With just a few weeks to the London mayoral election the candidates face an unlikely challenge: having to include cycling on their manifesto. Groups such as Londoners on Bikes are lobbying all the candidates, analysing their policies, and announcing their voting recommendation in an election that seems set to be different.
By Ion Holban
As a London cyclist, I have come to accept the dangers of commuting to work in London. I had my share of close calls, road rage and know of many others that had serious injuries on London’s roads. Statistics show that over the last 5 years, the top 20 worst cycling junctions in London had over 700 crashes involving cyclists with one junction alone ( Elephant and Castle north roundabout) counting 74 crashes ( cycleinjury.co.uk ). Last year saw 16 cyclists killed in London and the city of London faces a £300 million fine from the EU for its poor air quality. London Assembly research indicates that more than 4,000 premature deaths occur each year in the capital as a result of respiratory conditions. Up until recently, my main reaction was simply to try and adapt by wearing a high visibility jacket, helmet, reducing my speed and trying to use mostly secondary and residential roads on my trip. But most cyclists in central Londondon’t have the luxury of choosing quieter roads for their commute.
Today, after only a few weeks of campaigning with New Environmentalist for safer cycling I am already wondering why we haven’t done this earlier. I guess that’s probably because we didn’t know any better.
London cyclists have not been united in strong lobbying groups, at least not until London Cycling Campaign (LCC) started. Furthermore, the charitable status of LCC and that of many other cycling organisations prevents them from taking part in politics. Cyclists don’t help themselves either: they tend to enjoy their solitude on their bikes and do not easily congregate in a group. There have been a few occasions where while taking part in a protest ride, we came across many weekend lycra cyclists on their race bikes that didn’t even bother stopping to ask what are we protesting against. One of my fellow volunteers joked that if we were to advertise the protest ride in Barnet last month as a sportive event we would have probably got double the number of participants. That is why the idea of cyclists voting with their bikes seems a bit far-fetched to start with.
If cyclists in London were not able until recently to organise themselves in simple groups then surely the concept of us speaking together with one voice in the mayoral election will remain an abstract, if well intended, idea. Or will it? Well, the numbers tell a different story: cycling is rapidly increasing in all major cities, and even according to TFL’s own (watered-down) data, they’re expecting a 400 per cent increase in cyclists by 2026 in London, compared with 2001 levels. Over 1 million Londoners already own a bike and in the last month alone over 24,000 Londoners signed up to the LCC’s Go Dutch Campaign with thousands expected to take part in an organised “Big Ride” on the 28 th April 2012. Now, imagine if only a small per cent of these numbers decide to vote with their bike?
This is why groups such as Londoners on Bikes play a crucial role in trying to influence a change. Formed specifically for the mayoral elections on 03rd May 2012, they are non party-political, and the premise is simple, that we should vote specifically for whichever mayor will do most to make London’s roads nicer and safer for cyclists and pedestrians across our city. Some might argue that there are greater issues for the next London mayor to focus on such as the economy, health and social services. That’s a fair point, but if we look at these issues closer we can see that cycling is not as remote as envisioned: if more people cycle instead of driving for their daily commute than we will have less congested roads and less pollution. Less traffic on the roads tends to increase quality of life for the locals and the value of properties in the immediate vicinity. A daily dose of cycling also helps with living healthier lives and puts less pressure on the NHS.
Why the mayoral election? The simple answer is that in London the mayor has the executive power over the city’s transport policy. Unlike the economy, health, social services and other complex issues that have multiple parties involved, the transport policy is the ONE thing the mayor really controls. The message from us to the next mayor is therefore quite simple: cyclists can no longer be ignored by politicians as we now have the required numbers. London is changing fast and increasing numbers of cyclists will take to the roads even if they’re not safe yet. But it’s up to you, the politicians – to choose if you wish to address the issue before it becomes even more dangerous or just deal with the clean up after. The change will happen regardless because cycling is already more than just a simple activity for many of us – it’s slowly becoming a way of life: one with less pollution, safer roads, strength in numbers and less of a congested public transport system. And that is why I’ll be voting with my bike next month.
How to get involved:
Sign the Londoners on Bikes petition:
Register to vote – the deadline is the 18th April so if you haven’t registered already, just follow the link:
Join us in the LCC “Big Ride” on the 28 th April:
LCC’s in depth summary of mayor’s candidate policies on cycling:
Sign up to The Times “Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign”:
Record levels of air pollution in London during March 2012:
For more information on the Mayor’s election please follow the links below: