The 53. Everybody loves the 53. It finds the parts of south-east London other links with the centre of town can’t reach – even if it isn’t allowed too near any fun spots any more (Routemasters ran to Camden until 1988, it last reached Oxford Circus in 2003).
The Plumstead to Whitehall service is also a vital connection for those who can’t or won’t pay expensive rail fares – from London’s army of service workers to those who simply appreciate a door-to-door connection with a view from the window.
It’s these people who’ve borne the brunt of fare rises under the current mayor – up from 90p in 2008 to £1.50 today. And for them, it’s about to get worse still. Travelling on the 53 yesterday, I noticed this message…
“From 17th Jan, route 53 will terminate at Lambeth North.”
Being cut to Lambeth North? From Saturday? No consultation, no notice, no explanation? I fired off a few tweets to see if anyone could work out what was going on.
It turns out things aren’t as bad as the scrolling message would indicate – the cut is a temporary one to facilitate roadworks at Parliament Square. I’m indebted to transport expert Paul Corfield, who passed on this from TfL this morning:
BRIDGE STREET/PARLIAMENT STREET, SW1 ROUTE 53: from 0415 Saturday 17th of January until Sunday 29th March, buses terminate and start at Lambeth Palace due to closure of Bridge Street SW1 for utilities work and carriageway resurfacing.
It’d nice if TfL had given us a bit more warning, of course, and maybe even talked it over with local representatives. At least it’s a temporary cut, but it’s going to be a painful one for many – especially with other connections with central London in turmoil.
But it’s worth watching this like a hawk. London Transport tried to cut the 53 back to the Elephant & Castle in the late 1990s, arguing that the new Jubilee Line extension meant it was no longer needed. I’m sure TfL would love to try that again if it knew it could get away with it. It helped that back then, local MP Nick Raynsford was a regular on the 53, as it provided a near-door to door link from his home to Parliament. In the end, express buses were axed – heaven knows they’d be useful now.
Indeed, the often-packed 53 really needs a modern-day champion. Frequencies were cut when the 453 was introduced in 2003 and haven’t been improved since, with successive mayors concentrating on the other service. The big groups of passengers changing from the 453 to the 53 at Deptford Bridge tell their own story.
So the news isn’t as bad as it first appears. But if you value a bus to central London, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.
5.25pm update: Thanks to Neil for sharing the email he had from TfL in the comments below – the curtailment won’t apply overnight, so from midnight to 6am buses will still depart from Whitehall. The arrangements, worryingly, are “until further notice”.
A petition’s been launched to ask Transport for London to move Woolwich Arsenal station from zone 4 to zone 3. It’s currently approaching 250 signatures….
“As the opening of Crossrail gets closer and closer, and as the regeneration of Woolwich gains momentum, we think it’s important to help the area further benefit from all these positive changes. The number of commuters is growing and this trend is only going to continue.
“Moving Woolwich Arsenal station from 4 to zone 3 will help make Woolwich even more attractive and slightly less expensive for workers commuting west. There are talks of moving Stratford, a stone’s throws from Woolwich, into zone 2. Also Battersea is poised to be moved from zone 2 to zone 1. Gallions Reach, just north of the river and further east than Woolwich, is already in zone 3.”
I wrote about the absurdity of Woolwich being in zone 4 back in 2010, travelling out to leafy Chigwell, Essex, which is also in zone 4. Last week it was announced that Stratford station is being moved to the boundary of zones 2 and 3 to “boost regeneration” – a similar move would put Woolwich Arsenal on the boundary of zones 3 and 4, so passengers travelling from the east wouldn’t lose out.
Of course, there’s a cost to it and the popularity of the Docklands Light Railway from Woolwich would seem to indicate that the market can bear costly zone 4 fares – but a symbolic change could help attract travel *to* Woolwich, rather than from it.
(There’s a wider argument that London’s fare zones, which date back to 1983 and predate the development of Canary Wharf, need a complete overhaul as perceptions of “central London” have changed over the years – but that seems to be something nobody dare touch.)
