barriers to cycling: 2.0

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a nice amenity. It runs from the snout of the Isle of Dogs – actually a low lying peninsula – to the historic riverside town of Greenwich. It’s a useful link for people travelling by bike. The 250 metre walk between the foot of each shaft avoids a detour to Woolwich, Rotherhithe or Tower Bridge. The lifts at each end used to be staffed by apathetic attendants equipped with tabloid newspapers. The elevators didn’t run during the night so cycle-travellers had to yomp down and up the stairs cyclo-cross style.

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is a nice amenity. It runs from the snout of the Isle of Dogs – actually a low lying peninsula – to the historic riverside town of Greenwich.
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The tunnel has a ghostly atmosphere when deserted, chill and other-worldly, stone pavement and white ceramic tiles. It used to look like this:-

It’s a useful link for people travelling by bike. The 250 metre walk between the foot of each shaft avoids a detour to Woolwich, Rotherhithe or Tower Bridge. The lifts at each end used to be staffed by apathetic attendants equipped with tabloid newspapers. The elevators didn’t run during the night so cycle-travellers had to yomp down and up the stairs cyclo-cross style.

Bike riding has never been permitted in the tunnel, although in dead of night there was no problem with pedalling softly through the neon-lit tube. Predictably some knobs insist on trying to ride when the tunnel is populated or even busy with tourists. A hobby of mine is accidentally-on-purpose offering mild – faux-absent-minded – threats of obstruction to enjoy these cowboys’ affronted reactions; active citizenship in action.

The Tunnel is undergoing prolonged restoration. New lifts were installed in advance of the ‘lympics. They’re un-staffed and work 24×7. Not having to consult a timetable when taking a heavy laden bike, or towing a trailer, is progress.

The sad part is that – in reaction to those who try and ride through when traffic-conditions are inappropriate – the elegant corridor has been defaced with two sets of these ugly railings….

The chicanes the barriers create cause congestion when pedestrian flows are high. It’s inconvenient for people in wheelchairs, those pushing baby-carriages or walking tandems or other over-length vehicles. The fences are adorned with the traffic sign; ‘CYCLISTS DISMOUNT’.

This sign means ‘no cycling’.

Blue rectangles give information, not legally enforced commands, so it’s usually possible to interpret a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign as ‘this route is meant for cycle-traffic but so badly designed we advise you to get off or continue only at your own risk.’

The new barriers in the foot tunnel…

  • don’t address the nuisance of people trying to cycle when it’s inappropriate.
  • create an unnecessary obstruction for people walking

A classic example of not solving a problem just putting a new problem on top of the old one. The blue ‘dismount’ signs probably encourage some of those, too thick to understand that riding when people are walking through is a nuisance, to think that riding is OK? ‘Official’ signs asking them to get off at a couple of points along the corridor suggest that you’re allowed to – even supposed to – be riding the rest.

Motor-free movement space isn’t valued in our current transport-economy. A little light enforcement of the ban on cycling. a few well-publicised penalty tickets – it wouldn’t be hard to trap any runaways and the CCTV pictures will be nicely lit at any time of day – a campaign to embolded brave and public-spirited pedestrians to obstruct anyone trying to ride; are all considered¬† too much trouble, why not just put up some fences and piss everyone off?

Thirty years ago somebody explained to me a¬† principle – imported from the ‘bicycling countries’ of Northern Europe – that conflict between pedestrian-traffic and cycle-traffic is usually a symptom that conditions for one or both are inadequate.

The indoor space of an Edwardian tunnel is no exception to this, but – over this short distance – extra capacity can’t be won easily.

The Sint Anna Tunnel under the Schelde from Antwerp to Zwindrecht is a nice facility, where shared-use – between cycle and pedestrian traffic – works well, but the roadway is more than twice as wide and the ratio between vertical and horizontal capacity was specified with cycle traffic in mind.

A second bore of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – to accommodate ‘Look’ pedal-users – isn’t any kind of infrastructure priority but – hey – if we must have Grands Projets to kick-start the economy it would be better value than more pandering to under-priced air travel.

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