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.

[Update: cancelled]

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

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.

High Lines 9. Pedways of the City

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

Complementary to the Highwalks of the Barbican, the concept (originally called Pedways by the 1950s planners) was intended in fact to spread throughout the “Square Mile” of the City, of which the Barbican formed the northern edge. For several years, new offices were required to have an entrance and lobby on the first floor, as well as on the ground floor as normal. In time, a network of Pedway bridges would connect the offices to each other and provide a complete alternative network of pedestrian routes around the City. Such 1950s utopian ideals never came to pass. There is a great video here about the rise and fall of Pedways and the 1950s buildings that accompanied them. Outside of the Barbican, the few Pedways that did get built are gradually being removed as the 1950s buildings alongside come to the end of their lives, however a couple of significant fragments in the City remain, both of which I feature here. It’s unclear how long they will remain for, but for now they remain a fascinating and hidden way to move around and explore London’s financial district without having to cross roads.

pedway_tower42The first is the link that runs behind Tower 42 (the former Natwest Tower). It used to head east to what is now the Gherkin, however the bridge here (across Bishopsgate) was severed when the Pinnacle construction started. The Pinnacle project was then cancelled and the concrete stump is now disappearing again, to be replaced by another skyscraper – but with no bridge link restored. The other link heads north, right through the Lloyds Banking Group building, before coming to another bridge across a busy road. This is still there – for now – but leads to a dead-end, as its steps down were recently removed. So, the urban explorer here has to take the steps down just before the road.

The other is an even less well known link that leads directly from The Monument (to the Great Fire of London) to one of the best views in London – an elevated, river-bank view of Tower Bridge from the elevated plaza at St Magnus House. It passes through a couple of buildings, one on each side of Lower Thames Street, before opening out to a podium for the view, and a convenient staircase (ignored by the great majority that pass below it) that then drops directly down onto the Thames Path.

Iain Targett walked both of these routes, as well as one of the Barbican routes, and documented what they looked like in this photo set.

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Top and bottom photos of the Tower 42 Highwalk, both by Steve Keirestu. Map Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL (data) & CC-By (cartography).

High Lines 8. Barbican Highwalks

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

The Barbican is a huge 1950s/60s housing development in the “raw concrete” Brutalist style which divides opinion (personally, I love it). The concept of the Barbican is having the pedestrian level on two “podiums” 4-6 metres above the car/street level, entirely separated from traffic. Connections between the podiums and the street level, and between different parts of the estate, are via “Highwalks”. These walkways in the sky are in fact legally considered public streets, and if you are familiar with the geography of the Barbican, are a pleasant way to pass through part of the City without encountering traffic.

The Highwalks are shown as orange lines on the estate map below. Some have actual orange lines painted on the ground, these are to help visitors, who are unfamiliar with the complex 3D nature of the walking routes in the area, to make it to the Barbican Art Centre – by following an orange line from an entrance to the estate, you should find your way there. One of these orange lines can be just made out on the far left in the photo above.

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One section of the Highwalks near the Barbican that has recently disappeared, is a triangle of land near London Wall, that used to connect the predominately residential Barbican to the Guildhall. This has recently been demolished for a new complex of office towers, London Wall Place. Thankfully, the raised sections will be coming back, as a nice looking long bridge, passing through the new buildings and restoring the connection between London Wall, the Barbican’s own network of Highwalks and podiums, and the Guildhall and rest of the City. The temptation these days, surely, must be to improve the pedestrian realm at street level, as ultimately that’s where people want to be, but it’s good to see that, in this case, the “first floor” pedestrian level will live on, as a route from which to observe the buzz of the city below.

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Map: Phil Gyford. Bottom photo: London Wall Place.

High Lines 7. Limehouse Curve

This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. See the full list here including the one with the best potential.

The Limehouse Curve lies just east of Limehouse station in east London, it used to be a link between Stratford/West Ham and the Isle of Dogs/Blackwall. These days only a short section remains, around half of the curve itself, running from the DLR viaduct at the eastern edge of Limehouse Basin, and crossing Commercial Road, beyond where a line of apartments stands. The link is short (120m) but it is raised, and through an appropriately gritty part of the post-industrial inner city. There are two bridges that are solely part of the disused route (both seen below in this wide-angle Google Street View image), plus a third which is shared with the existing DLR route, beside which a wooden decking and descent down to street level could be assembled – although step-free access, likely a prerequisite for any funded project, would be very tricky at this end.

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There was a tentative project a few years ago to create connections at either end and make it a short walkway and linear park, but sadly nothing came of it. However, the route remains, including a potentially useful bridge across a busy road. Maybe one day it will live again.

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Top photo from What If. Bottom photo and aerial imagery above from Google Maps aerial view.

High Lines 6. Bishopsgate Goods Yard

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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.

This is a potential High Line that might well happen, but in a radically different form to the current situation. Largely demolished, the raised Bishopsgate Goods Yard space is about to see a big change.

Sitting just south of the new Shoreditch High Street station (the other side from BoxPark), it was once Bishopsgate Station, then it was converted to a goods yard in 1875. After a huge fire in 1964 it was abandoned. The remains of the building were demolished in 2003 but a raised area remains, part of which is the Braithwaite Viaduct, a relatively linear section which is largely unseen – the adjoining Shoreditch High Street station is also elevated and so would have good views of the area, but is enclosed in concrete in anticipation of major building construction over and alongside it.

Aerial view of Shoreditch, London

It would make a nice, if short, High Walk, running between Brick Lane and the Great Eastern Street/Bishopsgate junction with great views over to the City, Spitalfields and Hoxton/Shoreditch. The section is just 260m long, not much longer than the station alongside it, but it would surely be popular, just looking at the crowds that throng the City to the west during the weekdays, and Brick Lane to the east at the weekends.

A small part of the site, specifically the arches forming the remainder of the Braithwaite Viaduct, is likely to be preserved and remodelled, rather than being demolished, as part of a huge new mixed use development “The Goodsyard” that is due to start at the end of next year and finish a few years later. Photos of the potential design suggest a high level walking above the arches, connecting the various new buildings as well as Brick Lane with Bishopsgate, along with lower level paths including one in the arches themselves. A campaign against it (more), concerned mainly with overshadowing of the existing Shoreditch area, has already led to some design changes. Existing railway tunnels (Central and Great Eastern) underneath the site mean that piling locations are limited however, and so elevated walkways (which generally wouldn’t require piling) are likely to remain part of the final design. It won’t be a quiet path sneaking through an old industrial area, rather a route connecting various new blocks, so it won’t feel like a hidden secret, but it will be raised, it’s in an appropriately gritty area for a “High Line” (check out this atmospheric passage very close by!) The space has been off limits to the public for 50 years. Looking forward to the transformation.

See also: BBC News article about the “High Line” potential of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard.

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Photos from The Goodsyard (the developer’s website). Aerial image/map from More Light More Power.

High Lines 5. Parkland Walk

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

The Parkland Walk is possibly the closest thing that London has to a High Line, right now. It’s on a disused railway line (including platforms at one point), it has some short elevated sections, and it already exists as a walking and cycling route. However, the character of the area is very different. The line runs through a solidly residential, leafy (and hilly) part of north London, connecting Finsbury Park to Highgate. The feel is more of a woodland walk, with some tall mature trees which lessen the sense of threading through the city and observing it, and make the route feel rather enclosed and claustrophobic in places. It’s a lovely route for dog walkers or people cycling west from Finsbury Park – although the route is generally not surfaced and so is difficult to ride on or keep your feet dry after rain, when the path turns to mud.

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It’s a shame – more could be made of it certainly, however I rather suspect the local patronage rather like it as it is, and would never allow the trees to be cut down to improve the view*. It’s a lost link, a slightly neglected but useful enough rail trail through some deliberately overgrown flora, rather than a place to view the city from. The route is not secure or lit and is open at night, so suffers from some anti-social problems. Having said that, I would love to have it as a jogging route on my doorstep.

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* In my description above I omitted mentioning a branch section of the route, that runs from Queen’s Wood (near Highgate) to Alexandra Palace and does in fact include some spectacular views southward to central London.

Above: The platforms at the old Crouch End station. Below: Tall trees enclosing the Parkland Walk route. Photos by Alyson Fletcher. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.

High Lines 4. Peckham Coal Line

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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.

The Peckham Coal Line is a potential “High Line” for south London, which has a higher profile than most of the others I’m featuring inn this series, following a recent crowd-funding campaign to fund a full feasibility study, and expressions of interest from thw council, the Mayor and other key parties necessary making such a such a thing happen.

