‘Jewish Manifesto’ calls for ‘faster and safer cycle network’

Just spotted this in the Transport section of the London Jewish Forum‘s Manifesto for the 2012 London Mayoral election:

10. Year of the Bike

11. Big Green Jewish – a coalition of organisations in the Jewish Community concerned about environmental issues have declared 2012 the ‘Year of the Bike’. Tackling the impact of transport on the environment more generally, they are campaigning within the community to take pledges on decreasing their carbon footprints by making greener transport decisions, including taking up cycling as a viable and safe alternative when commuting.

12. The proposed Cycle Superhighway 11, running from Marylebone will stop at border of Camden and Barnet, avoiding the Brent Cross Cricklewood development, and not crossing the North Circular, the biggest physical barrier to cycling in North West London. TfL should seriously consider extending the route of CS11 to ensure that residents in Barnet can benefit from better access to a safe and faster cycle network.

I notice that they have Breakfast meetings organised with each of the main Mayoral candidates for Jewish Londoners to come and express their concerns directly. Perhaps one or two of my Jewish readers might wish to attend and and press the case for cycling?

The first of LJF’s candidates breakfasts is on 17 April with Boris Johnson in Golders Green. You can register for the breakfast with Boris and find the dates for the other candidates on the LJF web site.

You may also be interested in the Rabbi Relay Ride.

Finally a belated ‘Chag Pesach Sameach’ to my Jewish readers!

Why we need [to] clear space for cycling on London’s main roads

In July, London Cycling Campaign (LCC) members voted overwhelmingly (58.4%) for ‘Go Dutch‘ to be our single-issue demand for the 2012 Mayoral elections. Our chosen strapline is ‘clear space for cycling on main roads’ – which has attracted some negative comment from those who consider it ambiguous or dilatory in some way. There is particular criticism at the choice of the word “clear”.

Personally, I think the choice of the word ‘clear’ (first proposed by Ben Tansley, Co-ordinator of Brent LCC) is a master stroke. What some seem to have missed is precisely that “clear” is deliberately ambiguous: it is both an adjective and a verb – and the latter form is the most powerful.

Let’s stick the adjective, first. To me, “clear space for cycling” means:

  • Clear from the dangers of cycling in motor traffic: On the busiest roads I expect this to mean separate bike paths, on other roads it might be possible to divert motor vehicles elsewhere (e.g. by closing to through-traffic); most importantly it means not having to play chicken at junctions.
  • Clear from conflict with pedestrians: No-one wants any more painted pavement rubbish.
  • Clear from obstructions: Cycle paths that are properly maintained, free of debris, and certainly no parked cars.
  • Clearly visible: Well sign-posted so it’s easy to know where I’m supposed to go.
  • Clear air: Always a relative thing in London but… cycle routes shouldn’t take me through a load of smog where there’s a convenient, non motor-vehicle clogged alternative.
  • Clear from weather effects: Unlike Islington, remember that cycle paths need proper drainage; unlike Camden, remember to grit them in winter!
  • Clear from slower cyclists in my way: wide enough for me to overtake on my commute to work.

    That’s just a few off-the-top-of my head. I’m sure one could think up many more and indeed LCC will be publishing our comprehensive policy position for Go Dutch, in due course.

    But remember, “clear” is also a verb – that’s where it comes in most useful: Proper cycling facilities cannot be made from thin air. On London’s roads that means space needs to be taken away from other purposes (motor traffic lanes, on-street parking, overly-wide footpaths, etc.) in order to provide good quality, cycle paths that most people would feel safe riding on. The Mayor of London’s Cycling Superhighways have been poor primarily because that political will isn’t there to take road space away from private cars. Lobbying highway engineers to create good facilities is like banging one’s head against a brick wall when the politicians are unwilling to provide them with the road space to do so.

    The cycle paths of Copenhagen are the most visible aspect of that city’s cycling revolution. However, what they hide is the more important enabler – the removal of on-street car parking that previously used to be where many of those cycle paths are today. I can’t find a reference just now but I believe the then Mayor of Copenhagen cited ‘on-street car parking’ as both the single biggest barrier to cycling – and its removal as the single most important step they took. Without creating space they could not have built those cycle paths – which whilst good are still not up to the standards of the Netherlands.

    How much is it right to constrain car use to provide for good cycling facilities? Rightly this is a political issue. Car use is an important part of life, especially in outer London, and politicians risk voters’ wrath if they are seen to unfairly constrain people’s freedom. However there are some points that our representatives need to digest and understand:

    1. Current levels of car use are unsustainable. As London’s population inevitably grows (and remember the working population that commutes in from the shires is far greater than the residential population) we have to find better ways of making use of scarce road space. Private cars just take up far too much of it.
    2. Increasing cycling is much cheaper than building mass transit – and even then there are only so many tube lines we can dig.
    3. Londoner’s want to cycle more but don’t feel it is safe to do so. Transport for London’s 2008 survey showed that 58% of residents of outer London wanted to cycle more and that 32% of outer London households don’t own a car. Providing good cycling facilities will give all these people the freedom to cycle safely.

