a glimpse into many construction sites, and this morning I visited the site of 22 Bishopsgate, in the City of London. The site itself has an interesting recent history – it was going to be the Pinnacle, an elaborate, spiraling skyscraper. But construction stopped as the downturn hit hard in 2011, and for the last few years, it’s been nicknamed “The Stump” – an abandoned nine-storey concrete core. It’s taken Brookfield Multiplex, the chief contractors for the new skyscraper, around a year to dismantle the old core, by slicing up the concrete into 8-14 tonne sections, lifting them out, digging back down into and rebuilding the basement to the new design. Finally, pretty much in the last few weeks, they’ve been able to stop digging down and start building up again.

The building will start to rise quite quickly in the next few weeks. The new design consists of two cores – a square-ish one, which will lead a rectangular one alongside. This reflects the non-square shape of the site – it being narrow to the north than to the south, and squeezed to the east by the Cheesegrater and the long-suffering Hiscox building. Both will rise by around a storey a week, with the square one leading the rectangular one by around five storeys, and the metal structure of the floors surrounding the cores another five or so storeys below. Currently, the main core is 2-3 storeys up already and is about to start its long continuous rising phase. The rectangular core, which we looked down on from the elevated viewing platform, is a storey below ground level at the moment, and today is having a temporary wall added to the top of it, creating a platform and work area “raft” that will rise up with it. The square core already has its temporary wall erected, coloured black and made of perforated steel, and can be seen as the main feature in both the photos above and at the bottom, surrounding a small yellow crane and other yellow machinery that will sit on the raft.

Even with a storey-per-week rise, this process will take more than a year, for 22 Bishopsgate will be a huge “slab” type skyscraper, with vertical walls, stretching an impressive 64 storeys high. It will be only marginally lower than the nearby Shard skyscraper, at 278m. It will fit snuggly in to the skyscraper cluster of the Cheesegrater, Gherkin, Natwest Tower and various others. The design is not “exciting” – it is a straight up-and-down building which is using up its full footprint, but his means it will provide a good balance to the nearby flamboyant Gherkin and Walkie Talkie building. In this artist’s impression, in which it is the obvious tallest building in the cluster here, it looks like an updated, taller/wider and glassier version of the classic Natwest Tower nearby which is just to the right hiding behind another under-construction skyscraper, 100 Bishopsgate:

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From the viewing platform, we could also see active work going on for 100 Bishopsgate, just up the road as the name suggests, as well as the recladding and height extension of One Angel Court, and finally a very small tower going up in the small space between Bishopsgate and the Natwest Tower. As part of this latter project and 22 Bishopsgate itself, the Highwalk around the Natwest Tower has now been completely removed. This is a shame – it was a largely unknown but nice elevated walking space. However, I understand that the Highwalk will be rebuilt once both projects are complete, so we will once again be able to walk above the roads and amongst the towers.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photographers on the tour, but you can see the square core clearly from Bishopsgate now – see the photos here. Our wooden-clad viewing platform can be see in the background of the first photo, on the left.

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Middle image is an artists impression of the completed cluster, from Lipton Rogers.

A Glimpse into Walthamstow Wetlands

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I was on a guided tour of the Walthamstow Wetlands today, a huge area of 10 historic reservoirs that has long been the preserve of fishermen, birdwatchers and water company workers, that is about to be turned into a large, publicly accessible nature reserve. The area is near to the Woodbury Wetlands, which similarly was a largely unknown area of water and reeds that has now been opened up, the guest of honour at the opening ceremony last month being none other than Sir David Attenborough. However, Walthamstow Wetlands is ten times larger, and the London Wildlife Trust, who are delivering the tranformations in both areas and led today’s tour, describe Woodbury Wetlands as just a “dress rehearsal” for the Walthamstow Wetlands area, which is 6 times the size and is due to open in 2017. It will be far and away the largest area of wetland habitat in London and one of the most important in Europe.

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The area is already teaming with birds, other animals, and wildflowers, and some early signs of the conversion are already in progress, compared with my previous visit a few years back. The surface has been laid on a new walking/cycling route that will run the length of the reserve, with two new entrances being created at either end to complement the only current access which is from Ferry Lane in the middle of the reserve. Several areas have been fenced off in the Reservoirs 1, 2 and 3 – the earliest, hand-dug and shallow ones, the aim being to turn these into areas of reed beds to encourage bitterns back into the area. The two main islands, Heron Island and Cormorant Island, are full of their respective birds – the latter island being largely bare of vegetation and full of the squarking animals. Other wildlife spotted included a variety of geese and ducks (some as families), some large fish (the area is a major spot for angling) and many dragonflies. Also, somewhat less fortunately, there was a grass snake near the entrance – run over and squashed presumably by estate traffic.

