River crossing strategy consultation this week

Tomorrow, the London Assembly will hold a public consultation about planned new river crossings in London, all of which are in East London. The biggest project on the table is a proposed new road tunnel between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown, which would cost an estimated £600m. Other projects include:

- A new ferry at Woolwich to replace the existing service
- A new vehicle ferry at Gallions Reach running between Thamesmead and Beckton by 2017
- A new bridge or tunnel at Gallions Reach by around 2031 if a ferry does not address needs
- A new bridge or tunnel at Gallions Reach, not before 2021, instead of a ferry
- A toll for any new crossings and the Blackwall Tunnel to pay for the proposals and help to manage traffic

The case for more and better river crossings is based on the economic development that would be stimulated in South East London by improving transport links with major centres in East London, like UCL's planned Stratford research campus.

The Mayor is backing the Silvertown tunnel solution, having killed the Thames Gateway Bridge project, which would have connected Thamesmead and Beckton (an idea which is now back on the table, but which would not be delivered until 2021 at the earliest). So too is Greenwich Council, which has launched a campaign to secure the Silvertown solution.

Campaigners against the tunnel have launched a petition, claiming that:

Encouraging more traffic to use the A102 and A2 will be counter-productive and will, in the long term, do nothing to reduce congestion in south-east London. The area has long suffered from poor air quality, which led to 150 deaths across Greenwich borough in 2008, and any road-building will only make this worse.

Even the mayor's office admits pollution is high along the A102 and A2, particularly at the Woolwich Road flyover, Kidbrooke interchange and at Eltham station. The Woolwich Road flyover is already one of the most polluted spots in London.  This can only get worse, along with the congestion, as the new tunnel gets busier. Furthermore, it will also make bottlenecks at Kidbrooke and Eltham - where the A102 and A2 have only two lanes in each direction - worse.

Alternative proposals could include a new bridge at Thamesmead, dropping tolls at the Dartford Crossing or heavy investment in public transport - or maybe a mix of all three.

If the Gallions Reach bridge were built straight first, then a Silvertown tunnel would be a great solution, providing an alternative route across the river when the Blackwall Tunnel is struggling and cutting travel times on the north bank (reducing congestion in both cases). But without an alternative crossing down-river until Dartford, the protesters are surely right that more traffic will be routed through infrastructure that will struggle to cope. Cars and lorries that wouldn't otherwise need to come so far in to London will have no practical alternative (especially since the Woolwich ferry is not fit for purpose).

None of the options being discussed this week is terribly exciting from a public transport user's perspective. If the Mayor really wants to unlock economic development in this part of the city, he should get on with extending the Bakerloo Line down the Old Kent Road.

More details on the Greenwich Forum.