Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

There are two things that annoy people about the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Firstly, it’s a mess. But secondly, it’s people riding bikes through it.

Just like bad driving annoys drivers, bad cycling winds cyclists up, too. Sometimes, bad road design might force someone on a bike to nip across a pavement rather than compete with juggernauts – I have to do it most mornings for about 10 seconds to lessen my risk of being squashed under a lorry.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

But there really isn’t the excuse in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. The morning I spent with BBC London down there was enlivened by watching one cyclist bawl out another for riding in the tunnel’s shadows. The miscreant shrugged it off, and muttered under his breath as he took his bike into the lift.

But will the law ever catch up with him? Clearly not, as a Freedom of Information Act request reveals that in the past three years, Greenwich Council has prosecuted nobody for cycling in the tunnel.

This comes despite the fact that earlier this year, the council’s mysterious yellow-clad wardens were out “mob-handed” trying to stop cyclists cycling through Cutty Sark Gardens, suddenly rediscovering long-disused bye-laws which prohibited… cycling on a national cycle route. Pressure from Greenwich Cyclists forced the council to stop its clueless caper, and there’s been some slow progress towards a resolution.

But even though the council would be on much firmer ground, would be lauded to the skies by many, and could possibly generate a small windfall in fixed penalty notices, it’s not bothered to do the same inside the tunnel. Instead, it has installed barriers, which just annoy everyone.

While the council has made a mess of the £11.5m refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich tunnels, it’s staff cutbacks that have led us to this situation. The former lift attendants have been given the boot, and replaced by passenger-operated lifts. In the past, attendants would merely refuse to let people who’d been riding bikes use the lift. That sanction’s not available now, despite the council’s claim that it’s using CCTV and PA announcements to police the tunnel.

We’re waiting for a report into the tunnels fiasco (a preliminary one, about big council projects in general, was presented last week), but while it’s clear that Greenwich Council screwed up on the nuts and bolts of the scheme, it also seems to have no idea of the kind of environment it wants to create in there.

40 replies on “No cyclists prosecuted for Greenwich Foot Tunnel rides”

  1. Those barriers in the tunnel are just awful – and I normally use the tunnel on foot rather than with my bike. Are they complaint with disability access requirements? Could a person with a motorised wheelchair actually get through?

  2. “Sometimes, bad road design might force someone on a bike to nip across a pavement rather than compete with juggernauts – I have to do it most mornings for about 10 seconds to lessen my risk of being squashed under a lorry.”

    Bad road design doesn’t force you to ‘nip across the pavement, and therefore make the pavement dangerous for pedestrians. Can you not dismount for those few seconds?

  3. Maybe I’m the only one, but I’m very much in favour of allowing cycling in the tunnel. Why not use the same rules as in the park? Cyclists should always give way to pedestrians and there should be a 10mph speed limit, less when passing pedestrians. I think the vast majority of cyclists would voluntarily comply, and even be the natural policemen for the rules at the risk of losing their right to cycle in it. Most of the time the tunnel is largely empty and at the very least has big long empty stretches. It seems silly to make cyclists walk when they can cycle to each end. I also suspect the number of pedestrians injured by cyclists in the tunnel (or on the roads in Greenwich where they crossed on green rather than just stepping into the road) is going to be close to zero. For reference I normally walk through the tunnel, with young children, but I used to cycle through it too, so I see this issue from both sides.

  4. Niall – in principle, I agree with you, but in practice, I fear London’s cycling culture is too macho and people would just power along through a confined space, especially with that very tempting slope.

  5. What’s so bad with cycling in the tunnel anyway? How many people have been injured?

    It really bugs me when people say that a cyclist nearly killed them because the cyclist came close to them. Trust me on this one, cyclist don’t want to hit you. We actively avoid coming into contact with pedestrians as we will come off second best if we did colide. It’s perfectly safe to have cyclist and pedestrians using the same space. The only issue is when the pedestrian makes a sudden change of direction, which doesn’t happen in the tunnel anyway.

    Also why on earth the council thought that a barrier would stop people from cycling in there is beyond me. Maybe if there were 10 of them it would work.

    Lastly if you wear proper cycling road shoes you will know that they are not designed to walk in, especially on smooth slopes like the tunnel has. It’s very easy to slip over whilst pushing your bike.

  6. A big issue for me is pedestrians not paying attention, as witnessed wandering in the middle of the cycle lane on the Thames Path near North Greenwich every bloody morning reading and listening to iPads. Easy to avoid/yell at out in the open, less so in an enclosed space.

    Obviously, people need to take account of their own safety, but the tunnel feels too close for comfort.

