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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 13:28 GMT
Bridge of sighs of relief
Millennium Bridge
Open (again) after 5m of repairs
test hello test

By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online
It looks like second time lucky for London's Millennium Bridge as it re-opens after 5m repairs.

Take two.

It's shortly before 10 o'clock on Friday morning and there's great excitement among a small crowd of people who have gathered at a spot on the north bank of the River Thames.

Stretching out before them, across this world famous waterway, is London's "new" Millennium Bridge.

Dami Dibben and Alfred
Damian Dibben and Alfred: "I'm impressed"
Of course, it's not really all that new. The 18m ultra-modern steel crossing has graced the capital's vista for nearly two years, linking St Paul's Cathedral on the north side with one of London's most cherished new attractions, the Tate Modern art gallery, on the south.

But for almost all that time it has sat as a largely unloved landmark, closed to the on-looking public.

It originally opened with great fanfare in June 2000, but within 48 hours barriers at both ends had been installed because of the disconcerting wobble caused by the momentum of pedestrians' footsteps.

"It could be several weeks before it reopens," we reported at the time.

Nineteen months later, following an extensive refit of shock absorbers, the bridge, designed by celebrated architect Sir Norman Foster, has been judged safe.

I came on it the first time round, and it just seemed wrong. But now I'm impressed

Damian Dibben
City office workers have crowded at their windows, as have young boys from the neighbouring City of London School, to witness this second, rather more low-key, opening. Police, some on horseback, are watching to see that all goes smoothly.

As the minute hand edges towards 10, it feels a bit like the build-up to a Harrods sale as the huddle jostles with anticipation.

Gusts of a biting wind blow west to east, sending a chill through the crowd, and no doubt down the necks of those engineers whose job it has been to steady this structure.

Being teased

Gail Mowatt - an appropriate name given the weather conditions - has come with her 11-month old daughter Beatriz.

Gail Mowatt and a just-walking Beatriz
Gail Mowatt and a just-walking Beatriz
For the past six months, since she moved into an apartment nearby, the bridge has been nothing more than a tease.

"Whenever I've wanted to go over to the Tate, I've had to go out of my way to Southwark Bridge," she says.

She has kept a keen eye on developments at the bridge.

Got the fear

"There have been quite a lot of engineers working late on Fridays, when it's been raining, so they've obviously been under pressure to get it done."

Michaela Yeates
Michaela Yeates: "I never thought I'd get this far"
The technicians are not the only ones sweating.

Student Michaela Yeates has a phobia of bridges, but thought this would be a suitable occasion on which to conquer her fear.

"I feel a bit hot and shaky. I can feel it in my chest," she says nervously, and it's apparent that a wobbly bridge would do her no favours at all at this point.

A few seconds later the barriers at both ends are pulled open and 91-year-old Emma Drake, leads the "charge" from the north side.

No wobble

Michaela, who has specially travelled down from Bath, shuffles on shortly afterwards, gulping down her fear and keeping a brave face.

Never mind the architecture, it makes for a nice shortcut
But the bridge doesn't wobble. Despite the blasts of wind, which seem to come barrelling down with ever greater ferocity as we lose the cover of surrounding buildings, it stays firm.

There is an ever so slight bounce under foot, but this almost seems reassuring. Even when the crowds are as thick as Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, there is no hint of sway.

No one is gripping on to the side barriers for dear life. In fact the atmosphere is relaxed and a little festive. Parents trundle over with pushchairs, a cyclist pedals hurriedly, betraying not an ounce of ceremony.

And, given the conditions, Michaela appears remarkably relaxed.

"I've done it," she says at the mid-way point. "I don't know if I've conquered my phobia, but I never thought I'd get this far."

In his darker contemplations about the bridge, Sir Norman Foster might well have felt the same.

See also:

22 Feb 02 | England
'Rigid' Millennium Bridge reopens
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