Thursday, 3 March 2016

London Elections: I didn't expect to be thinking of voting for Sadiq. I'm still not sure if I will. But, unless Zac Goldsmith changes his tune on cycling (and on buses, to be honest), he's completely lost my attention.

Some of London's Mayoral candidates in the press
London votes in May on its new Mayor to replace Boris Johnson. Lots of people I know don't vote. I think that's a real shame. At the last Mayoral elections, cycling was a really hot issue. And there was no way that the Mayoral candidates could get away from the fact that people wanted safe space4cycling. It was that pressure on the candidates that finally helped swing Boris Johnson towards (belatedly) building the proper, safe cycling facilities that are rolling out across London right now - whether those are cycle highways that take you through some of our city's scariest junctions or the quieter routes on local borough roads. In my view, if you care about your city, you should be voting.

As I've said recently, I feel Boris really over-promised in his first Mayoralty. Lots of blue paint, lots of PR, lots of 'manning-up' and 'keeping your wits about you' as you darted through massive, scary road junctions. That all changed in his second term and we're seeing the results of that change in policy only now. The Embankment cycle highway is only a few months off finishing; Oval junction is unrecognisably safer; CS2 now leads out east (although needs improving) and there are plans all over London (with the exception of Kensington & Chelsea who have adopted a do-nothing approach).
A new cycle highway in action in London
To some extent, the heat has been taken out of the cycling debate. There's less antagonism at a policy level. But there's loads of antagonism in specific local hotspots around London. The residents of Swiss Cottage seem to be getting their pitchforks ready to kill off cycle highway 11 through Regents Park and there's loads of local anger up in Highbury as well. Lots of very noisy people want to drive, drive, drive. And be gone with the rest of you.

It's really interesting seeing how the various Mayoral candidates are responding to this.

London voters in the City of London
First off, I'm going to mention Caroline Pidgeon (LibDem). I mention her first, as a lot of people seem to have written off the LibDems. But I'm going to stick my neck out here. Caroline has consistently backed cycling and she is the only London Assembly Member standing again this year who has really fought for cycling all the way through. Meanwhile, the Green's Sian Berry is making all the right noises as well.

So far so good.

But the people I really find interesting in all this are Labour's Sadiq Khan and Conservative Zac Goldsmith.

I don't think I'd cast myself as a natural Sadiq supporter. But his campaign is really grabbing my attention. I didn't originally think it would. In the past, Sadiq had appeared on the odd bicycle in photo shoots for Lambeth Cyclists but that was about it. More recently, he's been going gangbusters to woo the cycling vote. Sadiq's cycling plan commits to continue investing in the cycle highways, in safer junctions and in 20mph zones as well as the Quietway programme. He's appeared pedalling about with Chris Boardman and told him he wants to "make London a byword for cycling".

Before he was selected as the Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith was full of promise. He told the Stop Killing Cyclists that more cycling was part of his plan to stop our city from "grinding to a standstill" and to reduce air pollution. He also promised to commit to cycling in his manifesto.

And since then?
Does Zac Goldsmith think this is 'enough' cyclists
or will he rip this up?
Well, there's nothing I can see from him about cycling in his manifesto other than a wishy washy commitment to "safer cycling". What there is instead, is a series of bizarre statements:

He told LBC radio that he would let electric cars into the bus lanes and that within two to three years there would be "no point having bus lanes". I mean, seriously? If you're a bus user or a cyclist, this sounds like hell.

And then he told LBC he would judge London's new cycle highways on the "impact on emergency services, the basis of traffic flow, on the basis of how many cyclists use them". If the cycle highways are being used, he'd be obliged to promote them, he said. Well what on earth does that mean? Does that mean that if Mayor Zac decides motor traffic flow is more important, he'll rip up the cycle highways? How many cyclists does he want using the cycle highways before he decides to rip them up? Because what he said to LBC is "if the evidence showed that [the cycle highways] didn’t work then you’d have no choice but to rip them up." Maybe he's just being reasonable but it all feels very flip-flopping. It feels quite definitely bad, though, when you think that Zac has also refused to commit to more cycle highways, he's talked a lot about promoting more "Quietways" down back streets.

I didn't expect to be thinking of voting for Sadiq. I'm still not sure if I will. But, unless Zac Goldsmith changes his tune on cycling (and on buses, to be honest), he's completely lost my attention.

Oh, by the way, try and remember to vote please. It does make a difference :-)