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Bonkers Blog September 2015

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16 September - Think of the children

The Campaign for Better Transport’s meeting in Abbey Wood last night proved to be very interesting although their definition of the word better may not be everybody’s. This was a meeting aimed at ending the prospect of a Blackwall relief tunnel at Silvertown and bridges at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, and restoring the Woolwich Free Ferry to its former glory.

The audience peaked at 29 with a strong leaning towards the older members of society. They were not all tree hugging Green Party members or Friends of the Earth although one or two claimed to be.

Most members of the public who voiced an opinion were absolutely dead set against any new river crossing, in fact I only noted one, the Reverend Jane Yeadon, a vicar from Thamesmead, who was brave enough to suggest that not all journeys could be made by public transport or a on a bike.

A rather larger number expressed their discontent with Bexley politicians and its council for not being represented at the meeting in any shape or form.

There were two speakers, John Elliott, a civil engineer and transport consultant who has been involved with Thames Crossings since the 1960s and Dr. Ian Mudway, from King’s College Hospital whose specialism is air pollution and in particular how it affects children and their development.

CrossingsJohn Elliott set about preaching to the largely converted that new roads do not solve congestion problems and gave four examples from the distant past where new roads in London became full within a year of their opening. The second Blackwall Tunnel was said to produce a 106% increase in traffic levels twelve months after Desmond Plummer cut the opening ribbon in 1967.

After showing a map dating from 1944 that outlined a bridge at Gallions Reach he quoted from a book of the same era which said that “cities can only exist by discouraging car use”. I can understand the truth of that up to a point but like most ideas, if taken to extremes can have perverse affects.

Would the country be better off if Ernest Marples had not pushed for motorways in the 1950s or the Greater London Council had not authorised the second bore at Blackwall around the same time?

Deaths from air pollution might be much reduced but with infrastructure dating from a bygone age would the country be rich enough to support a health service, or much else? John Elliott did very little to persuade me to his point of view. I simply couldn’t understand his claim that a Silvertown Tunnel would not provide “resilience” for Blackwall.

Dr. Mudway on the other hand certainly knew how to make his audience take notice. His studies indicated that London suffered nearly 10,000 more deaths each year due to diesel particulates and nitrogen dioxide, the brown fug that may be seen from Bexley’s high points towards central London.

That is a figure far worse than the obesity crisis and the pollution levels in Tower Hamlets in particular were constantly above EU permitted levels. The Treasury itself calculates the cost to the UK economy as being somewhere north of £16 billion a year.

Diesel exhaust was rated a Type 1 carcinogen and tests on Tower Hamlet’s children showed worrying levels of metals and toxins in their urine and that their lung capacity was below expectations. Both would have an effect on health in later life.

The metal came from tyres, brake pads and dust from vehicle components (engine wear etc.), not all of which is passed through the childtren’s urine. Some sticks in the body for ever and schools are nearly always built in the cheapest and most polluted locations.

As the meeting ended I asked a question too and learned that the air pollution problem is almost entirely due to diesel engines and that new petrol engines are acceptably clean. Foreign cities that do not permit diesel powered vehicles do not have a pollution problem.

As some readers may remember my son moved on from the Transport Research Laboratory after his report on safely narrowing roads was flung in my own face by Bexley council as justification for vandalising our roads, to working for the EU and more recently in a freelance capacity.

That took him to Switzerland earlier this year where their government is planning another road tunnel through the Alps. They wanted to know what road vehicles would be like in ten to twenty years time. Apart from being driverless many will be battery powered. That will have a huge impact on tunnel ventilation systems.

Maybe TfL is similarly planning for the future and sees cleaner vehicles as its salvation. Dr. Mudway’s presentation was undoubtedly impressive and very worrying. However if diesel engines were banned - or more realistically taxed out of existence -and electrically powered cars became more commonplace his concerns would disappear.

If Blackwall Tunnel remains a bottleneck it would be frustrating and probably an economic disaster zone, but at least we wouldn’t be poisoning children and blighting their old age.


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