Revealed: how Silvertown tunnel could be transformed into Thames crossing for cyclists and pedestrians

Tunnel vision: Silvertown tunnel reimagined as a car-free Thames crossing (Possible)
Tunnel vision: Silvertown tunnel reimagined as a car-free Thames crossing (Possible)

A radical transformation of the Silvertown tunnel that would turn it into a “car-free crossing” was proposed on Friday.

Eco campaigners suggested using one of the tunnels for a DLR extension – and allowing cyclists, pedestrians and buses to share the other.

The £1.2bn twin-bore road tunnel, which has been dug under the Thames between the Greenwich peninsula and the Royal Docks in east London, is due to open in 2025.

But it has attracted controversy from activists who fear it will increase traffic – while motorists oppose the plans of Mayor Sadiq Khan to levy a toll on both the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels to ease congestion and pay for its construction.

The alternative proposals, from climate change charity Possible, involve creating a new branch of the DLR from Canning Town to Kidbrooke.

Silvertown tunnel: could it become a DLR extension? (Possible)
Silvertown tunnel: could it become a DLR extension? (Possible)

The other tunnel would become a “walking, wheeling and cycling route” with a lane reserved for buses, and art work adorning the tunnel walls.

Charity co-director Hirra Khan Adeogun said: “It’s not too late for the mayor to do the right thing and bring forward a vision for a completely car-free crossing in east London.

“Opening up a new artery of traffic to try and eradicate traffic doesn’t make any sense at all. Instead, we need to give Londoners more options for crossing the river in east London, and that means opening up the Silvertown Tunnel to walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport.

“A car-free, toll-free crossing is good for Londoners, good for our air quality, and good for our climate. It’s in line with the mayor’s own strategy, so he should back it”.

However, TfL sources suggested that the planning consent to build the tunnel may not allow its use to be switched from vehicles – and that the tolls were needed to cover its construction, which was done under a PFI scheme.

Mr Khan confirmed to the Standard last week that both tunnels would be tolled from 2025. The levy is due to be set in a year by the TfL board, and is likely to be similar to the Dartford Crossing toll.

Images of draft TfL road signs suggested that car drivers could have to pay £4 each time they used the Blackwall tunnel or Silvertown tunnel.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition has already called for the Silvertown tunnel to be used only for public transport and “active travel” such as walking and cycling.

It says this would also avoid the need to impose a toll on drivers using the nearby Blackwall tunnel, which is currently free to use.

Possible says all road crossings should be tolled for all “single occupancy private cars” – with exemptions for disabled people and carers. This would pay for the car-free Silvertown tunnel. The DLR proposal would also involve using the Jubilee line to reach Kidbrooke. The idea has previously been considered by Greenwich council. The line could even be extended to Eltham and Falconwood.

The other tunnel would require buses to take turns to travel north or south, with the use of traffic lights. Similar ideas have been made by Sian Berry, a Green member of the London Assembly.

TfL is next week expected to approve £2.7m of additional expenditure on the Silvertown tunnel to build bus stops and shelters, toilets for drivers and make road changes.

It is spending about £177m – separate to the £1.2bn construction costs incurred by private contractor Riverlinx that will be repaid via the toll income over 25 years – on land and monitoring of pollution around the tunnel.

Under TfL’s scheme, there will be two traffic lanes in each direction with one lane reserved for buses, coaches and HGVs.

Tolls will be imposed at Silvertown and Blackwall “to ensure that traffic levels are managed”. It will be set at a level that is “expected to be an effective mechanism for suppressing induced traffic” and to cover the construction costs.

On your bike: TfL’s proposed Silvertown bike bus (TfL)
On your bike: TfL’s proposed Silvertown bike bus (TfL)

The 108 bus will continue to run between Lewisham and Stratford via the Blackwall tunnel. The 129 will be extended to run between Lewisham and Great Eastern Quay via the Silvertown tunnel.

The new Superloop 4 route between Grove Park and Canary Wharf will also run via the Silvertown tunnel. All will be operated by Go-Ahead London.

TfL is currently considering consultation responses to its proposals for a bespoke “cycle shuttle bus” that would carry cyclists and their bikes through the Silvertown tunnel.