Words by Christian Wolmar, prospective Labour candidate for the Mayor of London.
The transformation of cycling in London from a marginal activity only practised by a few stalwarts into a mainstream part of our transport system has at last begun. For the most part, cycling is seen as part of the solution rather than treated with pariah status as it used to be. However, there is still a long way to go before London can be considered as a genuine cycling city on a part with many of its counterparts on the Continent.
The growth in cycling in the capital in recent years has been a grassroots phenomenon. There has been very little action from government, either local or national, that has brought it about. Instead, people have taken to using bikes because they have found it the most efficient means of transport as a pleasant alternative to crowded buses and trains. And once they have discovered the convenience of what is often the quickest way around town, few give it up.
The mayor has to understand cycling which is why I am the only candidate who can offer the real boost it needs, unlike my rivals who are either too scared to cycle on London’s roads or simply don’t think it is a viable way of getting around. Many of the early efforts to encourage cyclists were pathetic token gestures: cycle paths that last just a few feet, ridiculously convoluted attempts to get cyclists through junctions without disturbing the traffic, paths with ‘cyclists dismount’ in the middle and so on. Some have even been counterproductive, increasing rather than reducing the danger to cyclists.
It is only recently that the mayor has begun to understand that cyclists need the right sort of infrastructure to make cycling safer and to attract more on to two wheels. Boris Johnson’s first version of Cycling Superhighways were a terrible misnomer as they were hardly better than patches of blue paint plastered randomly on the highway, but now the two being built through central London represent a real shift to meeting the needs of cyclists.
The next mayor of London has to build on these foundations. I am a bit wary of the very notion of cycling superhighways as they seem to liken cycling to a kind of fast, lycra clad activity which is not the way forward to ensure that it becomes a far more popular mode of travel used by grannies and kiddies alike. Instead, we need a network of good cycling routes.
The first thing is to set a target. At present the modal share is barely 2 per cent across the capital but with investment in infrastructure, started by the superhighways, there is no reason why it could not reach 10 per cent within a decade. Already in central London it is far more than that on many roads.
To reach such a target requires the creation of a Dutch style network of segregated lanes on main roads. The stress on main roads is important for two reasons: first, cyclists on the whole want to go on the quickest route just like anyone else does. Quietways, as slower routes through smaller roads are useful, too, but if cycling is to be a form of transport, then there must be safe routes on main roads. Secondly, it is much easier for the mayor to deliver improvements on main roads since they are part of the Transport for London’s strategic network over which the mayor has direct control.
There is already a considerable budget earmarked for cycling, but if there is a need for more money, then there are funds currently earmarked for the £1bn Silvertown Tunnel which would become available since I would scrap that unsustainable project – and there is a further £30m available that would be withdrawn from the iniquitous Garden Bridge project.
To encourage new cyclists on to the roads to meet the 10 per cent target, the cycle hire scheme should be extended and made cheaper. The cost of using it was doubled by Boris and this is a false economy. Many people using it migrate to purchasing their own bikes and this is a key way of attracting more cyclists on to the roads.
Safety, though, is not just about segregation. That is why I would like to see a default 20 mph zone across London with the only exemptions been parts of the network where it is safe to go faster. This would need to be enforced, which is now technically possible at a relative small cost.
Finally, to guarantee that progress is made, I want to see cycling and walking representatives at the board level of Transport for London. That will ensure that the interests of cyclists and pedestrians are looked after into the future.
This is not just about cyclists. A city that is cycle-friendly is also more environmentally sustainable and has healthier citizens. It also has more of a community feel bringing people together. Cyclists slow down the traffic making the roads safer for all users, although they have little effect on overall journey times, simply making motorists drive more carefully. This has already happened in central London where there is, at times, a critical mass of cyclists improving safety for all. As mayor, I would make it sure it happened throughout the city.
Christian Wolmar is seeking the Labour nomination for the 2016 mayoral election. To support his campaign, become a Labour supporter via www.wolmarforlondon.co.uk/vote by August 12 – and to contact him, email email@example.com
You may also follow his campaign on Twitter @wolmarforlondon