01 May 2009
Thames Crossings 16: Lambeth Bridge
Downriver from Vauxhall Bridge is Lambeth Bridge, dating from 1932.
It was built by Dorman Long, the Yorkshire company that made both the Tyne Bridge and Sydney Harbour Bridge. A plaque on the stonework by the roundabout on the south side of the bridge reminds you of its provenance: CONSTRUCTED BY DORMAN LONG & CO 1929-1932, YOU SOFT SOUTHERN JESSIES.
And the view from here is just as sensational as that from the coathangers of Newcastle of Sydney: the Palace of Westminster basking grandly in the sun by the waterside like, er, a large reptile.
Lambeth Bridge has mandatory bike lanes painted on either side which are five yards across. But because of an optical illusion they only appear nine inches wide, making this a rather unpleasant bridge to cross, despite its brevity.
There is a man employed to drive a white van endlessly across the bridge, looping round the roundabouts at either end all day. His job is to swish past to you as close as he can. He files reports back to base constantly on his mobile. So unless you're in a hurry, get off and walk and enjoy the views. Except of course if you're in London you're always in a hurry.
Just by the south side of the bridge is Lambeth Palace, the best-preserved Tudor building you can see from a road in London (right). When the Tour de France started off in London - a great incentive to ride away as fast as possible - they put up these amusing topiary figures of giant shrub-men riding bikes on the roundabout here.
Slicing across the roundabout there is a miniature rift valley of a bike lane that exemplifies the best in British cycle lane design. Unfortunately.
From here on the north side you go along Millbank, past a park and in front of the Houses of Parliament, and right around the tedious traffic flow of Parliament Square (near which there is Europe's safest pedestrian crossing, though you'd never realise it). On the south side you can ride the promenade for a photo-opportunity in front of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, which of course you can't see because it's the bell inside what's officially called the Clock Tower. Either way, Westminster Bridge is about half a mile away.