Who would be the best mayor for cycling?

On Friday I went to one of the last of the London mayoral hustings before the election on 5 May, co-organised by London Cycling Campaign and hosted by The Times in their building on London Bridge Road. There were three of us from Enfield Cycle Campaign: David Hilliard and Andrew Larssen, who both cycled from Enfield, and myself (Clare Rogers) who chickened out and took the train.

View from the News Building

View of London Bridge from the 14th floor

The focus of the hustings was cycling and transport. We all went with the question – what will a new mayor mean for cycling in London generally, and specifically for Enfield’s Mini Holland?

The meeting was opened by LCC’s Ashok Sinha with a brief summary of London’s recent cycling history. It was the LCC Love London, Go Dutch campaign for the last mayoral election that directly led to the 2013 Mayor’s Vision for Cycling, with its segregated cycle superhighways and three ‘Mini Hollands’ for outer London boroughs. And again in 2016, all mayoral candidates have signed up to LCC’s pledge for better cycling in London – including a Mini Holland for every outer London borough that wants one.

Ashok at mayoral debate

Ashok Sinha opens the mayoral debate

All six mayoral candidates had two minutes each to give their mini manifestos. The candidates were evenly split between men and women: Sian Berry (Green), Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem), Sophie Walker (Women’s Equality Party), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Peter Whittle (UKIP). I won’t try to cover what everyone said – for the full debate, go here. I will say that the women easily outperformed the men, and Caroline Pidgeon was particularly impressive. Sian Berry’s commitment of 15% of Transport for London’s budget for cycling, and to ‘people-friendly’ walking and cycling investment in every borough, was the best offer on the table.

Sian Berry at mayoral debate

Sian would give 15% of TfL’s budget over to cycling

It seems that many who ‘vote bike’ will vote first for Sian, and then a tactical vote for one of the two frontrunners, Zac or Sadiq. The question is: which one?

I found Sadiq disappointingly vague in his manifesto. After an exciting opening statement that he wanted to make London a ‘byword for cycling’ on a par with Amsterdam and Copenhagen, he was the only candidate not to put a figure on TfL’s spending on cycling. He said that he didn’t want to commit anything until he knew what the budget will be, and that his strategy would be to save money by shaking up TfL inefficiencies, such as paying too many consultants.

Zac was much more specific, including a commitment to spend at least as much as Boris on cycling (£100 million a year over four years). However, while he has signed up to LCC’s pledge, he qualified his commitment to Mini Hollands by saying he would put them in ‘where there is engagement by the local community’. He went on to say that TfL’s consultations have been ‘arrogant’ and the cause of community opposition. I wondered what exactly this meant, given the opposition Enfield’s Mini Holland is facing. Would boroughs simply not qualify for funding if enough residents opposed the Mini Holland ideas with enough noise?

When it came to taking questions I held up my hand until my arm ached but didn’t get picked, so I made a beeline for Zac at the end as he got off the stage.

Asking Zac

We ask Zac: What about Enfield’s Mini Holland?

‘If you were mayor, what would happen to Enfield’s Mini Holland?’ I asked.

The gist of his answer was that decisions like that should be ‘left to local authorities’, and in Enfield’s case, the Mini Holland might end up going back to the drawing board and looking a ‘little different’.

This chimed with an earlier answer he had given about 20mph zones. Sian and Sadiq would implement them across London, whereas Zac said it would depend on each local authority.

Here’s my problem with this approach, which crystallised in my mind after a discussion with LCC staff: leaving everything up to local authorities just won’t work. If schemes are opposed locally, councils could water them down or simply fail to carry them out. Transport for London is not being ‘arrogant’ by rolling out the Mayor’s vision – it is ensuring that urgently needed schemes are put in place are to make space for walking and cycling on our streets, and refusing to let them be diluted. If a Mini Holland borough does not demonstrate that its scheme will be ’transformational’, it will not get the funding. That’s why Enfield Town will, hopefully, lose the three lanes of car traffic going through its high street and gain a nice place to shop – despite the local outcry. This part of the scheme is transformational, and thankfully, TfL would not allow Enfield to water it down even if it wanted to.

Would a TfL under Zac have this kind of backbone?

It doesn’t sound like it to me.

ECC at mayoral debate v.2

Enfield Cycle Campaign has a cheeky photoshoot on the stage

3 mini hollands v.2

Campaigners from all three Mini Hollands: Kingston, Enfield and Waltham Forest

5 thoughts on “Who would be the best mayor for cycling?

  1. Charles Martin

    That’s a great review of last Friday’s Keep London Moving hustings Claire! The question you asked (or attempted to ask), in regard to whether the elected mayor next week will have the backbone to see things through, was very pertinent. A different approach is needed, and the discussion needs to be had. So, here are some of my thoughts. I should add that I was also at Friday’s event on behalf of Get Sutton Cycling (representing the LCC in Sutton).

