Is Sadiq Khan cancelling the Garden Bridge by stealth?

Here we go again. Image: Heatherwick Studios.

Could this be it? Could it finally be happening? Could the biggest debate in Greater London politics – “Should we spend a small fortune building a bridge next to an existing bridge?” – really be about to come to its conclusion?

Anything’s possible. From this week’s Architect’s Journal:

London’s new mayor has effectively suspended work on the Garden Bridge because of concerns that an enabling project at Temple Tube station will lead to more public money being spent on the £175m project.

Transport for London’s (TfL) finance and policy committee had on Friday (8 July) been due to rubber-stamp £3m of London Underground spending on strengthening the station’s structure to withstand the weight of the Thomas Heatherwick-designed bridge on its roof.

But Sadiq Khan has now ordered the work – by engineer Flint & Neil, and approved by his predecessor Boris Johnson two months before May’s mayoral election – to be halted because of his commitment not to spend any more taxpayers’ money on the bridge.

At first glance this seems a bit odd because, a mere six weeks ago, Khan was arguing that the Garden Bridge should absolutely, definitely go ahead.

His argument was that so much had been spent on it already (taxpayer contribution to date: £37.7m) that it would effectively now cost more to cancel it than it would if we finished it, thus enabling it to start making money and repaying some of its loans (final projected taxpayer contribution: £18m).

So has he u-turned? Well, it’s possible. He already has form, and a certain flexibility on matters of policy increasingly looks like Khan’s defining ideology.

But of course, he hasn’t actually scrapped the Bridge at all – he’s doing something altogether more subtle. Here’s a mayoral spokesman quoted in that AJ article:

Sadiq Khan has been clear that no new public funds should be committed to the Garden Bridge, and he has pledged to make the project more open and transparent – standards that were not always met under the previous administration.

So, no, Khan hasn’t scrapped the Bridge – he’s just requiring it to live within its means. After all, the Garden Bridge Trust has told us repeatedly that there’s a robust financial case for the Bridge: so getting it built without dipping into the public purse yet again should be easy, right?


In other words: either the Garden Bridge happens, without Sadiq Khan committing another penny, and he’ll be able to take the credit (just as Boris Johnson took the credit for Ken Livingstone’s cycle hire scheme); or the Garden Bridge doesn’t happen, and it’ll be because the previous administration mucked up the finances.

Either way, Khan wins, and he doesn’t have to be the mean-spirited mayor who cancelled something beautiful.

He’ll go far, that boy.

Incidentally – wondering why a new Bridge would require us to spend £3m on rebuilding a tube station? Because the northern end of it will look like this:

Image: Heatherwick Studios.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge

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London Overground is experimenting with telling passengers which bits of the next train is busiest

There must be a better way than this: Tokyo during a 1972 rail strike. Image: Getty.

One of the most fun things to do, for those who enjoy claustrophobia and other people’s body odour, is to attempt to use a mass transit system at rush hour.

Travelling on the Central line at 6pm, for example, gives you all sorts of exciting opportunities to share a single square inch of floor space with a fellow passenger, all the while becoming intimately familiar with any personal hygiene problems they may happen to have. On some, particularly lovely days you might find you don’t even get to do this for ages, but first have to spend some exciting time enjoying it as a spectator sport, before actually being able to pack yourself into one unoccupied cranny of a train.

But fear not! Transport for London has come up with a plan: telling passengers which bits of the train have the most space on them.

Here’s the science part. Many trains include automatic train weighing systems, which do exactly what the name suggests: monitoring the downward force on any individual wheel axis in real time. The data thus gathered is used mostly to optimise the braking.

But it also serves as a good proxy for how crowded a particular carriage is. All TfL are doing here is translating that into real time information visible to passengers. It’s using the standard, traffic light colour system: green means go, yellow means “hmm, maybe not”, red means “oh dear god, no, no, no”. 

All this will, hopefully, encourage some to move down the platform to where the train is less crowded, spreading the load and reducing the number of passengers who find themselves becoming overly familiar with a total stranger’s armpit.

The system is not unique, even in London: trains on the Thameslink route, a heavy-rail line which runs north/south across town (past CityMetric towers!) has a similar system visible to passengers on board. And so far it’s only a trial, at a single station, Shoreditch High Street.

But you can, if you’re so minded, watch the information update every few seconds or so here.

Can’t see why you would, but I can’t see why I would either, and that hasn’t stopped me spending much of the day watching it, so, knock yourselves out.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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