Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Welsh government and Cambridgeshire council announce investment in cycling infrastructure to reduce motor traffic congestion & support economic growth. I'm not sure London knows why it should invest in cycling. London needs to make its mind up.

Cycling into the City of London to work  Blackfriars Bridge
"No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power - on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling - boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours." Boris Johnson in a press release in 2009.

The Mayor went on to say there was "real excitement about cycling building in the city, and the Cycle Superhighways show we are serious about delivering real positive changes that will benefit us all."

And to be fair, there was real excitement. Here was a Mayor who promised big things for cycling, something of a first for London. Ken Livingstone promised big things back in 1981 - 1% of the total transport budget, in fact. It never really happened, though. Neither did Boris Johnson's 'transformation' of cycling, though.

Boris's statement is full of useful soundbites about 'transforming' cycling and 'wonderful way to travel'. All very nice.

But what's missing from this statement in 2009 is why he wanted to bother investing all this money in cycling in the first place.

Hop to over to Cambridge and the story is quite different. Cambridgeshire council has just completed the upgrade of a path that connects the city with a commuter village three miles away. The council has bought land alongside an existing shared space path (not ideal but...) to make it wider and easier for more people to cycle along. It has even added night-time cats eyes to provide some sort of lighting at night. Why is the council investing all this money in cycling? Simple really: The council wants to "attract extra commuters to cycling, helping to reduce traffic congestion in Cambridge". In fact, the county council wants to build a ring of bike routes to neighbouring towns, some as much as 15 miles away. It wants to do this because it believes cycling can help cut traffic congestion and also to "support economic growth". Cambridge went one step further and stated in February: "This council recognises the...importance of cycling for the economic prosperity of the area"

Flick to Wales, which this week announced it intends to legislate, making it a legal requirement for local authorities to plan “fully integrated transport networks”. Talking to The Times newspaper, the Welsh government's Transport Minister said that the Bill would: "improve public health, reduce emissions, boost tourism and provide an economic benefit in deprived areas".

There we have it: Wales and Cambridgeshire see cycling infrastructure as part of a plan to reduce traffic congestion and to support economic growth.

These are discussions that London is missing out on. I've sat in meetings about the Mayor's plan for a junction safety review, I've met several London assembly members and more recently met Transport for London officials and some of the senior advisers working with the Mayor. What I sense from those meetings is that we're all busy talking about improving safety for people on bikes, and rightly so. But what's lacking is a real understanding of why we're doing this and what the 'cyclists' are complaining about. My own view is that London hasn't yet put a stake in the ground and declared that cycling should be a a serious part of the transport mix, that can reduce motor traffic congestion and has a meaningful economic contribution to make.

It's about time London woke up to the fact that cycling is part of the transport mix and that it has a part to play in creating and sustaining jobs. After all, Cambridge has a booming economy and the city is growing like wildfire. It has clearly thought about why it wants to include cycling as part of that growth story. London needs to do the same.