Campaign: Space for Cycling - What Next?

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

 

Earlier this year almost half of all those elected in the London council elections supported our Space for Cycling campaign. Activism Coordinator, Amy Summers explains how we now need to ensure these councillors keep their pre-election promises

In the previous issue of London Cyclist we reported back on our biggest ever campaign — Space for Cycling. It was the foundation for what’s been a hugely successful year for LCC, topped off recently with two prestigious industry awards (see page 10) recognising Space for Cycling as ‘Best Campaign’ of 2014. But we mustn’t count our successes and relax just yet; this is just the start of a four-year journey for Space for Cycling.

Following the local elections in May, we celebrated the fact that 43% of newly-elected councillors, across all major parties, and all London boroughs, had promised to work towards a specific local cycling improvement in their electoral ward. These improvements, the outcome of Herculean efforts by our local borough groups, ranged from providing safe routes to local schools to installing protected cycling lanes, to cutting off rat-runs to requests to open up parks and green spaces for cycling.

We’re still amazed at the pure skill, time and effort that went into devising all 629 local improvements, or ‘ward asks’. LCC is lucky to have such an active membership which is committed to making a real difference in their local areas.

These ‘ward asks’ were all designed to do one thing: make our streets safe and inviting for cycling, so that people of all ages and abilities who want to cycle, can cycle. But not only that, by making these improvements, and encouraging more people to cycle, our city would become a healthier, cleaner, nicer place for everyone. Win win, surely?

By getting local councillors to promise to make local changes to benefit cycling in their patch, the theory goes that we would see local level improvements springing up all over London — adding up to help create a super cycling city. You have to aim high, right?

So, phase one is complete. We have commitments from over 860 councillors (862 at the time of writing to be exact). Councillors are still coming forward, offering their support for Space for Cycling, and the number of councillors who have done so has now risen to 47% since May.

 

WHAT THEY SAID

When asked why they supported Space for Cycling we received these answers from London councillors

  • “I want to see better and safer routes to encourage more people to cycle thereby securing the resulting benefits for those individuals and the wider community” – Phil Jones, Camden
  • “I now cycle around the borough and I appreciate the difficulties faced by cyclists.  Also in terms of public health I would like to see more people walking and cycling and I hope we can achieve this in conjunction with LCC and Merton Cyclists.” - Daniel Holden, Merton
  • “I supported Space for Cycling as I want to encourage an increase in the number of cycle journeys in both my ward and the borough as part of a modal shift from cars to more sustainable forms of transport.” - Aidan Smith, Greenwich
  • “I am a member of LCC. I cycle daily to work and around the boroughs of Hounslow and Richmond. I think cycling is the best form of transport for reasons of health, environment, cost and pleasure.” - Katherine Dunne, Hounslow
  • “I’m not a cyclist but my brother was a very active cyclist and designed a cycling circuit in Preston. Sadly he died last year but I still hear his voice urging me on to make things better for cyclists.” - Liz Atkins, Lambeth
  • “I am a new (ish) and unconfident cyclist myself and agree that cycling in my ward is not easy. I’d like that to change.” - Jamie Milne, Lewisham
  • “It has so many positive outcomes but needs to be made safer and more practical.” - Ben Khosa, Richmond

 

 We’ve seen whole parties offer their support, but we’ve also seen large swathes of councillors who are just not interested. Many have expressed their support for ‘cycling’, but have not been willing to commit to making concrete improvements. Others have agreed in principle with our aims, but believe there are other improvements to be made so won’t commit to making the ones we’ve suggested.

The support has also varied hugely across all boroughs, from a measly four supportive councillors in Bexley and a sad 10 in Wandsworth, to a huge 62 in Ealing and a full slate of 57 in Hackney (the only borough to have 100% support).

So now we move on to phase two...

 

Above Left: this is how inviting Loughborough Junction could look after it’s been redesigned in favour of cycling and walking.

Above Right: Tower Hamlets Wheelers prepare for their ‘buy in’ at Whitechapel market.

Below: the huge turnout at the Space for Cycling Big Ride earlier in the year.


PHASE TWO OF CAMPAIGN

The one thing we have noticed is that the boroughs where we saw large numbers of people writing to their councillors, asking them to support the campaign between April and May, saw the highest number of councillors supporting us. People power does actually work, and councillors will always listen to the people they represent.

We’re sure many councillors were surprised at the number of people writing to them about cycling ahead of the elections. We showed them that it was a key issue for local people. Therefore, if we are to succeed, this has to continue. We need to make sure that cycling stays a top priority for local councillors, and we need to make sure that their promises to improve local cycling conditions are kept.

But we need our members and supporters to help us do this. You are the ones who have the power to hold your councillors to account. But we’ll be doing all we can to help you.

In the boroughs where we had limited support from councillors, we need to reach out to more local people for their help. We’ve seen that if enough local people put enough pressure on local politicians, then they will listen. So our challenge is to find the cyclists, community groups and schools who want to join our campaign for safer streets in these particular areas.

We also need to chase up the 862 councillors who promised to do something. Our local groups contacted a number of them recently, asking them to fill in a very short survey to tell us about any progress they have made. We wanted to get a picture of where we were at five months after the local elections.

