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Greenwich foot tunnel bike commuters face months of carrying bikes up stairs

Lifts will be out of commission until at least March at key east London river crossing

Cyclists commuting from south London to the cluster of skyscrapers around Canary Wharf are having to lug their bikes up and down 96 steps, with the lift at the southern end of the foot tunnel linking Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs out of commission until at least March.

Unlike when we first reported on the tunnel back in 2009 when it was closed for several months for essential works to be carried out on it, the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) has since 2014 allowed non-folding bikes on trains outside peak times.

That’s scant consolation though for those who do have to travel during rush hour, given the lack of alternative Thames crossings in the east of the capital – with a long-planned bridge from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf looking that it has now been permanently shelved.

One cyclist, Matt Harrison, speaking to MyLondon before Christmas, said: “It's a nightmare. It's been months and I come up and down these stairs twice a day.

“It’s not just about cyclists, it’s about accessibility for everybody. If people can't walk up the river, how else are they going to get up the stairs?

“Luckily I'm fit and I can do it but it's everybody else that can't do that. That's the biggest problem.”

Another, Rob O'Shea said: “It’s terrible, but it keeps you fit! The lift has been broken for months. I have to do it every day when I go into work.

“Evenings, I don't like it. Mornings, I'm full of energy so I don't care.

“You know it's really scandalous. But the biggest problem is, not intentional vandalism, but misuse. That's probably what breaks it. People are blocking the doors and holding them open for other people and that's what causes the doors to get damaged.

“I go to Canary Wharf so there's not really any other way around apart from London Bridge. So it’s just a real nuisance.”

And another bike commuter expressed frustration that while cycling infrastructure is being built in the area – during the past year or so, Transport for London has been constructing Cycleway 4 from Tower Bridge to the Woolwich Road roundabout, at the junction with the Blackwall Tunnel approach road on Greenwich Peninsula – option to cross the Thames are lacking.

“It's hard work and annoying,” Mark Aldous said. “The most frustrating thing is you can see thousands spent on empty cycle lanes throughout the borough and throughout London, and this is the only cycle crossing all the way till Tower Bridge so it's very frustrating.

“I don't remember a single day this year that both lifts worked. But I travel up here every day so at least it keeps me fit,” he added.

While it may not have particularly helped cyclists commuting towards Canary Wharf from Greenwich or places such as Charlton to the east, a bridge for people on bikes or on foot had been planned from Rotherhithe to the north west corner of the Isle of Dogs, close to the financial district.

But the project was shelved by TfL on financial grounds in mid-2019, and with the black hole that has materialised in its finances since then due to plummeting fare revenue as a result of the coronavirus crisis, in all likelihood the project is now dead in the water, as it were.

In a statement published in October, Greenwich Council said: “It is with disappointment that the Royal Borough of Greenwich is letting Greenwich Foot Tunnel users know that lift repairs will be delayed due to international supply chain disruption.

“While the design work and preparation for the lift repairs is making good progress, disruption and material shortages are impacting availability of the bespoke parts required for the repairs.]

“The revised date for the reopening of lifts at both the north and south sides of the tunnel is early March 2022 – around four weeks longer than anticipated.

“The council is working closely with suppliers to minimize the delays, caused by shortages in stainless steel and electronic components, which are beyond our control.

“At this point we are unable to predict if any more delays will be experienced. We will continue to update tunnel users as the repair work progresses,” the council added.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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