Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnel cyclists to get partial green light

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.

The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.

The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.

Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, August 2014

Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.

If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.

The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.

“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.

“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”

The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.

“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.

A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.

The system would be trialled in Woolwich (left) before coming to Greenwich (right)
500+ people per day use the Woolwich tunnel, over 3,000 use the Greenwich tunnel

It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.

Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.

In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.

But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.

Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.


  1. So, in a time of austerity its ok to (potentially) spend £100k on a non-problem. If bikers have flouted the ban on cycling so far, what is to make no cycling enforceable under the proposed scheme? If there is no way to enforce it, why spend the money?

    I need some time to resolve some more non-problems now…..

  2. Agree with Larry that £100k seems like a lot, and for an incredibly over-engineered solution. Some simple signs, ‘Considerate cycling permitted, except weekdays 0700-0830 and 1730-1900’ (or whatever times are appropriate) would cost next to nothing

  3. I don’t mind so much if this is coming from a GLA pot which can’t be used elsewhere but if that fails the council really shouldn’t be spending 100k themselves on this, as that will presumably be coming from discretionary funds. 100k could pay for a lift attendant at 20k a year for 5 years providing security, reassurance, helping the disabled etc & simply bollocking cyclists if needed which would be more effective.

    But no, spend 100k on a sign which will be ignored. Great work.

    100k might not seem a lot looking at the entire budget but that could replacement of almost every broken fence, raised planter, flower bed, brickwork, street signage, lighting etc in any one of a large number of run down estates. There’s plenty to choose from in Woolwich, Charlton, Abbey Wood etc. Greenwich don’t seem able to pony up 100k for this from any of the many sources of funds (general reserves and funds like the pre-election £2.5m kitty, section 106, TfL etc). I know which would have the larger impact.

  4. Interesting idea.

    Not sure how it would be enforced and the problem is present in all shared public pathways really not just the foot tunnels. If the concern are cyclists going too fast, maybe an easier answer is to simply install speed humps in the tunnel? There were cycle barriers in Woolwich before, but they have sensibly been removed as they were a nuisance for everyone who used the tunnel.

    The posting says the new system would backed up with audible messages. The echo in the tunnel would make the tunnel extremely noisy if the robotic voices are constantly being used?

    I think you’d need way more than £20k a year to police the tunnel 24×7 at both ends with person.

  5. Aye £20k wouldn’t go very far but one person working 9-5 may be enough or 2 part timers covering rush hours with one on 6am-1pm covering rush hour and another 1pm-7pm. Before the refurb I guess there was one person at each end operating the lifts 9-5? As the lifts are automated you could have one person roving around helping during the day. Probably not needed really. I was just suggesting it as a better alternative for this 125k if the council pay out of their own pocket.

  6. seems a lot of money to do something quite simple?
    What is fogwoft’s view on cycling in the tunnel, as historically (due to some cyclists being irresponsible) this would suggest that they are opposed to it
    They are listed as the partners on the bid, so their views are going to be a significant factor.
    Are the lifts reliable these days btw? Nearly killed me carrying my heavy bike up the stairs once.

  7. Fogwoft’s position is quite simple. Whatever the rules are they have to be enforced. At the moment cycling is prohibited. Therefore fogwoft have called for a warden or police presence to enforce that rule. Yes, we hope we will be a significant factor if the permissions are changed – but with your input. We are nothing if we cannot represent that public voice.
    Similarly in the tunnels, better manners will not be instilled if we, the public, do not curtail errant behaviour.
    As to cash, the amount is one thousanth of the estimated cost of a refurbished Woolwich Ferry and one ten thousanth of the cost of Silvertown Tunnel. It seems from comments that the capital cost is outrageous but enforcement costs are pitiful.

  8. Speaking as a cyclist, that uses Greenwich foot tunnel daily, there should be no cycling in the foot tunnel.
    The speed and closeness of come cyclists is intimidating. At the speed they go, a tourist or small child is likely to be flattened at they move in a brownain like way. And what does it save to cycle – 4 minutes or less?

    A strange thing happens when people don lycra, some get very aggressive – you wont get people going through on their bikes at a reasonable speed unless it’s enforced. The barriers that were put up were a nuisance to every one and didn’t stop speeding cyclists. The police officers you get once in a blue moon – just deal with the problem on the day. You need to use CCTV- so people don’t know if its being actively enforced or not and therefore behave. Digital signage will work for 3 days – just like those 30 MPH signs you see.
    I am not sure if Fogwoft is truly representative of the users of the tunnel, I assume most members are cyclists and tourists (who are the other main user group of the tunnel) wont be represented.

    Cant we just put the £100K into a kitty for a ‘swing’ foot/cycle bridge across the Thames?

  9. I admit I do cycle through the tunnel, but I immediately go slow if I see pedestrians ahead of me.

    This is why I was thinking speed humps may work, but I appreciate it would be an inconvenience for the likes of prams and wheelchairs.

  10. John (Norman)
    I do think a campaign to get a bigger pedestrian/cycling crossing of the eastern Thames is well overdue. Are you happy to be part of such a campaign? Is anyone else?

  11. What nonsense. I cycle but when I get to the tunnel I get off and walk the entire length. I wear lycra as the tunnel would be part of a 50-60mile journey (leisure). I don’t understand the urgency that cyclists feel the need to get to the other side quickly whilst disobeying the rules.

  12. Well said, Grant. My dad worked at Beckton gas works and every day cycled from Plumstead and later Abbey Wood and of course he got off and pushed the bike, mornings and evenings alike.

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