Unlucky 13: TfL’s smokescreen obscures river crossings debate

TfL Connecting the Capital image

Some crossings are more likely than others – the 13 locations in TfL’s report, from Wandsworth to Dartford.

You might have noticed TfL started a new consultation into its planned road river crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere a few days ago. You didn’t? Well, what you may have seen is a story about TfL planning 13 new crossings across the Thames. The trouble is – it’s nonsense.

Evening Standard and BBC London websites

Swallowing the TfL line again – you expect it from the Standard, but the BBC?

Most of the crossings have very little to do with TfL, only a couple have planning permission and few have any funding. Only one is guaranteed to happen, because it already exists – the Crossrail tunnel at Woolwich, which opens three years from now. The ones TfL are involved with are the most controversial – including the Garden Bridge and the Silvertown Tunnel. It has very little to do with the less contentious ones, such as a cycling/walking bridge at Nine Elms. One at Charlton appears to have been plucked out of thin air, while a deeply controversial scheme – putting the Inner Ring Road in a tunnel – doesn’t appear.

At best it’s a list of options for a new mayor to ponder. At worst, it’s a smokescreen (look! a cycle bridge!) to avoid having an awkward debate on new roads (boo! jams! pollution! tolls!) that would have been sparked by talking about the two Thamesmead crossings.

A similar thing happened in summer 2014, when the London Chamber of Commerce plugged a “cycle friendly” bridge at Thamesmead that was actually the same old bridge that’s been proposed there for years.

Isle of Dogs to Greenwich Peninsula: No crossing is planned here, just some ferry piers

Isle of Dogs to Greenwich Peninsula: No crossing is planned here, just some ferry piers

Even more bizarrely, the 13 picked for this document includes two TfL doesn’t want to do – including one from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, which appears to be just an opportunity to expand Thames Clippers services rather than an actual fixed crossing.

The rights and wrongs of each proposal aside, presenting this random collection of optimism over funding struck me as an interesting PR strategy – when the Garden Bridge was starting to hog headlines a year ago, I remember talking a year ago to a figure in London broadcasting about the Silvertown Tunnel, who bemoaned “bridge fatigue” because so many stories were about crossing plans which were annoying people.

So I’ve written a piece for the New Statesman’s CityMetric site about this and how TfL is trying to avoid having some difficult discussions: No, London is not getting 13 new river crossings.

What about the Gallions Reach and Belvedere crossings? Well, what makes this consultation interesting is that TfL has lobbed some public transport ideas in them – I’ll look at those in a post soon.

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