    Firstly, I am of the view that, at this point in time, the implementation of projects like mini-Hollands are almost inevitably going to be controversial, despite the fact that a prime focus of this type of intervention is about making our streets and places more people-friendly. Secondly, the last thing that I think any of us want is for TfL to allocate funds (substantial or otherwise) on “cycling schemes” at borough level that fail to deliver.

    I don’t think there is any getting away from the fact that communities across London will need to be fully engaged with the process of bringing these transformative proposals into reality. Consequently, and particularly for the next phase of ‘mini-Holland’ type programmes, it will be important for local authorities (who control 95% of the streets, against TfL’s 5%) to make the case for the interventions that will be required (obviously supported by the mayor, London Assembly and TfL) well ahead of the consultation phase on specific schemes. It will not happen otherwise. This is the point Get Sutton Cycling made, in 2015, as part of our response to the consultation on Sutton’s new cycling strategy “Time to make the case, and rise to the challenges”. Basically, if you have the local authorities/residents on-board at the outset, there will be a better outcome. Engagement with the local community needs to be seen as a mechanism to bring about the buy-in, rather than an opportunity to wave the white flag and acquiesce to the opponents. After all, is it reasonable for funding to be made available to boroughs that have not made a robust bid for (relatively) substantial funding, if this bid is not based on the ability to deliver? Give it to those who deserve it. All could deserve it, if they make the case.

    Making the case requires political leadership. And this political leadership is required not just from the mayor (clearly important), but also from the leader of every local authority across London. The effectiveness of political leadership at borough level will inevitably vary from borough to borough. In boroughs where currently many of the residents just don’t consider cycling as a realistic transport option (despite half of all journeys in some outer London boroughs being under 5km, and up to 40% of motor journeys being “potentially cycleable”), and where driving is a habitual life-style choice, there will, in particular, be a requirement for a strong leadership (derived from a clear understanding of the issues) if progress is to be made. Residents will need to be convinced that interventions, which at first will almost inevitably be perceived by many as making life a little more difficult (for example, point-closures on residential streets, relocation of parking), are actually a small price to pay in the big scheme of things. Communities will need to be aware of the issues, understand why there is a need to do things differently, and appreciate how they can all play their part. In this way, the process of engagement will have began, prior to any substantial funding having been made available. Subsequent, specific, local consultations will not then be seen quite as a much as a threat, or a shock, to the system. The case would have previously been made, and consultations will be firmly based on a strategic approach.

    Well, that’s the theory! But in practice (from our experience in Sutton, and two years on from Space for Cycling ‘ward asks’ phase 1) conversations between councils, and the communities they represent, tend not to be particularly strategic or joined-up. Despite the production of a vast array of ‘frameworks’, ‘plans’, ‘visions’ and ‘strategies’, the issues that appear to matter to local councillors (at community engagement level at least) are the “here and now”. It tends to be all about where to put new hanging baskets, how the Christmas lights could be improved upon next year, and, of course, parking (which in itself is an opportunity to discuss wider implications for transport but which is rarely, if ever, taken). And unless that approach at the local level changes, perhaps through directives from the mayor’s office, the case for introducing innovative and transformative mini-Holland type interventions, public realm enhancements that can really make a difference to all our lives for the better, will take that much longer to realise.

  2. Clare Rogers Post author

    Really good points Charles – thanks for taking the time to comment.

    In Enfield the local authority really does get the wider benefits of the Mini Holland scheme. And they are pressing ahead with it. The problem seems to be in how to communicate those benefits to a large number of opponents who are now entrenched in their ‘anti’ position, and who are quite effective (and well-resourced) at spreading their propaganda. It’s very frustrating, for council and campaigners alike!

    Sounds like you are doing a great job in Sutton, also in frustrating circumstances.

  3. Jim Bush

    Thanks for the summary of the LCC/The Times’s transport/cycling hustings on Friday morning, Clare.
    I recently heard that if he is kept on by the new mayor, Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan is considering giving up on Quietways because the boroughs are so unwilling/unable to implement them, and instead he would concentrate cycling funding on building superhighways on most TfL roads (the TLRN network of roads) because the boroughs have no control over TfL roads so can’t be obstructive. This will suit cycle commuters and those who can cope with jousting with motor vehicles on main roads, but will be no use in encouraging those who don’t cycle at the moment because of the danger caused by motor vehicles to start cycling !?!

    1. Clare Rogers Post author

      Jim – I’m so sorry I missed this comment when you posted it! Still getting to grips with how this website works. I hadn’t heard that about Gilligan and I guess it’s a moot point now he’s moved on! I wonder what Sadiq’s take on quietways will be.

      Thanks for commenting, Clare

  4. Charles Martin

    Thanks Clare. It’s great that the local authority gets the wider benefits of the Mini Holland scheme. The next stage, finding the answer as to how best to communicate those benefits to the opponents and naysayers, is something we all wish you well with. When you get there, please share the lessons learned from the process. They will be invaluable. Not just for us, but possibly for the next mayor too!

    Just remember, whenever the going gets tough, the rest of us are fully behind all the work you are doing in Enfield (and, of course, the work of the other two pioneering boroughs, Waltham Forest and Kingston).

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