So far, we’ve had just 157 responses. Considering all 862 so enthusiastically supported us just a few months ago — and were eager to pledge their support for Space for Cycling before the election — we had hoped for a lot more

One such councillor told us he “didn’t fill in surveys” and went on to say he thought “cyclists should pay road tax”! Another emailed to say that he had more important things to be dealing with and was fed up of getting emails about the campaign. In the time he took to write and complain, we’re sure he could have filled in our short survey.

Eleven councillors told us they didn’t know what progress had been made and two even said that it wasn’t a priority for them right now. So many others either didn’t find the time to respond, or didn’t want to.

 

1.     Good News

Space for Cycling in Lambeth

We’ve seen some really successful outcomes so far in Lambeth, where the Local Group, along with Loughborough Junction Action Group and Lambeth Council, have published ambitious plans to improve the public space on Loughborough Road by Wyck Gardens and at the Coldharbour Lane junction (pictured below). As well as proposals to reduce through-traffic and cut off rat-runs in the Loughborough Junction and Myatts Field areas by introducing a number of road closures.

These proposals directly related to the ‘ward asks’ set out by Lambeth Cyclists in at least four wards. It’s only at consultation stage, but if it goes ahead, this will be a huge Space for Cycling win. As one Lambeth councillor puts it: “Lambeth is already the third most popular borough for cycling, so we recognise how important an issue safe cycling is. We share the London Cycling Campaign’s aim of making our streets safer and more inviting for everyone to cycle.”

Want to help Lambeth Cyclists’ campaign to ensure the plans go ahead? Contact lambeth@lcc.org.uk


2.     Good News

Waltham Forest Mini Holland/Space for Cycling

In Waltham Forest, while only 27% of councillors officially supported Space for Cycling, we know they are busy with council plans to spend the £30 million ‘Mini Holland’ funding awarded by the Mayor earlier this year — funding which is designed to help to improve conditions for cycling in the area. Many of the plans put forward in the scheme also match up with the local cycle improvements we are calling for in the borough.

Between 26 September and 13 October, trial road closures were put in place on eight local roads including Orford Road, one of the local high streets in Walthamstow. Temporary barriers and wooden planters held ‘Road Closed’ signs, blocking off traffic to all but cyclists, pedestrians and the W12 bus. Throughout the trial, families with young children on bikes and scooters filled the street, and people were able to walk around the shops freely and easily, without the noise and hassle of rat-running traffic and parked cars.

The idea is for residents and businesses to reclaim their streets, with the added benefit of improving air quality, noise levels and reducing traffic overall. The feedback from local residents has been mixed, with petitions from both those who support the scheme and those who don’t. Only time will tell if the road closures will be made permanent but we know our local group in the area will be campaigning hard to ensure they do. And if so, we’ll see another big Space for Cycling success.

 

Live in Waltham Forest and want to help? Contact walthamforest@lcc.org.uk

 

COUNCILLORS RESPONSES TO SURVEY

It’s somewhat worrying that even some of those councillors who agreed to support Space for Cycling still have a long way to go. So for many, we need to educate and engage them about cycling issues, plus do a bit of mythbusting.  But we must help to build their understanding, otherwise we’ll get nowhere. We can’t expect everyone to be cycle experts, and we all start somewhere.

But despite some disappointing responses, it’s not all bad news. Many were happy to take part in the survey and some sent a response on behalf of their borough parties. Fifty-five councillors told us they have raised Space for Cycling and the local ‘ward ask’ with their political party, 46 told us they have been discussing the issue with local residents, and 36 have been in touch with our local groups about it.

We also know that since the elections, many of our local groups have had meetings with councillors and built up good relationships with politicians who were previously not engaged with cycling. So some are taking their commitments seriously.

From our survey, and those who responded, we learnt that an impressive 95 councillors have raised Space for Cycling with relevant council officers and 21 have Space for Cycling plans in their programme for the year. Eighteen councillors have budget allocated in this year or next year dedicated to the cycle improvement and 38 are already consulting with local residents to assess the feasibility of implementing it. Sixty-four said they were ‘working hard’ to make progress on cycling and 16 said they expected their local improvement to be realised in the next 12 months.

Overall, based on their official responses, some 100 councillors have made significant progress in achieving the ‘ward ask’, 36 have made some progress and 21 have yet to make progress (at least they were honest).

 

SO WHAT NEXT?

We need to make sure that cycling stays a top priority for those councillors who promised to support Space for Cycling. We also need to encourage

more councillors to sign up. While our local groups are working hard to meet and engage with councillors, we need a lot more of our members and supporters to add their voice to our campaign.

And it’s easy to do! We’ve set up a new Space for Cycling petition calling on Council Leaders to ensure that (a) their councillors are supporting cycling and (b) they are supporting the efforts of those councillors who are trying to implement local improvements for cycling. We must demonstrate to our borough councils that cycling is important to local residents. We must keep the pressure up and we must keep making noise.

Please encourage your friends, family, work colleagues and neighbours to sign up — we’ll be sending emails to our supporters shortly with all the important details. We know that people power works, so every signature and name will make a difference.

Help us make Space for Cycling a reality across London and, most importantly, in your local area!