Category Archives: Tower Bridge

The World’s 20 Most Impressive Bridges

From old stone spans to sweeping modern suspensions, bridges have a way of wowing us.

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By Tim Newcomb | Dec 29, 2015

Moving bridges, stone bridges, new bridges, historic bridges, bridges that are global icons, bridges you’ve probably never heard of—they’re all here. We even have one that floats on water and another that carries water. Here are our choices for the 20 most impressive spans around the world.

Golden Gate Bridge

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Craig Easton/Getty Images

San Francisco

The four-year project to span the Golden Gate strait and connect San Francisco to Marin County culminated in what was the world’s longest (4,200 feet) and tallest suspension bridge when this Bay Area landmark opened in 1937. The Golden Gate would keep those records until the 1960s. The Joseph Strauss Art Deco suspension bridge design is famous today in large part because of something a bit out of the norm in the bridge world: color. Golden Gate was painted “International Orange” partly to match the warm coastal surroundings and also to stand out against the horizon for boaters.

Ponte Vecchio

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Pablo Charlón/Getty Images

Florence, Italy

You don’t walk over the Golden Gate Bridge expecting to find a market or a shopping mall up there. But centuries ago, it was common for shops and even houses to stand one the second story of a bridge. The most prominent example that still exists is probably Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy. Rebuilt after a flood in 1345, a 1565 upgrade added a second story to the stone segmental arch bridge spanning the Arno River. It was in the second story that workshops and houses filled the extra space, stretching sometimes wider than the original bridge. Ponte Vecchio is the only one of its kind in Florence that survived World War II.

Magdeburg Water Bridge

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Jens Schlueter/AFP/Getty Images

Magdeburg, Germany

The water bridge that crosses the Elbe River to connect the Elbe-Havel Canal to the Mittellandkanal becomes the longest navigable aqueduct in the world, at more than 3,000 feet long. Previously, connecting the two canals required a 7.4-mile detour and boat lift into the river. But in 2003 the new concrete water bridge near Berlin changed all that and gave ships a water-filled crossing.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Peter Phipp/Getty Images

Australia

The “Coathanger” of steel that crosses the Sydney Harbour has a longer history than it appears. Opened in 1932 after eight years of construction, the steel bridge features six million hand-driven rivets. The extreme sun in Sydney required hinges that could handle the steel expanding and contracting in the extreme temperatures. At 160 feet wide, the bridge was the widest long-span bridge in the world until 2012, and crosses over 3,700 feet with the steel arch 440 feet above the water.

Scale Lane Footbridge

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 John Lord/Flickr

Hull, England

Pedestrians can have some fun in Hull, England, with a swinging pedestrian bridge in what some call the shape of an apostrophe. Designed by McDowell+Benedetti and opened in 2013, the black steel bridge serves as a crossing of the River Hull, but opens to river traffic in an impressive swinging motion.

Millau Viaduct

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Getty Images

France

At 1,125 feet, the tallest bridge in the world opened in 2004 and can, at times, soar above the clouds. At over 8,000 feet long, Millau Viaduct spans the Tarn River Valley with seven pillars designed by Lord Norman Foster. To create the bridge in just three years, crews built the towers and then the roadway, which was slid into place atop the towers.

Brooklyn Bridge

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Kristen Duvall/Getty Images

New York City

It may have taken 14 years to build, but when the Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn, the single span of 1,595 feet suspended by four cables was a sight to behold. It still is. Designed by John A. Roebling and with the construction led by son Washington Roebling and his wife, Emily, the project stands as an enduring symbol for bridge construction the world over. It may have been the 1884 P.T. Barnum spectacle of leading a herd of 21 elephants across the bridge that early on cemented the bridge’s popularity. But today, from the 15-.5-inch diameter cables comprised of 5,434 parallel steel wires to the towers built of limestone, granite and cement, everything about the Brooklyn is iconic.

Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge

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Seigo Yamamura/Getty Images

Japan

The longest suspension bridge in the world measures 12,800 feet across. It opened in 1998 after 12 years of construction. The three-span bridge crosses the Akashi Strait with 190,000 miles of wire cabling the roadways from the two towers. Bridge design had to account for earthquakes, high winds, and harsh sea currents crashing against the towers.

Rialto Bridge

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Narvikk/Getty Images

Venice, Italy

The first bridge to span the Grand Canals of Venice, this 15th Century structure by Antonio da Ponte defied the critics of the time and topped some steeped competition—even Michelangelo offered a design for the planned crossing. The peaked Venetian architecture allows for ship passage underneath. The design, which took three years to build, was created 24 feet high and 75 feet wide to allow space for shops along the sides.

Bay Bridge

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Thomas Winz/Getty Images

Oakland

The San Francisco Bay Area is lucky enough to have two internationally reknowned bridges. The new Bay Bridge East Span, a $6.4 billion project, replaced a seismically unstable bridge. It has the world’s largest self-anchored suspension span, a 2,047-foot span anchored by a single 525-foot-tall tower that holds a single mile-long main cable containing 17,399 steel wire strands.

State Route 520 Floating Bridge

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Washington State Dept of Transportation

Seattle

The world’s longest floating bridge will be upstaged in spring 2016 when the brand-new State Route 520 Floating Bridge replaces it. The new span, which runs just a few feet to the north of the old Seattle bridge, spans 7,710 feet across Lake Washington and five vehicle lanes wide. The new bridge uses 77 concrete pontoons as the foundation; the weight of the water displaced by the pontoons equals the weight of the structure, allowing it to float. The roadway is elevated 20 feet above the water. A total of 58 anchors secure the bridge.

Pont Jacques Chaban-Delmas

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Denis Goujon/Getty Images

Bordeaux, France

The longest vertical-lift bridge in Europe, at 2,200 feet, has the architectural feat of lifting 252 feet over the Garonne River in Bordeaux, France. The four slender pylons that serve as the vehicle for the vertical lift will light up to signify the current tide—blue for high tide and green for low tide.

Helix Bridge

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Allan Baxter/Getty Images

Singapore

Inspired by the shape of DNA, the Helix Bridge offers Singapore pedestrians 918 feet of architectural intrigue and artistic expression. The bridge in Marina Bay uses multiple styles of steel to curve and sweep, opening up at five points for viewing platforms. The steel tubes serve as the visual spectacle. If straightened and laid end to end, they would stretch 7,380 feet.

Nanpu Bridge

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Wangwukong/Getty Images

Shanghai, China

The Nanpu Bridge features an impressive seven-lane, 2,500-foot cable-stay component over the Huangpu River. But honestly, it’s the four miles of bridge that doesn’t cross the river that offers the most intrigue. A circular elevated approach stretches from land and wraps up, bringing vehicles to the height of the crossing in the midst of the heavily congested downtown Shanghai.

Tower Bridge

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Anne Dirkse/Getty Images

London

Tower Bridge opened in 1894 on the east side of London after an eight-year project to construct a bridge across the Thames. It’s one bridge in two styles—suspension and bascule. The 213-foot-tall towers on either end of a 200-foot central lift span suspend the bridge to the shore on either side, while serving as the foundation for the bascule span that can raise and lower for ship traffic.

​Capilano Cliffwalk

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daveynin/Flickr

North Vancouver, British Columbia

Next door to the historic Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Cliffwalk opened in 2011 with 700 feet of bridge hanging off a cliff about 230 feet above a canyon. The bridge can handle 100,000 pounds of weight while anchored to the cliff’s walls. To make the natural Capilano River canyon even more impressive, sections of the Cliffwalk feature glass-bottom walkways. Not for the faint of heights.

Russky Bridge

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Saeed Khan/Getty Images

Russky Island, Russia

Completed in 2012, the 1,053-foot-tall structure became the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge at more than 10,000 feet long, and it has the second-highest pylons (following the Millau Viaduct) in the world. Just don’t plan on ever needing to cross the Russky Bridge in your lifetime—it’s located in a rural area of southeastern Russia near North Korea, China, and Japan.

