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Roads to Nowhere

Say no to more traffic in East London

Sian Berry's picture

25 January 2013: A consultation on new river crossings ends on 1 February. We’re strongly against cramming more cars into an area already suffering from too much traffic.

At a public meeting this week in Poplar, traffic and air pollution experts spoke in damning terms of these plans, which will increase traffic, won’t reduce congestion and will worsen air pollution in an area that already has some of the most dangerous air in Europe.

There's another meeting on Monday organised by Friends of the Earth where you can see the presentations again - see the bottom of the Guardian article for details.

Thames Crossings map - click to see a larger versionPublic health professionals calling the plan 'criminal' and 'unjust' should cause Transport for London to think again about their plans, but the views of the public are very important too and it’s crucial that everyone who has concerns speaks up.

Please send in your views to the consultation – this doesn’t have to take long.The online survey has multiple choice questions where you can say how strongly opposed you are to the road crossings, and there is a space at the end for your comments. Here, just a simple statement that you are opposed to a £1.2 billion project that will increase traffic in London could make a real difference.

Some key points and comments from Campaign for Better Transport:

Transport for London is proposing two new crossings of the river for motor vehicles:  the Silvertown Tunnel, and a ferry, bridge or tunnel at Gallions Reach.

The projects are claimed to relieve congestion, particularly at the existing Blackwall Tunnel, and to assist economic growth in East London, but in our view they would do neither.

The proposed Silvertown Tunnel would double from 4 to 8 the number of traffic lanes across the Thames from the North Greenwich peninsular. When the Blackwall Tunnel was last doubled in capacity in 1966, from two to four lanes, traffic using the tunnel more than doubled within a year and failed to fall significantly (in some cases it actually increased) on other river crossings nearby.

That traffic across a wide area grows as a result of increases in road capacity has been recognised since at least the well-known SACTRA report on Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic, published in 1994. This effect, known as ‘induced traffic’ is particularly likely to occur in urban areas where demand has been suppressed by congestion.

The Silvertown Tunnel would be used exclusively by motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists will gain no benefit at all. TfL provides no evidence to back up the claim in its consultation document that the new infrastructure would give it the opportunity to 'enhance the local environment and consider ways to improve local access for pedestrians and cyclists'. In fact, the higher traffic volumes on roads around the new river crossings will cause the opposite

-increasing traffic domination. Environmental conditions will also deteriorate and increases in noise and air pollution will be a particular concern for local communities in Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham, where air pollution is already very high and often in breach of European limits. 

TfL claims that the new roads will support growth in jobs and population by reducing delays and making journey times more reliable. In our view the additional traffic generated by the scheme is likely to exacerbate not relieve congestion at nearby pinch-points and will add to delays. The last 20 years in London have shown how population and job growth can be best supported by a programme of traffic reduction, public transport improvements and increases in cycling. New roads - as another influential SACTRA report in the 1990s concluded - may also allow economic activity and investment to leave rather than to come to an area.

All these concerns echo the Inspector’s report, published in 2007 following the Public Inquiry into the Thames Gateway Bridge (TGB). The TGB was a very similar proposal for a large road crossing for motor vehicles in East London. The Inspector concluded that:

  • the bridge ‘would …not improve safety for all road users’ (paragraph 9.85);
  • the bridge ‘would reduce travel by cycling and walking’ (9.93);
  • ‘that public transport …would be less well used (with the scheme) than.. without’ (9.155);
  • and that ‘on balance the scheme would be likely to cause increased congestion’ (9.187).
  • as a result ‘air quality would be worse in 2016 with the bridge than without the bridge’ (9.416).

The Inspector looked at the economic regeneration benefits claimed for the bridge by TfL and found that:

‘the potential of the scheme for giving rise to negative economic effects has not been assessed by the promoter. The evidence is that it would be likely to be associated with an increase in deprivation.’ (9.302) and that ‘….the key to this is the economic regeneration benefits claimed for the scheme … [and] … did not consider the evidence to be strong enough or reliable enough to outweigh the disbenefits of the scheme’.

We are also concerned about the poor quality of the consultation exercise now being conducted by Transport for London. Much of it is very misleading. For example, it is based on the proposition, which transport professionals know to be false, that creating additional roadspace for motor vehicles necessarily relieves congestion.

The diagram showing that investment since 1990 in public transport crossings of the river have far exceeded money spent on new road crossings is also misleading:  several of the roads in East London - for instance the A13 and A12 - have been widened in this period, and the ratio between road and public transport investment in the area is much higher than claimed, perhaps even too high.

The consultation asserts the benefits but does not acknowledge any problems that may be caused by the proposed river crossings – a very serious failing when you consider the health effects of the likely increase in air pollution. It also fails to consider any real alternatives to road crossings for motor vehicles which local communities might find more attractive. In short this is an exercise in promotion not consultation.

It is shocking that in 2013, after so much debate and when the case for better walking, cycling and public transport conditions has been widely accepted, the Mayor and TfL should press on with river crossings for motor vehicles that have nothing to do with sustainable means of transport but will only increase the share and volume of motor traffic.