Boris Johnson has pledged a new road tunnel under the Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown, with a new ferry between Beckton and Thamesmead.
A river crossing in east London has been sorely needed for some time; congestion in the Rotherhithe and Blackwall tunnels is severe and often exacerbated by breakdowns or accidents in the tunnels which force temporary closure.
Four years after the mayor abandoned plans for a Thames Gateway crossing (would it be uncharitable to suggest that the fact it was originally Ken Livingstone’s idea played a part in its rejection?), proposals for the new tunnel, which will doubtless, like nearly every other transport solution in the last four years, be dubbed the ‘Boris Tunnel’, could see 2,400 vehicles per hour using it in each direction.
Funding could be something of a sticky wicket though. The cable car project relied on private finance which failed to materialise, leaving TfL facing a £60m-shaped hole in their budget until Emirates stepped into the breach and stumped up £36m. The cycle hire scheme relied on Barclays to pepper the city with bikes, not to mention a pretty good sponsorship deal for the bank. The original Thames Gateway bridge looked set to cost in the region of £450m while the tunnel could cost an eye-watering £700m. That’s an awful lot of private funding in these times of austerity and we’re not sure TfL’s pockets are that deep.
The issue of the approach roads to the proposed tunnel site at either end is another obvious hurdle; 853 states in no uncertain terms that the A102 from the south is already over-capacity and, from the east, the A13 is more or less stationary from Rainham through to Barking from 6.30am and from Canning Town to Barking from 4pm.
With pressure on the mayor to improve London’s air quality, not everyone is going to welcome a new road. Green Party AM Darren Johnson said:
“The London mayor can’t claim that air pollution or climate change are a priority whilst proposing to build a traffic-generating road like this Silvertown Tunnel. This tunnel is a straightforward attempt to double capacity around the Blackwall Tunnel and will generate extra traffic all over east London”
Will it generate traffic though? If people are driving in via east London then it’s reasonable to assume that they’re not just doing it out of a desire to join the end of a very long traffic jam. Creating an extra crossing is unlikely to automatically encourage people with a perfectly adequate public transport alternative to drive, so the challenge would be ensuring traffic approaching all three tunnels does not do so from the same roads. If the aim is to keep traffic flowing, thereby reducing the extra emissions caused by vehicles being less fuel-efficient while stationary, then just sticking an extra tunnel in isn’t going to help.
Drivers of delivery vehicles clearly don’t have the option of hopping on public transport or cycling, yet the assumption that anyone driving into London is doing so because they can’t be bothered to get public transport or don’t care about the environmental impact seems to persist. Trying to pretend that traffic doesn’t (or shouldn’t) exist in London is short-sighted and fails to recognise that transport in and for the city needs to be considered as a whole rather than one section of users versus another section, or worse, used to score political points.