Skew Bridge closed during the coronavirus lockdown

Open letter: why Skew Bridge on Old Ford should be permanently closed to motor traffic

By Ben Priestley

In an open call to the community, local resident Ben Priestley argues that Skew Bridge on Old Ford Road, which has been temporarily closed to traffic during Covid-19, should permanently remain that way. 

Dear readers,

Something big has happened on Old Ford Road. One day during the Covid-19 lockdown council workers turned up and closed Skew Bridge, which carries Old Ford Road over the Hertford Union Canal,  to cars, vans, lorries and motorbikes. Big wooden planters were manoeuvred into place blocking the road on either side of the bridge to all but pedestrians and cyclists. The planters were filled with earth, and trees planted in each one.

The day before, Old Ford Road was a fume filled, noisy, commuter rat run for traffic coming in and out of town from Essex and Kent via the A12. Suddenly it became a safe and inviting route for local residents to walk to Victoria Park and cycle east or west in preference to taking public transport. The change was profound and miraculous.

There was a very good reason for the council to close Skew Bridge; it is very narrow.  The pavements on either side are small. Social distancing for pedestrians was totally impossible. Put simply, Covid-19 had turned Skew Bridge into a public health hazard.

Many would argue that the bridge has actually been a risk to local residents and commuters for many years. It sits over a pinch point in the canal and the restricted nature of the site means that it has been impossible to widen the bridge to accommodate the ever-growing size and ever faster speed of motor vehicles. To the east and west of the bridge, straight sections of Old Ford Road encourage drivers to exceed the borough’s oft-flouted 20mph limit. 74% of westbound vehicles were observed to have been breaking this speed limit, according to a freedom of information request made in 2019. Cars, lorries and vans approach the bridge at often reckless speed. There have been many collisions.

By closing Skew Bridge to traffic, the council has taken a bold step to protect us from the risk of Covid-19. Shutting the bridge has also reduced commuter traffic on Old Ford Road to a tiny proportion of what it was pre-lockdown. Air pollution and road noise have been dramatically reduced.

Like other Covid-19 measures, closing Skew Bridge has shown us that a different world is possible after the pandemic is over. Commuter traffic from Essex and Kent has found other routes in and out of town, and more local people have discovered that cycling and walking around London are both possible and enjoyable.

Closing Skew Bridge to traffic is one of the proposals which was set out in the council’s Liveable Streets plans for Bow published last year. 

The Liveable Streets project aims to make local residential areas like Bow more pedestrian and cycle friendly, as well as reducing pollution and making Tower Hamlets a safer borough. 

A summary report for local community workshops in Bow run by the Liveable Streets team last November and December said: 

‘A closure on Old Ford Road at the narrow bridge was widely supported and it was acknowledged a safety issue is present on this road. There is strong support for also reducing traffic volumes on this road and creating an alternative east-west cycle route to the park and the canal path.’

Closing Skew Bridge is a temporary measure for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis. Before the bridge can be permanently closed there will be a public consultation. 

But in the meantime, if you like the new Old Ford Road I urge you to email your local councillors, or Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs (addresses below), to tell them that you support the permanent closure of Skew Bridge to vehicular traffic. Councillor for Bow West Councillor for Bow West Councillor for Bow East Councillor for Bow East

And when consultations open on the permanent closure, hopefully in the not too distant future, do make sure that you take part and have your say. A greener, safer Bow is possible. We just have to say that we want it.

Here’s to the new Old Ford Road!

Yours sincerely,

Ben Priestley

If you liked this open letter, you might like to read our article on how our high street could be impacted by Covid-19.