Charles Bridge

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Blend Images/Getty Images

Prague, Czech Republic

Stone, old, and impressive. The Charles Bridge in Prague crosses the Vltava River in all its Gothic glory. What started in 1357 as a major construction project ended in the early 1400s with a 2,037-foot stone arch bridge connecting Old Town to the Prague Castle area in the Lesser Quarter with 16 arches and an additional 30 decorative statues.

Tilikum Crossing

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Kurt Stricker/Getty Images

Portland, Oregon

The first new crossing over Portland’s Willamette River since 1973, 1,700-foot Tilikum Crossing opening in September 2015. The structure is remarkable not only for the slender design, with 110.5-foot towers that flow down to the five spans, but also because of what you won’t find on the bridge: cars. It’s not easy to build a big infrasturcture project in America, much less one that turns away drivers. But only light rail, streetcar, buses, pedestrians, and cyclists are welcome here.

​Slauerhoff Bridge

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Bert Kaufmann – Brug Leeuwarden/wikimedia

Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

Nicknamed the Flying Drawbridge, for obvious reasons, this small bascule bridge swings sections of 49 foot by 49 foot deck 90 degrees up into the air to allow ships to pass. Two arms swing from a pylon, instead of traditional hinges, for quicker movement.

Tower Bridge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

TOWER BRIDGE DATA

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Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London built between 1886 and 1894. The bridge crosses the River Thames close to the Tower of London and has become an iconic symbol of London, resulting in it sometimes being confused with London Bridge, situated some 0.5 mi (0.80 km) upstream. Tower Bridge is one of five London bridges now owned and maintained by the Bridge House Estates, a charitable trust overseen by the City of London Corporation. It is the only one of the Trust’s bridges not to connect the City of London directly to the Southwark bank, as its northern landfall is in Tower Hamlets.

London-Shard-View

The bridge consists of two bridge towers tied together at the upper level by two horizontal walkways, designed to withstand the horizontal tension forces exerted by the suspended sections of the bridge on the landward sides of the towers. The vertical components of the forces in the suspended sections and the vertical reactions of the two walkways are carried by the two robust towers. The bascule pivots and operating machinery are housed in the base of each tower. Before its restoration in the 2010s, the bridge’s colour scheme dated from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Its colours were subsequently restored to blue and white.

The bridge deck is freely accessible to both vehicles and pedestrians, whereas the bridge’s twin towers, high-level walkways and Victorian engine rooms form part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, for which an admission charge is made. The nearest London Underground tube stations are Tower Hill on the Circle and District lines, London Bridge on the Jubilee and Northern lines and Bermondsey on the Jubilee line, and the nearest Docklands Light Railway station is Tower Gateway. The nearest National Rail stations are at Fenchurch Street and London Bridge.


Contents

1 | History

1.1 | Inception
1.2 | Construction
1.3  | Opening
1.4  | Second World War
1.5  | Modernization
1.6  | 2008–2012 facelift
1.7  | London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics
1.8  | 2016 renovations

2  | Design

2.1  | Bridge structure
2.2  | Hydraulic system
2.3  | Signalling and control

3  | Traffic

3.1  | Road
3.2  | River

4  | Tower Bridge Exhibition
5  | Reaction
6  | Incidents
7  | Gallery

1 | History


1.1 | Inception

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Elevation, with dimensions

In the second half of the 19th century, an advertisement in the East End of London led to a hiring for a new river crossing downstream of London Bridge. A traditional fixed bridge at street level could not be built because it would cut off access by sailing ships to the port facilities in the Pool of London, between London Bridge and the Tower of London.

A Special Bridge or Subway Committee was formed in 1877, chaired by Sir Albert Joseph Altman, to find a solution to the river crossing problem. It opened the design of the crossing to public competition. Over 50 designs were submitted, including one from civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Bazalgette’s design was rejected because of a lack of sufficient headroom, and design was not approved until 1884, when it was decided to build a bascule bridge. Sir John Wolfe Barry was appointed engineer with Sir Horace Jones as architect (who was also one of the judges). An Act of Parliament was passed in 1885 authorising the bridge’s construction. It specified the opening span must give a clear width of 200 feet (61 m) and a headroom of 135 feet (41 m). Construction had to be in a Gothic style.