Plans include complete renovation of the historic engine house in the middle of the site, to act as the main visitor centre, cafe, exhibition and an education facility. The house will have part of its tower rebuilt with hollow bricks, to encourage skylarks to nest. The renovation is well underway with the building gutted and in scaffolding. Various bits of machinery from its days as a pumping house will be retained, although the main pump itself was removed many years ago. At the southern end of the reserve, the central part of the Coppermill building will have a lift added, allowing access into the tower for a great view over the reserve. The look of the building will be carefully preserved, this means the lift will not make it to quite the top of the tower. Access to the reserve, centre and viewpoint will all be free. Possible future plans, subject to the success of the reserve and its ability to be self-funding following opening, will be a second small visitor facility being built in the rest of the Coppermill building, which, for now, remains a storage site for Thames Water.

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Top and second: Preparation of the new reed beds. Above: One of the tracks through the reserve, which has had bracken removed and has been planted with wildflowers to encourage different kinds of birds. Below: Geese and a swan on another of the reservoirs. Bottom: Looking from Ferry Lane into the north part of the wetlands, which was not part of today’s tour.

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There is more information about the project on the official website.

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TubeHacker: 10 Things to Optimise Travel in London

tfl_wtt1. Tube trains do run to a strict timetable, rather than just “saturating” the tunnels with trains, as can appear to be the case on many lines during the rush hour.

This is not normally useful because the gap between trains is so small, so TfL doesn’t publish the timetables, except for first/last trains and, for anoraks, the Working Timetables are hidden away on their website. However, the timetables (which are accurate to quarter-minutes) are useful near the start or end of the day – particularly around midnight, where the frequencies drop right down. Journey Planners, such as Google Maps, make use of the hidden timetables. Case in point – a recent journey suggested a Circle Line train arriving at 0002 at Paddington, going eastwards. Sure enough, as I ran down the stairs a hundred seconds after midnight, it was just pulling in. For less frequent services, such as Metropolitan Line trains to Amersham, the timetables become event more important. Crossrail will also likely be relatively infrequent, especially for services to the far ends.

tfl_osis2. Out of Station Interchanges (OSIs) can be useful for saving money (i.e. avoiding Zone 1) or time (as distances can be much smaller between other lines than the tube map can suggest). They are “free” transfers which are not shown on the tube map, but which count as only one journey, even if you go out through ticket barriers and back in at the other station. The system does the maths so you don’t end up paying for too. Each OSI has a time limit between the two sets of barriers, so don’t go shopping in between the stations! You can see the current OSIs between tube/DLR/Overground stations on this map, or see this page for the complete list.

3. You don’t have to flag down, hail or otherwise signal TfL buses. This has been the case for a few years. Bus drivers will always stop if they see you at the stop and you show a vague interest towards the bus – such as facing it and looking at it.

4. The Santander Cycles (a.k.a Boris Bikes, or generically, the London Bicycle Sharing System bikes) stretch across a wide area of central London. They charge £2 for every 30 minutes after the first half hour. You can save money on a long journey by docking just before the 30 minutes is up, waiting at least 5 minutes, and then starting the next leg of the journey, either from the same docking station or a nearby one. (N.B. Santander Bikes are not included in the Oyster/Contactless/travelcard system – yet. They may be included from summer 2017 onwards.)

5. Oyster/Contactless is always cheaper when travelling in Zone 1-6, or on any TfL services outside of these zones, but not necessarily when on non-TfL services travelling outside of Zone 1-6. For example, paper tickets from Gatwick London Bridge or London Victoria can sometimes be cheaper than Oyster/Contactless.

6. 2-for-1 to top London Attractions: If you have a paper train ticket (i.e. for National Rail and London Overground, not the tube) to the stations nearest the attraction then you can get a 2-for-1 on entry (e.g. Richmond to Kew Gardens for visiting the aforementioned gardens is £3 for 2 people – save £16+ on getting in). You don’t actually have to do the journey though, and you don’t need to buy the tickets from the start of your theoretical journey – buy it at the station nearest the attraction if there’s a ticket office there. Buy a journey which is very short, as then it will be cheap!

