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?


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.


Quietway 2 – an embarrassment to all

Quietways always sounded pretty rubbish.  I use the vestiges of the London Cycle Network frequently – as with so much cycling in London, as a least-worst option – and I never cease to resent the wiggly routes it takes me on and the rat-running drivers I have to contend with in amongst the parked cars.

I thought Quietways might be a step up.  I’ve always seen them as a cop-out, avoiding TfL’s and the boroughs’ responsibility to provide safe space for cycling on main roads.  But at least I thought I might be able to get around the indirect and inconvenient routes safely and comfortably.  Here’s what TfL promise:

Quietways will complement Superhighways by providing a network of cycling routes through less heavily trafficked streets…  They are aimed at new cyclists who want a safe, unthreatening experience.

(London Cycling Design Standards)*

London Cycling Campaign, rightly, expected something clearer than this:

To actually be ‘quiet’ the routes need to restrict through motor traffic (rat-running) and provide separation where required (where speed limits are above 20 mph or traffic volumes are high).


So to Quietway 2

This is a pilot route, being delivered by Camden, Islington and Hackney, with the assistance of Sustrans.  I should probably have seen the writing on the wall when Camden consulted on the Guildford Road section – a choked rat-run and taxi route with car parking space – in which they promised a speed table or two and some painted signs.

Looking through Islington’s Consultation document (and let’s take a moment to note that it’s in nineteen separate pages, such that only really interested people are going to bother), I was disappointed, initially, to note no filtering, just some signs and some new road humps.  Sadly, the next page offered the same.  I got to the third page, and there were some more signs and new road humps…  You get the idea.  Nothing.

Here’s a fairly standard extract, showing the extent of what is to be done:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 09.01.28

Signs and raised entry humps on side roads.


For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the route as it stands – notably whoever designed it, let me take you down it.  This was yesterday on the way to a meeting – a random Tuesday morning – so unfortunately, some bits which are often horrible and choked were less so.  On the other hand, I got close-passed in an area which is usually fine, so it balances out.  This post focuses on Islington, with two exceptions, but I’ll start with something nice:


Filtering in De Beauvoir Square – good for skateboarders too.


Welcome to Islington!  The driver on the left is stationary, of course… (Northchurch Road)

The route takes a dog-leg diversion in the wrong direction and back on to the main road, which I didn’t bother to follow.


This isn’t on the Quietway, this is the direct route. But it shows you the number of vehicles going down these back roads (and on to Prebend Street, which is on the Quietway). Drivers aren’t happy either – you can’t hear the driver on the right of the picture tell someone on the left to ‘F–k off’ as he passes (Basire Street meeting New North Road)

Back on the proposed ‘Quietway’ route.



Lots of rat-running drivers. (Prebend Street)


Lots of rat-running commercial drivers (Colebrooke Row)


Four more rat-running drivers queued up behind people on bikes (Margery Street)




See those drivers queuing up opposite – that’s what you’ll be joining to make it here from Camden’s side (Calthorpe Street)

At this point, my camera ran out of battery – which is fine, because this is the borough boundary.

My point is that these routes were all busy.  It’s probably true to say they are “less heavily trafficked streets” but only because the main roads are so heavily ‘trafficked’.  It’s certainly not true that they will offer a “safe, unthreatening experience” as the driver of 7861H was kind enough to demonstrate Middleton Road.


What happens when you have lots of drivers mixing with people on bikes at a range of speeds? Close passes. And collisions. And injuries. And deaths. 


Risk dooring or risk being knocked down – not a choice I’d ask a child to make.

[This part of the route, where I was close-passed, may be modally-filtered – although the works notifications have gone up in Hackney Today before we see any plans for this, which makes me nervous].

This new route won’t make it any safer or more pleasant to cycle, because it won’t provide any new space for cycling which isn’t already busy with drivers.  The only people it will help will be people unfamiliar with the route, due to the signs.  But why would anyone else bother with a  round-about route which is neither safe nor pleasant?

There are excellent parallel routes which drivers are free to take.  Islington is encouraging and continuing to allow rat-running commercial drivers to use these back, residential streets.  De Beauvoir shows what could be done here.

At the moment, we are looking at more money spent for absolutely no gain.  TfL can claim they have succeeded – these streets are “less heavily trafficked” – but only by comparison tot he main roads.

Thankfully, Islington claim they are willing to listen.

I would urge everyone reading this to oppose this scheme outright.  The money will be wasted and we will benefit not at all.

In contrast to the consultation plans, the consultation response is very simple.  To finish by the 17th May.

* I’m not even going to get into the ridiculous idea that new cyclists and existing cyclists want different kinds of infrastructure.

CS2 Upgrade Consultation Response, from a local resident

Comments on individual sections of the route (Sections 1 – 7)

1 Do you support the proposals for Section 1 (Aldgate to Whitechurch Lane) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 1 (Aldgate to Whitechurch Lane) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

These proposals are generally very good.

2 Do you support the proposals for Section 2 (White Church Lane to Cambridge Heath Road) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 2 (White Church Lane to Cambridge Heath Road) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:
As a cyclist, I’m very much in favour of these proposals. As a pedestrian, I understand and partially share the Mayor of Tower Hamlets concerns at this point. This road is very, very hard to cross at present and this will make it harder. This does not reduce the need for these cycle improvements, but further pedestrian crossings would certainly be desirable.

