How new cycling policy could transform London

TxirrindulariakThis post is by Rosie Downes, campaigns manager at the London Cycling Campaign (LCC).

In 2013, the mayor of London Boris Johnson published his Vision for Cycling, a document which we described as “one of the most ambitious plans to promote cycling ever produced by a major UK political leader”. Johnson himself described it as a “profound shift in my ambitions and intentions for the bicycle in London”.  It promised an increase in the total cycling budget to almost £400 million over the next three years; a commitment to delivering future cycle superhighways to international standards, and the development of a London cycling network.

Andrew Gilligan, the mayor’s cycling commissioner, said: “[This] document shows how seriously the mayor has taken his Go Dutch promise to the LCC and the cyclists of London.” The future of London cycling was beginning to look rosy.

Tragically, it took a spate of fatalities before further promises were made, and a long period of inactivity. This time last year was a terrible period, with six cyclists killed on London’s roads in just two weeks, a clear demonstration of the urgent need to redesign our streets. Particular urgency surrounded cycle superhighway 2, which runs from Aldgate to Stratford; a route on which six cyclists have died since 2011, the worst casualty record for any similar road in London. A consultation on an upgrade to the route, which would introduce protected space for cyclists, has recently closed.

The new plans mark a step change in cycling ambition
But it feels like we’re on the cusp of seeing real change. Over the past six weeks, Transport for London has been running a public consultation on two new cycle superhighways: an east-west cycle superhighway from Tower Hill to Acton; and a north-south cycle superhighway from Elephant and Castle to King’s Cross. On both routes, road space would be reallocated from motor traffic to provide protected space for cycling. This is a change proposed in response to how Londoners are using our roads: cyclists make up 24 per cent of all rush hour traffic in central London, and make up almost half of rush hour traffic at points on these routes.

The two routes would meet at Blackfriars, where LCC organised flashride protests over the failure to provide safe space for cycling after the station’s renovation. Now, as the proposed cycle superhighway junction, it could become the iconic location for the transformation of London into a city with real space for cycling.

Two routes, of course, don’t make a cycle network. But what these new superhighways represent is a serious commitment to reallocate road space from motor traffic to cycles. They offer a glimpse of what London could be: a city where the tens of thousands who want to cycle, but don’t dare in the current conditions, feel able to do so. A city where children are able to cycle to school and enjoy the benefits, rather than a city where a third of children leave primary school obese or overweight. A city which enjoys clean air, rather than failing to meet EU limits on airborne pollution. A city with streets as safe and inviting for cyclists as they are in Holland.

The north-south and east-west cycle superhighways consultation closes this Sunday (9 November 2014). The response to them has been overwhelmingly positive. Politicians from all parties have spoken out in support. Academics and architects have penned public letters, welcoming the plans. Large employers including Microsoft, Orange, Deloitte, RBS, Allen & Overy and the City of London Police have also responded to the consultation in support of the plans. Almost 6,000 people have written to Transport for London through the London Cycling Campaign website, and countless more have responded to the consultation directly.

Investing in cycling is good for everyone
These proposals aren’t just good for cyclists, they’re good for everyone; and they’re essential to keep London moving as there will be a 40 per cent increase in people working in central London over the coming decades.

A small but powerful minority have opposed the plans. Canary Wharf Group has led a campaign against the proposals, issuing a briefing against the superhighways. But the public response to their opposition is telling. Peter Walker wrote in The Guardian that the “opposition to London’s segregated cycle lanes is living in the past”; Chris Boardman, Olympic medallist and respected cycle campaigner, wrote that “the limo-users’ view of how London is governed, like their view of how London travels around, feels out of date.” At a local level, London’s boroughs are waking up to the need to provide safe space for cycling, with 45 per cent of councillors pledging support for LCC’s Space for Cycling campaign.

There is a long way to go before London becomes a city with streets which are as safe and inviting for cycling as they are in the Netherlands. But the past few weeks have demonstrated that the political will is there. Let’s make sure that this glimpse of a great city for cycling becomes a reality.

The consultation ends on 9 November 2014. London Cycling Campaign has set up a tool to enable people to easily respond in support of the proposals at http://bit.ly/superhighways. You can find out more about the plans at www.tfl.gov.uk/cycle-north-south and www.tfl.gov.uk/cycle-east-west.

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