Don’t fall for TfL’s Silvertown Tunnel myths

In the lead-up to its October 2015 consultation, TfL’s social media team was busy conjuring up tweets trying to justify why it’s planning to waste £1bn on the Silvertown Tunnel.

Unfortunately for TfL, all they do is demonstrate just how weak the case for the toxic tunnel really is.

Most of the arguments fall down with a few seconds’ thought. Here are the lines pursued by TfL – and the truth behind them.

“Silvertown Tunnel would allow more reliable journeys for local residents and businesses.”

Reducing traffic is the only way to bring about more reliable journeys. Unfortunately, studies show new roads simply generate new traffic. For the Silvertown Tunnel, that means any relief for northbound trips is likely to be short-lived. Soutbound journeys are likely to get worse as the Silvertown Tunnel feeds into the existing A102/A2 route. Tolling won’t stop congestion – just ask regular users of the Dartford Crossing. It’ll also lead to more traffic heading to the Rotherhithe Tunnel, a flaw TfL admits to.

“Silvertown Tunnel would support east London’s continued population growth.”

Most Londoners commute to work on public transport, yet all TfL can offer is a new road scheme. And while tens of thousands of new homes are planned for areas such as Greenwich Peninsula over the next decade, they won’t be coming with tens of thousands of new car parking spaces.

The best way to support the continued population growth in east and south-east London is by investing in new public transport – such as extending the London Overground from Barking to Abbey Wood – and making it easier for people who’ll live in these new homes to walk or cycle to work, including building a walking and cycling link between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf.

“Silvertown Tunnel would provide better road connections to and from Docklands and east London from south London.”

The Silvertown Tunnel is essentially just a doubling in size of the existing Blackwall Tunnel link. On the north side, it would deposit drivers at the Tidal Basin Roundabout, which provides access to local roads through Silvertown, and the Lower Lea Crossing towards Canary Wharf. These roads are already under pressure – particularly during rush hours and when there are events on at ExCeL.

At best, it’s likely you’d exchange a traffic jam at Blackwall for one at Tidal Basin Roundabout. At worst, you’d get both. And of course, heading south, the new tunnel would feed into the A102, so you’d get worse jams heading southbound each evening.

“Just one bus route currently crosses the river in east London. Silvertown Tunnel would create the opportunity for more cross-river routes.”

Nothing’s stopping TfL introducing new buses now. New routes are welcome, but TfL doesn’t need to blow a billion pounds on a new tunnel for that to happen. Since 1968, only one service has used Blackwall Tunnel – the 108. The only thing blocking TfL from introducing new buses is TfL itself.

Don’t let TfL try to tell you the new tunnel will have a dedicated bus lane – buses will have to share that lane with HGVs.

Providing direct services across the river hasn’t been a priority for TfL in recent years. The 108 has had to endure a lengthy diversion via North Greenwich station for many years, eroding its usefulness as a cross-river link. The only service through the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the 395, was scrapped in 2006.

“Silvertown Tunnel would help reduce queuing traffic at Blackwall Tunnel.”

Only a fool would deny that traffic jams at Blackwall Tunnel aren’t a problem. But reducing those jams won’t happen by doubling the amount of road space.

The extra traffic the Silvertown Tunnel would continue to generate jams. Cars would still be queuing back down the A102 each morning.

Southbound queues on the A102 heading away from the Blackwall Tunnel each evening are often as bad as those approaching the tunnel in the morning, meaning slow journeys for drivers negotiating the A2 into Kent.

More traffic from a new tunnel would slow these journeys down further, generating more traffic and more pollution through Kidbrooke, Eltham and Bexleyheath.

A new tunnel would do nothing about southbound queues on the A12 through Bow and Poplar – meaning continued misery for those living next to the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach.

A tolled tunnel also risks sending traffic further into central London, generating new jams on routes to the free Rotherhithe Tunnel through Greenwich town centre, Deptford, New Cross, Stepney and Mile End.

“River crossings are about 2km apart in the west, 1km apart centrally but 8km in the east. That’s why we need Silvertown Tunnel in the east.”

Building the Silvertown Tunnel won’t do anything about the lack of road connectivity between east and south-east London – it’d share the same congested approach road as Blackwall Tunnel, and the huge gap between the Woolwich Ferry and Dartford Crossing would remain.

All those bridges in the west aren’t free of traffic either – in fact, they’re just as clogged up as Blackwall.

Even if you do believe building new roads would help, the Silvertown Tunnel offers nothing new, and threatens to make the existing situation worse.

“Vehicles create 60% more NOx sitting in congested traffic. Silvertown Tunnel would reduce queuing at Blackwall Tunnel & improve air quality.”

The Silvertown Tunnel won’t reduce queuing at Blackwall, so pollution won’t be cut. And it’ll generate new traffic and pollution elsewhere. TfL has even admitted this in past consultations.

Tolling isn’t an answer either – the Dartford Crossing is regularly congested, despite its steady expansion into two tunnels and a bridge.

And again, the Silvertown Tunnel would do little to help those who already suffer from pollution around the southbound route through Blackwall – down from the A12 in Bow and Poplar through to the A2 in Kidbrooke and Eltham.

Even though the Silvertown Tunnel has been proposed throughout most of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, TfL still hasn’t completed any form of comprehensive environmental assessment on its plans – the current proposals merely contain “preliminary” assessments. Considering the levels of pollution we are exposed to from roads, this is unacceptable.

“Roads are vital to London with 90% of all goods, such as food, transported this way. Silvertown Tunnel is vital to help London grow.”

Building the Silvertown Tunnel would lead to more HGVs coming into inner London. At present, the northbound Blackwall Tunnel is too small and twisty to take huge lorries, so TfL wants to spend £1 billion to accommodate these – even though lorries leaving the Silvertown Tunnel at Tidal Basin Roundabout would have to take a contorted route to reach the A12 to continue heading north or A13 east.

The threat posed to local residents by HGVs was one of the reasons why Hackney Council resolved to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel this summer.

Long distance lorries from, say, Canterbury to Cambridge should not be coming through inner London – yet the Silvertown Tunnel will encourage this.

Of course roads are vital to London. But why would you spend a billion pounds on a new road that would only make the wider network less reliable?

“Silvertown Tunnel would improve local access to the area helping create more local jobs.”

“Silvertown Tunnel would open up new opportunities for local businesses.”

What employers and residents are really crying out for is new public transport connections – this came up in surveys conducted by TfL itself. Think of the boost Thamesmead would get from a London Overground connection across the Thames.

Or how Greenwich Peninsula would become an attractive place to work if it didn’t rely so heavily on the Jubilee Line.

All London’s big regeneration schemes have been boosted by new public transport – think of the effects the Docklands Light Railway, Jubilee Line and London Overground have had. But the Silvertown Tunnel would offer very little. It’d also make its immediate surroundings less attractive.

As for creating new access for tradespeople who use vans and trucks – they’ll be the only people in London to rely on a toll road to cross the river. A plumber heading home from Barking to Bexleyheath would find southbound jams worse than today.

Here are two other tweets that show how the Silvertown Tunnel risks overloading the traffic network south of the river:

Some of these incidents are far away from the tunnel – but think how bad these queues would be with extra cars and HGVs using these roads.

A short history of Greenwich Peninsula river crossings