Given that the entire road surface of Putney Bridge has to be replaced, there is an opportunity to improve the operation of the bridge as part of the reinstatement.
We put forward three possibilities for the council’s consideration. These suggestions are complementary. We believe that, in combination, their implementation would significantly enhance opportunities for ‘active travel’ in and through Putney, in line with Wandsworth Council policy and also in support of the council’s recently acquired public health responsibilities for the borough.
1. IMPROVE PEDESTRIAN CROSSING PROVISION
The traffic light-controlled pedestrian crossing on the southern approach to the bridge is complex, owing to the junction with Lower Richmond Road, and incurs a significant delay for pedestrians who are often stranded on traffic islands as a result of the way the lights are phased.
The ongoing town centre visioning exercise, commissioned by the council, has rightly identified this crossing as a problem. The consultants (Mosaic) responsible for this exercise have noted that the River Thames is the unique selling point for Putney but this is not fully exploited because the connection between the river and the High Street is impaired by the severance of this junction and the related difficulty for pedestrians to cross the roads.
An alternative layout for this junction, with better crossing facilities for pedestrians, would greatly improve linkage between the river and the High Street as well as improve access along the river bank for users of the Thames path. We note that the junction with Lower Richmond Road and the southern approach to Putney Bridge is also highly unsatisfactory for cyclists.
Reconfiguring this junction in order to address the identified severance concerns, as part of road surface reinstatement, would minimise costs.
A measure to increase route choice for pedestrians and cyclists is outlined below. We recognise that this would involve greater expense than simply carrying out surface-level reconfiguration as suggested above; however, potential savings are possible if the work is carried out as part of the bridge repair.
2. ADDITIONAL ROUTE CHOICE USING NEW BRIDGE UNDERPASS
An opportunity exists to provide much safer (and quicker) pedestrian crossing of the southern approaches to the bridge by joining two vaults that support the structure to create a pedestrian (or more accurately ‘active travel’) underpass. The underpass would connect Waterman’s Green, adjacent to the river just west of the bridge, to Putney High Street (east side) by connecting the vault beneath Lower Richmond Road belonging to the shop at 6 Putney High Street to the vault belonging to St Mary’s Church which runs beneath the High Street, close to the river.
The two vaults currently abut but do not join. While surface works are underway to repair the bridge, it would be possible to do the works needed to join the two vaults and provide access, thereby creating a much safer continuation of the Thames Path beneath the bridge rather than the present arrangement that involves path users having to cross the road in stages at a busy junction.
Moreover, this underpass would greatly reduce the severance effect of the bridge to Putney’s historic waterfront by providing a direct link between the church and the boathouses on the embankment. The underpass would greatly improve linkage between the High Street and the River Thames and thereby assist Putney to promote its unique riverside character.
We recognise that implementing this measure would incur additional costs since both vaults are privately owned and would have to be acquired.
The recent opening of the popular ‘active travel’ underpass under Wandsworth Bridge, a short distance to the east, is a good illustration of what is possible.
3. IMPROVING PROVISION FOR CYCLING OVER PUTNEY BRIDGE
Despite its generous width, little space is currently provided on Putney Bridge for cycling; we suggest the council, as part of the bridge reinstatement of the bridge surface, provide a well-designed designated, and possibly segregated, cycle lane. This may involve the narrowing, or loss, of one general traffic lane in one or both directions. Such reallocation of space would be consistent with the Mayor of London’s Cycling Revolution and represents a practical way to help implement Wandsworth Council’s policy to encourage cycling in the borough as a sustainable, healthy, non-polluting and accessible form of urban transport.
It is worth noting that traffic counts in recent years show that cycles represent up to 13% of total vehicles; a significant proportion that is likely to increase, particularly with the arrival of Barclays Cycle Hire bicycles associated with an expanded network of cycle hire docking stations, including locations immediately south and north of Putney Bridge.
It is our belief that the volume of general traffic that crosses the bridge may not be significantly reduced by the loss of a lane since the capacity is effectively determined by the junctions at either end of the bridge as well as the surrounding road network. Putney High Street, for example is single lane, as too is the initial section of Fulham High Street. Indeed we would anticipate that improving conditions for walking and cycling as set out in this and in 1 & 2 would be likely to encourage mode shift from driving to cycling and walking, bearing in mind that many car-borne trips in London are very short.
4. IMPROVING CONDITIONS FOR EVERYONE USING PUTNEY BRIDGE
Finally, we suggest that – both during and after the works – Wandsworth Council introduce a 20mph speed limit on Putney Bridge, in order to improve conditions for walking and cycling and to improve the public realm in the northern part of Putney town centre.
The case for doing this has already been well made, with the TfL report published in 2008 ‘Report considering the benefits and feasibility of implementing a 20mph speed limit on London’s Bridges (Thames Crossings)’ recommending the introduction of a 20mph speed limit on Putney and three other Thames bridges in London, estimating that this intervention would produce a cumulative net benefit of £7.2 Million over 5 years.