7. Sometimes, you don’t need to get the tube. A day bus pass is £4.50, but you get a free one automatically put on your Oyster/Contactless after 3 bus journeys that day, and then you can go on unlimited other TfL buses for free until 0430 the following morning. A “Hopper” ticket giving you two journeys in an hour for £1.50, is coming in September. In both cases, you pay for the electronic ticket through Oyster or a contactless credit/debit card – buses don’t take paper tickets.

8. Buses don’t have zones, but are included in any travelcard. So you can have a Zone 1-2 travelcard and then travel out from Zone 2 on a bus, to Zone 3 or right to the edge of London etc, then back into Zone 2 from Zone 3 on a bus, all on the travelcard.

tfl_shortwalks9. The tube map is far from geographical. Here are some journeys that are shorter by walking, than by taking the tube:

  • Leicester Square to Covent Garden (450 people a day do this journey by tube! Don’t!)
  • Bayswater to Queensway
  • Paddington to Lancaster Gate (i.e. Hyde Park)
  • Farringdon to St Paul’s

10. If you avoid Zone 1, long journeys can be extremely cheap. For example, stay on TfL rail services (Underground, Overground, TfL Rail, Tramlink) and it’s just £1.50 off-peak, no matter how far you go – you’ll need to touch on pink Oyster card readers when changing trains, to prove you went that way. Uxbridge to Upminster is just £1.50 off-peak with Oyster/contactless, despite being over 31 miles as the crow flies. Just touch the pink reader at Stratford’s Overground platforms. This doesn’t always work – if you have to travel back on yourself then you may not get the discount. For example, Earl’s Court to Highbury and Islington doesn’t work (despite both being in Zone 2), but very close by West Brompton to Highbury and Islington does. The single fare finder will always tell you if there’s an avoid Zone 1 option for your journey, and where you may need to touch a pink reader to prove it.

The View from the Shard for Londoners

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There’s currently a great deal for Londoners who are keen to see the city from the highest viewpoint possible. The View from the Shard currently has a “Love London” pass for sale for just £20.16. This gives you unlimited visits between now and the end of the year – not bad if you consider that, for on-the-day visitors, the regular tourist price, for ONE visit, is £31 (or £26 if you book in advance). Even if you only visit every couple of months between now and December, that still works at £4 per visit. Go half an hour before sunset, go at night, go in the morning on a sunny day, go when the garden opens in mid-June, and go during heavy rain or a lightning storm! On my second visit I missed a big one by just a few minutes.

The Pass

To get it just turn up, buy the pass and then get a ticket for a visit, there and then. The pass is credit-card sized, and digitally stores a photo of you to check against swapping of the card. There’s only a limited number of the cards left, you can only get them from the ticket office in the Shard (open until 9pm every day). You’ll need both photo ID and proof of (London) address to get the pass. For subsequent visits you just flash the pass at the ticket desk and get a ticket. At the time of writing, there are currently “a few” left, the staff are cagey about how many, but a few thousand (2016 + 500 + X?) have been sold so far.

The Journey Up

Getting to the top of the Shard is reasonably involved, although in both visits I’ve made so far (7pm on a weekday and 6pm on a Sunday), there were no queues, either to get the ticket or for the lifts, and the two viewing platforms were both not too crowded – no waiting needed to see the view once you are up. To get there once you have your pass and ticket:

  1. Give your ticket to an attendant who swipes it to open a gate.
  2. You then have an metal-detector gate to go through, with your bags/pocket contents X-ray scanned.
  3. You then get a couple of green-screen photos of you taken (so don’t wear green!), one looking forwards and the other looking up. You get handed a card (to later retrieve the photos to view and/or purchase).
  4. You get given a small PDA containing a guide to the view you are about to see, with optional audio narration.
  5. Down a corridor into a lift to Floor 33, the 30 second journey augmented by a vivid animated display in the ceiling.
  6. Then, an usher shows you around he corner to the second lift, another ceiling visual and 30 seconds later you are on Level 68. Just about there!
  7. There’s a little shop at Level 68, but go straight up the stairs to Level 69, the indoor, and largest, of the two viewing platforms.

The View

shardtop_1You made it! The building beams cast a reflection on the glass panels which is surprisingly strong but an hour before sunset they turn off the inside lighting, which helps, and after dark it is not a problem. There are also free (yay!) digital telescopes arranged around the edge (press the button on the left to get the live view, which unfortunately does not zoom in as far as the historic image views – take your own binoculars or telephoto lens, if you are trying to spot your suburban home!) The photo at the bottom of this post is the first view you see – looking to the south. It’s the least exciting direction, but is still visually striking. N.B. In this photo, on the top of the building at the bottom, which is itself a 25-floor skyscraper (Guys Hospital), you can spot Wally on the roof. He is there for a few more days, as part of an aerial I-spy.