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36 thoughts on “Open letter: why Skew Bridge on Old Ford should be permanently closed to motor traffic

  • Completely agree with all the points raised by this article; I have spent years trying to negotiate the narrow uphill pavements with poor visibility over who’s coming from the other side with a buggy, scooters, bikes etc as my son grew older over the years. It is refreshing to see it semi-pedestrianized and hopefully this will remain as a permanent feature, towards a cleaner, safer and greener part of our community

    • I love on Roman Road between Grove Road and St. Stephens Road. I disagree with the view that Skew Bridge should remain permanently closed. The knock on effect of the current closure has seen long lines diesel and petrol engines vehicles under my living room window whereas before the road was much much quieter, far less polluted, safer and less congested. Traffic has not gone away and will not either. All this has done is pushed it into alternative streets and neighbourhoods. Additionally, private drivers, deliver companies, mini cabs and taxis, goods vehicles and motorcyclists all need to co-exist with pedestrians and cyclists. Ince the pandemic is over let the bridge be re-opened so that other neighbourhoods are not choked to death by traffic that obviously needs to use the roads for a variety of important reasons.

  • I live in Grove Road and since the closure of Old Ford Road, I am not able to open my window. The noise, pollution, stand still traffic is just unbearable. I moved in in 2012 and have not experienced this level of noise in previous years. If Old Ford Road is to remain closed, the traffic can not simply be moved to Grove Road. I am a mother and a cyclist, I appreciate safe routes, but this particular closure affects me and my many neighbours negatively.

    • I really like the effect these temporary or permanent road closures are having. It is great to have roads which are quiet and pollution free. However I also know from daily experience here that the closure is simply displacing traffic to other roads – as pointed out by ‘KD’. Making other roads horrible to be on. Grove and Roman road seem to have had loads more traffic since the closure.

      Longer term solutions are needed e.g. ensuring more people can live closer to work (working from home; affordable housing and affordable workspace is key), and those vehicle journeys necessary are in non polluting vehicles (electric – not perfect but far better than diesel).

      • Have you seen the traffic monitoring cables and boxes around the streets in the area?
        The council set them up around a month ago and they are still there. I think it does not want to see the impact the closure is having on other strets, so is not having them removed to download the data.
        When they did this for Liveable Streets, the whole process lasted around a week.

        If you are not happy with the closure, you can sign this petition:

      • Although this has done is move the level of traffic to roman toad grove toad and Bow Road and we are still in partial lockdown it will be a nightmare when lockdown is lifted if this stays closed for anyone leaving and entering their houses and schools in that area I live in bow riad and since
        It’s closure Fairfield road Bow Road Victoria park road and other streets and roads have been so congested as cars vans etc find another route to get through you have simply moved it further into residential areas that were already congested at least skew bridge has the park to one side for fumes etc to be dispersed away
        It’s a ridiculous idea to keep it closed permanently just for the sake of the residents and cyclists in the few houses and small block of flats along that part of road

      • Closing this road is idiocy muppets wake the f/u thousands object and you will become the focus of their anger if this goes through ?‍♂️

    • I totally agree with you , I live on Grove Rd Roman Rd is at a standstill all the time because of this closure I cant even cross the road to my local corner shop because the traffic is murder! Its not good it just pushes more and more traffic to other routes which is so unbearable! Plus the amount of cars etc we need more routes open for them to go! I hope this does not happen…

      • It’s interesting to come back after a few days to read these comments. Lots of people anti the closures. I am for the closure BUT only as part of a well thought out, wider strategy. For instance, if you close Old Ford Rd to cars, these go to Grove & Roman Rd. So make sure the traffic there can move through rather than idle – ban parking on Roman Rd; ensure road works are scheduled out of peak hours; don’t remove more of Grove Rd for cycle lanes – put those on these now much quieter closed roads. OR do more to support the move to electric vehicles (subsidy; charging points; all council vehicles going electric)…. joined up thinking rather than small scale tinkering.

  • It’s really good to see Skew Bridge without motor traffic. It makes it so much more pleasant to travel along Old Ford Road. It should only be the start of a low-traffic neighbourhood across Bow.

  • Completely agree with points made in this article. An added bonus for this closure is that it does not affect local access at all. All houses on both side of the closure remain immediately accessible by car if there are pressing needs to use one. We have to reallocate available space towards sustainable travel which effectively means cycling and walking. This is a great start.

