A Personal Trainer’s Proposals for the Silvertown Tunnel

As a personal trainer in London, I think the proposed Silvertown Tunnel will be a disaster for Londoners’ health & fitness. It is a huge missed opportunity to create a tunnel that could have promoted walking and cycling and greener buses. Pedestrians and cyclists will be banned from using the tunnel, and car-use will increase together with the inevitable rise in congestion and air-pollution. TfL have got it totally wrong.

Where will the Silvertown Tunnel be built?

The Silvertown Tunnel will span the Thames between the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach at the south of the river, and the Tidal Basin Roundabout in Royal Dock at the north of the river, with new connecting junctions on the north side with Silvertown Way and Lower Lee Crossing.

At the north side the tunnel will emerge very near to (just west of) the existing Emirates Air Line Cable Car river crossing.

How big will the tunnel be?

The tunnel will be 1.4km long. There will be two traffic lanes in each direction, in a twin-bore tunnel design which completely segregates northbound from southbound traffic (save for connecting doors along the route for maintenance and emergency services).

One lane will be for buses and lorries, the other lane for cars and vans.

How much will the Silvertown Tunnel cost?

The original estimate was £750 million, but the current estimates is now £920 million. I would not be surprised if the final cost is over £1 billion.

When will the Silvertown Tunnel open?

The final public consultation phase was  5 October 2015 – 29 November 2015. In the spring of next year 2016 TfL will apply to the Secretary of State for legal powers to construct the tunnel.

Actual construction will begin in late 2017. The most realistic opening date is 2022. It’s a huge feat of engineering, which makes it all the more tragic that it is a move in totally the wrong direction, giving a further boost to private motor cars and motor traffic at the very time London should be building a greener infrastructure with priority given to walking, cycling, and greener public transport.

Why did TfL decide to build the Silvertown Tunnel?

The main objective is to ease congestion in and around the Blackwall Tunnel which lies to to the west of the proposed Silvertown Tunnel. Accidents in and around the Blackwall Tunnel cause congestion and tailbacks which have a knock-on effect for miles around, including for thousands of bus passengers.

In addition, London’s population is set to rise still further in the next 10 years, so the Silvertown Tunnel is designed to future-proof the road infrastructure. But by making it a vehicle-only tunnel, which will be dominated by private vehicles, TfL is unwittingly making future congestion worse.

TfL argues that Silvertown Tunnel will give a boost to public transport, with more buses able to cross the river in east London. Currently, the only east London bus route which crosses the river is route 108, and TfL plans to create new bus routes to link Stratford and ExCel/Royal Docks and London City Airport north of the river, to Greenwich and Charlton and Eltham south of the river.

However, without a dedicated bus lane which only buses are allowed to use, and without an extensive investment in new low-emission buses and a more ambitious frequency of buses serving the new routes, it’s an opportunity lost for a boost in public transport use.

What I think Silvertown Tunnel should cater for

Levels of air-pollution and traffic congestion are so high in London that only a set of radical solutions have any realistic hope of making our city a healthier place to live and work. The Silvertown Tunnel is a miserable failure even before it has been built. Misguided objectives, wrong priorities. It offers nothing for cyclists or pedestrians.

TfL thinks the tunnel will ease congestion, but it will only compound congestion and blight local communities both north and south of the river, as the Londond Cycling Campaign eloquently pointed out in its response to TfL’s plans for this tunnel.

The location of the tunnel is well chosen, but it should be a tunnel where private motor vehicles are banned, not cyclists and pedestrians. This is a chance for a massive shift in favour of clean air, health promotion, fewer accidents, more active Londoners. TfL has totally missed that chance.

I propose one fully-segregated lane each way for a new fleet of low-emission buses to link up all the communities in north east London and south east London, multiple routes which give commuters a realistic alternative to the private car. The current low-emission buses in London are just not good enough, they’re not green enough. We have 7 years to come up with genuinely green buses, which they will need to be if cyclists and pedestrians are to share the tunnel too.

Design these buses with plenty of luggage space for people using London City Airport, plenty of space to put shopping after a trip to Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford. And serve each route property with a bus every 5 minutes at peak times just as the main bus networks of major European cities like Berlin have as standard. One lane in each direction dedicated to buses 24 hours a day, 356 days a year, no exceptions.

The other lane in each direction should be further segregated in to a bike lane and a separate pedestrian lane. Imagine what a boost this would give walking and cycling in London. It would be a very public statement of policy, a huge culture-shift, a billion pound smack in the teeth to the car lobby, and a billion pound boost for cycling and walking and public transport.

The new bike lanes should become part of a new north-south cycle superhighway in London. The Silvertown Tunnel could have been a huge opportunity for cycling.

If TfL is serious about easing congestion, which is what they say is their main objective in building the Silvertown Tunnel in the first place, surely they can see that getting people out of cars and onto a new fleet of green buses, onto bikes, and walking too, are the only realistic ways to reduce congestion in London.

More pedestrian and cycle bridges across the Thames in east London

My proposals for Silvertown Tunnel are still not enough if we’re serious as a society about achieving clean-air, fewer road accidents, lower rates of obesity and heart disease and diabetes and all the other diseases that accompany lack of exercise.

We need new bridges across the Thames in east London. While we’re at it, why not have duel-bridges which include DLR links and London Overground links across the river? Where are TfL’s proposals for bridges like these?

Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London and author of the Fitness4London.com blog.