Greenwich Council refuses to say if it still backs foot tunnel cycling

Greenwich Foot Tunnel cyclist
The ban on cycling in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel is effectively unenforceable

Greenwich Council will not say whether or not it still wants to allow cycling in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel – despite the proposals being criticised by a neighbouring borough.

Cycling is banned in both the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, but the bye-laws are effectively unenforceable because they were last updated in 1938. The maximum fine, set in 1912, is £2.

The growth of cycling in recent years, plus the emergence of Canary Wharf as a major commuting destination, means the Greenwich tunnel – which runs from the Cutty Sark to Island Gardens – has become a popular route for riders, who have no other way of crossing the Thames in that area.

In 2017, Greenwich councillors approved plans to update the bye-laws in both tunnels, which would include allowing cycling at quieter times and banning it during busier spells. Electronic signage, which is still in the Greenwich tunnel after an experiment with monitoring equipment, would advertise when cycling was prohibited.

Tower Hamlets "no cycling" sign at Island Gardens
Tower Hamlets has long been opposed to cycling in the tunnel

At the time, Greenwich said this would “bring the bye-laws into the 21st century”, and signs about the possible bye-law change are still in place in the tunnel. But Tower Hamlets has long been opposed to the plans. Earlier this month, its councillors passed a motion criticising the plans, with one Labour member calling for the east London borough to install fencing in its side of tunnel.

“If we put barriers along our path, hopefully Greenwich will follow suit in putting up barriers that would stop people zooming across from one end of the tunnel to the other,” Abdal Ullah told fellow Tower Hamlets councillors. “So I would really urge that we, as a council, write to the relevant people in Greenwich and say, look, meet us halfway.”

The motion was put forward by a Conservative councillor for Island Gardens, Peter Golds, and was supported by both Labour and the borough’s ruling Aspire party.

Blank electronic sign in Greenwich foot tunnel
Signs which would indicate if cycling is banned or allowed have sat unused for years

But Ullah’s comments drew an angry reaction from one of his counterparts in Greenwich.

“One of the silliest things I’ve heard,” Creekside councillor Calum O’Byrne Mulligan, whose ward contains the tunnel’s southern exit, said on social media in response to last week’s story.

“As someone who walks their bike through the tunnel as part of my commute to work this is stupid beyond belief. Mainly because it will do more to stop wheelchair users and those with prams, but also as there are no real alternatives for others.

“There are of course some cyclists who use the tunnel irresponsibly, but most people know who to use a shared space safely. We’re chronically lacking in crossings accessible on foot or bike, and can assure from the south side of the river we would fight this sort of idiocy.”

Greenwich Council sign in foot tunnel
Signs advertising the possible bye-law change are still in place – but the council no longer wishes to discuss the issue

But Greenwich’s leadership has refused to say whether or not it still wants to go ahead with the plans. A spokesperson for the council declined to comment when asked by this website, saying it “did not want to engage at this time”. No councillor raised the issue at last week’s full council meeting.

A users’ group for the two tunnels was disbanded in 2021 out of frustration with the impasse between the two councils and long-running issues with the lifts in both tunnels. Newham Council is said to be content with the bye-law change for Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

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