The route proposes taking over an unused set of sidings, beside the London Overground between Rye Lane (near Peckham Rye station) and Queen’s Road Peckham station, and turning it into a linear park, separated from the railway by a fence, and incorporating a gradual descent down to road level at its eastern end, through an existing small park beside the railway. The total length would be a kilometre. Peckham Rye station itself is due to undergo a major redevelopment, opening out the historic Victorian station building and courtyard, and a nearby High Walk type link would likely greatly add to the rejuvenation of the area.

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Peckham is reasonably far out from central London, but has the right “inner city” urban-renewal feel that could mean such a venture is successful. The people behind the event held a recent open day where part of the route was test-walked. Looking at the map suggests that much of the route will be a tight squeeze between the viaduct edge and operational railway. The proponents’ sketches on the website though suggest that they think they can make it work. The website for the project is impressive and has some nice videos and visuals of what it looks like now and what it might look like in the future. The Mayor of London has backed the feasibility study. Fingers crossed that the study delivers the right result and the project gets built!

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Top photo from the PeckhamCoalLine Twitter feed. Map and bottom photo from the Peckham Coal Line website.

High Lines 3. Millwall Viaduct

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

millwallviaductBefore the DLR came along in the 1980s, there was an abandoned railway route (the Millwall Extension of the London & Blackwall Railway) running through the Isle of Dogs and ending on a viaduct just south of the current Island Gardens station, at a terminus station called North Greenwich – several miles from the station currently with that name. Almost whole route, including the viaduct, was then reused when the DLR was built, the new terminus “Island Gardens” being just north of the old one. When the DLR was extended under the River Thames to Greenwich, the route needed to drop down more quickly so that it could tunnel under the Thames, so this short section, at the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs, was abandoned for a second time, but the structure remains to this day, running across Millwall Park, starting shortly after Mudchute Station and ending shortly before the old Island Gardens station.

It would make a lovely High Line if it wasn’t for (a) being a little too short, (b) not going anywhere unique, as there’s a public footpath beneath/beside it all the way, (c) being in a park rather than crossing over roads and around/through buildings, and (d) being quite a long way from the crowds and buzz of inner city London. Still, it would be lovely to be able to walk about up there again – not possible since the original Island Gardens terminus station (nee North Greenwich) re-closed in the 1990s. Aerial imagery suggests it’s just a nice strip of grass and shrubbery these days.

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Top photo: Copyright (CC-By) Rod Allday. Bottom photo: Copyright (CC-By) Matt Buck. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.

High Lines 2. The Greenway

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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.

The Greenway is an existing “High Line” in east London, however it does not follow the route of an abandoned railway line, rather it runs along the top of the Northern Outflow Sewer, one of London’s huge Victorian sewer pipes (the odd vent in the path’s tarmac provides you with a reminder of what is below!) The route heads east from Hackney Wick, which certainly ticks the “High Line” boxes of a post-industrial, loft-living neighbourhood, before slicing through the still-evolving Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. However, the remainder of the route is through big industry sites and a low-density residential area – Plaistow – which doesn’t give quite the same feeling of slicing through an inner city fabric that the NYC High Line, or yesterday’s featured route, the East London Line Extension, does. Abbey Mill is a highlight if you do keep going further east though.

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The first part of the Greenway received a substantial upgrade just before the Olympics, as it provided two potential entry points into the Olympic Park during the Olympics themselves. (They were little-used in the end.) However a section was also blocked during the games, as the athletes’ route between the warm-up track and the main Olympic Stadium passing across it. However, the improvement works were designed with the legacy in mind too and the resulting path is of a good quality, lit and with good views to the Olympic Park structures and the various residential skyscrapers going up along Stratford High Street. Cyclists use it as a commuting link, however the path is wide and visibility good.

The route will be further improved when the Crossrail works finish in 2018 and a section near Stratford, which has been closed since 2007, finally reopens. If walking along this first part, a stop off at the “View Tube“, a coffee shop made out of lime-green shipping containers, perched at the point where the Greenway route descends to cross under a railway line, it has an excellent view from the top deck. There may be further buildings appearing in the future – such as the UCL East campus and other similar projects, which mean that this section might eventually form more of a “High Line” feel, but it will never be an oasis in a dense inner-city, simply because it is too far out from central London.

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Top: The Greenway in the Olympic Park, following improvements made in 2009-10. Bottom: One of the signposts installed before the Olympics. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.