Greenwich Foot Tunnel: Fiddling while the lifts are stuck?

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, Sunday 7 June 2015
In an easier world, the fire brigade being called to a stuck lift in Greenwich Foot Tunnel would have been Proper News. I would have asked the fireman if anyone was stuck in there. I might have waited around for a bit to see if anything happened.

But it happens too often, regular users tell me. So I wheezed my bike up the south stairs last night, gazed out at the flashing blue lights of the fire engine (presumably parked well away so nobody thought the Cutty Sark was on fire again), and went off on my merry way.

Last week, Greenwich Council announced it’d been given £200,000 by TfL to trial a safe cycling scheme in the tunnel, along with its quieter sister crossing at Woolwich. Currently, there is a blanket ban on cycling that is widely flouted and little-enforced.

When there are too many pedestrians in the tunnels, cyclists will be told to get off and walk. While there is money for enforcement measures, it remains to be seen quite how it’ll work.

While new investment in cycling is to be welcomed, is this really the right solution? The over-engineered lifts still aren’t working properly (particularly at Greenwich – vandalism is more of an issue at Woolwich) – the product of a botched £11.5m refurbishment scheme – so perhaps fixing those should be more of a priority.

But perhaps the council is resigned to their unreliability – it’s working on a smartphone app which will send alerts to warn people that the lifts are stuck.

Demand for cycling routes to Canary Wharf is increasing, so a hundred grand on turning the Greenwich tunnel into what may effectively become a cycle tunnel is clearly a magnitude cheaper than creating the sorely-needed new cycling/walking routes across the Thames.

It’ll take a lot of work to ensure the small tunnel doesn’t become an effective no-go zone for people on two feet – is any piece of technology up to making sure pedestrians are safe? Perhaps that breed of aggressive, anti-social cyclist that charges through the tunnel – the ones many cyclists hate, too – has won this battle down to sheer strength. Or because nobody really wanted to take the pedestrians’ side.

Whatever happens, FOGWOFT, the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, will be watching the scheme – and if you’re a regular user, on foot or on two wheels, it may need your help in doing just that.

Gazing out at that fire engine last night, though, I couldn’t help comparing the situation with that of the Charlton skate park row, where Berkeley Homes has effectively given Greenwich Council £360,000 to move the Royal Arsenal Gardens skate park to Charlton Park, well away from the plush investment opportunities it plans to build there.

Part of the plan is to pass a bylaw banning skateboarders from Woolwich’s General Gordon Square, who do little harm and bring life what can be a bleak space on quiet nights. Rather unrealistically, the council hopes they’ll take their boards and get on a 53 bus to be banished two miles up the hill, well away from Berkeley’s buyers.

It’s very telling that Greenwich Council wishes to criminalise these young people for these minor misdemeanours in Woolwich, while backing down on similar infractions in Greenwich Foot Tunnel. But the kids in Woolwich have no clout, while the foot tunnel cyclists are often heading to well-paid jobs in Canary Wharf. One rule for one group, another for the rest – such is life in a “royal borough”.

12 comments

  1. The refurbishment was £11.5 million? I had a quick look, Greenwich Foot Tunnel apparently cost ~£127,000 in ~1900 to build. That’s about £13m in today’s money. The Dartford Cable Tunnel cost £11,000,000 to build in 2003.

    I wonder how much a brand new foot tunnel would cost.

  2. Don’t be silly Darryl – a pedestrian / cycle bridge from Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs would only really benefit Greenwich residents.

    What we really need to do is allow more car traffic from Kent and further afield to use our borough as a short cut to East London. If only there were a scheme designed to do just that…

    As for the skaters being banned from General Gordon Square – maybe they could complete the feel of a dystopian, repressive regime by getting John Hurt to record a friendly warning for them that could be automatically played back every time a nearby skater was detected.

  3. As an SE14 resident, I disagree entirely with EssKay – build a bridge to the Isle of Dogs and I’ll use it almost daily! A bridge from North Greenwich to Canary Wharf would be less useful to me, but I’d still use it more than the tunnel at Woolwich

  4. Wrong. Skateboarders don’t “bring life” to Gen Gordon Square, they make it effectively a no-go zone for older, infirm and disabled people – and parents of small children – who feel, rightly or wrongly, somewhat intimidated by them. So instead of sitting in the warm evening air, they hurry home. The sooner they are gone the better.

    But quite right about cycling in the tunnels. Cycles should be pushed or carried – if only there was a way to enforce the rule. But there is a small minority of selfish “bike hogs” – perhaps we should call them scofflaws – who believe that their desires are more important than the safety of other road users.

  5. As a cyclist, who cycles through the tunnel daily, considerately, I don’t see why considerate cycling can’t be allowed.

    On weekends when it’s really busy, I always get off and push.

    Just because someone put a sign on a wall – doesn’t mean it’s good sense.

  6. Cobble stones would slow cyclists right down – if that’s the only way to force considerate behaviour. Might trip up a granny or two though.

  7. Just got back from work – pushed my bike through the tunnel.
    Lots of kids wandering around walking through the tunnel, still the odd cyclist insisting in powering through them.
    A couple of close shaves.
    – There is no way to tell a considerate cyclist from a danger, so unfortunately the no cycling rule must stand for all or someone is going to be hurt.
    But police in the tunnel are a waste of time – they are not a deterrent. You need camera in the tunnel, which are sometimes monitored from ground level – with charges being brought as the cyclist exits the tunnel – that way you will never know if you will get away with cycling or not, so no one will cycle.
    Mind you the only collisions I have seen in the tunnel have been between cyclists – which always brings a smile to my face (sorry).

  8. I can tell the difference between considerate and dangerous cyclist – it’s called “speed”.

    I’m not sure cameras would do anything – there is no precedent and no licensing of cycles.

    I know in lots of country towns there are speed sensors that illuminate an LED display if drivers are travelling over 30mph – saying SLOW DOWN. I tried contacting a manufacturer of these bits of kits, to ask if they could be modified to be low profile to hand from a tunnel ceiling, and modified to come on for anything over 5mph. They did not reply.

  9. Couple of tiny, tiny comments – at a recent meeting with TfL they said they were doing a review into cycle and pedestrian river crossings – but they wouldn’t include the foot tunnels because ‘they didn’t own them’.
    and – please people who want a foot bridge to Canary Wharf – please explain to me how you are going to build it and still allow navigation rights to big vessels (and small ones with high masts)? Or do you want to stop all possibility of future freight transport on the river??
    – and – on the 20th in the afternoon at the Assembly Rooms – I am giving a historical talk to the Charlton Society about the foot tunnels, including a mysterious early one – and I will also say a thing or to about the London County Council’s commitment to FREE river crossings for people who live east of the Tower. Hopefully see you there.

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