  • Agree 100%. Been saying this for years. I live on the east side of the bridge. The traffic makes my life miserable. Pollution so thick you can taste it. The speeding bikers / boy racers – someone will get killed soon on this stretch. Since the temp closure it has been joyful and the neighbourhood feels like one. Not just a motorway!! Please keep it closed to commercial traffic. There are many other ways into town. On much wider roads. The residents implore you.

    • Let’s get rid of Victoria park, if your going to be using roads just for cyclist then build more homes on Vicky park because it’s obviously not needed now

  • Defo with you guys in this one. Massive improvement to my lifestyle and yes, whenever walking over that bridge I take my life in my hands. Well done

    • The closure of skew bridge to traffic has turned a horrible, dangerous road in to one where families can travel safely between home and the park. It’s reduced motor traffic dramatically.

      As we go on it is important that other restrictions are put in place to protect residents on Grove road and Roman road from increased traffic.

      The streets in Bow need to be a place for people to live, not for residents of Essex, Kent and outer Boroughs to speed through on their way in and out of London.

  • Open it up now!
    As there is such a small amount of people back to at the moment, what will this be like once everyone back to work and up and running , the traffic at the moment ( I live opposite the lake on Old Ford Road) looks no different from before COVID 19

  • As someone who uses this road daily closing it permanently will only have a good effect for the few people that live on either side of the bridge but for everybody else it will be all negative.The traffic on Roman road and grove road once vehicle leaves return to normal will be horrendous during the rush hours which will clearly make the pollution levels way higher too.Seems like another case of of people making decisions that they don’t have to deal with the day to day effect of and taking the views of the few with no thought to how it effects the many

  • We need to methodically and relentlessly through Freedom of Information Request and Open Source Surveillance establish who is such a well connected resident of this short stretch of a road that it got closed like no other. It is not more narrow than a lot in the borough, it is next to a massive park so suffers from much reduced pollution problem, it is all ver suspicious.

    It looks like covid-19 is a cover up for a return of a misguided liveable streets project that residents so vigorously opposed last year. Alternatively, and this would be my bet, someone well connected and influential has a house there.

    Why on earth would you keep all these cars in a permanent standstill, idling and polluting, blocking cyclists and delaying 277 and 425 just to keep half of a mile of a road traffic free and enhance lives of a handful of million pound property owners?

    Hundreds of inconvenient drivers, cyclists manoeuvring through stationary traffic breathing in fumes, total collapse of two bus service timetables to keep a rich man’s garden quiet?! With the massive park across the road?!

    Oh and why this PR? Campaigns, petitions, likes and thumbs up? Would it be necessary if it really was such a good idea?

    • You raise an interesting question.
      I for one was puzzled to see how the council had given permission last year to build some brand new properties near the Skew Bridge.
      When I saw the houses I wondered who would ever want buy then as they are very close to a main road (which after all is a B road, whether we like it or not).
      Now that the road has been closed and there are plans to make this permanent, I wonder If I missed something.

    • I agree with every word that you said, its ridiculous how much congestion the closure has caused around Grove Road, Roman road and even Lauriston road and Cassland Road in Hackney, where I live. It adds at least 30 minutes to my journey home from work and the traffic fumes of traffic at a standstill is awful. How about children living around these areas, do they not matter as much?? and the traffic trying to squeeze through Terrace road onto Cassland road now is beyond hazardous. Is it not enough for the cyclists and local families that are opposing this have access to the most beautiful and spacious park in London that they also want sole access to all of the adjoining streets too. I attended all the protests and signed the petition, I know Old Ford Road is open at the moment again, but I fear its closure again as it is one of the worst things that could happen to our roads, not liveable but unliveable. This is inner London, if all the opposers needs for open spaces are that great, then there is always the countryside..

  • Peter Councillor for Bow West, lives on Chisenhale Road with a house that runs down to the canal/overlooks this road.

    Great idea, but the wealthier and more pleasant parts of Bow will always get better treatment as residents are more active in campaigning. Why does a road next to the park deserve to be closed over any other road in Bow with narrow pavements?!

