Wednesday, 29 June 2011

What do other parents think of this Conservatives official response? Parents with young children would be penalised if cycling is made safer and more convenient. The mothers of Guildford disagree.

I wonder why more people don't cycle with their
children here?
I wrote last week about how the Conserative party in London does not want to favour cycling or walking by giving those people who travel on foot or on a cycle any greater priority than they have at the moment. I talked about how many people who cycle and walk think that London's roads are not fit for purpose unless you travel in a motor vehicle. I also talked about how the Conservatives and Transport for London are making the roads more motor vehicle-friendly and less friendly for walking and cycling. They're doing this in Richmond, where TfL refuses to give people protected space to cross the road on foot or on a cycle; they're doing this at Elephant & Castle where keeping fast motor speeds is considered more important than escalators for tube passengers and a safer and more business and people-friendly square could be built if it weren't for the obsession with not upsetting the 'motorist'; and, of course, they're doing this at Blackfriars.

Several people wrote to Richard Tracey about why the Conservatives would take such a strange view of London's roads. Richard Tracey is the Conservative group transport spokesman.

He sent a considered response, the full text of which is below. For now, I want to focus on a couple points that he raises in that response. Leaving aside his assertion that "Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax" (they don't. For an excellent demolition of that fallacy, read this), the following points stand out:

Mr Tracey states quite correctly that: "If people are given the choice between cycling and driving, a great many people will choose the former." Absolutely true.

However, he then states something very curious indeed, namely this:

"Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling."

What I think this implies is that parents of young children are unable to cycle their children to school or to the shops or to the nursery and would be penalised by better facilities for cycling and walking.

I asked my sister, a mother of two young children, what she thought. She asked her friends. Her friends drive SUVs. They live in Guildford, hardly a bastion of left-wing alternative thinking and a city where cycle use has entirely flatlined for a decade (see appendix 3)

They couldn't disagree with you more Mr Tracey. Their personal circumstances are perfectly well-suited to cycling. They can afford to cycle and many of them have time to cycle. And a lot of them would actually prefer to cycle. But the thing is they don't and they won't. Why not? Because the roads don't feel safe enough to cycle on. That's why cycling has flatlined in their city. And they're dead right not to cycle there.

Mr Tracey concludes by saying "In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy [whereby roads are designed to prioritise safety for people on foot or cycle rather than the de facto reality of current practice which is that London's roads are prioritised for the speed and convenience of people in motor cars], we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves."

As another Londoner put it to me what Mr Tracey doesn't acknowledge is this: "In central London we currently have a road-user hierarchy. It’s one in which a disproportionate amount of road space is given over to people who choose to use motorised vehicles as their primary means of transport, as opposed to lower-impact forms of transport, such as bicycles, motorcycles, buses, the Tube and their own feet. To protect the status quo is in effect to protect an illogical and unfair hierarchy that offers a slower, dirtier and less safe experience to a majority of users of the road network (including pavements and road crossings)"

I read this letter as saying one thing very clearly. Cycling is for people in lycra who can keep up with motor traffic and don't mind ducking and weaving between HGVs. We, the Conservative party, believe in freedom of choice in how you travel around the capital but we will not make significant strides to give normal, everyday people the choice to travel by cycle to do normal, everyday things because that might mean denying some people who travel by motor vehicle a little bit of their freedom to choose the car. And if you're a mother with children, we are telling you to travel by car please. We're not going to make it possible for you to cycle your kids to school.

I'm very curious to know what other parents think about this. If you felt the journey was safe enough, would you like to be able to cycle your children to school rather than get in a car every morning?

Letter from Richard Tracey, Conservative group transport spokesman, London Assembly.

"Thank you for your e-mail. As the Conservative Group's Transport Spokesman, I am replying on behalf of my colleagues.

The numbers of people cycling in London has increased markedly under Boris Johnson. Since this has come on top of strong growth under his predecessor, this is a superb and very welcome achievement. By measures such as the introduction of Boris Bikes, Cycle Superhighways and an increase in the provision of cycle parking, more Londoners are cycling than ever before. There is certainly more that can be done. However none of these improvements has come about via a policy of deliberately hobbling other road users. Rather, they have been successful by making it easier and more convenient for people to choose to cycle.

If people are given the choice between cycling and driving a great many people will choose the former. Indeed the number who choose to cycle is increasing all the time. For the vast majority of cyclists the decision to do so is informed by a simple cost benefit analysis. Cycling to work is cheaper than any other option bar walking, it will often be quicker than the alternatives and it has the benefit of being fantastic exercise. Our view is that the more people consider the various alternatives in those terms, the more people will conclude that cycling is the best way to travel in London .

However it is important to be clear that many Londoners do not have unlimited choice over which mode they use to travel. Whilst we strongly support those who have the choice choosing to cycle, there are those for whom cycling is not feasible. The introduction of a road user hierarchy penalises those, such as parents with young children, whose personal circumstances might be less suited to cycling.

The Conservative Group strongly believes in localism and allowing decisions to be taken as close to the people they affect as possible. In many cases, this will mean that individuals themselves should be free to decide how they wish to travel around our city. In others this means that local councils should be free to make decisions within their own borough. It is important to remember that London is a vast city and a report such as this has to reflect that. The very size of London also means that different parts of it will benefit from differing approaches. What is right for Bromley or Barnet, may well not be right for Westminster or Southwark.

In opposing the introduction of a road user hierarchy, we believe that the best approach is largely to allow the facts and the many advantages of cycling to speak for themselves.

On road user charging, there is little to add to the paragraph in the report. Motorists already more than pay for roads through road and fuel tax. Whilst the concept of giving people the option of paying to travel on a faster road – such as the M6 toll road – may make sense, road user charging penalises those who need to drive. Richer Londoners may be relatively unaffected by charging, but poorer Londoners are literally priced off the road. In addition to this, charging has a negative effect on small businesses within any charging zone. A great many businesses within the Western Extension Zone (WEZ) closed as a direct result of the zone’s introduction. Finally it is worth noting that when the previous Mayor consulted on the introduction of the WEZ a majority opposed its introduction. Ken Livingstone then ignored the consultation and introduced the WEZ anyway. When Boris Johnson became Mayor he promised to hold a fresh consultation and abide by the result. The consultation showed an overwhelming desire to scrap the WEZ. As we made clear in our dissenting paragraph, unless there is strong local support for a local charging zone then road user charging should not be considered."