It’s a simple change that could end up paying for itself over time if it boosts perceptions of Woolwich – but sadly, local politicians seem to have much more time obsessing over the Thames Clippers service to Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development instead.
With smog levels high in London this week, you might think that anyone proposing major new road schemes for the capital would be laughed out of town.
But Transport for London is considering reviving long-dead proposals for new orbital roads around the capital – raising the spectre of decades-old plans which threatened Blackheath Village and other parts of SE London.
The transport authority is already planning a new road tunnel under the Thames to feed into the A102 at the Greenwich Peninsula. But the plans don’t stop with the Silvertown Tunnel or possible plans for a bridge at Gallions Reach, near Thamesmead.
City Hall is currently consulting on proposals to change the capital’s planning guidance, The London Plan. These include taking on board the recommendations of the Roads Task Force as planning policy.
The Roads Task Force was set up in 2012, after Boris Johnson’s second election win “to tackle the challenges facing London’s streets and roads”. Dubbed an independent body, it includes representatives of haulage, transport and motoring groups as well as the London Cycling Campaign and Living Streets. Its first report was published last summer, and recommended a “feasibility study of tunnelling to remove ‘strategic’ traffic from surface and free-up space for other uses”.
This month, a progress report has appeared, where this has become…
TfL’s enthusiasm for digging tunnels hasn’t just been sparked by Silvertown – Boris Johnson is backing proposals by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to build a Hammersmith Flyunder, which would replace the existing flyover.
While the plan’s being sold on revitalising Hammersmith town centre, options being pushed by the council involve effectively creating a buried urban motorway from Chiswick to Kensington.
So what’s meant by the “orbital tunnel”?
As both the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach/ Thames Gateway Bridge are, essentially, revived versions of long-dead transport plans, this could well mean the resurrection of Ringway 1.
Here’s the leaflet which sold the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach to locals when construction started in 1967. (Thanks to The Greenwich Phantom for the scans.) The BTSA was originally planned to be part of Ringway 1, which would have featured an interchange at Kidbrooke, roughly where the current A2 junction is now.
A new road, the South Cross Route, would have continued at Kidbrooke, following the railway line and ploughing through the Blackheath Cator Estate and tunnelling under Blackheath Village, through Lewisham town centre and featuring an interchange roughly where St John’s station is for a slip road to New Cross. It would then have follow the railway line through Brockley, Nunhead and Peckham and on a flyover through Brixton, where the famous “Barrier Block” of flats was built in anticipation of a motorway which, thankfully, never came.
The Ringways project would have been Britain’s biggest ever construction project. They were proposed by Conservative politicians on the Greater London Council and tacitly backed by Labour opponents – sound familiar? The GLC also planned Ringway 2 – which threatened Oxleas Woods, and still does today in the form of the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal.
But the Ringways caused such public outrage that they never happened. It led to an upsurge in local activism, such as this community group in Grove Park, channelled through the Homes Before Roads group. The Tory GLC considered burying the roads to pacify locals. But when Labour won the 1973 GLC election, it scrapped the Ringways – public protest and oil price hikes were too much.
But now the plans are back. In January, Transport for London’s managing director of planning, Michele Dix, gave a presentation to the Institution of Engineering and Technology. She discussed TfL’s plans to extend tolling on London’s roads, and how this may be applied to the Blackwall Tunnel and Silvertown Tunnel (if built).
Whereas the proceeds from Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge went into public transport, these new TfL tolls would pay for… more roads. Which could include, she said, orbital tunnels.
Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Essentially, TfL is looking at using the A102 through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath – and a Silvertown Tunnel – as part of a resurrected Ringway. And areas such as Blackheath, Lee, Lewisham, Brockley and Catford would be in the firing line for a tunnel.
Even if we bury the damn thing, the traffic has to come off the roads somewhere – and London simply can’t cope with the number of vehicles as it is. Any more would be a disaster. Why a road? Why not an orbital rail line?
New roads fill up as soon as they’re built. The last major road to be built in London, the A12 through Leytonstone, is the UK’s ninth most congested road, 15 years after it opened.
