Monday 1 June 2020

Bishopsford Road Bridge Consultation - a missed opportunity

On Tuesday 25 February 2020, Merton Council's Cabinet gave the go-ahead to demolish and re-build Bishopsford Bridge, following its partial collapse into the River Wandle after heavy rainfall last June. In May, the Council has been consulting on the design options for the new Bishopsford Bridge

MCC are alarmed to see that the proposals are not demonstrating Merton Council's policies for promoting active travel, particularly cycling. The designs show no segregated space for cycling and the Consultation asks only for opinions on the designs of the bridge's handrails and reflect a 'heritage' design ethos. Of the two options offered Option 2 handrail design looks as though it will take up least width. The greater imperative is that the new bridge does not maintain 'heritage' space standards, and we would hope that they do not become a reason for denying a bridge fit for everyone and which meets the future needs of the Borough. The impact of the Merton's declared Climate emergency and also Covid 19 is that active travel is the future for Merton.  

The Borough of Merton is fortunate to have the River Wandle passing centrally through the Borough, but this coupled with the fact that the railways were here when the Borough was largely agricultural, means that Merton's elderly road and river bridges and ‘cattle’ arches are extremely limiting in providing adequate space for active travel alongside vehicular traffic. The now defunct Bishopsford Road bridge was an example of this bridge/arch heritage, although Bishopsford Road itself demonstrates a generous approach to road design. 

The unfortunate collapse of the old bridge presents an opportunity for a fit-for-purpose replacement bridge for Bishopsford Road across the Wandle. As we face the challenges of climate change and potentially radical changes to our travel patterns in a post-pandemic world, that opportunity must surely be taken and the new bridge designed to be wider than the failed bridge in order to safely accommodate walking and cycling alongside vehicular traffic. The new Bridge must be wide enough to take pedestrians and a protected cycle way in both directions. It would not be satisfactory for cyclists to have to cross the carriageway to get to an ancillary bridge.  

Ideally this would be implemented at the same time as measures that provide safe space for cycling on the road as it approaches the Bridge, but modification of the bridge layout is potentially a once in 200 years event that should not be wasted while funding is secured for the road approaches.  If 'active travel' can dominate immediately, then providing a cycle/pedestrian bridge without any vehicular crossing could be an option, but looking some way ahead to a more populated Merton there is no question that a wider bridge for Bishopsford Road which accommodates all the future need is desirable.

If the river bank of the Watermeads Nature Reserve is to be locally affected by a widening it is possible to visualise a slim cantilevered footway design that would minimise the impact and land required from neighbouring land owners, the National Trust. The slogan for active travel could well follow the National Trust’s optimistic slogan ‘For everyone, for ever’.