The next mayor must focus specifically on making cycling safer and more appealing in the outer boroughs
As Boris Johnson’s time at City Hall nears its end, central London is finally starting to look a bit more welcoming for cyclists. Sections of world-class cycle infrastructure have been built across Vauxhall Bridge and along the Embankment.
Transport for London (TfL) – the mayor’s transport authority – predicts congestion will get much worse in the years to come, so getting Londoners to switch from car to bike is essential.
But in outer London where two-thirds of the capital’s cycling growth potential lies, even the mayor’s own roads task force concedes cycling has flatlined. Why? Look at the mayor’s spend on cycling since 2008.
Inner London has benefited from £314m of cycling schemes, while outer London benefitted to the tune of just £75m.
The mayor splurged £174m on the cycle hire scheme – that’s almost double the amount he spent on the cycle superhighways and safer junctions programmes combined. Yet the 10,000 bikes and 700 docking stations of that scheme are a perk only for the centre.
Of the mayor’s promised 12 superhighways, only five will have been completely finished by the time he leaves office.
This in itself is disappointing but looking specifically at the routes that will get built by the spring, the inner boroughs will be the biggest winners again.
In the suburbs, only Haringey, Barking and Dagenham and Merton will host any superhighway by then. Yes, building the superhighways has been disruptive. There has been talk of scrapping the remaining routes in the programme. But that would be the wrong thing to do.
London absolutely must have a network of fast, direct routes from the suburbs to the city centre if we are to see the level of mass cycling we need to ensure London’s transport network doesn’t grind to a halt.
The next mayor must see the entire programme through.
I learned recently that just 14 of the 100 junctions shortlisted for cycle safety improvements by the mayor are in outer London. Research shows that intimidating roundabouts and dangerous-looking roads are the biggest reasons why people are reluctant to take up cycling.
The suburbs are awash with road collision blackspots, and without tackling these major barriers to cycling and reducing danger, getting around on a bike isn’t going to seem like a good idea to many in outer London.
Whoever follows Boris Johnson needs to prioritise junctions with the highest numbers of casualties, and sort those out first.
In terms of a cycle-friendly solution for car-dominated outer London town centres, the next mayor should learn from the failure of Boris Johnson’s Biking Boroughs programme. With a tiny budget – just £300k each for 13 outer London boroughs over three years (2011/12 – 2013/14) – there wasn’t enough money to do the essentials such as building safe ways for cyclists to cross rail lines and trunk roads.
So the money went on promotional activities and road signs when the focus should have been on road danger reduction. As a result the programme did little to boost cycling numbers.
The Mini Hollands programme, taking off now after a slow start, looks like it could transform cycling in Enfield, Waltham Forest and Kingston. As the benefits of cleaner air and more pleasant local town centres become clear, the next mayor could find every outer London borough wants one.
He or she should be ready to fund this initiative in every outer London borough. Local council leaders need to play their part too, as Boris Johnson stressed to me last month.
So when I look back on Boris Johnson’s record, I see a lot of dither and delay. But in the completed section of superhighway 5 that I recently tested and in the fledgling Mini Hollands, I see world class cycling infrastructure that looks safe, feels safe and – if replicated in the suburbs – could turn the whole of London into a cycle-friendly city.
The next mayor must pick up where Boris leaves off, see his programmes through and focus specifically on making cycling safer and more appealing in the outer boroughs so that all Londoners can benefit.
You can read my report on this here.
Darren Johnson is a London Assembly Member for the Green Party. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.