Take a step into Charlton’s future: Support proposals for a Thames Barrier Bridge

Thames Barrier Bridge
A Thames Barrier Bridge could be a tourist attraction in its own right

Two years ago, we reported on early ideas for a pedestrian and cycling bridge at the Thames Barrier, connecting Charlton with Silvertown on the north side of river. Now the team behind the proposals are looking for your support to make this a reality. ALEX LIFSCHUTZ, of the architecture firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, explains more and how you can get involved.

The Thames Barrier Bridge, conceived by the London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, with the marine, civil and structural engineers Beckett Rankine, is a low-cost, low-impact pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link the communities of Charlton and Woolwich with the Royal Docks. The transport consultants Steer reckon that five million pedestrians and one million cyclists would use the bridge every year, based on journeys to work alone. These figures don’t include leisure or other trips.

The grim statistics of the pandemic have alerted us to so many issues of health and social inequality. Likewise the return of birdsong to our cities has reminded us that, as we emerge from lockdown, we really do have to replace motor vehicles with sustainable transport. Walking and cycling are part of the solution to all of these problems – promoting health, social and economic progress, and reducing pollution. A hopeful sign is the massive increase of bike sales – according to The Guardian, up 40% on last year.

Thames Barrier Bridge
A bridge at the Thames Barrier would not stop shipping

But the river creates an enormous barrier to walking and cycling in east and southeast London. For instance, a journey from Charlton to the new City Hall at The Crystal, or the 70,000 new jobs in and around the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, currently takes about 40 minutes, cycling and walking though the Woolwich foot tunnel (assuming the lifts are working or you don’t mind carrying your bike down and up the stairs), 40 minutes by the Docklands Light Railway, or over 70 minutes walking.

A bridge across the river close to the Thames Barrier would allow you to reach the same destination in 20 minutes, walking or you could cycle there in half that time. It would be the only bridge east of Tower Bridge (other than the Dartford Crossing), where half of London’s population now lives, compared to over 20 bridges in west London.

Thames Barrier Bridge
The bridge would create opportunities for communities on both sides of the Thames

In the late 1990’s, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea of a bridge connecting the South Bank to Charing Cross station and slung off the existing Hungerford Railway Bridge, creating minimal obstructions to river traffic. Completed in 2002, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges have become the Thames’s most popular crossing with about 8.4 million pedestrian journeys each year.

Our idea for the new bridge at the Thames Barrier is similarly opportunistic. Like the Golden Jubilee Bridges, its supports would shadow the piers of the existing structure and hence create only a small additional impact on navigation and the flow of the river. In fact, like our bridges further upstream, it would also provide the barrier with protection from impact on whichever side it is placed. Its low height (about 15 metres above Mean Water High Springs) makes it easier to access by cycle, foot or wheelchair, with minimal shore taken up by its relatively short ramps rising from the parks at either side. It would be around nine metres wide with separate lanes for walking and bikes.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea for the Golden Jubilee Bridge, linking the South Bank with the West End (image: Mary and Andrew via CC BY 2.0)

It would totally transform the accessibility of the Charlton and Woolwich waterfronts including existing occupants such as the Thames-Side Studios and the many new homes and businesses planned for Charlton Riverside. Looking further afield, it would link the Green Chain, including Maryon Park and Charlton Park on the south side, to the Lee Valley and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Parks to the north.

Like Tower Bridge, the Thames Barrier Bridge is an opening bascule bridge, so allows passage for boats and barges by raising its deck. The elegant structure is a series of small spans that use a minimal amount of material (especially steel), making it both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. With shorter, multiple openings, the bridge is less prone to the risk of malfunction compared to a single point of opening, and can be raised at the last minute for ships to pass, minimising disruption to cycles and pedestrians. The bridge would serve journeys to and from work but also attract visitors and tourists, bringing economic benefits north and south of the river.

Thames Barrier
A bridge would connect new developments, transport links and green spaces on. both sides of the Thames

The idea is receiving support from local MPs and councillors, residents’ groups, cycle organisations, developers, environmentalists and transport experts. What we need are local political champions, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the London Borough of Newham, the Greater London Authority and statutory agencies like the Environment Agency to pick up the idea and help us run with it.

Of course, we are only at the concept stage and much testing needs to be done. Curiously, once it has political support, funding the design work – and ultimately the £300 million structure – is less difficult than you’d expect as there is a large amount of green finance available at the moment, given government and corporate climate initiatives.

