THURSDAY, 28 JULY 2016
Five years ago
Five years ago today the video below was issued by London Cycling Campaign as part of a consultation exercise with its members to find out what their preferred campaign might be for the 2012 London Mayoral election. In it, I argued that the key first step towards mass cycling is the provision of high-quality segregated cycle tracks on main roads. This overwhelming support this concept gained from the membership led directly to the Love London, Go Dutch campaign, the commitments secured from Boris Johnson, his Mayor’s Vision for Cycling, and the system of quality segregated cycle tracks we now see starting to be developed on the main roads of London, so conspicuously enabling all-abilites, ‘eight to eighty’ cycling in places where this had not be dreamed of before. So I am proud of this.
This is not to decry the proposers of the other three possible campaigns mooted in the video. They all make excellent points. But it was a matter of what was the best, most effective strategy for us to pursue at the stage we were at (and largely still are) in our development of a utility cycling system and culture in London.
Then, proposing this as the first step from where we were, also, I hold, badly underestimated the huge political challenge of creating these calmed neighbourhoods in a political climate where most people cannot imagine everyday transport by bicycle and believe in general that having all possible routes for motor vehicles open is a good thing. The Quietway element of The Mayor’s Vision hit precisely this snag. It turned out, as I expected, that it was actually poltically far easier to carve space for cycling out of main roads by physical segreagtion, than it was to create routes on minor roads by closing rat-runs. Those who depend on car transport typically only think their street should be quieted. The next one, and the next one… they should all be rat-runs to allow them to get places fast. This is a fundamental problem. We have seen that there is not yet political consensus on the general desirability and practicality of low-traffic residential areas in London.
We’ve seen that again and again, in Lambeth (Loughborough Road area), Camden (West Kentish Town), Hackney (London Fields) and so on, where progressive proposals from boroughs for area-wide traffic reduction in residential districts have been defeated by opponents. But, judging from consultation results, and also conversations I have with politicians, we do have consensus that main roads should allow protected space for cycling. We need the calmed neighbourhoods as well, of course, for many reasons beyond cycling, but it looks like being a while still before that argument can be generally won. Then again, a main point about the 2012 campaign was we were trying to influence the Mayor, and he controlled not the neighbourhood roads, but the major ones. So it made sense for the campaign to be calling for stuff that he could bring about directly.
The point about the main road treatments is they really do generate new users, they get people out of their cars and off the buses and tubes, and start to build up the mass of influence we need to get the other, more difficult changes through. That’s why attempting to start with the other stuff wouldn’t be very effective. That’s why I stressed in the video: This is the first step to generating a real, mass cycling culture. The propaganda power of the cycle track carved in granite out of what was previously space ruled by motors is huge, and immediately comprehended by those who have never thought about this subject before, in a way that filtered permeability just isn’t. In other words, as Paul Gannon said to me back in the last century: people cycling on separate tracks on busy roads make other people think I could could do that too to a far greater extent than any other engineering measure or piece of promotion does.