Barry designed a bascule bridge with two bridge towers built on piers. The central span was split into two equal bascules or leaves, which could be raised to allow river traffic to pass. The two side-spans were suspension bridges, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge’s upper walkways.

1.2 | Construction

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Tower Bridge under construction, 1892

Construction started in 1886 and took eight years with five major contractors – Sir John Jackson (foundations), Baron Armstrong (hydraulics), William Webster, Sir H.H. Bartlett, and Sir William Arrol & Co. – and employed 432 construction workers. E W Crutwell was the resident engineer for the construction.

Two massive piers, containing over 70,000 tons of concrete, were sunk into the riverbed to support the construction. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways. This was then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone, both to protect the underlying steelwork and to give the bridge a pleasing appearance.

Jones died in 1886 and George D. Stevenson took over the project. Stevenson replaced Jones’s original brick façade with the more ornate Victorian Gothic style, which makes the bridge a distinctive landmark, and was intended to harmonise the bridge with the nearby Tower of London. The total cost of construction was £1,184,000 (equivalent to £122 million in 2015).

1.3 | Opening

The bridge was officially opened on 30 June 1894 by The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), and his wife, The Princess of Wales (Alexandra of Denmark).

The bridge connected Iron Gate, on the north bank of the river, with Horselydown Lane, on the south – now known as Tower Bridge Approach and Tower Bridge Road, respectively. Until the bridge was opened, the Tower Subway – 400 m to the west – was the shortest way to cross the river from Tower Hill to Tooley Street in Southwark. Opened in 1870, Tower Subway was among the world’s earliest underground (“tube”) railways, but it closed after just three months and was re-opened as a pedestrian foot tunnel. Once Tower Bridge was open, the majority of foot traffic transferred to using the bridge, there being no toll to pay to use it. Having lost most of its income, the tunnel was closed in 1898.

The high-level open air walkways between the towers gained an unpleasant reputation as a haunt for prostitutes and pickpockets; as they were only accessible by stairs they were seldom used by regular pedestrians, and were closed in 1910.

1.4 | Second World War

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A Short Sunderland of No. 201 Squadron RAF moored at Tower Bridge during the 1956 commemoration of the Battle of Britain

During the Second World War and as a precaution against the existing engines being damaged by enemy action, a third engine was installed in 1942: a 150 hp horizontal cross-compound engine, built by Vickers Armstrong Ltd. at their Elswick works in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was fitted with a flywheel having a 9-foot (2.7 m) diameter and weighing 9 tons, and was governed to a speed of 30 rpm. The engine became redundant when the rest of the system was modernised in 1974, and was donated to the Forncett Industrial Steam Museum by the Corporation of the City of London.

1.5 | Modernization

In 1974, the original operating mechanism was largely replaced by a new electro-hydraulic drive system, designed by BHA Cromwell House, with the original final pinions driven by modern hydraulic motors and gearing. In 1982, the Tower Bridge Exhibition opened, housed in the bridge’s twin towers, the long-closed high-level walkways and the Victorian engine rooms. The latter still house the original steam engines and some of the original hydraulic machinery.

A computer system was installed in 2000 to control the raising and lowering of the bascules remotely. It proved unreliable, resulting in the bridge being stuck in the open or closed positions on several occasions during 2005 until its sensors were replaced.

1.6 | 2008–2012 Facelift

In April 2008 it was announced that the bridge would undergo a ‘facelift’ costing £4 million, and taking four years to complete. The work entailed stripping off the existing paint down to bare metal and repainting in blue and white. Each section was enshrouded in scaffolding and plastic sheeting to prevent the old paint falling into the Thames and causing pollution. Starting in mid-2008, contractors worked on a quarter of the bridge at a time to minimise disruption, but some road closures were inevitable. It is intended that the completed work will stand for 25 years.

