Category Archives: A window on My World

A bridge [repair] too far

“Sorry Gov’nor, I’m not going south of the River” could be a cabbie’s response you will hear more frequently in the future, but blame the Highways Agency/TfL not us, for perversely they seem to be trying to divide London as never before since Roman times. Consider this, if you want to cross the Thames by road there are 11 bridges, 2 tunnels and a ferry crossing to choose from, you would have thought that was adequate.

Boris has already said that he is cancelling the building of the East London Thames crossing, presumably to free up more money for bike hire, and now we find ourselves in the position of having but one unobstructed bridge to cross the Thames.

So indulge me if you will, while I list the possible River Thames crossing points in central London:

Woolwich Free Ferry
Opened in 1889 and was the first successful attempt to cross the Thames for eastern districts. Existing boats started operating in 1963. This was probably the last time both boats worked; usually one is now out of action.

Blackwall Tunnel
The northbound tunnel was built in 1891-7 and was only the second tunnel to be completed under the Thames. The northbound tunnel will be closed from 9pm to 5am on Sunday to Friday, with traffic diverted to the southbound tunnel and southbound traffic forced to go elsewhere.

Rotherhithe Tunnel
This narrow tunnel is only suitable for a car was built in 1904-8. The top of the tunnel is 48 feet below the high water mark to allow ships to pass overhead. The tunnel is closed one or two nights a week for maintenance.

Tower Bridge
The first stone was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1881 after which its architect, Sir Horace Jones promptly died; it was then finished with detailing changed from original design in 1894. It is in fact a steel frame clothed in stone in order to support the great weight of the bascules. The bridge is currently being painted in patriotic colours for the 2012 Olympics with temporary traffic lights.

London Bridge
Positioned approximately on the site where the original Roman crossing stood. The current incumbent was completed in 1972 and replaced the elegant Georgian bridge which ended up at Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Extensive road works at the southern approach mean that all traffic going to Elephant and Castle is wasting it time using bridge.

Southwark Bridge
The current bridge was opened in 1921 replacing the original cast iron bridge, which was in its day the largest ever Cast Iron Bridge built in the world. The iron manufacturer went bankrupt in the process. After just completing the cycle lane (see Diary 31 July 2009), this was promptly dug up before the cement was dry and remains so to this day with roadworks and no northbound cycle lane.

Blackfriars Bridge
Opened by Queen Victoria in 1869 the same day she cut the ribbon for Holborn Viaduct. So unpopular was she at the time, while travelling along the Strand that day she was hissed at, she must have been exhausted after all that effort. Extensive road works and diversions due to new railway station being built across the river alongside the bridge.

Waterloo Bridge
Londoner’s favourite bridge for it affords one of the finest views of London at its centre point, was built during the last war mainly by women. A complete no go area, with road works and the Strand Underpass closed all year.

Westminster Bridge
Charles Barry (of Houses of Parliament fame) was architectural consultant when this bridge was being built in 1854-62; its 84ft between the parapets was exceptional for the time. After the renovation of this bridge, which seems to have been on-going since the old King died, has now been completed, and remarkably this bridge is now fully open.

Lambeth Bridge
Originally a horse-ferry operated here; hence the approach road goes by the name of Horseferry Road. Oliver Cromwell’s coach and horse sank on the horse ferry in 1656. The bridge was built in 1929-32 and it is painted red to denote that it is at the House of Lords end of  Parliament with their red benches, Westminster Bridge is painted green reflecting the green leather of the House of Commons leather benches at the opposite end of The Palace of Westminster. This little bridge of single 2-way traffic will have to accommodate those motorists unable to cross alternative means.

Vauxhall Bridge
This uninspired structure replaced the original bridge which was the first cast iron bridge to cross the Thames. Built in 1895-1906 the only redeeming feature is of the bronze figures on its piers depicting Pottery, Engineering, Architecture and Agriculture upstream and Science, Fine Arts, Local Government and Education downstream, view them by peering cautiously over the parapet. It remains the only major bridge in London fully open.

Chelsea Bridge
When the previous bridge was being built many human bones and Roman weapons were found while digging the foundations. The current suspension bridge was opened in 1934. How long will this pretty bridge be able to take the strain before it too has to have restoration work?

140px-Albert_Bridge_tollhouse Albert Bridge
This the most elegant and fanciful of all London’s bridges, was started in 1864 then abandoned for six years while the Government dithered about the route the Thames Embankment would take. It was finally opened in 1873. The architect Rowland Mason Ordish designed it as a rigid suspension bridge to his own patent design, but it had to be strengthened by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1884 when he was building the Embankment. After the Second World War the London County Council wanted to pull it down but the whole of Chelsea, led by Sir John Betjeman protested vigorously, and it was reprieved. The bridge remains as fragile as it looks, and was only open to light traffic, notices still famously demand that all troops must break step when marching over it. Two small tollbooths were built at either end by the Albert Bridge Company. The bridge is now closed for 18 months while a complete refurbishment takes place.