This is why opposing the Silvertown Tunnel is so important. It’s the thin end of a very dirty wedge. And it’s why Greenwich Council’s decision to endorse an Ikea next to the Blackwall Tunnel approach is so dangerous – because the last thing we need is extra traffic, even on grounds of congestion alone.
But it’s on health grounds where this also counts. Paris is also suffering from high pollution at the moment, so is making public transport free to all this weekend. London’s politicians, led by its mayor along with its footsoldiers like Greenwich’s councillors, just seem to want to encourage even more people to get in their cars. Choked, congested and polluted – is this really the sort of city we want to live in?
It’s always good to see an issue raised on this website taken up by politicians – so here’s a warm 853 welcome for a petition calling for a boost to the 108 bus service between North Greenwich and Lewisham, which suffers from chronic overcrowding during rush hours.
The petition comes from Greenwich Conservatives – in particular, their energetic candidate for Blackheath Westcombe ward, Thomas Turrell. Blackheath Westcombe’s the borough’s most marginal ward, represented by two Tories and one Labour repesentative, so what goes on here is worth watching.
The Tories’ petition wants a rush-hour only bus, numbered 108A, to supplement the packed-out 108 south of the river, giving passengers a service that is less affected by Blackwall Tunnel delays. Ignoring the fact that Transport for London no longer runs rush-hour only buses (nor ones with letters as suffixes – although with next year’s train woes in mind, a revival of the original 108A to London Bridge could be useful), at least the issue of the 108’s woes is being taken seriously.
Except… the Tories are addressing their petition to Greenwich Council. Not TfL, which runs the buses, but Greenwich Council. “We call on Royal Greenwich Borough Council [sic] to use the means at its disposal to work with Transport for London to introduce a new 108a bus route…”
So, effectively, Greenwich Tories are asking the Labour-run council to ask Tory-run TfL to fix our buses. Could they not, well, go straight to Boris Johnson instead? Perhaps not, with TfL bracing itself for deep cuts to bus services under its current administration. Awkward.
Anyone that’s ever been to a Greenwich Council meeting will know how it’ll treat the petition, anyway. Transport cabinet member Denise Hyland will act like the Tories have suggested selling a close family member, before Chris Roberts declares once again that the council should run bus services because
Berkeley Homes the council knows better than anyone else on the entire planet. Nobody will go home happy, not least those going home by bus.
Which is a shame, because the state of the 108 is worth addressing, and it’s a pity that local politicians have ignored the issue for so long. Unlike the 132, overcrowding on which has been raised three times in 14 months at City Hall.
But then the 132’s fate proves a point. Run a bus to North Greenwich from just about anywhere, and it’ll fill up.
So maybe the Greenwich Tories’ 108 petition will light a flame. Perhaps some bright spark will team up with politicians across the boundary, and suggest an entirely new route to somewhere new like Brockley or Bromley, or maybe just the Kidbrooke Village development, to help ease the 108 through Blackheath. Maybe they’ll even set up a petition, and maybe they’ll get somewhere.
But hopefully, they’ll remember to address it to the right people first.
As you may have noticed, it was rather hard to get home to south-east London last night.
A fire in signalling equipment at London Bridge saw all trains through the station cancelled at the beginning of the evening rush hour. The delays lasted beyond the rush hour and right to the end of the day.
I came through Charing Cross at 11pm and just managed to get a train back to Charlton which ran via Lewisham. Judging by the announcements telling people to use local buses, it seemed Southeastern had simply given up running a service on the other metro lines.
The disruption spread, and a perfect storm hit North Greenwich station – swamped by people bumped off Southeastern trains on the night of a gig at the O2, plus a Charlton Athletic home match. It’s chaotic enough on a normal night, but last night the police were called and the station was closed for a spell.
Everyone had their own story to tell. While a total wipeout of trains from London Bridge is rare, from 2015 there’ll be severe restrictions on mainline trains stopping at London Bridge as the station’s rebuilt for the Thameslink programme. Will North Greenwich be able to cope with the extra load?