    Poorer and more congested areas get overlooked. Even worse, they now get all the extra traffic.

    Close all roads that are rat-runs (Roman Road, Old Ford, Tredegar Road, Fairfield Road) or close none. Sadly this is uncoordinated and corrupt.

    • You have raised some valid points.
      Tredegar Square, Lichfield Road, Antill Road, Chisenhale Road, Cardigan Road (didn’t another Councillor live on this road?) all have had measures put in place to curtail traffic and each one has pushed more vehicles to the rat runs you mention.
      Look at the townhouses on Old Ford Road, some have a private garden on the canal and they are all worth well over a million pounds.
      No hope for the shabby little houses and council flats elsewhere…

      • C Richmond I help run the TRA for the Tredegar Sq area ( . I’ve lived here 30 years and disagree with your analysis. Aberavon Rd (all houses £1,000.000+ is a rat run; Grove Road is overwhelmed with traffic (lots of £1,000,000+ townhouses there too). Going down this lazy route of the posh people get it their way is just pants – trying to divide the community ain’t helpful. Lots of car-free housing in the streets you mention (as so close to Mile End tube). People have just got to get out of their cars more and walk! The number of people driving about on their own frustrates me – I live on the “front line” of Grove Road.

        The townhouses on Old Ford Rd don’t have private gardens on the canal? The Hertford Union canal towpath and a very high brick wall is in between from The Regents to Skew Bridge and then it is flats all the way until the Lea?

        How many blocks of flats does it take to outvote all the posh houses in the area? And you assume flats=poor; town house=posh. Have you not heard of multiple occupancies? The posh million-plus townhouse next to me had eleven students in it.

        There is nothing stopping people forming local residents associations. They aren’t restricted to posh people!

  • Well, I was somewhat perplexed to see Ben Priestley’s letter posted on the website, as the permanent closure of the Skew Bridge will hit an already struggling market and shopping high street. The council’s own detour signs are pushing all the traffic that would have driven along the closed section of Old Ford Road to Roman Road, which is not becoming increasingly polluted, noisy and dangerous.
    The permanent closure will also impede any pedestrianisation of the Roman, wider pavements or even a one-way system (as the successful TFL Healthy Streets programme showed us just last year on this very same website!).
    In any event, I am sure that anybody living on the eastern section of Old Ford road (and also on Parnell Road, which has become incredibly quiet) would agree with this closure. I would too, if I was fortunate enough to live on a £1+m townhouse overlooking one of the best parks in London with a private garden on a canal; there is nothing wrong with that, as we all want cleaner air, less traffic and (why not) continued access to our vehicles.
    This sounds like a typical NIMBY scenario to which there is no easy solution.
    Old Ford Road is one of the historical routes in and out of the area and is classified as a main route on all the maps and street exits. Yes, it has a narrow bridge, but that is not a good enough reason to close it because if we apply this same logic to other streets then there would be no bus depot on Fairfield Road, no Rotherite Tunnel, etc. The fact of the matter is that most of London was not conceived to deal with the levels of traffic that we are seeing today.
    I think that the current online petition asking for the road to be reopened eloquently summarises the issue:
    ‘’The initial reason for closure was to aid social distancing and an alternative route for cycling. As Victoria Park has now permitted cycling and the COVID-19 restrictions being relaxed the closure is no longer necessary.
    The closure has lead to an influx of traffic in to the surrounding areas. Stand still traffic on Roman road backing up to Bethnal green, Tredegar road, St Stephens road.
    This is currently with a reduced level of commuters. The closure improves cycle safety, social distancing and pollution levels for 800 metres this inturn negatively impacts the surrounding areas by a concentration of pollution and traffic on routes which are more frequent with pedestrians and cyclists. As further restrictions are lifted and the number of road users increase the situation will exacerbated .
    Alternative solutions should be considered with an aim to increase the safety of vulnerable road users throughout towerhamlets. The closure of Old ford road merely reduces safety in the surrounding area.’’
    My personal view, if I can add to the above, is that we need to sort out the access to and from the A12 as this is at the root of all the rat-running traffic. Some people (including me) would argue for something drastic like a complete closure, but this would clearly have an impact on mobility for residents, so I don’t think it will ever happen. A bus gate at the end of Tredegar Road would have worked, but commuter traffic from Essex and Kent (that Ben Priestly refers to) prevented even a one week trial from going ahead. Another year has passed and we are still waiting for another consultation.
    I think that the most likely option that the council will go for is a timed bus gate at the intersection of Roman Road with St Stephens Road. My concern is that this will be paired with a permanent closure of the Skew Bridge, so we will have all off-peak traffic driving through the only route available: Grove Road – Roman Road – St Stephens Road – Tredegar Road. This will become a proper rat-run during the evening, night time and weekends (and any other time that the council decides to suspend the bus gate – as it has done recently in Wapping). This is in contradiction with Ben Priestley’s aim of a A greener, safer Bow.

