Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

The Wobbly Bridge

View of St Pauls across the Bridge
View of St Pauls across the Bridge

I have found two of the best photographic points in London. Standing at the top of the steps on the south side of the Millennium Bridge offers a full-on view of St Paul’s Cathedral and by standing on the pathway a few yards downstream of the bridge I can capture an image of the bridge sweeping across the river towards the cathedral dome.

You may remember that this is the “Wobbly Bridge”. It is the first London Bridge across the Thames since Tower Bridge was completed and was meant to provide a Millennium experience carrying the general public between the Tate Modern Gallery and St Paul’s. It certainly provided an experience the first day it was open.

The bridge is a footbridge, and as such is narrow at only 13ft (4m) wide, with a total length of 1066 ft (325m). It is supported by two piers, and is very pleasing to look at, and as I have already pointed out, makes an excellent subject for a photograph.

Millenium Footbridge
Millenium Footbridge

In theory the bridge can carry up to 5000 people, and when it was finally opened on June 10th 2000 everyone flocked to cross over it. Imagine their surprise when it moved under their feet.

Synchronous Lateral Excitation is the scientific name for this phenomenon. In simple terms what happened is that the vibrations of all of the people walking across the bridge sets off small vibrations that make the bridge sway ever so slightly. Reflex actions by the people walking on the bridge make them sway very slightly in sympathy to keep their balance, causing the bridge in turn to sway just a little bit more. Multiply this many times over and before you know where you are the bridge is swaying back and forth and everyone is behaving like Indiana Jones crossing an Amazonian ravine.

Naturally as soon as word got around everybody wanted to have a go. After all, you pay two quid to go on something similar at the fairground and this “ride” was free. Unfortunately “Health and Safety” soon put a stop to the fun and the bridge was closed on June 12th to make it safer.

It was finally opened again after much structural testing and correction, but it was not nearly so much fun. I walk across to St Paul’s and back again just in case the bridge fancied returning to its erratic ways, but it remained motionless much to my disappointment.

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