Wednesday, 8 June 2011

London's Conservatives declare war on pedestrians and cyclists? Why I don't want to be a second-class citizen on London's roads

Updated Thursday morning, even the AA President thinks Blackfriars needs to be improved for cyclists, see updated post here.


This might sound a bit far-fetched. But at today's London Assembly, the Conservative party Assembly Members actually walked out of the debating chamber and thereby made it impossible for the Assembly to debate Jenny Jones's motion to make Blackfriars Bridge a 20mph zone.

The motion was by no means perfect. But it was a step towards civilising this deeply unpleasant junction. A space that is as nasty on foot (or in a wheelchair) as it is on a bicycle.

The London Cycling Campaign has provided an excellent analysis here of what Blackfriars signifies. As the LCC puts it: "The vote about no less than the future direction of London's transport policy." I'd urge you to read the LCC review. It sums up the opinion of many cyclists and walkers.

The Conservatives seem to have decided they don't care about London's transport policy, at least not as far as pedestrians and cyclists are concerned. They can't even be bothered to debate it  in this instance.

In my humble opinion, the Conservatives have declared they are utterly indifferent to walking and cycling. It's not just about Blackfriars. It's about Richmond and it's about Finchley. And in my view, not only have they slapped walkers and cyclists in the face, but they haven't even waited around to be slapped back.

A cabbie contacted me after this post and said this: "If pedestrians only crossed at red [sic] lights and cyclists kept to the cycle lanes there wouldn't be a problem at all". In a soundbite kind of way way he's right. But that's not the issue. The issue is there are no cycle lanes. And where there are, they're almost useless. All over London. And likewise, the issue is that if you want to cross many of London's main roads, you often have to worm their way through several cattle pens.

When I started this blog, I did not do so to be political. I'm not a Tory-basher any more than I'm a Labour, Green or LibDem fan (or basher, for that matter). But today, I feel like I trusted the political process to debate a serious issue about my safety on a bicycle in London. It's my first foray into politics and I naively trusted that the Tories would listen to the Jenny Jones motion with the same seriousness that encouraged hundreds of people to write to TfL about making Blackfriars less anti-cycling and less anti-pedestrian.

It's largely because of that naivety that I have ended up feeling the Conservative Party in London showed that they don't give a damn about me or people like me who walk and cycle more than we drive. I drive too but I want to live in a City where I can walk and cycle and not feel like a second-class citizen on our roads. That is exactly what the Conservative Party is suggesting it thinks I am.

I understand perfectly well the Conservative party has other issues around today's debate. And in fact, James Cleverly has done a good job of trying to explain some of those issues on his blog here and Andrew Boff has been quite rightly pointing to issues around the voting in of the Assembly chair on twitter. And I don't have any issue with what they're trying to defend. My issue is that we expect our politicians to represent us. Not to focus on which motions they want to support and to walk out when things don't go their way. Because, actually, that just feels like low-level and very transparent politicking rather than dealing with the matters at hand.

I wonder if it's time cyclists and walkers of London united and made the point a little more loudly that they want and deserve better?

If you are represented by a Conservative GLA member - all of whom were absent from the Assembly chamber when the 20mph motion came up so as to prevent Blackfriars being discussed - please consider writing to them to express your shock and concern:

Reactions from today's events:


Green Party reaction:
At today's plenary meeting, a motion in Jenny Jones's name, which called for the 20mph limit on Blackfriars bridge to stay, was tabled. Unfortunately, this did not get discussed because some members left the chamber making the Assembly meeting inquorate, and thus unable to pass or reject any motions.
We recognise that this is an unfortnate outcome for cyclists. We hope there will be a possibility for this motion to be tabled for a future meeting. In the meantine, Jenny will continue to actively lobby TfL and the mayor on this issue.

Labour Party reaction:
Conservative members of the London Assembly today walked out of the plenary meeting in order to prevent a motion on a 20mph limit for Blackfriars Bridge from being debated. The walkout left the plenary inquorate and the Chair had no option but to abandon the meeting.
Local London Assembly member, John Biggs said: “It is absolutely outrageous that Conservative members of the London Assembly cannot even be bothered to debate this very important issue. Only last week there was another accident on the bridge. Conservative members should not play games where the safety of vulnerable Londoners is concerned.”

Local London Assembly member, Val Shawcross said: 'The motion was simply focused on cyclists concerns about safety on London's road crossings and it's unbelievable that the members of the Conservative group apparently found this issue unworthy of debate'

LibDem reaction
A bad day for cyclists, for London’s environment and for democracy -

Pidgeon and Mike Tuffrey
Commenting on the decision by Conservative Assembly Members earlier today to leave the chamber in City Hall before the key issues of air pollution and cycle safety on Blackfriars Bridge were discussed at a full meeting of the London Assembly, Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group said:
“It is shameful that the Conservative Assembly Members have played student politics today and by walking out of the chamber have sabotaged democratic debate
“Today the London Assembly could have sent out a clear message about the need to ensure that Blackfriars Bridge is made safer for cyclists. Due to the actions of Conservative Assembly Members that key opportunity has been denied. I hope every cyclist who cares about this issue will take note of their actions.

