Back in 2011/2012, before they were given permission to build the new pavilion at Hackney North Marsh, Hackney Council carried out two ‘risk assessments’ at Cow Bridge. In fact they only chose to assess the risk at the Millfields Road end of the bridge. Bridges do have two ends so this was remiss, as we will show:
1. Risk of pedestrians or vehicles colliding with a recycling bin which had been sited directly on the pedestrian desire line across the junction. It transpired that it was not affixed to the footway surface and as a result could be moved.
2. Risk of side swipe accidents arising from large vehicles having to straddle the central line markings to negotiate the corner at Millfields Road and Mandeville Street.
3. Risk of collision with raised kerb as there was no street furniture to highlight the presence of the vehicle splitter island.
4. Risk of trip hazard as the splitter island is close to pedestrian crossing line and may result in pedestrians, particularly the visually impaired tripping on the raised kerb of the island.
5. Risk of right turn accidents because a prohibition of right turn sign from Mandeville Street which had been erected at a location where the forward visibility of the sign was reduced by virtue of the horizontal alignment of Mandeville Street and the foliage that was present on the adjacent boundary wall.
In fact there is now no prohibition of right turn sign, it has been removed. In addition there are no road markings indicating a no right turn.
6. Risk of pedestrian slip hazard because water may have formed a pond in the vicinity of the pedestrian crossing point resulting in the creation of a potential slip hazard, particularly during periods of cold weather.
7. Risk of injury to cyclists and pedestrians because when the barrier is in the closed position the bracket to enable use of a padlock protrudes into the potential path of cyclists and powered two wheelers.
8. Risk of shunt type collisions because the signal head is located on the offside of the exit road from the changing room car park. In addition a second access road forms a junction with the Cow Bridge access road between the signal head and the bridge structure. The audit team was of the view that the operation of the Cow Bridge access road will not be clearly understood by visitors to the site and this may result in vehicles attempting to exit the site without waiting for a green signal. In addition, the side road is not currently under signal control. If the above situation occurs it may result in head-on type collisions on the structure or it will be necessary for vehicles to reverse. This may result in vehicles reversing back into the highway on Millfields Road into the path of oncoming vehicles.
The ‘access road’ referred to is actually a second entrance/exit at the bridge off Millfields Lane. Two potential entrances or exits could indeed cause confusion.
This bizarre rigmarole of accidents came closest to describing the real hazards at Cow Bridge. However, they only assessed the risk at one end of the bridge. The real hazards occur on the bridge itself and at the Marshes end, as revealed in the pictures and video below, and were not examined in this ‘exhaustive’ investigation.
First, the nature of the bridge, its steep slopes and narrow roadway with high walls on both sides, means drivers’ view as they reach the summit is restricted – the 20mph speed limit in the first picture above no longer applies!
Having reached the top of the bridge, as has been repeatedly observed, many drivers are going too fast, which along with the restricted views make it harder for them to properly assess what is going on in front of them before they embark on the downward slope.
Second, the bridge is used by cyclists and by pedestrians, including children, sometimes accompanied by animals, usually dogs. The assumption is that pedestrians will use the pedestrian bridge on the side but many pedestrians prefer to use the bridge and cyclists are obliged to do so because they are prohibited from cycling on the side bridge. In many instances drivers will not be able to see these other users until they are virtually on top of them. There are no pedestrian or cyclist signals to warn drivers or to protect pedestrians and cyclists.
Third, on the Marsh side of the bridge the road is crossed by a pedestrian and cycle path which takes these users right in front of the bridge meaning drivers will only see them at the last moment as they come down the bridge.
Their view of pedestrians, cyclists or runners coming from either side is obscured by the wall of the bridge.
This cycle and pedestrian path which crosses right in front of the bridge is used by cyclists, pedestrians and runners and is not controlled by signals.
All these hazards passed unnoticed by the inspection team. However, that is not to say Hackney Council would not have been aware of them. At the public inquiry into the pavilion in 2015 objectors from Save Lea Marshes pointed out these hazards and played a video before the assembled witnesses and representatives from Hackney, which exactly demonstrated all these hazards. It is worth noting that the inspection team thought it possible visitors might not understand the traffic signals. What they did not reckon with was drivers coming from the pavilion car park understanding the traffic signals but deliberately driving through a red light and with them queueing up at the traffic signal on the wrong side of the road!
While Hackney Council did reduce the speed limit from the absurd level of 20 mph to 5 mph after Save Lea Marshes raised objections, it did not occur to the Council to revisit its risk assessment and examine any of the other issues at the Hackney Marshes end of the bridge in light of the information we presented at the enquiry. Hackney Council paid no attention to the testament to appalling driving presented to them and the full range of hazards it revealed with pedestrians, cyclists and runners all crossing the bridge or the roadway while we filmed before the queue of cars took off on a red light having lined up on the wrong side of the road.
This is a video of traffic going over Cow Bridge, highlighting these dangers: