Andrew GilliganTue 5 Jun 2018 07.00 BST
Sadiq Khan should take heed of the evidence and push on with the changes needed to keep cyclists safe on London’s roads
A cyclist uses part of the new Cycle Superhighway in Kennington, London. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The decay of London’s cycling programme is starting to cost lives. In the last three and a half weeks, three cyclists have been killed at locations where schemes to make the road safe, or provide a safe alternative route, have been watered down or stopped under the mayoralty of Sadiq Khan.
On 11 May, Oliver Speke died after a collision two days earlier with a lorry at Romney Road, Greenwich. On 18 May, Edgaras Cepura was killed by a lorry on the same road, a mile or so to the east. There was supposed to have been a new cycle superhighway avoiding Romney Road by now, and a safe, segregated junction at the roundabout where Cepura was killed. Both schemes were postponed indefinitely after Khan came to office.
On Sunday, in Deptford, came the third cyclist death, on one of the many unquiet parts of the “Quietway” network: a nasty rat-run which we proposed should be closed to motors. A half-hearted one-way-only closure, widely ignored by traffic going both ways, has been introduced instead.
Khan’s walking and cycling commissioner, Will Norman, tweeted that his “thoughts and prayers” were with Cepura’s family. Without presuming to speak for them, I don’t want City Hall’s thoughts and prayers: I want its picks and shovels.
The failure to get started on much is all the worse because there is now, for the first time, categorical evidence from London of something we already knew from almost everywhere else where cycling improvements have been tried: they are vote-winners, or at the very least not vote-losers.
In New York, the bike lane on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West was once described as “the most controversial slab of cement outside the Gaza Strip.” Last week, the city’s mayor, Bill de Blasio – re-elected by a landslide six months ago after a pledge to increase cycle tracks – announced that it would be extended along Ninth Street.
Later this month most roads in Central Park will become permanently traffic-free . In a popular de Blasio election pledge, Prospect Park went car-free in January. Khan, by contrast, has spent more than two years dithering about whether to close some of the gates to Regent’s Park, pitiably spooked by the protests of a few nimbys.
He should look at last month’s London local election results: the first real political test of the wave of schemes installed or proposed under his predecessor, Boris Johnson, for whom I was cycling commissioner. The lesson couldn’t be clearer.
In Swiss Cottage, the council ward just north of Regent’s Park, local Tories mounted a major effort against the gate closures, and a gyratory removal which is also part of the scheme. They lost all three of their seats to Labour candidates who supported the plans (the local Labour-controlled council, unlike Khan, has always strongly backed the scheme). Labour’s vote went up by 10.2%, substantially more than the borough average.