Monday, 18 October 2010

Westminster and the bicycle

Over the weekend, I was invited to a party in a fashionable space in east London.

Lucky me.

Anyhow, who should be there but one of Westminster's Conservative councillors. He shall remain nameless because he was a nice chap. Until we got to the topic of cycling.

His personal view on cycling and TfL's superhighways and cycle hire: "You lot are getting more attention than you deserve."

And then switching slightly, we talked about why Westminster is so doggedly anti-cycling. Now admittedly, the tone was slightly alcohol-infused at this point and this was banter at a party rather than official speaking. At no point did he specifically state this is council policy but he inferred pretty clearly that this is how Westminster tends to think about cycling. He described cycling as being a 'should' and 'should not' issue. Something like this:

"You should be allowed to cycle but you shouldn't need anything from us to help you do it"

"If you don't think [the cycling facilities are good], you should drive."

Fabulous. So a Tory councillor representing the heart of a city where the Tory mayor is trying to create a 'cycling revolution' believes that cycling doesn't require any specific infrastructure and that people should drive around the borough. I tried to point out that he should have tried cycling around Hyde Park Corner before the cycle crossings were put in and see if he, a cycling novice, still believed that there's no need for cycling-specific infrastructure. He wasn't having it.

I'm not sure which of his comments concerned me the most. I think, probably his point about 'us lot' getting more attention than we deserve. If that's the case, something's going very wrong. I don't think most people who cycle rate London's cycling facilities particularly highly. But if our local politicians feel that we are getting a disproportionate amount of the money when things are tight and don't support that focus, then we're in for a rough ride. All the more so, since it's the local politicians who will be deciding the fate of cycling through their new money pot, the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, the supposed vehicle for things cycling-related.

I don't know about you, but almost none of the people I know who use bicycles are using them to be more 'sustainable'. They're using them because they make sense as a way to get around.

I think Mark over at ibikelondon is right: Start your engines, folks. If you want things to improve, you're going to have to shout about it.


  1. 'name and shame' I say, alcohol induced or not. Obviously that is his 'REAL' voice speaking not his 'POLITICAL' voice.

  2. I agree with dsfds - name & shame.

    If this person is pretty open in this environment (at a party), then I suspect this perspective on London cycling is echoed in Westminster and many other Councils.

    Another good but worrying blog.


  3. mc2 - This perspective is completly and utterly shared by many other councils, I fear hyou're right. Thanks for the cmments on the blog too.

    I never asked the guy to publish his comments and didn't give him any context about this blog, which is why I'm in two minds about the name and shame....Mind you, I have done a little research and know he's repsonsible for, guess what, Parking and Transport(ation)...

    Perhaps the motto is that we all need to become councillors.

  4. We are very unlikely to get elected on a pro-cycling manifesto as we're a tiny percentage of the voting public and until the petrol runs out it's likely to remain that way. Dreams of mass cycling are just that 'dreams' because 'the car' is very liberating and is backed by huge corporations with sophisticated lobbying whereas cycling is perceived as unsafe; takes effort; is not convenient (helmet hair for girls etc); ...

    The reality of the car and the daily destruction of lives brought about by the car is tolerated by the general public in a way that an airliner crash or failures of health & safety in the workplace are not. This surprises me but given that any efforts to reduce speed and limit dangers are branded a 'war on motorists' and the police seem unwilling to observe the rules of the road (exceeding speed limits and parking on yellow lines) therefore little is likely to change.

  5. Martin, you're dead right. I'm going to try and address exactly some of those points in a post tomorrow. I don't have the answers either but I have a few ideas. would be interested in your thoughts on tomorrow's post!