Silvertown Tunnel – the best TfL can offer?

If you invest £1000 in my business, the best thing I can offer you is learning.

21st century planning

The cost of small production lines and website development is so low that £1000 is best spent testing the water: make 100 T-shirts and a website, and see if they sell, rather than building a factory for millions only to find out your T-shirt design is unpopular, or out of fashion.  The idea that the currency of success is now learning – from a friend who once worked in tech startups – seems a very 21st century way of doing business.  There is another way to do business that remains popular though; with plans for Silvertown Tunnel, TfL are doing business in the style of the 1950s.

Silvertown: 1950s planning

1950s thinking – particularly around road design was to ‘predict and provide’:

Predict and provide

The earliest, and perhaps most destructive road transport policy in the UK, whereby traffic levels were forecast, and capacity provided to meet this forecast (University of Nottingham)

At Silvertown, TfL have predicted a massive growth in cross-river traffic by people who will want to drive.  Rather than seeking to provide alternatives, reduce that demand or prioritise those who actually need to drive there, they propose a tunnel:

The Silvertown Tunnel will reduce congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, improve the resilience of the surrounding road network and support economic and population growth.  (All quotations are from this TfL page or linked documents, unless otherwise indicated).

Despite creating a new, quicker way to drive, TfL claim this won’t attract many additional drivers, in fact:

We estimate that by 2031, delays on the approach to the tunnel would be virtually eliminated.

This is in defiance of the experience of every major road-building scheme in Britain over a period of thirty years, which shows that ‘improving’ roads invariably induces more people to drive:

The average traffic flow on 151 improved roads was 10.4% higher than forecasts that omitted induced traffic and 16.4% higher than forecast on 85 alternative routes that improvements had been intended to relieve. In a dozen more detailed case studies the measured increase in traffic ranged from 9% to 44% in the short run and 20% to 178% in the longer run. This fitted in with other evidence on elasticities and aggregate data. The conclusion was:

 “An average road improvement, for which traffic growth due to all other factors is forecast correctly, will see an additional [i.e. induced] 10% of base traffic in the short term and 20% in the long term.”

(Taken from this post, which summarises this DfT report).

If Silvertown Tunnel is similar to every other major road scheme, it will increase traffic on the Greenwich Peninsula.

Note to TfL - you cannot build your way out of a traffic jam (source - Citylab)

Note to TfL – you cannot build your way out of a traffic jam (source – Citylab)

So, TfL’s other claims seem doubtful too:

The environmental impact of current traffic congestion on some of London’s most polluted roads would be reduced

The scheme would bring about an overall air quality improvement on the main approach routes to and from the Blackwall Tunnel,

TfL promises to charge for the tunnel, and for Blackwall, to alleviate the otherwise inevitable harm.

TfL proposes to use to manage traffic impacts arising from the Silvertown Tunnel is user charging, which would act to deter increases in demand and should therefore minimise adverse impacts (TfL)

A 21st century business proposal

What upsets me about this (apart from the waste of money, induced demand caused, additional pollution and general obtuseness of the approach) is that TfL’s approach does not offer us any learning.

Were we to charge for the crossing now, we could find out how many people actually need to drive across the Thames here.  Demand might be managed sufficiently to avoid the massive expense of a new bridge. Pollution might be reduced in the area.

That’s what happened when Stockholm did something similar, as beautifully summarised in this TED talk.  Introducing a very small congestion charge has a significant effect.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.28.47

One or two euros was enough to make 20 percent of cars disappear from rush hours.  If you can reduce traffic even somewhat, then congestion will go down much faster than you might think

People changed their behaviour.  Were they massively inconvenienced?

We did this huge interview survey with lots of travel services, and tried to figure out who changed, and where did they go? And it turned out that they don’t know themselves.  For some reason, the car drivers are — they are confident they actually drive the same way that they used to do.  

This seems logical, but without doing it, we’ll have no idea.  What I can’t understand is why TfL don’t start by charging, then decide whether we need another crossing.  Rather than building another crossing, then charging, then see if things clear up.

This is an amazing offer for TfL: it’s a trial which would make them money, rather than costing it.  (And there’s no negative – it’s infrastructure they will have to build, and unpopularity they will have to face anyway – as they’ve promised to toll the new crossing and Blackwall Tunnel eventually anyway).

TfL desperately want this toxic tunnel

However, even if it were to charge, TfL are adamant that a new bridge is needed:

While a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel would reduce some demand, a charge alone could not prevent incidents at the tunnel.

TfL say there were almost 1,000 incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel

Although a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel might reduce some demand from motorists – depending on the level at which it was set – it could not prevent planned and unplanned incidents at the tunnel, which is a significant cause of congestion across a wide area.

So we are building a toxic tunnel due to ‘planned and unplanned’ incidents.  What kind of incidents?

The new Silvertown Tunnel would significantly reduce incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel which force its temporary closure, in particular incidents involving overweight vehicles.

So, we’re going to spend £750 million to accommodate drivers of overweight vehicles – who presumably know they shouldn’t be using the tunnel?

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.39.33

Source: TfL

Surely TfL can come up with a smarter approach to preventing people using a tunnel they don’t fit down than building another tunnel?

Automatic_level_crossing_with_height_restrictions

Image credit: Mcivory

We could even combine my two ideas: charge now, and spend some of the money on better incident prevention and breakdown services.  At at least £2 per journey, TfL can get its hands on perhaps £250,000 pounds a day – this would nicely cover something a high-tech solution and an investment in sustainable alternatives.

I don’t know for sure.  TfL may be right:

We concluded that a charge at the Blackwall Tunnel without any increase in new crossing capacity was not a suitable option, since it would not address our wider objective of reducing incidents at the Blackwall Tunnel and providing more resilience and choice for people crossing the river. In addition, although charging would reduce some demand to cross at the Blackwall Tunnel, there would still be significant congestion and adverse impacts on alternative crossing routes.