Still, everyone caught in the disruption last night can be comforted by the fact that Greenwich Council, Boris Johnson and the owners of the O2 have the solution to everyone’s transport worries at North Greenwich. Yes, that’s right, they want to build a new road tunnel.
Oh, and don’t forget Boris Johnson’s other solution to our travel woes…
The future of our local transport is clearly in safe hands.
The cable car was a year old last Friday, and almost as if to celebrate, I saw an unusually large number of people using it as I passed underneath it on my way to North Greenwich station at about 9.15am. Yes, a whole SIX passengers were using it – up on one passenger on the previous Tuesday, and nobody at all on the Monday.
To mark the anniversary, TfL issued a press release, entitled “One year after opening the Emirates Air Line is bringing jobs and growth to east London”. But the only growth industry sparked by the dangleway is that in increasingly desperate PR.
Well, I don’t know about east London, although the Siemens Crystal, which opened next door to the cable car’s northern terminal last autumn, was already going through the planning process at Newham Council when TfL announced its plans to build the cable car in July 2010.
As for south of the river, I’m pretty much certain that with the exception of the cable car’s own staff, contractors and associated workforce, and the tea van that pops up next to it, the Emirates Air Line has not created a single job in Greenwich. If you know of any, I’d love to hear about it.
The Emirates Air Line is successfully supporting regeneration and increasing footfall in Greenwich and Newham.
Today marks the first anniversary of passenger services on the UK’s first urban cable car, the Emirates Air Line, and the Mayor says it continues to play a key role in supporting growth and regeneration in east London.
Since opening, the Emirates Air Line, connecting Greenwich and the Royal Docks, has flown more than 2.4 million passengers across the Thames and customer satisfaction remains consistently high. Today, Transport for London (TfL) confirmed that it is working with AEG Europe, the owners of The O2, to make Emirates Air Line boarding passes available on The O2 website from August. That means passengers will be able to buy e-tickets for a flight on the Emirates Air Line at the same time as they book their visit to The O2, or their Thames Clipper travel.
The Emirates Air Line was built to support current and future regeneration in east London and the balance between leisure users and regular users will change as this takes place. The popularity among leisure users means the Emirates Air Line is covering its costs while encouraging people to visit Greenwich and the Royal Docks.
Those running costs, incidentally, are about £5.3 million a year – or £14,600/day – judging by the answer to a Freedom of Information request put in by Poplar-based campaigner Alan Haughton. At 2.4 million journeys since opening, it probably is covering its costs.
Remove last summer’s Olympic/Paralympic traffic (worth at least 200,000 journeys) and the novelty factor, though, and that business plan starts to get as wobbly as a gondola in the wind.
Of course, there’s still a £16m black hole where Emirates’ sponsorship (£36m) and European funding (£8m) haven’t covered the £60m cost of building the cable car.
“Regeneration of the area is already well under way as illustrated this month when the Mayor of London announced a £1.5bn deal with the Silvertown Partnership to transform Silvertown Quays in London’s Royal Docks into an innovative new quarter that will be able to accommodate more than 1,500 new homes, restaurants, cafes, galleries and leisure facilities both on and off the water, making it a thriving destination for Londoners and visitors to live, work and enjoy. Work on the first phase of the site is expected to begin in 2014/15.”
All very well, but development at Silvertown Quays – which will involve the demolition of the landmark Millennium Mills – hardly depends on a cable car from Greenwich. Instead, it’ll cling to Crossrail for life, and its central proposition – a park of “brand pavilions” – seems to be the sort of development that could be used to try to justify the Silvertown Tunnel.
Other exciting developments coming to the area include a new 452-room hotel next to The O2 with residential apartments in 2015. All of this development will directly benefit from the convenient and direct river crossing the Emirates Air Line provides.
That’ll be the hotel that’s been planned since at least 2009, then.
So, with the cable car having attracted precisely nothing to the peninsula, its sponsor is stepping in.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘The Emirates Air Line is doing exactly what it set out to do and supporting regeneration of an area with huge potential to provide new jobs and homes. The £1.5bn deal to transform the Silvertown Quays in London’s Royal Docks is a superb illustration of how providing new transport links like the cable car can be the perfect spur for economic growth.
