Plans for shuttle buses to ferry cyclists through the Silvertown Tunnel have been outlined by Transport for London, nearly seven years after they were first announced by Sadiq Khan.
Proposals for a cycle bus were revealed when Khan gave his backing for the £2 billion road tunnel in October 2016, along with plans for a cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.
Cyclists would be banned from using the tunnel, which contains a special lane for HGVs and buses, for safety reasons.
Since then, the Rotherhithe cycle bridge – and a later ferry plan – has been scrapped, and TfL is only now starting a consultation on what the cycle shuttle scheme could look like. The proposal has long baffled many locals who know only too well how inhospitable much of the area on both sides of the Thames is for riders.
A fleet of blue buses could run every 10 minutes across the Thames, although the stops would not be at the entrance to the new tunnel, which would remain a major traffic junction.
Instead, TfL is considering using John Harrison Way – by Millennium Primary School – or Southern Way, a street in Greenwich Millennium Village currently used by buses only.
North of the river, the bus could drop off either at Royal Victoria DLR station – close to City Hall – or at Blackwall DLR station. Upgrades to the unpleasant cycle route between these points and Canary Wharf are also planned by TfL.
However, no upgrades have been announced for cycle access to the Greenwich pick-up points, which for many would include sharing a narrow pavement under the congested Blackwall Lane flyover.
A circular loop between all three proposed stops is also being considered.
TfL says it could specially-adapted buses or minibuses with trailers to run the service, which could also run as an on-demand connection. No pedestrians without bikes would be allowed on board.
No decision has yet been made about whether fares would be charged on the service.
Cycle buses were introduced when the Dartford Tunnel opened in 1963, with London Transport building bespoke double-deckers to run the service. While there was little take-up and the service was scrapped, a turn-up and go service still operates at certain times of the day using Range Rovers.
TfL says it is also considering a possible future ferry service for cyclists and pedestrians. A North Greenwich to Canary Wharf ferry was mooted by Khan in 2016, but these proposals include new piers at Morden Wharf, one close to the Hotel Intercontinental at the O2, and Blackwall Yard, where 900 homes are planned on the north side of the Thames.
At present cyclists can use the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to reach the Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf, although that is subject to repeated lift breakdowns and cycling is officially banned once inside the tunnel. The London Cable Car offers free rides for cyclists in the morning rush hour between North Greenwich and the Royal Docks, although TfL says this is under review.
While Khan and TfL have repeatedly described the Silvertown Tunnel as a “public transport-focused tunnel”, only two new bus services will run through the tunnel when it opens in 2025. Only an extension of the 129 route will link the Greenwich Peninsula with stops north of the Thames – the other route, the express SL4, will speed straight through the area.
Both Newham and Greenwich councils – which originally campaigned for the tunnel to be built before getting cold feet about the plans – have demanded that the mayor change plans for the tunnel so it prioritises pedestrians and cyclists.
The consultation is now open at haveyoursay.tfl.gov.uk/silvertown-cycling-service.