    Ultimately, the thrust of the campaign is about the verb, not the adjective: we are asking the next Mayor (and the wider public) to clear space for cycling on London’s main roads. We don’t want the same old junk in the gutter.

    Anyone still unclear?

Flashride tomorrow (Friday) 0830am: Why we need to draw a line in the sand over Blackfriars

Blackfriars bridge is a watershed. Despite the hositle environment, there are more bicycles on it in rush hour than any other form of transport and there’s a major opportunity to improve conditions as part of the Crossrail work in the area. Yet unbelievably instead TfL decide to make things even worse for cycling! If not here, then where? If not now then when? Read the background here and join us on the #flashride tomorrow (Fri 20 May) morning at 0830. We’ll be on the south side of the Bridge, outside the Doggett’s pub. Follow @london_cycling for updates.

Since I took over the chairmanship of LCC‘s Campaigns Committee I have found there has been one single, recurring theme frustrating many of our objectives: Transport for London, the quango responsible for the major road network in London is drunk on maximising space for cars at the exclusion of all other road users. Now in the right circumstances (e.g. motorways on the outskirts of Greater London) that might well be appropriate. However, on streets in which people, live, work, shop and play that cannot be the case. Our streets must be liveable places where it is pleasant to walk, cycle or just hang out – not ghettos in subservience to a trunk road passing through them. Bridges are particularly important as there aren’t many options to cross the River. As our Chief Executive, Ashok Sinha says “The choice for cyclists shouldn’t be to navigate through a dangerous junction or take a boat.”

Despite the Mayor’s vision of a cyclised city, Transport for London are failing to delivery the much-vaunted ‘Cycling Revolution‘ because they simply refuse to make space available for quality cycling facilities. Next week the London Cycling Campaign will launch its biggest ever democratic exercise to select a single-issue campaign demand for the 2012 Mayoral election. Not a single one of the four options we’ll be asking our members to vote on is attainable without the political will to make road space available to cycling. That’s why, whilst the menial back-tracking by TfL this last week is welcome we must now make a stand and press for a more equitable allocation of road space.

I hope you will join us on Blackfriars bridge tomorrow morning. If you feel as strongly as we do perhaps you’d consider joining LCC and help us in our mission to achieve a world class cycling city. If nothing else, you’ll get to vote on our headline demand for the next Mayor (and discounts at virtually all good local bike shops).

Fixed term parliaments: whether 4 years or 5 we need a single political cycle

This evening, I caught the end of the debate on the third reading of the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill in the House of Commons, on BBC Parliament. Whilst the government carried the vote Clegg did seem to fumble on the issue of periodic clashes between future elections to the UK parliament and elections to devolved parliaments and assemblies.

The arguments for and against both the principle and length of fixed term parliaments have been well exercised. Personally I am in favour as I think it is perverse for the Prime Minister to be able to call an election whenever they feel it will benefit them – even if there have been well-cited examples of them making the wrong call. I also prefer 4 years (as it seems do most academics and other constitutional experts) rather than 5 but I’m relatively relaxed about that.

The key issue that the government does need to address, and which I hope the Lords will force them to give due consideration to, is that the country really needs a shared political cycle. Many of the MPs making the case for 4 years raised the point that we could align elections so that elections to parliament and devolved bodies were in different years. The key point here is not the period but the principle that all elections (councils, mayors, police commissioners, devolved bodies as well as parliament) have the same period. If the government really believe that 5 years is a better period than 4, then they should bring forward legislation to put all other elections on a 5 year cycle too.

The overwhelming advantage of a 4 year cycle is that all other elections in the UK (bar those to the European Parliament, which operates on a 5 year cycle) are already on a 4 year cycle. Together with it being the norm (as opposed to the maximum) for parliamentary terms, this means that a 4 year fixed term cycle would bring the least disruption at a time when all public servants have much else to focus their time on.

There is a related problem with the bill. It contains provision for early elections, which is understandable. However, following an early election the next election takes place 5 years later, messing up the cycle. An early election should be a special election for the remainder of the parliamentary term so as to maintain the cycle. Of course there can be a proviso that if there less than, for example, one year, of the parliamentary term remaining, then the early election covers the next parliamentary term – and so the subsequently elected parliament would sit for an extra year. (That’s another reason for keeping the fixed term to 4 years, btw, so that in early election circumstances the maximum would be 5, as now, not 6).

4 years or 5, it’s the government’s call. But they should pick one and align everything to it.