Friday, 20 November 2015

Bike backlash in London: I'm with Green Jenny Jones - We cyclists need to give Boris some love (even if it pains you)


Cycle Highway 5 at 7.30am
Here's a question for you. Have you used Cycle Super Highway 5 at Vauxhall - a one mile bi-directional cycle track that whizzes over Vauxhall Bridge and cuts through the middle of one of London's most dangerous junctions? I have. I am going out of my way each day to test it from different directions. And, with a few teething problems (cars often roll over the stop line on red, blocking the track), I think it is brilliant. It has turned areas I used to avoid into part of a route I will go out of my way to make use of.

And I don't think I'm alone. Sure, at lunchtime it's not that busy. But at rush hour, at the end of the school day and at weekends, it's incredibly popular. As the Mayor's press release stated, cycle traffic is up 29% on the route already. That's only three weeks after it opened. Nearly 40% of vehicles crossing the Bridge at rush hour are now bikes.

The school run - Vauxhall cycle track. There
are three schools here by the way
What's more, the thing is already quite busy despite not even being properly finished. In two weeks' time, there will be a consultation on upgrading the bike tracks around the remainder of the Vauxhall gyratory so that east>west bike journeys are made easier and will line up with the new track on the Bridge. Once those links are built, the thing will be even busier.

In that context, London's talk radio station, LBC, has decided to add some statistics of its own. According to LBC 'research' on the Bridge one lunchtime, 'cyclists' aren't using it and 'pedestrians' don't like it. Have a read of the transcript. It's pretty weak stuff. Still, it allows LBC's reporter to claim the Cycle Highway is a waste of time and money. This is a bit like sending a journalist to view the first section of the M25 before it went anywhere and concluding there was no point building the motorway.

The facts of the LBC report are patently rubbish. But the report is very good at selling a simple message and clearly, plenty of people lap this sort of stuff up. Shock jock radio, 10 points, useful journalism, not really.

Cycle Highway 5 in the evening. 
You might think that a deeply biased radio show on LBC doesn't really matter. And to some extent, it really doesn't.

However, what does matter is that the general hum of noise against cycling is mounting. Love him or hate him, Boris Johnson has come on a long journey with regard cycling. I was fiercely critical of the first cycle super highways. They were an expensive and dangerous fudge. But they laid the groundwork for the Mayor to eventually get his spade out and do the things properly. We are only just starting to see the results of those new cycle highways but the Mayor will have left office before his flagship East-West cycle highway opens along the Embankment.

This puts the Cycle Highways in a really risky position. I wrote earlier this week about the Labour and Conservative Mayoral candidates - there's no obvious sign that the two candidates are in love with the Cycle Highways.

So, noises against investment in cycling do need to be countered. In fact, it is the Mayor himself who has, finally come out and nailed it. Speaking to the London Assembly this week, he said this:


As the Green Party peer Jenny Jones (who has been an absolute rock on things cycling-related for many years) said: 'Boris's commitment to cycling has "made [her] respect him for the first time ever"'. Love him or loathe him, the man has delivered. He was villified by many in the cycling community at the last election (including by me, if I'm honest). But credit where credit is due. Boris has stood firm against the critics. I've seen first hand some of the pressure the Mayor came under from Canary Wharf Group and others. Like Jenny Jones, I have to say that I'm full of respect for him pushing this through and delivering. I only wish he could have applied himself with the same zeal to a host of other issues too (housing, youth issues, to name a few).

Londoners on Bikes - sign up
Put Boris's cycling achievements in to the context of the next Mayoral campaign, though, and things start to look really worrying. Zac Goldsmith told LBC today that "[The cycle] campaign groups are quite hard to deal with". They're not really. For a supposedly 'green' candidate, it really wouldn't take much for Goldsmith to win the cycling vote. But perhaps Goldsmith thinks people who cycle aren't a significant voting block. Some news for him: Just like last time, Londoners on Bikes will be swinging into gear. At the last election, this pop-up campaign group mustered over 11,000 people to vote on cycling. Given Boris won the election by a hair's breadth, that's not a mean number. There are more of us now and I expect the Londoners on Bikes campaign to deliver even bigger numbers. Can I suggest that people start to follow Londoners on Bikes on Facebook or Twitter and all will become clear over the coming weeks.