  7. This really shouldnt be a problem. I use the tunnel most days. At 5.45am I belt through as fast as I can. At 6.30pm in the middle of Summer on the return journey I tend to push my bike. Some cyclists are just idiots and do not realise that pedestrians cannot hear them and dont tend to check behind them before ‘suddenly changing direction’. Is it that difficult to use your common sense?

  8. Cycling in the tunnel… for me its acceptability depends on the time of day (or night) I think. When the tunnel’s busy with pedestrians it’s clearly anti-social, but at times when deserted I might be tempted to do it. What I don’t like at all is the idea that scooting along, one foot atop a pedal is somehow OK because it is not sitting down and pedaling. Actually the people doing this would be less able to keep in control of their machine if needing to brake suddenly than if they were simply riding normally at a moderate speed.

  9. It’s a pretty confined space for cycling to feel safe to me, and surely as a cyclist it’s up to you to make sure you behave in a way that’s safe for everyone? Should pedestrians have to be constantly looking over their shoulders for bikes in the tunnel? No. Is it alright to cycle through it when there’s no one around? Probably.

  10. Its a difficult one, sure – if the tunnel is empty of pedestrians then why not cycle? Certainly late at night you want to get through there as fast as you can. But really I think its too much of a small space to cycle.
    The barriers are a disaster – if you want to get through them with least trouble, stay on your bike and put your hand on them as you go around – else you have to lug your bike around. When the tunnel is busy, you have to wait to go through them – esp bad when a large school trip goes through. Any interest by the council for feedback ? Nope !!
    The answer is remove the barriers and at one or two random times during the week just use the CCTV to collar a few cyclists that ride though and give them spot fines. The lack of knowing when you are likely to get a fine should keep the cyclist off their bikes.
    Mind you – that assumes the CCTV works. I bet it doesn’t + there seem to be no cameras in the lift and the ones at the top of the stairs point in all directions.

  11. I’m with Niall. A set of common sense rules is all that is needed in the tunnel. Did the freedom of information request reveal any stats on how many people (if any?) have actually been hurt by a cyclist in the tunnel?

    I’m a cyclist, driver, and naturally a pedestrian, too. I get the rawest deal as a cyclist. On even a short journeys, I seem to take my life into my own hands: I’m regularly overtaken with barely an inch to spare, only for the car to screech to a halt as it hits traffic ahead; despite high vis gear and lights brighter than the sun on a sunny day in sun-ville, I seem to go invisible at round-a-bouts; and just why is it drivers just seem to go completely mental if I ever have need to be in a right hand lane and either try to over/undertake me in the most balmy fashion rather than waiting all of 1.5 seconds for me to complete whatever entirely legitimate manoeuvre I was undertaking… like, I dunno – turning right!

    In a nutshell, for all my walking and driving, no cyclist has ever caused me bother. But cycling seems to be a daily mental endurance test. Darryl, you of all people should give us some slack. You know what it’s like out there!

    However… if the Council is to take action again cyclists in the tunnel, in the interest of fairness can they take action against pedestrians who walk in the cycle lanes on the peninsula, and drivers who occupy the cycle box at every traffic junction along Trafalgar Road, please?

  12. I appreciate that cyclists have a rough time on the road, I sure that cycling on the streets leaves them feeling like the lowest point on a dangerous food chain.

    That said there is no justification for transfering to the pavement to raise yourself up the food chain and lets face it thats what we’re talking about here, the tunnel and Cutty Sark gardens are pedestrianised areas.

    I’m sure no cyclist wants an accident but frankly these are areas where children play (The gardens not the tunnel) and when children play they don’t expect to see a lunatic on a bike flying through the middle of their playground. The same should apply to Cutty Sark Gardens and I for one am very disapointed to hear that the wardens have been moved away.

    If you’re a cyclist and you choose to use the pavement not the road, then get off and push. I don’t think thats unfair and it helps ensure the safety of the pedestrians who are meant to be there.


  13. I don’t sense much common ground here.
    What we need to do is SHARE a common space. It shouldn’t be too hard as very few people use it at any one time. Non-cyclists please lighten up. The vast majority of cyclists going through the tunnel are sensible, respectful people. Accusing them of being macho and threatening to push them off isn’t civil, or legal. Likewise cyclists please maintain your respect for pedestrians: it’s unnerving to hear a freewheel approaching fast from behind. Slow down early when approaching from in front.
    If we can’t grow up and share then maybe nanny should allocate alternate 10 minute slots to cyclists and pedestrians? Who would be happy with that?

  14. Someone above mentions the park. Very cycle unfriendly. The old cycle lane running between Vanbrugh Gate and the Avenue hasn’t been re-marked out. Many pedestrians (pushchairs/infants/ dogs) block it, when the area to the left of it is available. People probably don’t realise it is a cycle lane. Police spot fine £50 for cycling on any other path, even if it’s deserted at the time. Sounds just like the tunnel – rules, no discretion or common sense.
    Pretty obvious that cycling around pedestrians is a stupid idea on the part of the cyclist.
    Most of us who cycle for transport are also motorists and all of us are also pedestrians.