3 Do you support the proposals for Section 3 (Cambridge Heath Road to Beaumont Grove) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 3 (Cambridge Heath Road to Beaumont Grove) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

This proposal substantially improves this stretch of road for people on bikes and pedestrians (subject to my overall comments on wands and junctions).

Again, it draws attention to the need for general improvements on roads such as Cambridge Heath Road and Sidney Street.

4 Do you support the proposals for Section 4 (Beaumont Grove to Westfield Way) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 4 (Beaumont Grove to Westfield Way) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

I strongly oppose the flawed design which leaves cyclists unsegregated from motorists along this part of the route. Why? 1) I have been cut up dangerously by bus drivers along this route in the bus lanes. 2) I have had a number of terrifyingly close passes by taxis along this route in the bus lanes. 3) Along Mile End Road when bus lanes are not in operation, one is frequently left picking one’s way around parked minicabs and having the prospect of speeding, undertaking vehicles approaching rapidly from behind. 4) At this point in the route, there is a gap of over 30m between buildings. Expecting cyclists to share with drivers so close to the site of Brian Holt’s death is particularly crass. This one weak-point will serve to invalidate the route for many families and those who, for obvious reasons, do not wish to cycle surrounded by traffic. Segregation must be included along this stretch to make this upgrade worthwhile.

Otherwise, this proposal significantly improves the area, including the junctions, subject to my overall comments regarding wands and junctions.

5 Do you support the proposals for Section 5 (Westfield Way to Merchant Street) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 5 (Beaumont Grove to Merchant Street) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

As far as Burdett Road, the proposal remains strong, although please see my general comment about left hooks/encroachment at junctions due to removal of segregation in the approaches.

At Burdett Road, I am pleased that we will finally see the proposals consulted upon eighteen months ago implemented. I hope that the parking permitted along Burdett Road to the North of Mile End Road can be limited to ensure the advisory cycle track remains useful. (This also highlights the need and space for segregation along the whole of Burdett Road, although this is one for another day).

Further West, I approve of the proposals, subject to my general concerns about wands.

6 Do you support the proposals for Section 6 (Merchant Street to Bromley High Street) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 6 (Merchant Street to Bromley High Street) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

Eastbound, I would be concerned about the left-hook risk at Bromley High Street, caused by the wide radius left for turning motor vehicles.

Outside Bow Church DLR, a 1.5m lane is far too narrow for the number of people who are likely to wish to use this. A single-stage crossing for pedestrians would obviate the need to waste space in the middle of the road on an island.

Otherwise, these proposals appear generally good, although please see my general comment about wands.

7 Do you support the proposals for Section 7 (Bromley High Street to Bow Roundabout) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Please give any comments on the proposals for Section 7 (Bromley High Street to Bow Roundabout) of the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade below:

It’s disappointing that more is not being done at Bow Roundabout, but perhaps as more people are able to cycle the perception of pressure on roundabout capacity will reduce and it will become more politically possible to put in safe crossing facilities for pedestrians and people on bikes.

Overall proposals and About you

8 Do you support TfL’s overall proposals for the Cycle Superhighway 2 upgrade?


Do you have any comments on the overall proposals?:

When I first saw CS2, I thought it was a joke. I subsequently spent a year and a half living three minutes from Mile End Road and I swiftly learned to avoid it unless there was no other way to reach my destination – which, unfortunately, was often the case. I now live a little further East and still use it only when I have no choice. I would welcome the chance to turn the Superhighway into something which I and others could use without fear of taxis, buses, car doors and (most dangerously) rapid under-taking vehicles outside bus lane hours. Therefore, overall, I support these proposals very strongly.

Across the proposal:
– I am concerned about the reduction in width of the cycle track to 1.5m at a number of points. Even now, horrible as it is, this road is heavily used by people on bikes. 1.5m is too narrow to accommodate the growth we will surely see once people are able to cycle safely.

– I am concerned at the reliance on paint rather than segregation at junctions. As on CS2X, there is a removal of segregation in the approach to possible left-turns by motorists. Leaving segregation until nearer the junction would reduce turning radii and ensure vehicles do not encroach on the cycle lane in advance of their turn. This could be topped by wands to avoid damaging encroaching vehicles if necessary.

– I have limited confidence in wands. The destructive effect drivers have over street furniture over time is clear across London. Clearly it’s preferable to have a wand in between me and speeding vehicles, but I suspect the wands are likely to prove both insufficient and expensive – subject as they will be to repeated replacement.

I’m pleased about the inclusion of a number of banned turns, which may begin to reduce the rat-running in some of Tower Hamlets backstreets, many of which are forbidding for bicycles. However, this proposal draws attention to the need for an overall strategy to improve these routes, notably by creating a safe, segregated connection between CS2 and CS3. This could be achieved by segregating Burdett Road (as proposed by the LCC as their Ward Ask and for which there is ample space) or by removing through motor traffic from Sidney Street and segregating Cambridge Heath Road. Either way, to realise the potential of CS2 greater attention is needed to the routes across Tower Hamlets to enable people to reach their destinations safely beyond CS2.

I suggest it’s worth considering these proposals regarding junctions.