The renovation of the walkway interior was completed in mid-2009. Within the walkways a versatile new lighting system has been installed, designed by Eleni Shiarlis, for when the walkways are in use for exhibitions or functions. The new system provides for both feature and atmospheric lighting, the latter using bespoke RGB LED luminaires, designed to be concealed within the bridge superstructure and fixed without the need for drilling (these requirements as a result of the bridge’s Grade I status).

The renovation of the four suspension chains was completed in March 2010 using a state-of-the-art coating system requiring up to six different layers of ‘paint’.

1.7 | London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

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Tower Bridge with 2012 Olympic rings

The bridge featured in publicity for the 2012 Summer Olympics being held in London. In June 2012 a set of Olympic rings was suspended from the bridge to mark one month to go until the start of the games. The rings cost £259,817 to make, measured 25 by 11.5 metres (82 by 38 ft) and weighed 13 tonnes (14 short tons).

On 8 July 2012, the west walkway was transformed into a 200-foot-long (61 m) Live Music Sculpture by the British composer Samuel Bordoli. 30 classical musicians were arranged along the length of the bridge 138 feet (42 m) above the Thames behind the Olympic rings. The sound travelled backwards and forwards along the walkway, echoing the structure of the bridge.

Following the Olympics, the rings were removed from Tower Bridge and replaced by the emblem of the Paralympic Games for the 2012 Summer Paralympics.

1.8 | 2016 Renovations

Tower Bridge was closed to all road traffic for almost three months in late 2016 (1 October to 30 December). This was to allow structural maintenance work to take place. The work included:

  • Undertaking major maintenance to the bridge lifting systems
  • Replacing the decking and resurfacing the walkways and road
  • Replacing the expansion joints along the bridge to provide a smoother surface
  • Waterproofing the arches made from brick on the approaches to the bridge

During this time the bridge was still open to water borne traffic as required by Act of Parliament. The bridge was open to pedestrians for all but three weekends, where a free ferry service was in operation.

Design


2.1 | Bridge Structure

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Tower Bridge from Shad Thames

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Tower Bridge at dawn

The bridge is 800 feet (240 m) in length with two towers each 213 feet (65 m) high, built on piers. The central span of 200 feet (61 m) between the towers is split into two equal bascules or leaves, which can be raised to an angle of 86 degrees to allow river traffic to pass. The bascules, weighing over 1,000 tons each, are counterbalanced to minimise the force required and allow raising in five minutes.

The two side-spans are suspension bridges, each 270 feet (82 m) long, with the suspension rods anchored both at the abutments and through rods contained within the bridge’s upper walkways. The pedestrian walkways are 143 feet (44 m) above the river at high tide.

The main bridge deck carries two lanes of road traffic between two low-level pedestrian walkways across both suspension spans and the opening bascule section of the bridge, with the walkways separated from the roadway by fences. The roadway passes through each of the two towers, whereas the low-level walkways pass around the outside of the towers.

One of the chimneys on the bridge, which are often confused as lamp posts, connects up to an old fireplace in a guardroom of the Tower of London. It is long-disused.

2.2 | Hydraulic System

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One of the original steam engines

The original raising mechanism was powered by pressurised water stored in several hydraulic accumulators. The system was designed and installed by Hamilton Owen Rendel while working for Sir W. G. Armstrong Mitchell & Company of Newcastle upon Tyne. Water, at a pressure of 750 psi (5.2 MPa), was pumped into the accumulators by two 360 hp (270 kW) horizontal twin-tandem compound stationary steam engines, fitted with Meyer expansion slide valves. Each engine drove a force pump from its piston tail rod. The accumulators each comprise a 20-inch (51 cm) ram on which sits a very heavy weight to maintain the desired pressure.

The entire hydraulic system along with the gas lighting system was installed by William Sugg & Co Ltd., the well known Westminster gas engineers. The gas lighting was initially by open flame burners within the lanterns but soon after was updated to the later incandescent system.

