One of those who stood against Sadiq Khan to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor has called upon all those standing in next month’s elections, from borough councillors upwards, to show some leadership, abandon the tendency of following the path of least resistance by depending on focus groups, and instead to “be brave” over introducing innovative transport policies, particularly for cycling.
Transport journalist and historian Christian Wolmar drew widespread support for his campaign last year from members of the London Cycling Campaign as he advocated policies – pedestrianising some of the capital’s key roads, starting with Oxford Street; broading the Congestion Zone and increasing the charges; backing Quietways and 20mph zones – which were all intended to reduced traffic levels on our streets and improve air quality.
Yesterday, he published a call to arms ahead of May’s London vote in which he reminded all the candidates – including the supposedly environmentally friendly Tory, Zac Goldsmith – to grasp the opportunity which election to City Hall might offer.
Wolmar compared the increasing popularity of cycling on our roads today to the much smaller number of people using their bikes to get about the city 20 years ago.
“The idea that there would soon be a stream of people on bikes every morning would have seemed fanciful,” he wrote on his own website.
“This change has not come about by accident. It has happened because of various decisions by politicians over the years – like the creation of the patchy but at times effective London Cycle Network by Ken Livingstone, of the introduction of a 20mph zone… of the erection of barriers in residential streets to stop rat-running, of the provision of cycle parking and so on.
“Many of these changes will have been fiercely opposed at the time. Some proposed changes that might have made things better will even have been thrown out. However, this collection of measures, even if they are at times half-hearted, has had a remarkable effect.
“Cycling is now a key part of the city’s transport system. Therefore, you, as mayoral candidates and local politicians have to be brave.
“Asking people if they want a cycle route through their street and therefore it may take a bit longer to get out to the main road is not the right question.
“The right question is: ‘Do you want your kids to be able to cycle to school? Do you want cleaner air? Do you want to encourage people to be more active by cycling and reduce the burden on the NHS?’
“Just because a few people might have a small amount of inconvenience is not a reason to stop schemes from happening.
“This is about leadership, about knowing what you want and working to implement it. It is not about asking focus groups what they think and trying slavishly to appeal to them. Of course politicians have to listen, but they also have to know what they want and to show that they are prepared to take risks to get there.
“What has happened with cycling in London is transformational. The culture of the city is changing towards a more sustainable and, dare I say it, a happier way of life. It is not just about cyclists, either. Roads that are better for bikes are better for people, too. There is no middle way, here. You are either on board for this transformation, or you are not. You either get it or don’t.
“The question is, do you want to be on the wrong side of history?”
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