    And what about the greatest menace – small (generally male) children on those ubiquitous 2 wheeled scooters?! As a pedestrian, I’ve been in far more danger from a freewheeling pre-school speed maniac than I ever have from an adult cyclist. Bet they don’t get off and push through the foot tunnel, nor do Mummy and Daddy stop them.
    Happy Christmas!

  15. Something that always niggles me are the mixed messages being sent out by the signage. There are the signs on the ground saying no cycling, but then there are those on the barriers saying, “Cyclists dismount”. Surely if we’re not supposed to be on bikes in the first place then why should we need to dismount? Why not just another “no cycling” sign?

  16. i see the one comment here that states an anti-cycling view also describes cyclists with the term “lunatic” – and states that cycling should not go on in an area where children play. Odd since children are happy to play on cycle paths all over London. And cyclists and children playing are very often one and the same thing. But ho hum…good to see that those who oppose cyclists do so in consistently unreasonable and irrational terms. Makes it easier for cyclists to win the arguments.

  17. @Kate. Are you serious? Where would you like children to ride their scooters? On the road? How many people in the entire UK have been injured by a 3 year old on a small scooter? Crikey people really need to lighten up. Its not rocket science if everyone just uses their brains.

  18. I’ve used this tunnel for years and I always push my bike. I find it staggering the number of people who either ride or freewheel along. It takes two minutes to walk through the tunnel. Not a lot to ask people. It’s simply too narrow to cycle through.

  19. I still have the paperwork somewhere from when I was fined £35 for cycling through the tunnel way back in the 90s. It did make me think, but my conclusion was simply that I won’t cycle when it’s crowded, but I will when it’s not.

    Though it seems daft that the Council didn’t sort out cycle routes through Cutty Sark Gardens (isn’t it National Cycle Route 1?) what we have now is actually quite good as long as everyone treats it as shared space and takes reasonable care of each other. What we need to be pushing for is not more rules and regulations – with the signs, barriers and the pretty hopeless segregated provision that litters London. It should simply be a change in attitude, to one of mutual respect. People must learn that roads and tunnels and, yes, parks and open spaces too, are shared spaces and they would be much nicer and more practical for everyone if people simply had respect for each others right to use them (much like those Dutch schemes we advocate). This may seem pie in te sky but actually it’s much less so than trying to enforce more unenforceable rules.

  20. There’s just 2 solutions to the tunnel, which I use as both a cyclist and a pedestrian. One is to crack down on cycling through the tunnel. The other is a long term integrated transport solution to crossing the river at Greenwich. That would involve programming the DLR to carry passengers free of charge from MGCS station to Island Gardens and to ban pedestrians in the foot tunnel, making it cycling only. That would encourage cycling on a fast growing commuter route, where people want to travel quickly, but safeguard pedestrians who want to visit either side of the river. The tunnel can never be a sensible shared space since it is just too confined. It’s a similar reason to why I cannot cycle through the Blackwall Tunnel. But I guess that the second solution is wholly beyond the wit of any transport planner in London. So, while Greenwich refuse to police the tunnel effectively, it will remain an anger hot spot.
    PS Good blog

  21. A very good suggestion Ian – there was (sort of) a similar scheme in place when the northbound Blackwall tunnel was being worked on and the 108 bus route was cut in half. Free travel (albeit with a silly piece of paper from a bus driver) from north g to canning town.

    Another cable car would probably be cheaper than the IT work on the oyster system though. Time for Qatar airways to step up with some sponsorship 😉

  22. For me it’s a time thing, during the rush hours, get off the bike and push it, but if you’re coming through at 8pm, then riding through is fine and dandy with me

  23. The idea of a shared space with shared responsibilities sounds great, sadly the reality is less than that. Cutty Sark Gardens comes complete with a very large distraction, tourists from a wide range of nations and languages and young children who by default do not take responsibility.

    Match this up with commuting cyclists and you have a recipe for disaster.

    My feeling is that cyclists should be directed to the left of the Cutty Sark as at least this has the appearance of a road.

    I’m not anti cyclist but they should be on the road, just like cars!

  24. Ian, I cannot believe that you are proposing the Greenwich Foot Tunnel should be closed to pedestrians!!

    People cycling in the tunnel just reinforces many peoples’ views of the nature of cyclists. The guy that Darryl mentioned who shouted at the cyclist in the tunnel is a mate of mine and a champion of safe cycling in London. He understands what the no in ‘No Cycling’ means and until a solution/compromise is found cyclists should dismount.

  25. ‘Greenwich Foot Tunnel’: I’m sure there’s a clue in there somewhere, but I just can’t seem to find it.