In 1974, the original operating mechanism was largely replaced by a new electro-hydraulic drive system, designed by BHA Cromwell House. The only components of the original system still in use are the final pinions, which engage with the racks fitted to the bascules. These are driven by modern hydraulic motors and gearing, using oil rather than water as the hydraulic fluid. Some of the original hydraulic machinery has been retained, although it is no longer in use. It is open to the public and forms the basis for the bridge’s museum, which resides in the old engine rooms on the south side of the bridge. The museum includes the steam engines, two of the accumulators and one of the hydraulic engines that moved the bascules, along with other related artefacts.

2.3 | Signalling and Control

To control the passage of river traffic through the bridge, a number of different rules and signals were employed. Daytime control was provided by red semaphore signals, mounted on small control cabins on either end of both bridge piers. At night, coloured lights were used, in either direction, on both piers: two red lights to show that the bridge was closed, and two green to show that it was open. In foggy weather, a gong was sounded as well.

Vessels passing through the bridge had to display signals too: by day, a black ball at least 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter was to be mounted high up where it could be seen; by night, two red lights in the same position. Foggy weather required repeated blasts from the ship’s steam whistle. If a black ball was suspended from the middle of each walkway (or a red light at night) this indicated that the bridge could not be opened. These signals were repeated about 1,000 yards (910 m) downstream, at Cherry Garden Pier, where boats needing to pass through the bridge had to hoist their signals/lights and sound their horn, as appropriate, to alert the Bridge Master.

Some of the control mechanism for the signalling equipment has been preserved and may be seen working in the bridge’s museum.

3 | Traffic


The tall ship Wylde Swan passing under Tower Bridge decorated for the London Olympics in August 2012. Note the Olympic rings folded up to allow passage of the mast.

3.1 | Road

Tower Bridge is still a busy crossing of the Thames: it is crossed by over 40,000 people (motorists, cyclists and pedestrians) every day. The bridge is on the London Inner Ring Road, and is on the eastern boundary of the London congestion charge zone. (Drivers do not incur a charge by crossing the bridge.)

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The tall ship Wylde Swan passing under Tower Bridge decorated for the London Olympics in August 2012. Note the Olympic rings folded up to allow passage of the mast.

To maintain the integrity of the structure, the City of London Corporation has imposed a 20-mile-per-hour (32 km/h) speed restriction, and an 18 tonnes (20 short tons) weight limit on vehicles using the bridge. A camera system measures the speed of traffic crossing the bridge, using a number plate recognition system to send fixed penalty charges to speeding drivers.

A second system monitors other vehicle parameters. Induction loops and piezoelectric sensors are used to measure the weight, the height of the chassis above ground level, and the number of axles of each vehicle.

3.2 | River

The bascules are raised around 1000 times a year. River traffic is now much reduced, but it still takes priority over road traffic. Today, 24 hours’ notice is required before opening the bridge, and opening times are published in advance on the bridge’s website. There is no charge for vessels to open the bridge.

When needing to be raised for the passage of a vessel the bascules are only raised to an angle sufficient for the vessel to safely pass under the bridge, except in the case of a vessel with the Monarch on board in which case they are raised fully no matter the size of the vessel.

4 | Tower Bridge Exhibition


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Interior of high-level walkway (used as an exhibition space)

The Tower Bridge Exhibition is a display housed in the bridge’s twin towers, the high-level walkways and the Victorian engine rooms. It uses films, photos and interactive displays to explain why and how Tower Bridge was built. Visitors can access the original steam engines that once powered the bridge bascules, housed in a building close to the south end of the bridge.

The exhibition charges an admission fee. Entrance is from the west side of the bridge deck to the northern tower, from where visitors ascend to level 4 by lift before crossing the high-level walkways to the southern tower. In the towers and walkways is an exhibition on the history of the bridge. The walkways also provide views over the city, the Tower of London and the Pool of London, and include a glass-floored section. From the south tower, visitors can visit the engine rooms, with the original steam engines, which are situated in a separate building beside the southern approach to the bridge.

