We deserve a better bridge

The existing footbridge over Orient Way and several railway lines is inaccessible to many people
The existing footbridge over Orient Way and several railway lines is inaccessible to many people (credit Karl Weiss)

Claire Weiss from Love Lea Bridge wants a new crossing over Orient Way

A footbridge has been conveying walkers and cyclists over the industrial traffic route of Orient Way and the Greater Anglia railway lines for nearly 20 years.

Jointly-owned by Waltham Forest Council and Network Rail and linking Marsh Lane to Leyton Marshes, it’s now becoming more important to wider groups of people, as it forms a vital link and is a brilliant shortcut for pedestrian and cyclist journeys between Waltham Forest and Hackney.

Unfortunately, the bridge parapet is disintegrating, and the walking surfaces are degrading. A report about its hazards has been filed with the Health and Safety Executive. The intention of Waltham Forest Council and developers to increase the local population by 8,000 people, by building several new ‘car free’ estates nearby, urgently raises the need for a more accessible and amenable footbridge.

One day in early November I chatted to local residents and asked them about their journeys. A group of people explained that they use the bridge regularly as part of their walks for exercise and mental health. Two women, each with a small baby in a pram, said they found it very useful for reaching the open spaces of the marshes via an off-road route. Others using bicycles were going to work, while some on foot were visiting friends or collecting children from care.

I had also spoken to some people who don’t use the bridge. It’s a formidable structure in terms of height, span and exposure to the elements, and as such it is unapproachable by people with a fear of heights, those who feel unprotected because of the open sides, and others who feel too closed in by the narrowness of it.

Clearly, the bridge is also inaccessible to anyone whose mobility or physiological capacity stops them from climbing the 30 steps. People also told me there were better-designed footbridges in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and elsewhere, for instance over the A12 and the Central Line in Leytonstone.

The Orient Way bridge’s limitations are not only the number of steps, their height, and steepness, but also the badly-positioned wheel channel, the partial absence of a handrail, and the narrow footway that prevents social distancing. I witnessed people struggling with all of these shortcomings, most poignantly those crossing with small children, pushchairs and bikes. I saw that if you have a pushchair, the child must get out and climb on their own. Modern bikes are incompatible with the position of the wheel channel, so cyclists are wielding their bikes perilously as they clamber the steep steps.

The Love Lea Bridge residents’ group has contacted the council and Network Rail and is campaigning for a replacement bridge which would be wider and have ramps to accommodate cargo bikes, prams and wheelchairs. We believe that funding for this new bridge should come from the community obligations of the many large housing developments planned in the area.

Sign the petition for a new footbridge:
Visit change.org/p/network-rail-waltham-forest-council-greater-anglia-we-need-a-safe-orient-way-footbridge