Up three more flights of stairs to get to Level 72, the outdoor platform (though it still feels enclosed as there is glass above head-height, and the core behind you) which also hosts a Champagne bar. The floor is wooden decking, and partially under cover. Don’t forget to look up from this level, in the corners. Here, the view is more open, and you can see the rest of the Shard heading up for a further 17 floors, as it tapers to a point – see the photo above. There is also a further set of stairs up, tantalisingly off-limits to visitors.

The View from the Shard is definitely worth the trip, if you live in London and plan a few visits this year. It’s high enough up (the platforms are nearly 300m) up to give London a “Sim City” (or, at night, “Blade Runner”) feel, and a view which appears to cover the whole of London and – thanks to the continuous urban extent right to the horizon – makes the city look truly huge, in a way that maps, lower viewpoints and aircraft views (too high) don’t achieve.

…oh, and if you need another reason to go, there’s a nice floor map in the sky lobby, half-way up to the top.

Thanks to Diamond Geezer for tipping me off about the Love London cards.

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Locations of the 12 London “High Lines”

To aid virtual exploration of the twelve possible “High Line” elevated walking routes in inner-city London, that I’ve highlighted in my series over the last couple of weeks, I’ve created this map on Google Maps, showing the extent of each of the twelve routes.

To recap, the 12 are:

  1. The East London Line Extension
  2. The Greenway
  3. Millwall Viaduct
  4. Peckham Coal Line
  5. Parkland Walk
  6. Bishopsgate Goods Yard
  7. Limehouse Curve
  8. Barbican Highwalks
  9. Pedways of the City
  10. Borough Market Bridge
  11. Garden Bridge
  12. The Camden Line

See the map here, which you can explore using aerial imagery and “Street View” (or see a small version below).

The Camden Line

Over the last two weeks I have featured eleven potential London High Lines (see all the previous ones here) – all of them could be interesting place but none of them quite have the potential to be a London “High Line”.

Today, my final London High Line, is the one that I think ticks all the boxes. It runs through post-industrial gritty inner-city London, it’s elevated, it’s an old railway route, and the land is just lying there, undeveloped. It is the Camden High Line – a potential High Line that runs between Camden Gardens Park (just off Kentish Town Road), around the back of Camden Road station, across a number of intact, unused bridges and finishing at an existing footbridge across the Midland Mainline, just past Camley Street. In all, a distance of around 800m, with a possible Phase 2 future extension across to the huge and evolving development area behind King’s Cross station, although this additional section would require the building of at least one footbridge.

The route: camdenroute

1. Western end

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This would likely need the most expensive new structure – a lift with a surrounding staircase, to allow step-free access onto the route from the western end. It would also need to use a small section of the public park here – Camden Gardens Park – for the lift/staircase to “land”.

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The route would then move quite quickly away from the current line, using the disused (and now heavily overgrown) section behind Camden Road station – another possible access point and one that could provide an alternative step-free entrance using the existing lift there, from the eastbound platform (ticket barrier location notwithstanding).

The route moves back towards the current line, crossing Camden Road on a disused but intact bridge as it does so. This is the bridge which currently has “Camden Road” painted on its side, prominently, by Network Rail, visible when travelling down the hill from Camden Road. (The other nearby railway bridge also has “Camden Road” painted on it, when facing the other way.) As you can see from the Google Streetview imagery, the bridge is sitting waiting for a walkway to be added onto it:

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2. Middle section

The route continues along the former double-track, alongside the existing double-track between Camden Road and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, walled off safely but with plenty of space available for the High Walk itself.

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Shortly, a couple of other bridges are crossed. One crosses over at a road junction. There is plenty of pavement below the bridge here and so this is a potential landing location for a staircase (possibly spiral) for an intermediate entry/exit to the walk.

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3. Eastern end

The route continues eastwards, narrowing quite a bit near the end at the final bridge across Camley Street although still with plenty of space beside the operational railway for a path and appropriate screening from the operational railway.

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There is a choice of endings at the eastern end. There is already a (pretty unpleasant and unsafe feeling) set of steps down from the western side of the Midland Mainline existing footbridge. This could be remodelled and made safer. At the bottom is the northern end of Camley Street, a light industrial estate, with an existing pedestrian link north to Agar Grove, and a quiet road south that leads to the Regent’s Canal – from there, King’s Cross Central is nearby. Alternatively, continuing along the road eventually leads to St Pancras International station.

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The second ending is a level access from the footbridge crossing the Midland Mainline – at its eastern end, paths head north and then northeast, connecting to Agar Grove and eventually Caledonian Road. This has the benefit of providing a step-free end to the walk, so that, unlike at the western end, a lift would not be necessary.

4. Phase 2 extension

This would connect the eastern end of the Camden Line, southwards to the huge mixed-use King’s Cross Central redevelopment and Central St Martin’s College, behind King’s Cross station. Such a route would require crossing over (or under) the existing North London Line, and various other lines emerging from St Pancras, with at least one footbridge needed – as such it would be an expensive exercise. I’m just mentioning it here as having a complete “High Line” link running all the way between, Camden Town and King’s Cross, to parallel with the Regent’s Canal route to the south of it, seems like an obvious route between two major north London walking destinations.

So could it happen? Well, the viability of the project would depend on Network Rail reliquishing its land, on support from Camden Council, a fundraising effort to fund a feasibility report and build the actual trail, and on the creation of a local trust dedicated to maintaining such a route once it opened on a largely voluntary basis, like happens on the New York High Line. In short, it wouldn’t be easy, but it is certainly very possible.

See all 12 of my London “High Lines”.

Photos from Google Street View and Google Aerial Imagery. Map from OpenStreetMap (Data ODbL, cartography CC-By OSM contributors)

High Lines 11. Garden Bridge

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the final one – my big idea for a High Line that I think has real potential – tomorrow.

Well, this is a controversial one. It’s not a structure that exists in any form (let alone being abandoned), it has nothing to do with railway lines – although the landing on the north side is on the roof of Temple station – and it is a high-profile project with influential (& wealthy) backers but also significant opposition. It’s the Garden Bridge, a pedestrian, daytime only bridge to meander along, linking Temple/Strand to South Bank.

It fulfils many of the High Line concepts – it is a private initative to add something “nice” to London. It is substantially privately funded and would be run by a trust. Being a bridge, it certainly affords great views of London. It would be intensively cultivated with trees and flowers to encourage meandering and dawdling rather than it becoming a commuter link (the nearby Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges cater well for that). And finally, it would have tightly controlled access – no cycling, large groups/gatherings, or access after dark.

It is this last point – that it would be a privately owned/managed and controlled space, muscling into a highly visible location in central London, but partially funded, and guaranteed, by public funds – that has proved controversial. However, as long as the governance is appropriately inclusive, i.e. representing the concerned bodies as well as the sponsoring ones, and appropriate covenants were added, e.g., dedicating free public access during daylight hours, every day of the year (no daytime closures for private parties), and income private evening/night time events on the bridge went partially back to public funds, then much of the opposition would maybe be quelled. It certainly doesn’t blend in to the surroundings and its location/height may spoil views of the City from Waterloo Bridge, but if it ends up looking like the impression above, it would be fantastic – another London green space which is (mostly) dedicated to the public, and a wonderful, free London facility for contemplation and enjoyment of the outside. I hope it gets built.

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Postscript: There is another “Garden Bridge” already in London – the Green Bridge that crosses the A11 road by Mile End station (it’s actually bright yellow, underneath), linking the two halves of Mile End Park. Originally it had trees growing on top of the bridge itself, however the soil was not deep enough to allow the roots to build and the trees to flourish, so sadly they have been replaced with just grass. Hopefully the designers of the Garden Bridge will have learnt from the mistakes of the Green Bridge and, earlier, the Barbican Estate’s waterfall.

Photo/map from the Garden Bridge website.

High Lines 10. Borough Market Bridge

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

[Update (2016) – the main (southern) bridge featured here is already in use by trains now.]

This new railway bridge got lifted into place a couple of years ago. Eventually, in 2018 or so once London Bridge Station has been rebuilt, it will form the dedicated tracks between this station and Charing Cross, with the old bridge going to just Blackfriars, rather than to both at the moment. But that’s a few years away. At the moment the bridge is empty, and just used for storage. How cool would it be if you could walk straight from the concourse in front of London Bridge Station, to Borough Market, without having to cross Borough High Street? A couple of scaffolded staircases would allow for such a possibility, even if it was only for a couple of years.

There is also potential for using the track that curves westwards from Cannon Street to Charing Cross, as no scheduled train needs to use this curve. However there is still a single track here, which is used as a siding after the morning rush-hour, so, although there is enough room for a path alongside, it’s (even) less likely that this would ever become a High Walk for the public.

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Top photo: Steven Craven on Geograph. Aerial image from Google Maps.