5 | Reaction


Although the bridge is an undoubted landmark, professional commentators in the early 20th century were critical of its aesthetics. “It represents the vice of tawdriness and pretentiousness, and of falsification of the actual facts of the structure”, wrote Henry Heathcote Statham, while Frank Brangwyn stated that “A more absurd structure than the Tower Bridge was never thrown across a strategic river”.

Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank selected the bridge as one of his four choices for the 2002 BBC television documentary series Britain’s Best Buildings.

Tower Bridge is often mistaken for London Bridge, the next bridge upstream. A popular urban legend is that in 1968, Robert P. McCulloch, the purchaser of the old London Bridge that was later shipped to Lake Havasu City in Arizona, believed that he was in fact buying Tower Bridge. This was denied by McCulloch himself and has been debunked by Ivan Luckin, the vendor of the bridge.

A partial replica of Tower Bridge has been built in the city of Suzhou in China. The replica differs from the original in having no lifting mechanism and having four separate towers.

6 | Incidents


In December 1952, the bridge opened while a number 78 double-decker bus was crossing from the south bank. At that time, the gateman would ring a warning bell and close the gates when the bridge was clear before the watchman ordered the raising of the bridge. The process failed while a relief watchman was on duty. The bus was near the edge of the south bascule when it started to rise; driver Albert Gunter made a split-second decision to accelerate, clearing a 3-foot (0.91 m) gap to drop 6 feet (1.8 m) onto the north bascule, which had not yet started to rise. There were no serious injuries. Gunter was given £10 (equivalent to £260 in 2015) by the City Corporation to honour his act of bravery.

The Hawker Hunter Tower Bridge incident occurred on 5 April 1968 when a Royal Air Force Hawker Hunter FGA.9 jet fighter from No. 1 Squadron, flown by Flt Lt Alan Pollock, flew through Tower Bridge. Unimpressed that senior staff were not going to celebrate the RAF’s 50th birthday with a fly-past, Pollock decided to do something himself. Without authorisation, Pollock flew the Hunter at low altitude down the Thames, past the Houses of Parliament, and continued on toward Tower Bridge. He flew the Hunter beneath the bridge’s walkway, remarking afterwards that it was an afterthought when he saw the bridge looming ahead of him. Pollock was placed under arrest upon landing, and discharged from the RAF on medical grounds without the chance to defend himself at a court martial.

In the summer of 1973, a single-engined Beagle Pup was twice flown under the pedestrian walkway of Tower Bridge by 29-year-old stockbroker’s clerk Paul Martin. Martin was on bail following accusations of stockmarket fraud. He then “buzzed” buildings in The City, before flying north towards the Lake District where he died when his aircraft crashed some two hours later.

In May 1997, the motorcade of United States President Bill Clinton was divided by the opening of the bridge. The Thames sailing barge Gladys, on her way to a gathering at St Katharine Docks, arrived on schedule and the bridge was opened for her. Returning from a Thames-side lunch at Le Pont de la Tour restaurant with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Clinton was less punctual and arrived just as the bridge was rising. The bridge opening split the motorcade in two, much to the consternation of security staff. A spokesman for Tower Bridge is quoted as saying: “We tried to contact the American Embassy, but they wouldn’t answer the phone.”

On 19 August 1999, Jef Smith, a Freeman of the City of London, drove a flock of two sheep across the bridge. He was exercising a claimed ancient permission, granted as a right to Freemen, to make a point about the powers of older citizens and the way in which their rights were being eroded.

Before dawn on 31 October 2003, David Crick, a Fathers 4 Justice campaigner, climbed a 100-foot (30 m) tower crane near Tower Bridge at the start of a six-day protest dressed as Spider-Man. Fearing for his safety, and that of motorists should he fall, police cordoned off the area, closing the bridge and surrounding roads and causing widespread traffic congestion across the City and east London. The Metropolitan Police were later criticised for maintaining the closure for five days when this was not strictly necessary in the eyes of some citizens.

On 11 May 2009, six people were trapped and injured after a lift fell 10 feet (3 m) inside the north tower.

7 | Gallery