diamond geezer

 Friday, October 31, 2014

And now, an update from Colliers Wood.

Last October I brought you news of the Bridge To Nowhere, a fiasco of a footbridge over the River Wandle.

Short version of the story: It was half-built in 2007 by a housing company who, angry at being asked to add an unplanned access ramp, somehow got planning permission for an elevated dead-end.
Long version of the story: here.

For almost seven years the Bridge to Nowhere remained just that, until TfL finally stepped in with some cycling cash and agreed to complete the project. The Wandle Trail runs this way, a waterside path from Carshalton to Wandsworth, and the Colliers Wood stretch has long been a break of flow. No more. The necessary work was done over the summer - thanks to reader Janet for alerting me - and now it's finally possible to cross from one side to the other. I've been to take a look.

Even from close by, you still wouldn't guess the bridge exists. A Wandle Trail signpost points the way by the old mill at the top of Wandle Bank, but could easily be pointing along the former detour via Byegrove Road, and indeed probably is. Who'd imagine that the right way is now up the tarmac path beside a parked car and a brick wall... and that's precisely how the residents of Bewley Street like it. They opposed completion of the bridge because they feared it would bring the general public up their private cul-de-sac in droves, which wasn't what they'd paid for when they moved in. The new reality seems somehow less scary.

Accessed up a wiggly riverside path, the western end of the Bridge to Nowhere looks much as before. A slatted span leads off through the trees, entirely lacking in useful signage, and currently scattered with fallen leaves. But squint carefully towards the vanishing point across the river and look, the far end is no longer sealed off. Instead a gentle ramp drops away, the ramp that caused all that funding fuss in the first place, and passage across the Wandle is finally possible.

It is a very long ramp. Indeed what used to be a quiet corner of the Wandle Meadow Nature Park has been consumed by infrastructure, as two zigzag ramp sections and a set of stairs envelop the clearing. There are only ten steps to descend to ground level, but it's amazing how long a ramp is required to match that difference in height. It means a wheelchair user could now self-propel to the far bank, but were I a small child I can imagine having hours of fun scooting round the loop created by the stairs/ramp combo, which may well be the nightmare riot scenario the residents of Bewley Street were imagining.

I think the Wandle Trail now continues underneath the neighbouring road, not that you'd tell because again there are no new signs, nor any obvious way to tell that the bridge route is open should you be walking in the opposite direction. Indeed I met nobody at all on my visit, only an urban fox patrolling her Merton hideaway... just as I did the first time I ever visited.

So, two things. First, though it's fantastic that the Bridge to Nowhere is now a Bridge to Somewhere, little effort seems to have been made to exploit this additional connectivity and broadcast its existence. If you're going to go to the effort of creating accessible infrastructure, why scrimp on signs that point potential users towards it.

And second. The costs associated with changes of level are making it increasingly difficult for councils to join things together. Once a cheap set of stairs would do, but now we have to build something pushchair/wheelchair-accessible and that's expensive. In an ideal world we'd build it anyway, but often the lack of cash means nothing happens at all. If the disabled can't have a lift or ramp, the able can't have a set of stairs (see also, the Lea towpath at Bow Locks) (see also, other stalled infrastructure projects).

Indeed we could have had a Bridge to Somewhere seven years back had steps been sanctioned, and ninety-something percent of us could have Wandled through without fuss. But the ramped option is clearly the fairer way to go, and is thankfully finally complete. We may all need a gently sloping gradient one day, and better the ideal solution than a cheapskate compromise.

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