So what can you do to help? Click on the website – www.thamesbarrierbridge.com – to find out more and send us your comments, or write to your local council.

The pandemic has shown us that we can rapidly change our behaviour to counter a virus; we can use the same energy and enterprise to counter the even more dangerous threat of climate change and, in doing so, make better lives for ourselves.

ALEX LIFSCHUTZ is the founder and principal of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

This comment piece is also appearing on our sister website 853.


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Thames Path ‘missing link’ is launched – with council hoping to open it all night

Cyclists on the Thames Path missing link
Cyclists and walkers gathered on Wednesday for the opening of the Thames Path’s ‘missing link’

The “missing link” on the Thames Path between Charlton and Woolwich opened on Wednesday – with Greenwich Council pledging to finish the job by trying to open it 24 hours a day.

After 15 years of lobbying by Greenwich Cyclists, the £1.5m route from the Thames Barrier in Charlton to King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich was officially launched by London cycling and walking commissioner Will Norman and Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald.

Scott-McDonald, the cabinet member for public realm, told guests that while the connection – which passes through an industrial estate – would “initially” open from 6am to 9pm seven days a week, “our ambition is for it to open 24 hours a day, for everyone”.

The link uses a ramp to pass from the Thames Barrier site into the Westminster Industrial Estate – the old Siemens factory, which dominated the area before closing in 1968 – before passing Thames-Side Studios and the Arts Cafe. A second ramp at the end of Warspite Road then takes walkers and cyclists above the riverside before rejoining the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf.

Closures by developers aside, the completion of the “missing link” now means near-uninterrupted access to the Thames right through Greenwich borough from Deptford to Thamesmead and beyond, as well as improving cycle access to both North Greenwich tube and the forthcoming Woolwich Crossrail station.

Will Norman, who wheeled a bike through the link as part of the opening ceremony, said: “This really sits at the heart of what the mayor and his team are trying to do: to enable more people to be more active, to get out of their cars and actually enjoy exploring the city and finding new spots. Far more people can access this and use it as part of their daily lives.”

New signage indicates that the link will eventually be joined to Quietway 14, a cycling route which currently runs from Blackfriars Road to Canada Water station.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion that signs directing users to “Greenwich Peninsular” would be corrected.

While the new route will be welcomed, actually getting to the Thames Path can be a challenge for cyclists – particularly crossing the Woolwich Road, which has seen plans for a segregated cycle lane – Cycle Superhighway 4 – dropped. Cyclist Edgaras Cepura was recently killed at the Woolwich Road roundabout in east Greenwich – nine years after Adrianna Skrzypiec died on her bike at the same spot.

Will Norman told The Charlton Champion that the A206 from Greenwich to Woolwich had been identified as one of the top 25 in London that needed action to make it better for cyclists – but that work on the Greenwich one-way system would come before the rest of the route.

Will Norman
Will Norman takes his bike along the “missing link”

He said: “CS4 was separated out under the previous administration into chunks, and the section from Greenwich to Woolwich was downgraded as part of that decision.

“We recently have been looking at the Liveable Neighbourhood programme, and working with the borough to address concerns around the [Greenwich] gyratory and making that safe, which as you know has millions of people coming to visit the Unesco world heritage site.

“Then clearly the next section is to work with the borough on the next part of the route, with borough officers and politicans and coming up with the best way to tackle that.” (See more at our sister site 853.)

Thames Path missing link crowd
Cyclists and walkers gathered for the openeing ceremony (Photo: Charlotte Brooke)

Fixing the missing link was one of the ambitions of campaigner Barry Mason, the former co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists and neighbouring Southwark Cyclists, who died in 2011.

Mason was well-known for leading a “midsummer madness” ride on 21 June each year, which would start from the Cutty Sark at 2am and arrive at Primrose Hill to see the sun rise on the longest day of the year.

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Testing times: see the Thames Barrier in action on Sunday 10th September

Thames Barrier Test 2017

Sunday 10th of September will see the annual full test of the Thames Barrier: an opportunity to see the barrier in action, meet the teams who run it, and learn about how it all works. The cafe and information centre will open at 9am; we recommend keeping an eye on the official website for closure timings nearer the date.

There’s a Facebook event for it here, and we recommend following Alan at the Barrier on Twitter, too!

Thames Barrier test 2016
Thames Barrier test closure – September 2016
Photo copyright Neil Clasper