    • I totally agree with this comment. Closing Old Ford Road has not solved the underlying issue, just moved traffic to other areas like Roman Road which is a very polluted, dangerous and noisy street. What happened to the great idea of liveable street presented a few months ago?

  • It looks judging by the comments here (and I suggest we get them screenshot in case they mysteriously disappear) that in no time local press will be scrutinising the whole situation.

    It seems to me that when Lutfur Rahman’s administration got removed due to a lot of inappropriateness, our hopes for the new, transparent, open, democratic and resident-centric council were premature. It is not too late to put it right in this case councillors – if you are reading this.

    Just open the road and get back to a drawing board to facilitate real improvements for the whole community.

    • And what are your ideas?

  • It’s very simple, if you do not like living in a city which inevitably has high volumes of people and traffic then move to a small village, do not curtail your neighbours and others freedoms to engage in their rightful and peaceful day to day activities. Nimbys go away……

  • Old Ford Rd should not be closed. Vicky Park already provides enough green space to walk and cycle very close by. The way some cyclists have come down Old Ford Rd since the closure on skew bridge is reckless and dangerous. The closure limits access for emergency vehicles and cuts off locals’ access to their own borough – those needing Private transport due to mobility issues related to age or disability will be negatively impacted in terms of access and increased fares due to diversions. Very poor timing from the council to consult under cover of Covid when those shielding were unlikely to be able to go out and post their views and may not have online access. I see no benefit for the closure other than those living in the big houses near the park. Bow needs the through traffic for access and local businesses. The bus gate was discredited ages ago so why revived again? The other related road closures are no better on my view.

  • Oh dear. That backfired… I agree with the comment that these types of closures seem to benefit the more vocal/connected. The collateral damage from these schemes, as we’re seeing in Hackney, always falls on the poorer/less able.

  • Your line of thought makes little sense. Your concerns can easily be fixed by making the bridge open for cars only in one direction, widening the pavement on both sides. Instead, you are essentially fighting for your privilege of having a quiet bridge and passing the bill onto the residents of Grove Rd and Roman road. That is not being part of a community, but being selfish. I hope the council will see what is going on and will not buy your line of thought. You are right in giving it a shot, the council should have not approved, nevertheless

  • It is since google maps that traffic on Old Ford Road has increased over proportionally. There is no justification why 16000 cars a day should pass alongside Victoria Park, through a resident area and across a historic narrow bridge. Traffic in such dimensions must be guided via main traffic routes in London and not allow the use of this convenient short cut to the A12. Tower Hamlets must immediately act against this and order a permanent closure of any traffic both ways on Skew Bridge. Residents in Bow and around Victoria Park along Old Ford Road have hugely benefited in mental and physical health during the time of the bridge’s closure. This is not only those that live near the park but on both sides all the way to the A12. It is true that other roads have suffered because of this closure but a very large proportion of those 16000 cars have found other routes to get to the A12 away from Tower Hamlets. It would be next to put measures in place how to help those other roads in Bow, but first Skew Bridge must be closed.


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