Mike Tuffrey, commenting further on his motion on air quality also being sabotaged said:

“Air pollution is one of the biggest public health issues facing the capital and in a year’s time this capital is supposed to be hosting the greenest Olympics ever held. Sadly it would appear that the view of Conservative Assembly Members is that these issues are not even worthy of debate.”


  1. Oh it's certainly time!

    How about we all do that Blackfriars flashride again, but every weekday morning for a fortnight?

  2. @remerson doesn't that "flashride" happen every morning in rush hour anyway? :)

    I'll be writing to my conservative AM to ask for a response on their actions.

  3. Let's all get naked and cycle around … oh wait … that's world naked bike ride.

  4. If only there was a coherent strategy presented by one of the cycling campaigns which the majority of cyclists would back up. Not one that would say - make it 20, please, but perhaps one that says - we want the entire lane for bicycles here, here and here, upgrade the superhighways and learn for the Dutch. Then at least there would be something to organise flashrides for. And it definitely shouldn't only be Blackfriars bridge.

  5. That's shocking and, frankly, undemocratic.

    I wrote to the three Londonwide Conservertive members yesterday to ask them to support this motion. One of them, Victoria Borwick, replied to say
    "There is a free vote on this from the Conservative side, there is already 20mph on Tower Bridge so I understand there is still discussion on this at TfL"

    Something has obviously changed in the meantime - a walkout doesn't sound much like a free vote.

  6. I'm keen for a flashride - enough is enough. The conservatives seem to be in thrall to the car when all signs point towards an increasing uptake in cycling for every reason.


  7. Thanks for the 'reaction' updates. The behaviour of the Conservative Assembly Members was clearly irresponsible, and probably sinister. I notice that the various reactions from other parties politely say that the Conservatives "didn't think the issue was worthy of debate", when what actually happened was clearly a deliberate sabotage of the motion.

    Has anyone been able to get a comment from the Conservative themselves yet? Perhaps they had a good reason for the walkout. Or perhaps they only had a *bad* reason...

  8. All those other members know EXACTLY why we walked out and they know that it has nothing to do with either clean air or the 20mph zone on Blackfriars bridge. They PRECISELY know that it was to do with the fact that the three parties in the progressive alliance (Lab,Lib, Green) chose to exclude the Conservative members from the chairing of any of the main Mayoral scrutiny committees. This is, in effect, to disenfranchise over a third of Londoners who supported out members. This is not the first time this has happened and it will continue until the 'progressive alliance' allow our members to take their full part in the affairs of the Assembly.
    The Assembly is not a decision making body and motions do not effect the outcome of any decision of the Mayor, TfL or any of the GLA group.
    We stayed in the meeting to do the main work of scrutinising the Police, the newly appointed head of planning and to receive petitions.

  9. @andrewboff,

    sorry, that's just juvenile (and, i suspect, a very lame excuse for taking a position you're not actually comfortable supporting). if you really want to play politics, do it over something less important than the safety of cycling commuters and the health of all londoners. votes in the assembly do matter, as you know, even if they're not binding. if you have been instructed by your political masters not to support any changes to blackfriars, man up and admit it, rather than hiding behind this smokescreen.

  10. Andrew, what upper poppycock. If the Assembly is, as you say, a bit of a gutless wonder, why then debate any motions at all?

    It seems ironic and callous in the extreme that you and your colleagues remained in the Chamber long enough to debate the Motion tabled to give the Ken4London campaign a slap on the wrist for it's General Mladic comments, and rightly so.

    But when it came to debating something you didn't like, or feared you might lose, you threw your toys out of the pram, spat your dummies and flounced out like crossed pre-schoolers.

    Most of the 100s of cyclists and pedestrians who have been writing and petitioning and protesting to TfL and the Mayor et al and trying to convince them that their plans are wrong, and worse still ,dangerous, and were really hoping the motion would give them further support in their efforts to make this a better and safer space for all. They don't care about your fear of the so-called 'progressive alliance' or your petty party squabbles.

    Instead, people who care about whether they live or die on their way to work have been robbed of the chance to achieve an effective means of lobbying the Mayor and Tfl; robbed by you and your colleagues simply because you have an issue with the way in which the voting system works at the Assembly.

    For someone who is paid many tens of thousands of pounds of tax payers money every year in order to be accountable to the electorate, I find that pretty disgraceful.

    Your argument falls flat and I wonder, truly, at the audacity of it all.

