London Mayoral Campaign - What's in it for Cyclists?

Londoners - it's all change at the helm. After eight years, Boris is out (a Borxit??) and a new Mayor will be elected on Thursday. Although he didn't live up to all his cycling promises, few can deny that Boris was great for London's cyclists. The challenge now is for Londoners to return someone who will continue Boris's good work and to take cycling in the city to new heights. Before Ride Velo dispatches its crosses into the ballot box, we wanted to take a close look at the candidates' policies before deciding who's best for the mean streets of London. 

  Chris Boardman with Green Party candidate Sian Berry

Chris Boardman with Green Party candidate Sian Berry

Olympic gold medallist and British Cycling advisor, Chris Boardman, has been very busy in the run up to the election meeting and greeting candidates. The main players were eager to be snapped with him. His verdict after chatting to three of them: “Caroline’s [policies] are a natural fit when it comes to supporting cycling. Sadiq is bullish. He’s pledged to double TfL’s spend on cycling — they’re tangible things that you can measure them against,” he told the Londonist.com last month.  

Since having met the all top contenders, he declined to give an outright opinion as to who would be the best mayor for cycling, but had this to say:

“We meet no end of politicians who say they are supportive of cycling, and who recognise the benefits that an increase in cycling levels can bring to society. However, we are also well aware that short-term disruption can sometimes overshadow long-term gain, and that we need strong-willed, decisive political leaders to make decisions which take the bigger picture into account.

“Boris Johnson has been a great example of this, and his determination to turn London into a truly great cycling city has been admirable. While there is still much work to do, he has given his successor the perfect platform from which to continue to improve the lives of ordinary Londoners by promoting and funding sustainable transport.”

  Chris Boardman approved of the Lib Dems' cycling manifesto

Chris Boardman approved of the Lib Dems' cycling manifesto

The London Cycling Campaign has asked that the new mayor join their Sign for Cycling campaign. Great success! The LCC announced last week that five of the front runners had all signed up for cycling. But what does this mean? The campaign calls for all candidates to commit to: a tripling of the Cycle Superhighways programme, creating the opportunity for every borough to have a Mini-Holland scheme of cycling and walking, and to make sure “Direct Vision” lorries become the norm on London’s streets.

LCC Chief Executive Ashok Sinha said: “London is the winner with this fantastic news. It means that both Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan have now committed to meeting the three-point agenda of our Sign for Cycling campaign, and are promising to keep up the momentum achieved in recent years by Boris Johnson, in getting London cycling.

“This comes on top of the support for Sign for Cycling also received from Caroline Pidgeon, Sian Berry and Sophie Walker, meaning that whoever is elected more Londoners of all ages and abilities will be able to cycle safely and enjoyably for everyday journeys." Well great news for London's cyclists - but that still didn't help us choose who to vote for. 

Last Friday saw a Cycling Hustings, hosted by the LCC and the Times newspaper, where six of the candidates outlined their vision for cycling in the city. None of them actually cycled to the hustings, though Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon regularly commute by bike. You can watch a full hour-and-a-half feature-length video of the hustings here: or read the summary here though I can tell you that most of the candidates seemed to be in general agreement about improving air quality and doing something to curb HGV related deaths. UKIP's Peter Whittle even revealed that he'd got rid of his car, as driving in London was 'miserable'!

Caroline Pidgeon

Pressure group Stop Killing Cyclists have analysed the manifestos of Khan, Goldsmith, Pidgeon, Berry and the independent candidate Rosalind Readhead. They came up with a pledge they wanted mayoral contenders to agree to back, called 10 by 2020, which five candidates responded to. You can always rely on Stop Killing Cyclists to be a bit more forthright:

The most important core demand is that 10% of the TfL budget must be allocated to cycling infrastructure by 2020. The current pathetic 1.4% of the budget being spent on cycling safety is an insult to the 12,000 Londoners dying every year from collisions, pollution and inactivity diseases. In response two candidates (Sian Berry – Green Party) and Rosalind Readhead – Independent) supported 10% of TfL budget to be spent on cycling by 2020.
— http://stopkillingcyclists.org/

Following the hustings, Londoners on Bikes released a statement giving their outright recommendations: In first place, Sian Berry and in second place Sadiq Khan. Why? Sadiq Khan had earlier shocked the cycling lobby by admitting to the Standard newspaper that he wouldn't allow his daughters to cycle on London's roads due to safety concerns.

Our reasons for these recommendations are relatively straightforward. Siân Berry has the best policies for cycling of any of the candidates for Mayor and it is important to support these with our votes. However, because Siân Berry has very little chance of winning the election for Mayor, we recommend Labour’s Sadiq Khan as our preferred choice over the only other likely winner on May 5th: Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith.

Caroline Pidgeon has been a very close contender for the best cycling choice overall. We have been very impressed by her policies and commitment to making London bike-friendly. But the voting system here makes the tactical choice clear - we cannot recommend her for a place on the ballot because the first place is the “vote from the heart”, which Sian wins, and the second place, the “vote to avoid what you fear”, is between Sadiq and Zac.
— Londoners on Bikes
  Zac Goldmsith visited the Brompton factory

Zac Goldmsith visited the Brompton factory

Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith came in for a lot of flack in the early part of the campaign after he was quoted on LBC radio saying that he'd consider ripping up the cycle superhighways. Since then, he's been busily back-pedalling and attempting to curry favour with the cycling lobby. He met with Brompton Bicycles and had a go on one of their famous folding bikes. He's even volunteered to roll out a Brompton bike hire scheme across the capital. But Londoners on Bikes were fairly damning in their criticism of him:

We have been disappointed by Zac’s public statements on transport and air pollution ... It has been a disappointment to see a politician who was once editor of The Ecologist offer no coherent vision for a London designed around people. Goldsmith has made statements in favour of free car parking and publicly promised to review and revise Transport for London’s consultation on a new cycle route through Regent’s Park, even though the results was overwhelmingly in favour. He also suggested that newly built bicycle infrastructure schemes could be ripped out if not used. In short, he doesn’t appear to care about the bike vote, apart from complaining that he was being “hounded” and “torn apart” by bicycle advocates.
— Londoners on Bikes
  Chris Boardman on Press Officer Simon's Boardman bike

Chris Boardman on Press Officer Simon's Boardman bike

In the light of all this, Ride Velo contacted the various press offices for statements to help us make up our minds. UKIP didn't respond at all (no surprise there - and to be honest we weren't really tempted!), Zac's office replied after some prompting, and Sadiq and Caroline's were efficient, though not particularly warm, but it was the Greens who stole our hearts.

Sian's office got back to us quickly with some great photos. When I replied to say thanks and 'great pics btw' their press officer, Simon, revealed that Chris Boardman actually borrowed his Boardman bike for the photo shoot and had afterwards fixed the brakes for him! I had to ask whether Chris had autographed it too? "We decided that since his name is already on it in big letters, he didn’t need to. And fixing the brakes was more useful!"  A party who actually cycle in London - that's who we want as our role models. Who you vote for is up to you...but whoever is returned tomorrow, we hope London gets another great cycling advocate!