Mother Dreading Return of the No Bridge School Run

What were 15 minute journeys now lasting an hour and a half

(L R) Michelle Coulter with her daughters Lana and Iris
(L R) Michelle Coulter with her daughters Lana and Iris. Picture: Reach

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With the return to school on March 8, hundreds of children on both sides of the river are again dreading marathon commutes over the Thames.

Next month will be the two-year anniversary of the day Hammersmith Bridge first closed to traffic. And it will be eight months from when it closed to pedestrians, after its cracked iron pedestals deteriorated in the August heatwave.

Michelle Coulter said her daughters, aged 13 and 16, would normally be excited to see their friends in person again. Instead they are anxiously looking ahead to the morning and evening treks that once took 15 minutes, but now last for an excruciating hour and a half.

“I’m looking at every option I can to get my kids to school,” said Ms Coulter, 49, an English and maths tutor from the Barnes peninsular.

“They are feeling worried and anxious when they should be looking forward to going back and seeing their friends. Instead they are facing this nightmare again. There’s no end in sight.

“I feel so guilty that this is happening to my children and that this is their life. I desperately wish I could do something about it.”

Ms Coulter, and other families who formed the Hammersmith Bridge SOS campaign, were dismayed by TfL’s announcement last week that the ferry service will not be ready until the summer, after it had been promised for the spring.

“Obviously there’s capacity limits on the buses, so we really hoped it would be in place by the time they were due back at school,” she said.

“My concern is not just that it’s delayed, it’s capacity won’t be enough. TfL are saying it will take 800 passengers an hour, but our understanding is that 2,000 teachers and pupils travel across every day in both directions, and that doesn’t include commuters or anyone else.

“So that’s not enough. I’m worried that families will turn up and have to wait an hour for a ferry.”

Asked about these concerns, TfL’s head of major projects, David Rowe, said: “The temporary ferry service will restore a much needed walking and cycling link across the river while Hammersmith Bridge is being repaired. This is particularly important for those making journeys to places near the bridge and adds another option for crossing the Thames.”

He also said TfL will increase the frequency of single-deck 533 buses from two per hour to six.

But parents say the extra buses, which will only take 14 people due to Covid restriction, will not be enough.

Michelle Coulter, whose daughters face an hour and a half school run
Michelle Coulter, whose daughters face an hour and a half school run. Picture: Reach

Ms Coulter is instead plotting a ludicrous “zig zag” train journey for her daughters.

“I was checking the route last night to get a train to Putney, then change and get the train back to Richmond, then get the Tube to Hammersmith and a walk to school. And that takes just over an hour; a complete zig zag that relies on connections,” she said.

“And once people start going back to work traffic will get a lot busier. That’s when it will probably take two hours a journey, and it’s only three miles away.”

TfL, Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the Government have spent over a year bickering over who should pay for its astronomical £141million repair bill.

The council says it has already spent £8 million on the bridge, and that paying half the cost would equal more 50 per cent of its entire annual net budget.

Ms Coulter said the Hammersmith Bridge SOS campaign is non-party political, but that resentment is growing towards the Government.

“Since the Hammersmith Bridge Task Force was formed nothing has moved forward,” she said.

“[Transport minister] Charlotte Vere was quoted recently as saying she’s ‘spending money like water’ on infrastructure projects around the country. So the Government does have the money, they’re just not prioritising Hammersmith Bridge, which is used by people all over south and west London.”

She added: “This is now a political choice to sacrifice people.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The DfT and Hammersmith and Fulham are discussing longer-term funding. Any future government funding must be balanced between supporting the building repairs to the bridge and ensuring fairness for the UK taxpayer. It is only right that Hammersmith and Fulham, as the Bridge’s owner, contributes to its repairs.”

Meanwhile, the council’s proposal to repair the bridge while creating a temporary extra bridge deck has been analysed in a feasibility study, which was due to be completed this week, and is likely to be published this month.

Owen Sheppard - Local Democracy Reporter

March 5, 2021

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