Sunday, 29 April 2012

The status quo is no longer good enough. It's time to make London a city that's designed for people to cycle instead of drive.

London politicians line up at The Big Ride
Yesterday morning as I lined up in the rain for London Cycling Campaign's The Big Ride, I had a chance to speak with the politicians who came along for the ride. Pictured left, Brian Paddick and Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem), Jenny Jones (Green) and then a less familiar face, Daniel Moylan, deputy chair of Transport for London, and Conservative councillor in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea. On the right, Murad Qureshi (Labour).

I was pleased to see Daniel Moylan on the ride. All the more so because he was wearing a flat cap, wax jacket and sturdy corduroys. In other words, here was the deputy chairman of TfL on a bike wearing exactly the same clothes he might wear to head to the shops or down to the pub on a Sunday afternoon.

And that's exactly the point.

The majority of car journeys in London are under five miles. In other words, exactly the sorts of journeys people could do by just jumping on a bike in the clothes they want to wear at their destination. But they don't. Because, for most people, London doesn't feel like the sort of place that invites most of us to get about by bike.

Please can we see more of this on London's streets
In fact, I reckon that the majority of Londoners aren't that fussed about 10,000 people pitching up on bikes in the middle of the capital. What they're worrying about is the fact that there's a massive tail back on the A4 this morning because the Hammersmith flyover is closed. 

Local MP Mary Macleod (Conservative) has been on twitter this morning pointing the finger at Transport for London for the transport chaos around Hammersmith and Chiswick caused by the closure of the Hammersmith flyover. And then without realising the sheer irony of her next tweet she asks her twitter followers: "Let me know if you think parking in Chiswick is an issue. What do you think should be done to support local shops and local traders?

I think what would help support local shops and local traders is less traffic so that people can more easily nip to their local stores. But you can't have it both ways, Mrs Macleod. You can't have more car parking and less congestion in the same breath. You have to actively chose to give people the option not to drive, make it easier for them to get around their neighbourhood and stop at local shops.

So, my challenge to Daniel Moylan is pretty simple. Mr Moylan, will you let politicians like Mary Macleod beat you up for not providing enough car parking and for causing congestion? Will you think that is what really matters to Londoners? Or will you give Londoners the option to ditch their cars and to cycle around London's streets instead? Because most Londoners don't think cycling is an option at the moment. That's because the roads are designed almost entirely for people to drive. It's time to make London a city that's designed for people to cycle instead of drive.

The Met Police confirmed that over 10,000 people came out on their bikes in the pouring rain yesterday. Each of us was making the point in our own way. We want to be able to cycle around London rather than drive. And we want the same for our families and friends too. The status quo is no longer good enough. It's time to make this happen. 

I think that The Times summed up the mood perfectly. Editorial in The Times Saturday 28 April 2012:

Easy Riders

Today may see Britain’s largest ever protest on two wheels

Anybody who still considers cycling to be a niche pursuit should step out today in the centre of Edinburgh or London.
In protests organised by a collection of disparate but single-minded groups, thousands of cyclists will be putting foot to pedal. In Edinburgh, thousands are expected to be out enjoying the sunshine. In London, where the hope is that it will at least stay dry, many thousands more will move along traffic-free streets between Hyde Park and Blackfriars Bridge.
As a group, cyclists have long lacked a coherent voice, for the simple reason that they are not really a group at all. As a collective, they have no more in common than people who eat pasta, or wear trousers, or drive cars. Yet this lack of lobbying power has taken a toll. Two cyclists have died on roads in the Edinburgh region this year. In London, five have. The youngest was Ali Nasralla, aged 8, struck by a taxi in Kingston upon Thames.
No child should have to risk death cycling home from school, and no driver should have to risk being the person who hits one. As this newspaper’s “Cities fit for cycling” campaign has been arguing for many months, British cities cannot continue to be places in which the needs of cyclists are an afterthought. A bike-friendly infrastructure is a must.
These protests take place shortly before regional and mayoral elections. Next week, London’s five major candidates will take part in a bikefocused debate, hosted by The Times and the Sustrans charity. Britain’s cyclists are finding their voice, and politicians will continue to ignore them at their electoral peril. They are not a special interest group. They are you, and us, and everybody.