    Seeing as you clearly don't believe in the democratic system to which you have been elected I propose you either A.) resign. or B.) more productively actually come up with some solutions to the appalling safety track record on this bridge, which is all any of us out here in the voting world have been trying to do from the start,

  11. @andrewboff

    and, as far as i can tell, the labour/lib dems/greens are doing exactly what they're allowed to do under the rules. the conservatives have the mayorship. the opposition has the chairs. that seems to give a reasonable democratic balance, if no-one starts throwing their toys out of the pram. if you think the rules aren't fair, change them democratically, don't fail your constituents by walking out of an important debate...

  12. @AndrewBoff:

    You're openly admitting that you walked out of the Blackfriars vote for reasons that had nothing to do with the Blackfriars vote?

    Maybe your points about the Mayoral scrutiny chairs have some validity - I don't know, and very few people would care. But playing games with the committee process over a *road safety issue* - where lives are at stake - is completely inappropriate and, frankly, a bloody disgrace.

    Perhaps you think your opponents were ganging up on you over this issue. Maybe they were. But on issues like this one you are under a pretty strict moral requirement to put that stuff to one side, even if it means a temporary disadvantage to you, and vote in favour of safety and sanity. Walking out for purely political reasons is unacceptable. I think you knew that already, but you did it anyway... so who pushed you?

  13. From the start when everyone started to get obsessed with single detail I felt the bigger picture is getting ignored. But I guess it's fine if it gets more people active, hope the momentum continues and the more fundamental issues get addressed as well. If they don't we'll end up fighting every TfL design one at a time - provided they get enough publicity.

    There seems to be little accountability for TfL, and now it seems the body that's supposed to oversee TfL isn't very serious about its job either. I bet there'll be no consequences for anyone who threw a tantrum today. But hey, surely bickering about politics for your own benefit is more important than debating issues that have direct impact on people getting killed or seriously injured.

  14. @andrewboff Picking and choosing your debates is not a campaign, it's anti-democratic. You should be locked in jail for obstructing democracy. And then forced to cycle over Blackfriars bridge in rush hour as part of restorative justice.

  15. A comment from James Cleverly AM (Conservative):

    "It is worth remembering that if the other parties have all their members in the Chamber we cannot collapse anything."

    It seems we need to petition the other members of the assembly for the next time the motion comes up and convince them to be at the discussions. A full assembly of support means that the Conservatives will be unable to play their little games.

  16. I pinged the Camden/Barnet councillor (due to my growing up and family connections), and got the reply

    "The fact that the Labour Party could not keep the meeting quorate is not my problem"

    To be fair to Brian Coleman, he did at least reply within an hour of receiving my email. However, he's failed to realise that he's just politicised an issue that could have stayed party-neutral. He is creating enemies.

  17. It is also worth pointing out that Roger Evans, Victoria Borthwick and Richard Tracey are all Members of The Transport Committee, and so one would have thought that might have a duty to be present when this area of policy was being considered.

  18. I'm afraid that cyclists are considered by many to be second class citizens, especially by Tories. One step below pedestrians in fact.

    Having cycled pretty much daily (but not in London thank god) for nearly 20 years, I have actually noticed an improvement in drivers' attitudes to cyclists, which I guess stems from 'green guilt'.

    If the law had anything to do with moral justice, the situation would be reversed, and cars would be the second class citizens on the roads. They are the ones that take up so much space, the ones which kill people, and the ones which pollute our city skies.

    The law however is all about preserving the status quo, where the landed gentry (or vehicled gentry in this case) are entitled to lord it over the peasantry.

  19. Dear politicians, if you do not want to represent the views of the people who live and work in your constituency and London in general, who perhaps voted for you and who rely on you to ensure their views are heard, then resign. Walking out of a debate just tells everyone that you do not care, this issue has been raised becuase of public outcry. If you have a reasonable argument for you seemingly opposition to this motion, take it to the debating chamber. As it seems you do not, stand down, you clearly have no interest in representing the voters and I hope they now have no interest in being represented by you. Voter apathy is a huge issue in this country, policitians who appear to be incapable of taking part in a debate, who do not respect the views of the electorate do not deserve votes come election time. My personal faith in politicians doing what is right for the borough, city, country, has slowly been returning following the expenses scandal, however things like this do not help.

  20. @compton. Good points. The thing is, we're not the 'peasantry'. What I think the Tories haven't realised is that the people who make the City of London tick are cycling, for example (I focus on that as I've lived here for ages and work here). We're all in it together now except for Tory assembly members from Barnet and outer London who don't get it because they don't see it/mix with people in central London in this way

  21. I may adopt this tactic this afternoon at my place of work - if I feel a job I have to do isn't worth bothering with I'll pop off down the pub for a few hours, and declare it's all the company's fault that they exclude me from the decision process and treat me like...oh wait a minute, that is my job...!?!
    It's a given that most politicians are self serving psychopaths (Jon Ronson anyone?), but it does seem a bit of an oversight in the democratic process that if there is a walkout by XX members the debate is voided.Is it any wonder that the MAJORITY of people simply don't vote at all in general/local elections - must be trickle down theory in action.