Campaign: Space for Cycling – Campaign Success

 This article was originally published in the June 2014 edition of London Cyclist

 

The Space for Cycling campaign is the biggest and most ambitious ever undertaken by LCC. Tom Bogdanowicz looks at why it’s been so successful

 

 

“We’re here today, like you, to ask all our local politicians to support Space for Cycling — and make it possible for kids, like mine, all across London, to cycle on our roads, just like kids in Amsterdam or Copenhagen do.” This was the message from LCC trustee Suzy Fogg and her six-year-old son Oliver that received rapturous cheers from the 5,000 riders who’d taken part in May’s Space of Cycling Big Ride. The reception was similar for Rachel Aldred, another trustee, who highlighted the other end of the age spectrum: “We need cycling that is safe and inclusive, and is also joyful. Nineteen out of 20 people over 65 in London never cycle — these people are being denied health benefits, but are also being denied the joy of cycling.”

Standing on the top deck of the same bus as Suzy and Rachel, London Assembly members of all political hues, and their representatives, all expressed their support for Space for Cycling, while the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, gave us a concrete timeline for consultations and delivery of the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling.

 

The Space for Cycling Big Ride was the high-point of a year-long build-up to the May 22 elections for local councils in London, and several other big cities. Our aim was to secure support for a specific pro-cycling — or procycling and pro-walking — change in every one of the 629 wards in the 32 London boroughs (no election was held in the City of London).

The ambition and hyper-local scale of the Space for Cycling Campaign is unparalleled in the history of cycling. No campaign group has ever tried to message thousands of aspiring politicians directly, nor to persuade tens of thousands of individuals that they must take action ahead of a vote in a local election. Most local elections, in fact, pass by with low turnouts and are characterised by voter apathy.

In London alone more than 85,000 messages were sent to some 7,000 candidates standing for councillor posts. Half of those candidates responded with a ‘yes’ to the proposed Space for Cycling ‘asks.’

Candidates for councillor, who may have never before heard from cyclists, will have received dozens (if not hundreds) of messages. In London the parties that won, or held, overall control in the boroughs of Hackney, Waltham Forest and Croydon are fully (100 percent of candidates) signed up Space for Cycling supporters.

The Space for Cycling message also went national. Similar big rides and campaigns, backed by CTC and Cycle Nation, were held in Bristol, Manchester, Solihull, Sheffield, Leeds, York and Newcastle.

 

The idea

The follow-up to the Love London, Go Dutch campaign was ambitious but, as hardened campaigners all know, change on London’s roads doesn’t just happen at the behest of the Mayor. The Space for Cycling campaign spelled out that 95 percent of the roads in London are controlled by the London boroughs, and to get change you have to tackle local highway authorities as well as Transport for London. Much of the funding for cycle provision does come from TfL, but without borough cooperation nothing gets implemented.

Even before Love London, Go Dutch reached its climax, securing support from the leading Mayoral candidates at the rain-drenched Big Ride of 2012, it was clear that the London local elections were an unmissable opportunity to take Go Dutch local. Though local politicians don’t have the resources that London’s Mayor has, they can support or frustrate the thousands of local cycle schemes that can build into a pan-London cycling network.

The LCC campaigns committee came up with the challenging idea of specifying a customised demand for cycling improvements in every one of London’s 629 wards and presenting these demands to every candidate for councillor.

It soon became clear that if we were to achieve this monumental task then we would have to put into harness both IT and volunteer effort. What we obviously didn’t have were the vast resources of a Google or a Sainsbury’s to gather emails, send out messages, issue reward cards and coordinate and analyse all the responses.

But the goal was set and the demanding campaign strategy was skilfully developed by LCC staff and trustees. The strategy required the seamless integration of the latest in campaigning software, the full gamut of social media and LCC’s greatest asset: its volunteers. To pull it off in time would be challenging; to do it well, a miracle.

 

Above: our spoof 'election candidates' are left dismayed after a tour of London's cycling facilities - note the tastefully-decorated hire bikes.

 

The name

In November 2013, several months before Space for Cycling was formally launched, another six cyclists were tragically killed on London roads.  LCC’s response was quick and emphatic. Two protest rides were held, at Aldgate and at Holborn, before a final, nationally supported ride was organised to effectively encircle the Houses of Parliament.

A short catchphrase, penned during a planning meeting for these protest rides, was ‘Space for Cycling’. The words instantly resonated with all cyclists, as well as many of the 25 percent of Londoners who would like to cycle but are intimidated by road conditions.  When the time came to decide on a name for the 2014 elections campaign, Space for Cycling was the obvious choice.

 

The software

Social media helped spread the Love London, Go Dutch message, but Space for Cycling required a completely different order of IT and media support. LCC was already using a service provider called Engaging Networks which would enable us to send email messages to all election candidates from any number of individuals. What we needed, however, were the names and email addresses of all the candidates (almost 7,000), email data for all supporters and potential supporters, and specific ‘asks’ for every ward in London.

Step one was to ask all our supporters —around 40,000 receive the LCC e-newsletters —to complete a survey highlighting the issues for cycling in their area. Normally a dry exercise, it was brought alive visually by IT wizard Alex Ingram, of Hammersmith Cyclists, who converted the 4,000 replies into an electronic map illustrating wards and issues. This made it much easier for local groups to achieve step two.

