London – One by one, he stepped forward to tell his stories. The children suddenly had to travel for two hours to go to school. The orderly appointment of pensioners whose weekly doctors have turned into half-day treks. Shopkeepers whose businesses have been crippled by the disappearance of travelers.
All because Hammersmith Bridge, a majestic but badly connected 19th-century suspension bridge that connects the Barnes district with London, was closed last month for security reasons.
“Now, I need to wake up every day, six days, six days a week,” Aston Jenkins, 10, said Aston Jenkins, groaning with frustrated, if overly polite, recent crowds on the bridge. Resist “I can’t cope with that.”
While the structural problems of the Hammersmith Bridge are particularly serious, it is far from the only London Bridge that is uprooting. Two major crossings in the city center, Vauxhall Bridge and London Bridge, are closed to car traffic while they receive immediate repairs. Tower Bridge, the very symbol of London, was closed for two days last month when a mechanical glitch opened its drawbridge.
It fell to a young schoolgirl in a red cardigan and patent-leather Mary Janes, and brandishing a placard with angry pink letters – to make the inevitable point: “London bridges are falling down!”
Philip Engfield, a professional magician living in Byrnes, reported that when a suspension bridge collapsed in Genoa, Italy in 2018, 43 people died, Italians worked tirelessly, even as the country battled the coronovirus epidemic For, producing a replacement. It was inaugurated last month.
“Why can’t we do this?” Mr. Englefield asked the crowd, as a light rain drenched their spirits. “For the sake of righteousness, this is England.”
It turns out that this is precisely the problem: Hammersmith Bridge is a suitable metaphor for all the ways in which the country after a decade of economic austerity, years of political warfare over Brexit, and months of lockdown to deal with the epidemic, the last of which were The emphasis is on public finance.
Like other London streets and bridges, the Hammersmith Bridge was neglected for decades. A complete repair will cost an estimated 141 million pounds ($ 187 million) – neither to Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which owns the bridge, nor the Transport Authority of London, which relies on it.
Transport for London, which runs the metro and bus system and some major roads, has already had to negotiate about 2 billion bailouts from the government for revenue reduction after ridership during lockdown. Except for the hasty hour, London’s subways are still largely ghost trains.
Hammersmith has appealed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for help. But he won the election by promising to spend money on marquee projects such as high-speed railways worth more than $ 130 billion, not the cast iron of Queen Victoria’s reign.
He also wants to spread wealth in Britain’s economically inept Midlands and North, not defending a leafy, affluent enclave of London, where professionals come from humble Regency villas for jobs in the city and students from elite St. Let’s practice on the magnificent sports grounds. Paul School.
Urban affairs expert Tony Travers of the London School of Economics said, “The national government is afraid to spend money in London because it will threaten its ‘flat’ agenda.” “The promise to build shiny things for the future is more attractive than fixing road surfaces or connecting bridges.”
It doesn’t help that Mr. Johnson’s Member of Parliament for the Conservatives, who represented the district along with Barnes, Zac Goldsmith, lost their seats in the last election. Mr. Goldsmith, a good friend of Mr. Johnson, had vowed to fix the bridge during his expedition. His successor, Sarah Olney, from the centrist Liberal Democrats, said he could not find any cabinet minister to petition for help.
Michael White, a former political editor of The Guardian who lives on the northern coast of the Thames, pointed to a problem of asymmetry: Barnes, on the southern side, needs more bridges than Hammersmith, on the northern side, as its scores come. Passengers cross it every day to reach the receiving tube station. There is less traffic in the opposite direction, which makes it less politically difficult for an expensive repair worker to sell in the less expensive Hammersmith.
Nevertheless, the council’s Labor Party leader, Stephen Cowan, insisted that Hammersmith is fully committed to fixing the bridge – if it can find a financial lifeline. He credited the council for reducing a potential disaster in 2014 by hiring engineers to inspect the bridge. They found a web of small fractures in its cast iron pedestals, evidence of many years of corrosion.
In April 2019, officials closed the bridge to cars, but left it open to pedestrians and cyclists. Then, following a recent heat wave, inspectors found that the fracture had widened. Because cast iron is more brittle than steel, those changes pose a danger that pedestrians may break the bridge and fall into the Thames. The council immediately closed the bridge to everyone.
“If we had not reviewed comprehensive integrity,” Mr. Cowan said, “I believe we could have caused havoc.”
Not only is the bridge, and the pavement below it, closed-range, the Port of London has banned boats from sailing below it. This would disrupt the annual boat race between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as the custom covers a 4.2-mile stretch of the Rovers Thames, turning the bend at Barnes, where the revelers line up under the swooping cables of the bridge.
In a letter to the Prime Minister last month, Mr. Cowan appealed to Mr. Johnson the spirit of history. The “terrible metaphor” of what it would be, he said, is a pioneering example of 19th-century engineering “just uprooted in the middle of the Thames in the heart of our capital.” In truth, he said, the bridge’s unusual design has long made it vulnerable to structural problems, and its cast iron construction has made it very difficult and expensive to fix.
In 1996, the Irish Republican Army planted two powerful plastic explosives, which failed to explode. Four years later, another IRA faction successfully detonated a bomb under the bridge, forcing it to be repaired for two years.
Residents may have to wait for a similar time. Even stopgap fixes are expensive: stabilizing the bridge enough so that people can walk over it and boats can pass under it. It will cost £ 46 million, Mr Cowan said. The construction of a temporary bridge for pedestrians and cyclists will cost £ 27 million and take six to nine months.
Meanwhile, local people are floating other solutions, such as starting ferry service or operating shuttle buses. Some, such as Toby Gordon-Smith, have resorted to roundabout routes across other bridges (there are more than a dozen road or pedestrian crossings between Hammersmith Bridge and Tower Bridge). Mr Gordon-Smith, 46, who uses a wheelchair, said he preferred to live in a riverfront apartment in Barnes because he could wheel the door from the bridge of his office in Hammersmith for 10 minutes.
“It is an important place for me to complete my work, reach the rest of London,” he said.
For older people who came to the rally, the fragility of London’s bridges is more than just the grind for a nursery rhyme. 81-year-old Christopher Morcom recalled that in 1967, an American entrepreneur, Robert McCulloch, bought the crumbling London Bridge, destroyed it, and moved it from stone to stone in Havasu City, Ariz., Where it now stands Is as a tourist attraction. Desert. (London Bridge is currently operating which is a replacement for the 19th century version.)
All this provides the germ of an idea to Mr. Morcom. “I don’t know if this old bridge is usable again,” he said pointing to the Hammersmith Bridge. “Maybe we should sell it to the President of the United States.”