No wobbles? This bridge is rather pedestrian now

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The 'Blade of Light' is back. At 10am yesterday, London's most controversial piece of waterside engineering was reopened to pedestrians, 20 months after it had been closed for being too wobbly.

The first member of the public to set foot on the newly secured steel walkway of the Millennium Bridge was Emma Drake, 91, from Wales. She bustled across the Thames at 10.03am, on the arm of the burly Town Crier to the Mayor of London, and posed for photographs with her hand clamped on the balustrade. Displaying a media savoir faire that would not have disgraced Cherie Booth, she extended one thumb and pronounced the bridge "very solid and strong".

It needed to be, to accommodate the crush of reporters and photographers, engineers and architects, civil servants and committee-sitters who stood around in a whipping force-eight easterly gale, filming, explaining and savouring the unfamiliar sensation of permanence under their feet.

Some of us recalled the official opening of the bridge on 10 June 2000, when the combined weight of 3,000 marching feet set up an ungovernable sway that left children sprawling and old ladies clinging to the handrail for dear life.

The bridge was closed two days later, to much derision, and remained shut right through 2001. Questions were asked in the Commons and outside – how could the "dream team" of architects (Norman Foster and partners), engineers (Arup) and sculptor (Sir Anthony Caro) spend £18.2m building a structure you couldn't walk on?

It's now been fixed with the help of 91 dampers that act like shock absorbers. It was rigorously tested three weeks ago by the sophisticated method of getting 2,000 people to march across it. "It's solid as a rock," said a chap from the Millennium Bridge Trust. "If a 4,000-ton ship crashed into it at 12 knots, it wouldn't budge."