 Step two was for LCC’s 32 local groups to narrow down the thousands of suggestions into a specific ask for every ward. Groups canvassed activists and held meetings at which final lists of ward asks were decided, complete with a short and long description for every one. Each of these then had to be inserted into our great interactive master map of ward asks. What seemed an almost impossible task was completed on deadline, thanks to a combination of technology and hard graft by staff and volunteers alike: 629 specifc asks were in the system and so were several thousand names and emails of candidates who would announce their decision to stand by April.

 Four days before the Space for Cycling campaign went live, staffers tried the Beta version of the ‘action’ website in the office. Enter your postcode, click and ‘hey presto’ a map of your street came up with a clearly defined request that you could send to election candidates. It worked! And it was as miraculous as opening a Google map and finding your home on it for the first time.

 

The asks

Underpinning the Space for Cycling campaign were six themes according to which local activists categorised their asks (see the March issue of London Cyclist for details). In Brent, for example, local activists called for protected space in a newly-created Bradley Wiggins Way (Kilburn ward). In Camden the ask was to remove through motor-traffic from the cycling corridor on Tavistock Place (Bloomsbury ward). Redesigning Wimbledon town centre to be walking and cycling-friendly was chosen in Merton (Hillside ward). Reducing motor-traffic speed to 20mph in Carlton Hill and surrounding streets was a ward choice in Westminster (Abbey Road ward).

Creating safe cycle routes for children linking six schools in Islington ( Junction ward) had strong local support. While green routes like Russell Park (Barnehurst ward) were prominent in Bexley’s asks. You can see all the asks at action.space4cycling.org — click through on any ward and all will be revealed.

 

The promotion

From the outset we knew the real world elements of the campaign were as important as activities in cyberspace. Equipping volunteers with the right tools and skills was vital. Activism co-ordinator Amy Summers negotiated space at Amnesty International for an inspiring workshop that attracted scores of Space for Cycling supporters and campaigning professionals shared their knowledge of social and traditional media, as well as the techniques of communicating with politicians.

Every delegate received a pack of materials covering everything from maintaining political impartiality to sending out tweets. This was followed up with a complete pack of what marketing people call ‘collateral’, distributed to every local group: thousands of flyers, posters, banners, bike plates, even cleverly-designed beer mats.

It was remarkable how the collateral reached its targets — in some London streets you could see more homes displaying ‘We support Space for Cycling’ posters than posters for political parties. Volunteers stood on street corners and distributed flyers for the Big Ride. And riders along popular bike routes were able to spot the distinctive Space for Cycling brand on hoardings and on the bikes of other cyclists; pubs were conscious of the campaign as drinks were served on Space for Cycling beer mats.

 

 

The outcome

The early days of the campaign were tense as glitches in the software had to be ironed out, and corrections or additions made to the evergrowing list of candidates. It was all hands on deck as the initial, tidy list of candidate registrations turned into a flood from all corners of the capital. Without a stream of tireless volunteers turning up at the LCC office to input data it wouldn’t have come together.

Somehow all the candidates’ names were there when required and 85,000 messages were despatched successfully. More than half the candidates signed up to the campaign (see Infographic on page 62) and all political colours were represented showing the wide cross-party interest in sustainable transport. The Greens signed up en bloc at the start of the campaign, as did the Labour party in several boroughs. In Hackney, London’s leading cycling borough, virtually all candidates signed up to all the ward asks proposed, including all the Conservatives. Just as we had hoped, the campaign secured support from all the major parties.

Many candidates not only signed up to the campaign online, but also wrote directly in response to those who sent them messages. A valuable dialogue was opened up leading to discussion of other local issues and potential improvements for cycling.

 

The lessons learned

The most obvious lesson is that it pays to be ambitious. Very few organisations with LCC’s limited financial resources would ever consider such a hyper-local and complex campaign. The beauty of Space for Cycling was that, to the campaigner or voter, it appeared as an easyto- use interactive map and an opportunity to send a specific local message to the people who mattered with a few clicks. Behind that simplicity was a vast amount of manually gathered and entered data, a sophisticated mapping and messaging system, and a deep inside knowledge of issues on local streets that made it all work.

Another lesson is that if you’ve got a great idea share it with like-minded organisations. All the know-how from London was spread and developed through cooperation with CTC, Cycle Nation and other city cycling groups. London can be a pioneer in improving cycling conditions, but we need the whole of the UK to be on board to match the successes in the Netherlands or Denmark.

And perhaps the most important lesson is that we need to capitalise on, and activate, our volunteer base.

 

The next steps

We all know that promises are easy to make but harder to keep. As Ashok Sinha says in his column (page 7), ‘the real work begins now.’

Our target post-election will be to ensure that candidates who signed up to Space for Cycling deliver on their commitments and also establish a dialogue with all new councillors including those who, for various reasons, did not support the campaign. The ultimate aim is ‘roads that are as safe and inviting for cycling as those in Holland’, whether those are TfL or borough roads. Only if we achieve that aim will the quarter of Londoners who want to cycle have the confidence and opportunity to do so.

 

Our sponsors

Our Space for Cycling campaign was kindly supported by the Bicycle Association of Great Britain, Evans Cycles, and the Dutch National Embassy. Many thanks to them all.

 

Above: another stunt involved our own 'Boris-a-like' showing off London's cycling infrastructure