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TfL visualisation of handcycle user wheeling onto a proposed Silvertown Tunnel shuttle bus for cycling

TfL Silvertown shuttle bus consultation

TfL's new consultation is on a shuttle bus for cycling through its Silvertown Tunnel opening 2025. Here's our initial take on how to respond...

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Fill out the consultation

TfL has launched a new consultation about the Silvertown Tunnel – specifically on how it intends to get folks with cycles from one end of it to the other. We want you to fill out the consultation and let TfL know what you think. But first, a bit of history and context…

River links

There is a clear need for more walking, wheeling and cycling provision across the Thames, particularly eastward as London builds housing that way increasingly, and particularly given the paucity of current provision.

East of central London, you’ve got Tower Bridge, which opens periodically for tall ships and mega-cruiseliners and is utterly hair-raising for cycling, then the Rotherhithe tunnel between Roherhithe and Wapping/Canary Wharf (which you can walk and cycle in, but no one in their right mind does), the Canary Wharf-Rotherhithe ferry (accessed through a hotel, every 15 minutes, costs £4-5), Greenwich Foot Tunnel (lifts, often not working, flagstone floors, narrow, no cycling), Blackwall Tunnel (no walking, cycling), Woolwich Ferry and that’s basically it to Dartford.

The updated TfL Cycling Action Plan 2 shows corridors of “top potential” for mode shift towards cycling include Tower Bridge, Greenwich and Woolwich – and there’s a suspiciously missing bit between two top potential corridors between Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe.

TfL had proposed at first an innovative bridge design between Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe, but then that would have cost too much (in part because of Port of London Authority intransigence on mega-cruiseliners and old ships going further into London easily). An electric ferry was also looked at but also has been pretty much discarded for now. Yet all the while the Silvertown road tunnel is being dug right now – it’s nearly finished and set to open in 2025.

The Silvertown Tunnel is billed by TfL as having moved forward for two primary reasons: it will relieve congestion at Blackwall (which will also be tolled, as Silvertown will be, when Silvertown opens) and Dartford, and enable new bus cross-river services. Both reasons are rubbish, in summary – which is why LCC and many other organisations, including councils on both sides of the river, oppose it. Fairly obviously, the Blackwall could have been tolled any time to reduce demand there, as could Tower Bridge and other river crossings. And a tunnel could have been delivered that was walking, cycling and public transport focused – just likely not one that the Mayor could have afforded or government would have funded.

The likely real reason for the Silvertown Tunnel is simple – more lorries. That’s in part why councils on both sides of the river with residents set to face the worst impacts oppose Silvertown. Again, instead of Silvertown, back when it was first mooted, TfL and City Hall could have considered light rail, walking, cycling and wheeling, buses in a very different way. But that’s really too late to do now, most likely. They could also still consider other ways to manage demand – the river for freight, heavy and light rail, better tolling, closing Rotherhithe or Blackwall to motor traffic etc. But without a significant sign of shift from Sadiq & TfL, we’ve got the cards we’ve been dealt. And they are…

What does the consultation say?

TfL is proposing a shuttle bus carrying people under river between Greenwich, Canary Wharf & Silvertown. You can give your views here. Our take is if Silvertown has to open for lorries & cars, then cycling through it will be banned & horrible.

In this context, what Silvertown needs (apart from stopping) is other, better river crossings elsewhere for active travel and if something has to go through Silvertown, shuttle buses should be available near instantly, free and accessible to a wide range of cycle types and users – including cargo freight riders, handcycle users, parents with kids etc. However, the current proposals imply there’ll be a fight to get cargo bikes appropriately handled on the service, that cycle users who can’t dismount easily are a mystery, that freight trailers are almost certainly going to be banned, that buses will only be every 10 minutes in the peak, that the service will either be charged for or face service reduction and even cancellation once the period TfL is forced to run it ends (TfL agreed to run such a service in the consent it got to build the tunnel in the first place).

So, the pretty image of someone going on board the shuttle bus on a handcycle? The idea of loading a cargo bike onto the trailer and getting kids back and forth? Don’t count on it. Meanwhile, the consultation isn’t even clear if the shuttle bus will go via the Rotherhithe tunnel to/from Canary Wharf, or via Silvertown, or both.

Seen it before?

Amazingly, London has tried this approach before in the 1960s across the Dartford crossing, during a time when cycling mode share was much higher than it is today (albeit overall London didn’t really make it out that far). It didn’t work then, apparently.

So please, if you’d ever want to cycle between the south and north sides of the Thames, further east than Tower Bridge, fill in the consultation, explain the journeys you’d make and what you’d need to cross the river by cycling – ask for as frequent, cheap & inclusive a shuttle bus service as possible via this consultation, but also ask for more and proper river crossings across London for walking, wheeling and cycling including specifically at Tower Bridge, Rotherhithe, Greenwich and Woolwich in the east, as per TfL’s own Cycling Action Plan!

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