Silvertown cycle bus: Embarrassing

TfL are consulting on a long-awaited and much-needed new crossing of the Thames east of Tower Bridge. The bad news is, it’s not the bridge that got cancelled, or even a high quality RoRo ferry like the ones in Amsterdam. Why have an actual cycle crossing, or even a ferry you can cycle onto, when you could have… a bus with some bike racks?

A rendering of a bus stop with a futuristic-looking bus shelter, next to a single decker bus with bicycle racks on it and middle doors. Someone on a hand cycle is negotiating the entrance (although it's not clear how she'll be able to turn around once inside.) A commuter type wearing a tie, hi-vis jacket, and helmet, waits to load his bicycle on behind her. A woman sits on the bench holding a helmet, presumably waiting for other people to get onto the bus.

This is part of the new Silvertown Tunnel scheme, a new crossing for cars and lorries (with a piecemeal bus network) that will run from the Royal Docks to North Greenwich. We oppose this scheme as it stands, and this—presumably intended to say the scheme does something for cycling—is frankly embarrassing. There are many reasons it won’t work:

  • Larger cargo cycles unlikely to fit (meaning deliveries by car or van would enjoy an unfair advantage over zero-emissions last mile freight)
  • Adapted cycles are unlikely to fit—especially if the bus eventually looks like a minivan with a trailer
  • Unpredictable journey times
  • Low capacity that doesn’t allow for large volumes of people cycling
  • No clarity on what form the service will take, frequencies, operating hours, or whether a fare will be charged
  • The physical awkwardness of dismounting and loading your cycle into racks when getting on/off. We find it hard to believe the Silvertown Tunnel would’ve been approved if drivers had to load their cars onto car transporters to be driven through the tunnel

We can’t support the cycle bus scheme because it’s not viable as a 24/7, step-free, accessible cycle crossing that people will be able to use independently. Historical precedent suggests it is doomed to failure. It’s a box-ticking exercise that allows the promoters of the Silvertown Tunnel to pretend they’re doing something for people who don’t have a car, don’t want one, or can’t afford one.

Because of this, we have no confidence in TfL or the current Mayor delivering a viable cycle crossing east of Tower Bridge—despite the fact we desperately need them. We would love to be proven wrong, so invite TfL to seek funding for and commit to things that would actually work, including:

  • Increasing frequency and operating hours on the Woolwich Ferry, and removing the need for cyclists to dismount on the ferry decks
  • Abolishing fares on the Cable Car and extending operating hours
  • A new ferry at Rotherhithe, which TfL’s own modelling suggests could be very popular
  • Pedestrianising the Rotherhithe Tunnel, or the Blackwall Tunnel’s original Victorian bore (by TfL’s own omission, not suitable for high volumes of motor traffic, and built with a bend to prevent horses from bolting)
  • Building new fixed links—be that new cycle-only bores for the existing foot tunnels, or reviving the Rotherhithe Bridge proposal

Tell TfL to stop making excuses & do better

There’s a consultation open until this Sunday (10th September) where you can tell TfL what you think of these proposals. We’ve posted our response below in case you need inspiration, but we recommend telling them:

  • East London is crying out for actual river crossings that don’t require a car
  • A bus service that allows people to bring bikes as luggage is fundamentally flawed & won’t meet that demand
  • TfL should be prioritising high-quality crossings that would actually scale to large volumes of cyclists—ferries at the very minimum, and fixed crossings in the longer term