Tuesday 20 May 2014

Support the Space for Cycling Campaign

A few of the 5000 people on the Big Ride in support of the Space for Cycling Campaign
The London Cycling Campaign is running its Space for Cycling Campaign in the lead-up to the local (and European) elections this Thursday. If live in London, and haven't already done so, I urge you to visit the Space4Cycling website and enter your postcode. The site generates an automatic email to send to all the local election candidates (for whom it has been possible to find email addresses) asking them to support a measure in your council ward, agreed by the local campaign, based on one of the six campaign themes:
  1. Protected space on main roads and at junctions
  2. Removal of through motor traffic from minor roads
  3. Cycle routes through green spaces
  4. 20 mph speed limits
  5. Cycle (and pedestrian) friendly town centres
  6. Safe cycle routes to schools
The themes, and the policies behind them, are explained further here.

There is a national campaign Space for Cycling campaign as well, for those outside London, being co-ordinated here by CTC, based around similar demands.

With one day left to the poll, 41% of candidates across Greater London say they are supporting the asks for their ward. It's an impressive result for a clever campaign. The cleverness lies in it being highly specific and geared to the local elections in being hyper-local in its demands, yet those demands all being tied to broad policy themes. It doesn't allow politicians to get away with mouthing platitudes about wanting to "encourage cycling". To count as supporters, they have to agree with exactly what is being asked for in their ward, and all those things that are being asked for very specifically contribute to the overall strategic objectives. It's a centrally-directed and coordinated local campaign. It's a move on from the days when we just asked politicians to propose what they would like to do for cycling. It is far more pro-active, far more agenda-setting. We know that what we require is not just isolated measures, but joined-up policies, but the cleverer local campaigns have structured their ward asks so that, if they were all really done, they would join up, complement one another, and form the basis for a high-quality core cycle network usable by people on bikes of all capabilities. The campaign also relies on the policy decisions taken at the last LCC AGM, to campaign for one network for all cycling abilities, built to specific standards in terms of the speed and volume of motor traffic with which sharing is tolerated.

Now I don't believe for a moment that after the elections we will suddenly get all these cycle tracks built and road closures put in and we will be living in a slightly less tidy version of the Netherlands. I doubt that many of the candidates fully understand the implications of what they are signing up to. It will be the job of campaigners in the next five years to keep on telling them and pushing them to honour what they have signed-up to: the campaign will not end at the election, it will enter a new phase. It's noticeable that candidates seem very willing to sign up to major roadspace reallocation proposals on big roads, but relatively unwilling to agree to simple measures like road closures on small roads to eliminate rat-running traffic. I can see why. The second category includes very precise and limited demands that it would be impossible to wriggle out of later. Thought the first category also includes measures that are precisely-defined, the "asks" can't go into details of all the concomitant changes that will be required: junction and signal redesigns, movement of car parking spaces, and movement of obstructions such as street furniture and trees: in short, general street re-designs. 

It is these that will of course allow candidates to try to wriggle out of their commitments when elected. They will soon start claiming it is all to difficult, that they didn't understand the problems that have to be solved. Their true commitment will become clear when opposition gets organised by, for example, taxi drivers wanting to preserve one of their traditional back-street short-cuts (the opposition that crippled Camden's pioneering Severn Stations Link route), or local traders get together to oppose the removal of car parking spaces immediately outside their shops, which they misguidedly believe are essential to their continued solvency. As the London Cycling Commissioner Andrew Gilligan said at the rally after the Big Ride in support of the campaign on Saturday, the next six months will be a test of strength between the pro and anti-cycling political forces in London.

The main thing that the campaign does is to start to get the arguments through to local politicians, who form the grass roots of the whole political system, about how our streets could be far better designed to facilitate both walking and cycling, with clear and specific examples. Many of these politicians who previously haven't had a clue about the subject, even if they still don't agree, or intend to do anything much, should at least get to understand that this is a big issue to a substantial proportion of their electorate.

If you have already sent your message to your local candidates, in the last day before the election, try to get all your friends and work colleagues and neighbours to send their as well. One thing about this campaign quite separate to its cycling theme is that it is actually succeeding in raising the profile of the local elections in London, which is welcomed by all the candidates. It also demonstrates to them that the cycling campaigners are well-organised, resourced, and a force to be reckoned with.

Another shot of the Big Ride on Saturday. The campaign is for safe roads and independent mobility for everyone from the guys in the blue to the guys in the trailer.