It's tunnel week in Greenwich. Many people are just finding out about Transport for London's plans to close the Blackwall Tunnel to all southbound traffic between 9pm and 5am, five days a week, for the next three years.
We are already half-way through the last uninterrupted week there'll be until 2013. The closures start this coming Monday and the tunnel will henceforward be closed southbound after 9pm every night except Friday and Saturday.
Anger is whipping round the web. A meeting has been called on February 12 (see this Facebook site) to discuss some form of protest. As someone on the site says, "the bloke in Shawshank Redemption didn't take that long to sort his tunnel."
Does it really take 6,240 hours to fit "new safety, lighting and communications systems"? Surely not. Couldn't they keep both directions open by having a contraflow in the remaining bore, without HGVs if they're worried about a collision? Of course they could, but they won't.
Boris Johnson told me a couple of weeks ago that his TfL officers simply refused point-blank to implement his election manifesto commitment to restore the old tidal flow arrangement in the tunnel during rush hours. They claimed that it was not safe. The contraflow during closure has no doubt been scuppered on the same pretext, even though that too was the preferred solution during tunnel works for many years.
Safety seems unlikely to be TfL's main motivation, since it was perfectly happy to allow contraflows for many years and since, as far as I know, no serious accident ever occurred. Nor was the ending of the arrangement the result of any considered or empirically studied process - it was just stopped one day, and that was that. The main reason is that it is another part of "Transport for Livingstone's" historic and continuing jihad against the motorist.
You should be going by Tube instead, scum! No, hold on - the Jubilee Line's closed quite a lot of the time too, isn't it? Oh well, you'd better cycle then, through the foot tunnel. Not a chance, buster. That, too, will be closed at night (and possibly during the day) for months this year and next as Greenwich Council carries out yet another tiresome, unnecessary and frankly offensive piece of Olympic-related window-dressing.
We still don't have a clear timetable for the closures, although we've been demanding one for months. But, in the second tunnel-related story of the week, the plans for the refurb have been published - so we do have an idea of what the all-singing, all-dancing, refurbished tunnels are going to look like.
"Our approach to the new installations has been bold," say the designers, "meeting our clients' challenge to bring the tunnels into the 21st century." The design, they say, "aims at a 'supermodern' aesthetic... a contemporary aesthetic that acts as a counterpart to the old" and will make "use of the tunnels an event in itself." Oh, God.
One of the nicest things, I think, about the foot tunnels is that they are not supermodern or contemporary - but a little breath of Edwardian Britain, from the unflashy white tiling to the wood-panelled lifts.
The lift panelling will be kept, it turns out, but will be placed behind glass screens on stainless steel fixings, with a stainless steel railing round the car at waist height and "LED feature lighting to highlight the panelling." All the hallmarks, in other words, of the 538 other clueless, over-buffed heritage sterilifications there have been in London over the last ten years.
The glass panels in the domes on at either end will be stripped out and replaced with... almost identical glass panels, only these ones (wait for it), these ones will be aligned "in clearer association with the meridian, with each segment representing 30 minutes of the time dial."
The claimed objectives of the refurb include "improved safety" and a "more welcoming environment." This will no doubt be why those dreary heritage features so totally irrelevant to safety and welcoming, the lift attendants, are to be scrapped. As the document admits, "the lift cars will no longer be manned."
At tunnel level, the tiling stays, but there is a "central services spine... designed to emanate a serene glow." The lighting will "allow colour and animation to be subtly manipulated to create different moods at different times of the day," will "wash a feature colour on the walls," and will provide "the infrastructure for contemporary art installations so that the tunnels can contribute to cultural life in the locality." The brochure is full of lower-case, marketing-man's promises about "invitation, exploration and exhilaration."
Let us pause briefly here, to collect our thoughts and grind our teeth. Since this scheme was announced, life in Britain has changed. The country faces a public spending deficit of £175 billion; a deficit that will require painful cuts to things we actually value. Does anyone really think that, in this new Britain, spending £11.5 million to damage the aesthetic of the tunnels, get rid of the staff and install "mood lighting" should be a priority?
The tunnel is not a "cultural installation," but a transport one, a job (subject to simple mechanical repairs of the lifts) that it does pretty well at the moment. As for my "mood," it would be much improved if basic infrastructure was just allowed to carry on doing its job. I do not want my use of the tunnels to be an "an event in itself," particularly since the most regular event over the next two years will be closure. You want to see "exhilaration?" Scrap this idiotic scheme, and all the other woeful 2012 nonsense. Stop meddling, and just leave us alone.