diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 17, 2022

When the Silvertown Tunnel opens in 2025 it'll provide a fresh opportunity to connect the two sides of the Thames by bus. Only one bus route crosses the river downstream of Tower Bridge, the 108, so the plan is to boost the network by creating more, aided by the new tunnel being double-decker-friendly. A consultation launched yesterday.

If you just want to know what these new bus routes are, click here and you'll jump 600 words further down today's post. If you want to know how the proposed routes originated, keep reading. If you have a crayon, put it down and maybe learn something.

When planning conditions for the Silvertown tunnel were agreed they included a requirement for minimum levels of cross-river bus services. The expectation was that no fewer than 20 buses an hour would pass through the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels during peak periods. This being a time of financial hardship, that's been translated into "exactly 20" buses an hour. And because the 108 already provides five of those 20, the big decision is how to deliver the other 15.

One of the first things TfL's planning team did was to draw up a map showing all the places you can already reach by public transport from the two sides of the tunnel. They noted there wasn't much use in sending a new bus route up the Lower Lea Valley because the DLR and 108 already go that way. They also ruled out Woolwich because the DLR and Crossrail are much more attractive ways to cross the river. But a 'Bus Opportunity Zone' presented itself across the eastern side of Newham and in a stripe south towards Blackheath and Kidbrooke.

Rather than guessing this was correct they also punched numbers into TfL's planning model (which is called MoTiON - Model of Travel in London). They identified various possible bus corridors, then generated forecasts for passenger demand and some came out better than others. North of the river they focused on i) Canary Wharf ii) Barking Road iii) the Royal Docks, and south of the river they chose i) Greenwich/Lewisham ii) Blackheath/Grove Park iii) Kidbrooke/Charlton. And then they tried linking them together in different ways - options A, B and C.

At this point they were mostly playing with short, existing bus routes which might be extended across the Thames.

129: Lewisham → North Greenwich (recently extended)
330: Wanstead Park → Pontoon Dock (recently extended)
335: Kidbrooke → North Greenwich (recently introduced)

All three options came up with similar passenger numbers and time savings, with A marginally ahead of B and C. But the planners also came up with another option, B1, in which the blue route ran fast from the Angerstein Roundabout to the Silvertown Tunnel without stopping at North Greenwich station. Londoners want more express services, they reasoned, plus there are already plenty of other bus routes linking to the tube. And option B1 gave better results than the other three so they decided to run with that.

108: Lewisham - Stratford (unchanged)
129: Lewisham → Wanstead Park (replacing the 330)
335: Kidbrooke → Beckton
New Route: Grove Park → Canary Wharf

5 buses an hour on each route... target hit.

But the increase in passenger demand wasn't as high as it might have been. What if they ran two of the buses more frequently, because shorter waiting times boost demand, and never extended the third? So they came up with two more options - B2 (without extending the 129) and B3 (without extending the 335). And then, because it pays to be thorough, they added option B4 in which both the 129 and 335 crossed the Royal Docks at existing frequencies. One of these is what we're getting.

Option B2 was the most expensive because it used the most vehicles overall, and option B1 the cheapest. But when it came to estimated passenger benefits option B3 was just ahead of B2, with B1 trailing far behind. Option B3 led the pack because it had the best benefit to net cost ratio and generated the most passenger benefit. It also "provided only additionality", i.e. it left the existing 330 and 335 alone so no passenger could complain their journeys were being wrecked. And option B3 is what's been put forward in the consultation.

The proposal is...

Blackwall Tunnel
108: Lewisham - Stratford (unchanged) [5 buses an hour]
Silvertown Tunnel
129: Lewisham → Gallions Wharf (Great Eastern Quay) [7½ buses an hour]
X239: Grove Park → Canary Wharf (Westferry Circus) [7½ buses an hour]

The 108 carries on using the Blackwall Tunnel as it does now. The 129 is extended through the Silvertown Tunnel to Great Eastern Quay, the easternmost housing estate in Newham. And the X239 is a brand new route from Grove Park to Canary Wharf which runs without stopping for three miles(!) in the middle of the route.

The 108 is only in the consultation because its route is getting more efficient. A new road junction in North Greenwich will shorten the twiddle the southbound 108 has to make on the approach to the bus station. One existing bus stop closes but nobody'll care. Forget about the 108.

The 129 will be the workhorse through the tunnel with eight trips an hour. It'll provide a quick and easy way to get from North Greenwich to the Royal Docks, which is currently the sole premise of the cablecar. With a bus stop outside City Hall the 129 is essentially the Dangleway Replacement Bus, indeed it basically makes the cablecar redundant. The 129 then meanders around Beckton and the Royal Docks (so it's not going to be fast) and entirely misses Canning Town and Custom House stations. It also reinstates connections removed earlier this year when Crossrail opened, most notably the 101, 300 and 474, almost as if TfL knew the 129 was coming when they buggered about with the local network.

The X239 is brand new and unlike any other bus route. It starts by linking Grove Park to Blackheath, a journey which can't currently be done by train or on a single bus. It then heads to the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout, joins the A102 dual carriageway and skips every bus stop on the peninsula. It doesn't even stop at the tube station, the idea being to speed up the journey as much as possible, before ducking under the river through the Silvertown Tunnel. It doesn't stop on the far side in Newham either, it speeds over the Lower Lea Crossing and the first stop is in Tower Hamlets near East India station. That is a very lengthy (and peculiar) gap. For the approach to Canary Wharf the route diverts through Wood Wharf, the emerging neighbourhood, as TfL deign to give future residents a bus service. It's hard to see who route X239 is really for, but TfL's model suggests passengers exist so hopefully they do.
n.b. there is no route 239, there hasn't been since 2008.

The consultation also asks about minor twiddles in Silvertown, Leamouth and Blackwall. Here are three road junctions where vehicles can't currently turn in the necessary direction so buses might have to go a less efficient way. For the 129 that's down one of Newham's most miserable backroads beside the Silvertown Viaduct, and for the X239 that's back under the Lower Lea Crossing and/or past the Tower Hamlets council tip. With money for roadworks hard to find, the duff route is very likely to win out.

And that's it, just two new bus routes are planned to run through the Silvertown tunnel, at least to begin with. What's more only one is going to be useful for local journeys and one's only going to be useful if you want to go from Docklands to the Lewisham/Greenwich border. It may feel a bit underwhelming but at least they're the best routes for the available money, so the model says, so let's hope the model's right. And it's still a lot better than drawing lines on a map in crayon without any evidence to back you up.

» consultation (closes 11th January)
» background planning document (35 page pdf)
» map

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