Battersea Bridge
Replacing an earlier wooden bridge depicted by the artist Whistler this structure designed again by Bazalgette, the engineer who also designed London’s sewer system (did that man ever sleep?) was built between 1886-90. Road works scheduled to last until October.

I’m not going to continue up river it’s just too depressing, I’ll just say that Hammersmith Bridge is also closed at weekends.

Just the ticket

[L]ike any petty crook, London Councils traffic enforcement departments don’t miss a trick for turning over the law-abiding public. Their latest wheezes have a touch of inspired genius in their simplicity.

Not content with waiting by a vehicle whose allocated time is about to expire so a penalty notice can be imposed at the first opportunity, or penalising a disabled driver for displaying their badge with the wrong orientation, they have gone one further.

They have trawled through their by-laws to find a legal loophole to penalise motorists who have paid but simply forgot to remove a previous stub from their dashboard or window.

For if after your allotted time has expired and the driver leaves the spent ticket displayed they can be penalised, for if a busy mother should drive off with the offending ticket in full view either on her windscreen or on the dashboard the Traffic Taliban can charge for that offence.

Prior to that of course the ticket had to be displayed in an “appropriate” place as designated by the parking authority, failure to so do . . . well you know the score.

And don’t forget your vehicle must be positioned parallel to the kerb (God forbid that it is found to be at an acute angle of 10°), and must not be more than 19.6in from the kerb. Presumably those guardians of traffic enforcement, whose total revenue last year was £328million, carry the appropriate measuring equipment on their person to make a judgment.

Now two councils have joined to perpetrate an even more audacious crime, this loose association of the Notting Hill Cosa Nostra has split Ledbury Road down the middle, with each protecting their own ‘manor’, one side falls within Westminster’s authority while the other side is The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

If you park your vehicle on the east side of the street but cross the road to buy a parking ticket on the opposite pavement, the ticket you buy will not be valid for parking on the opposite kerb, you will have contravened Westminster parking regulations, as Harvey Cass found when returning to his car to find penalty notice on his windscreen. So little time had elapsed between buying the ticket and having the penalty notice issued the traffic warden must have watched him cross the road and buy his ticket incorrectly from Kensington & Chelsea’s machine.

Westminster’s spokesman, a Mr Kevin Goad (a man whose name could not be more appropriate in the circumstances) said “We are working hard to improve motorists’ understanding of the rules and provide clearer signs and lines.”

If you should park in the centre of the road would that mean you could receive two tickets, one from each council? So there you have it, its not old-fashioned greed to line the council’s coffers, quite the contrary, we motorists have to be educated in the “rules”.

For more information (and entertainment) about parking tickets go to

Navigation Master

They say good things come in twos, and this has proved to be the case for me over the Christmas period. After spending a decade denigrating SatNavs I’ve received two in as many weeks.

The first was a TomTom Live gadget, an Christmas present from my wife, bought I suspect to stop me getting lost in every town outside of London, I’ll just have to swallow my pride and use it when we’re exploring England, no more blaming the wife now, when I get lost, it’s TomTom who will get it in the ear now.

[T]hen the next week a received a telephone call and after a short conversation to tell me the news that I had won a Navigation Master SatNav from Stuart Pessok the editor of our trade newspaper (with the imaginative title of TAXI) a package arrived the next day.

Navigation Master’s screen is large measuring about 4½ inches across; much larger than my TomTom, robustly built with its own cradle and basic instructions (a full detailed instruction book is available on their website. With Bluetooth, address book, storage for music, video, photos and even e-books it doesn’t lack facilities.

My charger for use in the cab did not work, but after finding a help line number on the downloadable information sheets a simple call to arrange a meeting meant that I had my replacement charger within 30 minutes, that’s what I call customer service.

The map section is split into two with the A-Z London mapping giving three maps; A-Z Great Britain, A-Z Greater London and the iconic A-Z Central London which shows one-way streets, places of interest and all manner of information, as I have written about in this blog A-Z is among the best mapping available for cabbies, and Navigation Master with its search facility has an enormous database of thousands of entries.

When we do the Knowledge the student has to call all the roads from one point to another and the method we use to see if you’ve taken the correct route is to string a piece of cotton between two pins. If you have taken the correct route without deviation it’s said to be “on the cotton”. Similarly Navigation Master will draw a blue line between your start and finish points. It is just a matter of following the blue (or should that be yellow) brick road to your destination. The system by this simple, but effective charting of a route is only of assistance to somebody with an intimate Knowledge of London, a black cabbie in other words.