TfL don’t know either.  Concluding that a charge wouldn’t work without trying it is lunacy.  The best TfL can offer is a toxic tunnel, at a cost of £750m.  We won’t learn anything for five years, and we’ll face all the negative consequences before and afterwards.

TfL desperately need to take a 21st century approach – trial charging and find out.  Maybe some of those journeys aren’t necessary.  Maybe some of them could be retimed, rerouted or put on a changed mode.  We could find out and TfL could make a profit in the process…

Tell TfL you are against their toxic tunnel here – demand user charging instead.  The consultation is live now until Sunday, 29th November.

And help the No campaign, here.

Left Dangling: Crossing the Thames in East London

Should we be worried about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel?  Having cycled to work from East London to Woolwich from 2012 to 2014, this part of the world already faces illegally poor air quality, congested and dangerous roads, and a scar in the face of the A2 motorway cut through Kidbrooke.  The unwelcome news that my employer is moving to North Greenwich next year both reminded me of this issue and posed a more immediate concern: how do I get to work?

TfL are pushing to build another road crossing beside the Blackwall Tunnel.  Their latest consultation response came out earlier this year.  There are many, many things which make little sense, but I wanted to start with one which will directly affect me: their attitude towards people on foot and on bikes.

Improving cycling and walking links

At a number of points in the consultation response, TfL responded to requests for better links for people on bikes or on foot.  Each time, they followed the same formula:

We explained in our consultation materials that even with dedicated provision for pedestrians and cyclists (which would be necessary for their safety) the Silvertown Tunnel would not be an attractive place to walk or cycle through, and it was in recognition of this that in 2012 we introduced the Emirates Air Line cable car.

As set out in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, the Emirates Air Line cable car was introduced to provide a convenient crossing for pedestrians and cyclists between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

In reality, few cyclists and an extremely small number of pedestrians would be likely to use a facility within the tunnel given that it would be quicker to cross the river via the Emirates Air Line, which provides connections to key areas on each side of there river.

The implicit claim then, is that, for pedestrians and people on bikes, the Dangleway is “attractive” (quotation 1), “convenient” (quotation 2), “quick(er)” (quotation 3).

As someone unlucky enough to have to work in North Greenwich from next year, and living in East London, here is my Dangleway Level Of Service assessment:

Attractive

Attractive cycling and pedestrian links generally don’t charge you for the privilege of using them.  Or at least, they aren’t substantially more expensive than the alternatives.

If I caught the Dangleway to work with my bike each day, it would cost me £3.40 in either direction; £6.80 return.  Paying £6.80 for a journey, when one of the attractions of cycling is it is practically free is hardly attractive.

Indeed, almost any other way of getting to work would be cheaper: it would cost me £1.70 each way to use the Overground and tube.  Or, at present, no fee at all to drive.

While there is a discount for regular ‘commuters’ on the Dangleway, it is equal to the cost of getting to my new workplace by Overground and tube.  And since I have the choice, there is no chance I will visit the North Greenwich offices five days a week, which is what’s needed to gain this discount.

Attractive cycling and pedestrian links also don’t wobble: as someone who’s afraid of heights, I don’t find adding a terrifying Dangleway ride to my scary enough cycle particularly attractive.

Convenient

The Dangleway opens at 7am and is closed by 9pm in winter.  At my last job (in Woolwich), I had to be at work by 7.25, so getting their with my bike via the Dangleway would have been impossible.  Sometimes I have to work late; sometimes I like to join colleagues for a drink after work: a convenient crossing would cater for such circumstnaces by being open 24 hours a day.

A convenient transport link still works when it’s windy, too.

Quick(er)

The average Dangleway crossing takes seven, eight or perhaps even ten minutes.  A quick crossing would not have an alternative mode of transport offering a far swifter route next door (the tube).

Indeed there are few journeys in central London which are 2 1/2 times faster by car than by bike.  Yet TfL’s priority is to make it easier to drive across the river here, not to cycle or walk.

Cycling

Driving

Dangleway success?

If TfL intended to create an attractive, convenient and quick crossing for people on bikes and on foot, they failed: the Dangleway had four regular commuters in 2013 and none in 2014.  An attractive, convenient and quick link for pedestrians and cyclists would be free, open 24 hours a day, and no slower than its neighbouring tube journeys.

What TfL have created in the Dangleway is a tourist attraction, and one that doesn’t even break even.  I don’t mind (although I struggle to see how this fulfils TfL’s mandate); I do object to TfL doing nothing to improve crossings for people on foot and cycling, proposing to spend £750 million on an additional link for drivers and then using this joke of a crossing to pretend that they have done anything for sustainable travel.

In Central London, TfL are finally building for the future, with the East-West and North-South Cycle Superhighways making it possible for ordinary people to consider cycling to work and play and a sensible reallocation of road space towards healthy and sustainable forms of transport a reality.  Meanwhile in East London, they are planning for the past, for a world in which everyone drives, and every driver’s desire to go wherever they like quickly must be accommodated, while cyclists and pedestrians can be fobbed off with a crossing which is inconvenient, unattractive and expensive.

Two factors in mitigation

  1. TfL have given Sustrans £200,000 to sketch out plans for a new walking and cycling link from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf: something far cheaper, and far more sustainable.  It won’t get me to work, but it looks like they are finally considering sustainable transport links.
  2. Silvertown Tunnel makes no sense, on almost any rational grounds.  I’ll write more about them in future, but a close examination of the business, traffic and air pollution cases for the tunnel should make it possible to prevent it being built.

There is far more on this by Darryl at 853blog and at No to Silvertown Tunnel.