Saturday, 2 April 2016

Zac Goldsmith finally commits: "I will build more segregated cycle lanes" but then says only if the community fully supports it - I'm worried that he's failing to say what he really thinks and that by trying to be nice to everyone he will end up setting communities against each other.

Central London - cycle highway on Saturday. Under threat?
Photo via @Boxbikelondon
I've spent a bit of time on this blog recently trying to get my head around Zac Goldsmith's thoughts on cycling. I admit, I haven't given as much time to Sadiq Khan. The reason for that is that, on paper, the two candidates have very similar policies.

Goldsmith promises to "continue to support the Cycle Superhighways and the Quietways programme".

Khan promises to "Continue the Cycle Superhighway Programme...and prioritise Quietways".

Both, however, hint that there's something they don't like about the Cycle Superhighways.

Khan says London must "learn the lessons from earlier [cycle superhighway] schemes", which seems to suggest he thinks something's not quite right, but he at least acknowledges in his manifesto that he will "focus on segregated provision".

Zac Goldsmith's cycle highway 'commitment'
Goldsmith does say in one article on Essential Surrey's website that "I will build more segregated lanes on London's roads". But there is no commitment in his manifesto to do that. In fact, Goldsmith's manifesto says nothing about segregated cycle tracks at all. In fact, what Goldsmith's manifesto actually says is just downright strange, in my view. His manifesto is packed with rock-hard commitment to things like a new Silvertown road tunnel or to pedestrianising Oxford Street. But when it comes to cycling? Oh no, no such commitment. What he says instead is that he will only support cycle highways if they have "community consent".

So, on the one hand, Goldsmith is happy to bulldoze massive chunks of south east London for the Silvertown road tunnel, something which all but one local authority opposes and will blight residents with more traffic in those areas for ever. On the other, a cycle highway? Oh no, can't have that if people think it might not 'work for everyone'.

While on paper, then, both candidates initially look quite similar, the differences really start to emerge when you look at the detail. Perhaps, of course, because there isn't much detail from Khan.

The new London. Blackfriars Road, brand new
cycle superhighway. Under threat?
Photo via +Carlton Reid  
What is odd, though, is that Goldsmith seems to keep seeking out ways to make his messaging on cycling worse.

He attended a meeting on Thursday last week specifically to discuss the plans for Cycle Superhighway 11 through Regents Park. I'd argue this is an extremely local issue. And here's the possible future Mayor of London deliberately sticking his neck out to talk to local voters about a cycle highway. What he promised during that meeting is that, if elected, he "will require TfL to adapt their plans to the community, in such a way that they meet the overwhelming support of the community" and he will re-run the consultation on cycle superhighway 11. That consultation, by the way, had over 6,000 responses, of which 2/3 supported the cycle superhighway.

I think there are two problems with Goldsmith's approach. Firstly, when is a consultation not a consultation? By promising to re-run the consultation, he gives the impression that he's the sort of person who will keep re-running consultations until he gets what he wants. Not great. There's clearly a large community of people who support the cycle highway plans and some vocal locals who don't. Which community has the most 'rights' here? Only the people who live on these particular streets, or the people who make use of them?

Leader of Camden Conservatives
tweeting about Cycle Highway 11
Secondly, I think it is impossible to design transport infrastructure solely by local community approval. It just doesn't work. At Vauxhall, for example, a handful of residents were very forceful about opposing the cycle highway. If Mayor Zac was in power, would that have meant no safe cycling through Vauxhall? That cycle highway has only been in place for a few months. We know now from TfL that there has been a 73% increase in cycle journeys as a result. And we also know that motor traffic is back to normal. Are we saying that, under a Zac mayorlty, the support of a handful of residents would be more important to him than creating the safe cycle infrastructure through Vauxhall?

The result of this sort of flip-flopping, is that people who are watching Zac Goldsmith are getting more and more shrill in their opinions. On the one hand, some local residents are talking on twitter about waging a 'war' against cycle highways. On the other, it's quite easy for cycling campaigners to really rage against Goldsmith about all of this (and many are).

The noises being made on both sides are getting increasingly ugly.

I think, in large part, because Goldsmith is trying to please everyone on the way and giving both 'sides' fuel to their fire.

I'm trying to give the man a fair reading but his approach feels really unhealthy. I think it shows poor judgment and poor leadership. And that's very worrying for a potential Mayor.

Do people think I'm being reasonable and reading this right?