Londoners are still waiting for the cycling revolution they were promised

In words the mayor committed to increasing both the safety and number of cyclists in the capital. In action he is spending only one per cent of the transport budget on cycling.

In words the mayor committed to increasing both the safety and number of cyclists in the capital. In action he is spending only one per cent of the transport budget on cycling

In May 2008 the mayor promised to make London a genuinely cycle-friendly city. He got off to a bad start – scrapping his predecessor’s London Cycling Network (LCN) programme immediately after taking office.

This morning, seven years later, it was announced that Boris’ first cycle ‘quietway’, a concept not dissimilar to the LCN he scrapped seven years earlier, would open next May.

The quietways, essentially backstreet cycle routes, will provide an excellent alternative for less confident cyclists as well as those who just want to avoid London’s incredibly busy main roads.

Cycling in the capital can feel daunting, which is why these quietways are so welcome.

What is disappointing though, is that it has taken seven years for Boris Johnson to start putting in the quality cycling infrastructure we so badly need. Whilst cycling projects are now starting to come to fruition, too much of the cycling revolution we need to see will be left to the next mayor.

The quietways came after a number of other questionable projects. Boris raised big hopes after pledging to improve cycle safety by reviewing the 500 cycle accident hotspots, and triple the number of Cycle Superhighways to 12 by the end of 2015.

Sadly though, many of those expectations remain unfulfilled. To date only four Cycle Superhighways have been completed, and those which have, faced significant criticism and have been the location of a number of accidents and deaths.

Many of the others have vanished from Boris’ agenda entirely.

With only four routes in operation and one of them, CS2, having to be completely re-done, it’s hardly a resounding success. As has been pointed out in the past, some blue paint on a road doesn’t make a cycle lane.

The mayor’s failure to live up to the Cycle Superhighways hype can partially be explained by the fact the early years of his administration were marked by a refusal to give cycling a clear priority in the allocation of road space.

He favoured ‘smoothing the traffic’ – relieving car traffic congestion – above the promotion of environmentally friendly cycling, walking and public transport. The consequences were clear – with a finite amount of road, the mayor needs to make choices about how to use it. The status quo and some blue paint was never going to cut it.

On junction improvement work it’s been a similar story. The review started with 500 in 2012, which was then whittled down to 100 prioritised for work, and by June this year the mayor announced that only 33 would actually see work to improve them.

How much of this work will be done by the time he leaves office is a completely different, and unanswered, question.

We have asked TfL to provide us with a list of the 500 junctions they originally reviewed. They refused, leaving us forced to use FoI requests to get any information. Given that the list of junctions has gone from 500 to 100 to 33 it is not surprising the mayor is embarrassed to share information on his progress.

The failure to make more of London’s junctions safer for cyclists and pedestrians is dramatic. From grand ambitions very little has grown.

In 2013/14 the London Assembly Transport Committee’s report, Gearing Up, asked that at least £145m be spent on cycling in London. That’s equivalent to two per cent of TfL’s budget and reflects that two per cent of journeys are made by bike.

Despite finding transport money for a giant trampoline, an underused cable car and millions for an always doomed Estuary Airport bid, Boris only plans to spend £74m on cycling this year. That’s £71m less than the Assembly recommended.

In words the mayor committed to increasing both the safety and number of cyclists in the capital. In action he is spending only one per cent of the transport budget on cycling. Words alone won’t make cyclists safer.

Of the money he has spent, significant amounts have been wasted on projects that are not fit for purpose, and the remaining schemes will not be delivered until after he has left office.

Londoners are ready for a cycling revolution. The public strongly support cycling safety schemes. What London needs now is a mayor who is committed to transforming London and delivering on that vision.

If Boris’ aim was truly a cycling revolution, by 2016 his successor will discover we still have a long way to go.

Val Shawcross is London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark and transport spokeswoman for the London Assembly Labour Group. Follow her on Twitter

One Response to “Londoners are still waiting for the cycling revolution they were promised”

  1. Leon Wolfeson

    The “Boris Bikes” are also *very* heavy and I know quite a few people who tried them a few times and stopped using them because of that.

    (In many cases to go back to their own bikes, admittedly)

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