Wednesday, 4 February 2015

WOW. TfL approves cycle super highways. But real threat still lurks. Not from taxis or the freight industry but, in my opinion, from Canary Wharf Group, which seems to have been trying to undermine the public consultation

This morning the Transport for London board met and voted to approve the go-ahead for five Cycle Super Highway projects. The vote was the result of years of work by literally thousands of people. And my initial reaction, one shared by many, was of utter relief. To be absolutely honest, I got on the tube on the way back from a meeting and let a tear or two drop. And then grinned. A lot.

Here's a map I made earlier. The green line is roughly the route of the Cycle Super Highway.
The top map shows the google maps directions.
And I have to say, Boris was on pretty fine form during the meeting. I have knocked the Mayor many times on this blog. But this time he had absolutely mastered his brief and he was taking no nonsense.

And there was plenty of nonsense.

First, let me start with the nonsense spouted by Sir John Armitt, Chairman of the National Express Group. Sir John said this: "I would say the biggest danger to London cyclists on the roads in London are actually themselves," And, I am not making this up, at the same time he made this ridiculously poorly informed statement, a National Express coach collided with someone on a bicycle at Marble Arch, closing that junction.

Armitt is practising victim-blaming at its crudest and least-informed. And I would expect more of someone who sits on the board of London's tranport agency.

He went on to say: "The way in which many, many, many of them ride one is surprised that in fact the number of accidents is not far larger because it is an entirely different way of cycling to which you see in many other cities," Perhaps Sir John needs to undertake some research into why cycling in other cities is different to London. And perhaps he might join the dots to realise that the lack of safe, protected cycle infrastructure is a big part (but not the only part) of the reason.

But in all of this, I think the bigger issue is Canary Wharf Group. As we now know, Canary Wharf Group (to borrow from The Guardian) "infamously began their lobbying efforts with an anonymous briefing paper containing a series of inaccuracies about the scheme."

Here's the email sent by the Freight Trade Association to TfL's lawyers. Strangely, the email subject line
is 'Canary Wharf Response to Cycle Superhighway Announcement".
Why is the FTA sending Canary Wharf's emails for them?
What we also learned today is that Canary Wharf seems to be playing some new dirty tricks: At one point during the board meeting Boris brought up the fact that the TfL board members had received letters objecting to the scheme which "left the Canary Wharf Group draft letter on by accident". The letter was sent to the board and is therefore a public document. And it is pretty blatant. What Boris is referring to is a letter emailed from the Freight Trade Association to TfL board members objecting to the Cycle Super Highways in which the FTA (rather foolishly) left the following email subject line: "Fwd: Canary Wharf Response to Cycle Superhighway Announcement". In other words, it looks awfully like the Freight Trade Association is sending Canary Wharf's for them. Either that or it is a rather odd honest mistake. In any case, it all feels like a repeat of the dodgy briefing paper that Canary Wharf was circulating last year.

We have also been told by one reliable media source that the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association told him their plan to seek a Judicial Review against the cycleways was likely to be funded by Canary Wharf Group. One media source is not concrete evidence that Canary Wharf Group and the LTDA are working hand in hand but it is public knowledge that Canary Wharf Group has not denied it is interested in a judicial review. And we know that the LTDA would like to pursue a judicial review.

It feels to me like what is emerging is a pattern whereby Canary Wharf Group is trying to subvert the public consultation and it appears that it may be using front-guys like the LTDA and Freight Trade Association to pursue its own agenda. If that really is the case, then the question is not really about cycling any more, it's about who actually runs London. The Mayor and the democratic structures that support him? Or Canary Wharf?

Why would Canary Wharf Group be so hell-bent on wrecking the Cycle Super Highway plans?

I have no idea. But I can point to two things:

Firstly, look at the map above. We know that Sir George Iacobescu, chairman and CEO of Canary Wharf Group lives in W1 and my understanding is he is driven to work. Look at that map. His route to work is right along most of the Cycle Super Highway.

Secondly, we know that Canary Wharf Group is in the middle of being sold to new shareholders. Could it be that the new shareholders (Qatari Investment Authority lead among them) don't want Londoners to have safe cycling infrastructure? 

It does seem that Canary Wharf Group is agitating very strongly to kill the Cycle Super Highway. And you have to ask why. Furthermore, you have to ask whether Canary Wharf Group is beginning to demonstrate excess influence on London's democratic planning processes.

Along with thousands of others, I am hugely relieved that TfL has approved the Cycle Super Highways. We're now all waiting to see whether someone will attempt a Judicial Enquiry to stop them from happening. The question is who will be funding that and whether they'll come clean about it.