  26. I don’t know why people are discussing which rules to break. Once you get people deciding which rules don’t apply to them, you might as well not have any. That way anarchy lies and good people come off worst.

  27. Teresa. About the only positive thing to say about the dangle-way is that it provides a cycle crossing from the O2 to Silvertown. I admire your enthusiasm but I fear your idea has no chance.

  28. If it is okay for cyclists to break the law in the tunnel then it is okay for me to step in front of them, forcing them to swerve/crash.

    God help any cyclist who hits me.

  29. ^^NLE, you’re a cheerful soul, aren’t you?

    Anyone on a bike who speeds through the tunnel, scattering school kids as they go, is clearly a bit of a blackguard.

    Riding through the tunnel when it’s busy is simply discourteous, especially as it’s against the rules. There’s an argument – which I wouldn’t choose to support though it has some merit – that staying on the bike takes up less room than pushing it, but it looks bad even if you give strict priority to pedestrians.

    Nonetheless, I tend to think anyone who deliberately steps in front of an infringing cyclist, trying to cause a crash while reckless to injury or damage, is a cunt.

    NLE, I assume your post above is an indulgence in rhetoric and interweb posturing, and that’s fair enough.

    If it’s not, and you mean it, and you happen to assault me in the way you have publicly suggested here, then I’ll happily see you in court. A breach of the tunnel bylaws won’t count a tuppenny damn against what our colonial cousins call reckless endangerment.

    (FWIW, Richard, Clare, Niall, Nick above have the right of it. Common sense and courtesy FTW. Slavish adherence to/enforcement of unnecessary rules FTL.)

    ^^^^^Steve, with respect, that post makes you look either a hypocrite or a fool. Do you drive? You break rules, some of them trivial, some of them less so, generally without consequence.

    In more general terms, bad rules should be challenged, not accepted. The obvious example risks invoking Godwin, but though cycling in the tunnel or CSG is trivial, there’s a wider point about how legal and enforcement resources are allocated, and how that can or should be influenced.

  30. John, “with respect” you missed the point again. I didn’t say I don’t break any rules. The point was about people who don’t think that rules apply to them. If I break the 30mph speed limit on my car and get caught, it’s a fair cop. Similarly, were I to cycle in the foot tunnel (which I wouldn’t do), I wouldn’t bleat about it.

  31. Steve, I’m not sure which point you think I missed. Care to explain what the difference between ‘deciding which rules don’t apply’ to you, and choosing to break a rule but if you get caught, ‘it’s a fair cop’ is?

    If you speed, you’ve decided to break that rule. Surely in your own words, ‘That way anarchy lies and good people come off worst.’

  32. I am a cyclist andI use the Greenwich Foot Tunnel on a daily basis to get to work. If the foot tunnel is quiet and I wouldn’t have to weave in and out of pedestrians then I will free wheel down and use my bike as a scooter. I am in total control with both hands on the brakes. If the tunnel is busy then I will walk through. If everyone could use common sense then there wouldn’t be a problem. But every day I see my fellow cyclists whizzing past me and around pedestrians, even staying on their bikes whilst navigating the barriers. Then they will cycle right in to the lift or around the bend at the end leading up to the stairs without a thought for anyone being in the way. Unfortunately therefore I think the only way to improve matters would be for some kind of policing in the tunnel to make everyone walk, and on the spot fines, for anyone ignoring the ‘no cycling’ rules. Us cyclists get just as annoyed by other cyclists bad habits – seeing them going through red lights is my biggest bugbear – if the council/police looked out for this on a daily basis along Woolwich Road they would make a killing in fines. On the flip side, almost on a daily basis pedestrians walk out in to the road whilst looking at their phones and with headphones on totally oblivious to oncoming traffic and cars regularly pull out in front of me or overtake and immediately turn left. Pedestrians also seem to enjoy walking in cycle paths too! We could all take greater care in what we do, no one group of commuters is blameless and I don’t see any improvements in the foreseeable future.

  33. These signs are advisory only and do not have to be heeded. It is also much easier to get through the barriers on top of your bike rather than walking it

  34. Dredging an article back up – barriers removed as of yesterday morning. Cue faster cycling and, as he weather’s a bit nicer, lots more cyclists doing so. Never thought I’d say it – the barriers were a good thing!

  35. Well that all changed yesterday. There were 4 police in the tunnel handing out tickets. It will cost you £50 for the privilege of cycling through the tunnel if you get caught.

  36. I’m sure I’ve recently read online that there’s a consultation about allowing considerate cycling in the tunnel, policed by cctv and making use of the tannoy system. I think a pilot is planned for 2015 or 2016. A fiasco waiting to happen I reckon, ideally could do with a cyclist only bridge/tunnel and leave the Greenwich Foot Tunnel for the pedestrians

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