‘As the customer satisfaction scores show, Londoners and visitors from around the world thoroughly enjoy using this innovative transport experience and the new and exciting Emirates Aviation Experience opening in July next to the Greenwich terminal will be yet another fantastic reason to visit this rapidly developing area of London.’
Yep, the Emirates Aviation Experience, which has appeared in what were meant to be retail units inside the Greenwich cable car terminal, featuring two flight simulators in a “fun, yet educational, overview of just what it takes to successfully get a 560 tonne aircraft off the ground and 40,000 feet into the sky”. PR agency Pulse (“creating happy humans”) has been recruiting for it. So the first jobs to be created by the Emirates Air Line are being created by… Emirates itself.
I heard a whisper that Boris was due in Greenwich to open it today, incidentally, presumably to thank his sponsor for doing him a favour.
Of course, none of this desperate justification would be needed if the cable car had been built as proper public transport, integrated into the Travelcard scheme and charging normal zone 3 fares, instead of £3.20 each way. There’s no press releases claiming the London Overground covers its costs – it’s accepted that throwing a billion pounds at railways in north and east London is a price worth paying for a better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people each day. Because the cable car has been built as a tourist attraction, it has to be seen as covering its costs.
A year on, the cable car just sits there for its 16 commuters, like a strange Christmas present bought by an in-law that you can’t decide what to do with. It sits there, heading off in the wrong direction, as a monument to the failure to plan Greenwich Peninsula’s growth properly. When North Greenwich station, already creaking at the seams, can’t cope with the peninsula’s growing population, the cable car will still be sat there, useless.
And it’ll be a headache for whoever’s (un)lucky enough to succeed Boris Johnson as mayor in 2016. What should he or she do? I’d be interested to hear what you think – please assume there’s no cash to do anything like building foot/cycle bridges or moving to to Canary Wharf.
Or, if you have an even better idea, share it below…
The worst of news to start the week with, as a cyclist died after a collision in Lewisham town centre during Monday morning’s rush hour.
The car involved did not stop at the scene of the incident in Loampit Vale, but a man has since has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident.
This is the stretch of A20 which was originally going to be included as part of a cycle superhighway from Victoria, until route CS5 was cut short to New Cross Gate last November.
At the time, Transport for London said “opportunities to introduce Cycle Superhighway-type infrastructure are limited” – essentially, it didn’t want to tackle the New Cross one-way system and the A20 into Lewisham.
Earlier this month, TfL announced that initial work between the Oval and New Cross Gate will be finished this autumn, with the lanes to be “semi-segregated” during 2014, but also that “various options” were being considered to restore the Lewisham leg of the route as well as links to other areas east of New Cross Gate.
At the time, that looked like a bit of a fobbing-off, but Monday’s tragedy is a reminder of just how important that original idea was.
Hopefully it will also concentrate the minds of local politicians, with the Lewisham Cyclists group complaining that Lewisham Council has been ignoring its attempts to start a dialogue about much-needed improvements. (In Greenwich, such a dialogue does exist, but the council’s leadership isn’t interested.)
The site of the Loampit Vale collision – between the junctions with Thurston Road and Elmira Street – is also on one of south London’s best-known leisure cycling routes – the Waterlink Way, which runs from Deptford to South Norwood.
Incidentally, there’s still no news on what’s happening with CS4, the planned cycle superhighway from London Bridge to Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich, although Greenwich Council has undertaken some works on the A206 through Greenwich and Woolwich to make cycle paths more prominent.
However, buried in a TfL press release last Friday was news that Greenwich Council had been given £200,000 for “pedestrian and public realm improvements” in Greenwich town centre, billed as a “package of measures to improve air quality including widening and improving the quality of footway linkages in Greenwich Town Centre and smoothing the flow of buses and taxis”. This doesn’t seem like a revival of the shelved pedestrianisation scheme, but what it means for cyclists, walkers and drivers remains to be seen.
Thanks to Clare Griffiths for the picture of the scene from Tuesday afternoon.