The second part of the mapping is a standard SatNav system developed by Smart to Go and produces visual and audible directions as any other SatNav. Supplied in map form, and rather over reliant on menus it’s not as easy to use as my new TomTom and traffic alerts and 3-D mapping come at an additional price. Rather disappointingly the keyboard does not follow a standard QWERTY layout unlike the A-Z section making it far more difficult to use.

But for the A-Z London map with its traffic alerts and vast database (I’ve yet to ask for one it didn’t know) this little gizmo is worth the £300 price tag. Given there are only about 14,000 possible users and already 800 devices have been sold, I would recommend that you use one as your working day will be so much easier.

Moving targets

I’m beginning to suspect that London cabbies are reviled with the same vigour as bankers, estate agents and MPs (well, maybe not as much as our Members of Parliament). Recently a colleague of mine had his rear window smashed by local children as he sat waiting in a traffic jam in East London. Previously like me he’s had stones thrown at his cab, and had pedestrians hitting his vehicle with their hands as they cross the road.

[I]t also makes you wonder why some Lycra louts of the cycle world get their kicks out of spitting at cab drivers. This Lycra-clad posers cycle up beside cabbies and spit in their face before peddling off, which I personally consider it the most offensive assault possible and rather cowardly when you realise how difficult it is to pursue the obnoxious assailant responsible, I now find myself asking the question, is it a new craze?

The whole practice has me wondering whether they only target cab drivers, like the young vandals who throw stones. Do they maybe mark up their hits on their bike frames, like World War II fighter pilots? Or perhaps it’s an individual avenger who was once wronged by a cab driver who refused to go South of the River and is now wreaking his revenge.

I suppose we could try fitting spittoons on the side of the cab – but well away from the driver’s window of course!

Are we all really so bad?

Poison pen letters are invited to the comments section at the bottom of this post.

Groundhog Day

As you go about your busy lives, you might be forgiven to having missed this important date, for today is Groundhog Day. The day, according to American folklore that if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. Only in America could a ceremony like this about a rodent have been dreamed up, and made an annual holiday to boot.

[L]ike Bill Murray in the 1993 film of the same name, I seem to be experiencing a recurring nightmare. Every day I go to work or sit down to write for CabbieBlog, it’s the same problem over and over again, yes it’s that Rickshaw post again.

As unbelievable as it seems, in London in the 21st Century there is still a major problem with Rickshaws. Whilst the third world is doing all it can to lose the last of these degrading pedal powered contraptions, some unscrupulous operators are clogging up the streets of the Metropolis with these dangerous and sometimes illegal vehicles.

It’s not a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ a serious accident or fatality involving a London rickshaw takes place. The rickshaw drivers do not have criminal record checks, and are not tested on road safety or their knowledge of London streets, with the result that the streets of Soho and Covent Garden have become a dangerous free for all with over 400 plying for hire and already one London pedicab driver has been convicted of raping a passenger.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that riders include illegal immigrants, foreign students who are ignoring the terms under which they are in the country by working longer hours than allowed and others who, under any sensible licensing regime, would be considered unsuitable for this kind of work. Do they have a rickshaw rider recruiting office in Krakow, because their numbers seem to rise exponentially by the week?

The safety of these vehicles is horrendous, the Transport Research Laboratory looked at the possible safety implications of allowing the continued use of these vehicles for hire and reward in London. Its scientists warned that “any impact with a motor vehicle” was likely to result in ‘serious injury to both passengers and riders’. Transport Research Laboratory also warned that ‘The standard of braking for a Rickshaw fell well short of that expected of a car’. The London Taxi Drivers’ Association are calling on Westminster Council and the Greater London Authority to bring a halt to London’s further decline into third world status and seek statutory powers to ban Rickshaws from the streets. With health and safety becoming a mantra to every council employee, how is it that these contraptions are ever allowed to ply for hire in London’s streets? They congregate in large numbers outside theatres, shops and restaurants blocking the entrances and exits as well as the pavements outside, forcing pedestrians to negotiate the traffic as they walk in the road and blocking fire escapes.

As a result of the media attention into all the problems associated with the Rickshaws and serious concerns over their safety, the Rickshaw operators are pushing for a simple licensing system that would allow them to continue working unhindered. London’s taxi drivers along with bus operators and drivers have to contend with the traffic problems and congestion and feel that the only way forward is to – Ban! Don’t License.

Boris should stop worrying about his bike hire scheme and concentrated his attention on why London councils allow three or four children at a time to balance on these death traps and then be driven the wrong way up a one-way street.

I’m going to lay down now, I feel so tired after that rant, but I’ve got a good idea what will confront me when I wake.