Wednesday, 8 June 2011

London's Conservatives declare war on pedestrians and cyclists? Why I don't want to be a second-class citizen on London's roads

Updated Thursday morning, even the AA President thinks Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists, see updated post here.


This might sound a bit far-fetched. But at today's London Assembly, the Conservative party Assembly Members actually walked out of the debating chamber and thereby made it impossible for the Assembly to debate Jenny Jones's motion to make Blackfriars Bridge a 20mph zone.

The motion was by no means perfect. But it was a step towards civilising this deeply unpleasant junction. A space that is as nasty on foot (or in a wheelchair) as it is on a bicycle.

The London Cycling Campaign has provided an excellent analysis here of what Blackfriars signifies. As the LCC puts it: "The vote about no less than the future direction of London's transport policy." I'd urge you to read the LCC review. It sums up the opinion of many cyclists and walkers.

The Conservatives seem to have decided they don't care about London's transport policy, at least not as far as pedestrians and cyclists are concerned. They can't even be bothered to debate it  in this instance.

In my humble opinion, the Conservatives have declared they are utterly indifferent to walking and cycling. It's not just about Blackfriars. It's about Richmond and it's about Finchley. And in my view, not only have they slapped walkers and cyclists in the face, but they haven't even waited around to be slapped back.

A cabbie contacted me after this post and said this: "If pedestrians only crossed at red [sic] lights and cyclists kept to the cycle lanes there wouldn't be a problem at all". In a soundbite kind of way way he's right. But that's not the issue. The issue is there are no cycle lanes. And where there are, they're almost useless. All over London. And likewise, the issue is that if you want to cross many of London's main roads, you often have to worm their way through several cattle pens.

When I started this blog, I did not do so to be political. I'm not a Tory-basher any more than I'm a Labour, Green or LibDem fan (or basher, for that matter). But today, I feel like I trusted the political process to debate a serious issue about my safety on a bicycle in London. It's my first foray into politics and I naively trusted that the Tories would listen to the Jenny Jones motion with the same seriousness that encouraged hundreds of people to write to TfL about making Blackfriars less anti-cycling and less anti-pedestrian.

It's largely because of that naivety that I have ended up feeling the Conservative Party in London showed that they don't give a damn about me or people like me who walk and cycle more than we drive. I drive too but I want to live in a City where I can walk and cycle and not feel like a second-class citizen on our roads. That is exactly what the Conservative Party is suggesting it thinks I am.

I understand perfectly well the Conservative party has other issues around today's debate. And in fact, James Cleverly has done a good job of trying to explain some of those issues on his blog here and Andrew Boff has been quite rightly pointing to issues around the voting in of the Assembly chair on twitter. And I don't have any issue with what they're trying to defend. My issue is that we expect our politicians to represent us. Not to focus on which motions they want to support and to walk out when things don't go their way. Because, actually, that just feels like low-level and very transparent politicking rather than dealing with the matters at hand.

I wonder if it's time cyclists and walkers of London united and made the point a little more loudly that they want and deserve better?

If you are represented by a Conservative GLA member - all of whom were absent from the Assembly chamber when the 20mph motion came up so as to prevent Blackfriars being discussed - please consider writing to them to express your shock and concern:

Reactions from today's events:


Green Party reaction:
At today's plenary meeting, a motion in Jenny Jones's name, which called for the 20mph limit on Blackfriars bridge to stay, was tabled. Unfortunately, this did not get discussed because some members left the chamber making the Assembly meeting inquorate, and thus unable to pass or reject any motions.
We recognise that this is an unfortnate outcome for cyclists. We hope there will be a possibility for this motion to be tabled for a future meeting. In the meantine, Jenny will continue to actively lobby TfL and the mayor on this issue.

Labour Party reaction:
Conservative members of the London Assembly today walked out of the plenary meeting in order to prevent a motion on a 20mph limit for Blackfriars Bridge from being debated. The walkout left the plenary inquorate and the Chair had no option but to abandon the meeting.
Local London Assembly member, John Biggs said: “It is absolutely outrageous that Conservative members of the London Assembly cannot even be bothered to debate this very important issue. Only last week there was another accident on the bridge. Conservative members should not play games where the safety of vulnerable Londoners is concerned.”

Local London Assembly member, Val Shawcross said: 'The motion was simply focused on cyclists concerns about safety on London's road crossings and it's unbelievable that the members of the Conservative group apparently found this issue unworthy of debate'

LibDem reaction
A bad day for cyclists, for London’s environment and for democracy -

Pidgeon and Mike Tuffrey
Commenting on the decision by Conservative Assembly Members earlier today to leave the chamber in City Hall before the key issues of air pollution and cycle safety on Blackfriars Bridge were discussed at a full meeting of the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group said:
“It is shameful that the Conservative Assembly Members have played student politics today and by walking out of the chamber have sabotaged democratic debate
“Today the London Assembly could have sent out a clear message about the need to ensure that Blackfriars Bridge is made safer for cyclists. Due to the actions of Conservative Assembly Members that key opportunity has been denied. I hope every cyclist who cares about this issue will take note of their actions.

Mike Tuffrey, commenting further on his motion on air quality also being sabotaged said:

“Air pollution is one of the biggest public health issues facing the capital and in a year’s time this capital is supposed to be hosting the greenest Olympics ever held. Sadly it would appear that the view of Conservative Assembly Members is that these issues are not even worthy of debate.”