What a few months that was! LCC’s local #ClimateSafeStreets election campaign in 2022, culminating with the polls yesterday, launched in March and ran for just over six weeks. In that time we’ve seen politicians of every (major party) stripe nail their colours to the Climate Safe Streets mast – committing huge swathes of London to rapid and bold action on cycling and climate. So what did the campaign do and what has it achieved?
There’ll be fine grain analysis of what happened with climate, active travel and voting in each borough next week, as well as once results are confirmed, which council leaders have pledged where. But for now, the end results: thousands of people took our online action, resulting in nearly 11,500 emails sent to candidates; in part that came from hundreds attending 8 group rides, 12 activist rides with candidates, 22 meetings with candidates, hustings in seven boroughs, lots of local press, and hundreds of social media posts including dozens of new Beta Streets images – ranging from transformation of residential roads to become permanent school playgrounds, to the wholesale transformation of hated junctions of the north circular!
All that activity resulted in 61 of London’s next potential council leaders committing to the campaign asks in their borough – in Kingston, the leaders of all the major parties committed to the asks. Prior to the election, 13 current council leaders had committed to the asks in their borough, but it looks like now at least 14 will be committed – with Labour taking Westminster. On top, the new council leader in Wandsworth, also having moved from Conservative to Labour control, issued a statement prior to the election recognising the campaign, committing to action on the asks and saying that the council will “make cycling easier and safer”.
Going forward, a sizeable chunk of Londoners will be living in boroughs where their leaders have publicly committed to delivering bold schemes and rapid action on cycling and climate. Whether your borough is one of those or not, we’ll be working with our borough groups and champions to ensure those borough asks are front of mind for every council leader and that the next four years sees your borough delivering rapidly on cycling, walking, car use reduction and climate.
LCC has spent the last year recruiting, training and unleashing Climate Safe Streets Champions in London’s boroughs to work alongside existing borough groups and help coordinators and other activists. The final tally was that we had over 40 Champions who have worked across 23 boroughs, with some boroughs having multiple champions.
The Champions were there to add to our borough groups’ campaigning around the local elections and indeed around the links between action on cycling and action on climate. This was an injection of new energy for LCC and has broadened the work and reach of many of our borough groups. In each borough, the Champions worked alongside our borough groups in different ways – in some locations, our Champions were the lead on the local election campaign specifically, in others an extra pair of hands and in other boroughs they worked on coalition building, or political liaison or comms and media production – depending on their enthusiasms, skillsets and need from the boroughs.
Working with the Champions and our amazing local group activists, LCC also produced a set of individual election #ClimateSafeStreets asks for each leadership candidate to commit to in their borough. This coproduction process happened behind the scenes also for the best part of a year, with borough activists and Champions poring over climate action plans, climate emergency declarations, transport strategies and assessing the borough’s position and politics.
Each borough ended up with on average five asks that we believe define a roadmap for the next four years for necessary action on active travel and climate. Whether council leaders in the end committed to them or not, we’ll continue to skill up Champions and borough activists to stay focused on those asks for the next few years as a key campaigning priority.
As well as all that activity pre-launch, we also commissioned and created content for the launch – infographics and a video of Londoners explaining how the delivery of cycle routes, low traffic neighbourhoods and other #ClimateSafeStreets infrastructure had enabled them to ditch the car and swap it for cycling. And we work with startup Beta Streets so that our activists and groups had exclusive access to their revolutionary new site for the period of the campaign and ability to rapidly turn ‘before’ images of streets to ‘after’ with added cycle tracks, planters, play equipment etc. to demonstrate what your area could look like if transformed into Climate Safe Streets.
Brent's Neasden underpass on the north circular as it is today
Brent's Neasden underpass transformed via BetaStreets
We decided to target the leaders of the main parties in each borough, the people most likely to end up leading the council for the next four years, for many reasons. Those with long memories may remember our phenomenally successful 2014 Space for Cycling campaign that developed asks for each ward – and we’re often asked why we haven’t repeated that. For 2022, we felt that winning over the political leadership in each borough was absolutely vital.
During the pandemic it became very clear that while nearly every borough in London has declared a climate emergency, most having committed to targets and action plans on climate, and while every single borough talks about reducing climate emissions, there was a growing gulf between those boroughs where action was following words, and those where it wasn’t; indeed between those boroughs able to deliver schemes and keep them in, and those folding schemes, ripping them out or never putting them in in the first place. The haves and have nots, do and did nots, are very clear – and that’s increasingly visible on the streets with some boroughs now boasting relatively mature cycling networks and delivering lots of activities to help cut residents’ need to use cars, and those where cars remain dominant and only the fit and fearless cycle.
Now, every borough – even the boldest – needs to accelerate their decarbonisation plans, needs to do more on cycling, car use reduction and other means of moving towards a zero carbon borough and roads transport system. The experts say we need to go zero carbon by 2030 for London to do its part on the climate crisis. And roads transport is a key source of emissions in London – and the one that’s not dropping anywhere near fast enough. That’s why our Mayor has adopted pathways to 2030 and zero carbon into his policies and strategies. That’ll mean every borough moving faster – but particularly the Bromleys, Barnets and Harrows of this city – the boroughs that are either doing nothing or actively even rolling back the paltry schemes they put in during the pandemic.
To get boroughs moving needs, it’s plain to see, strong leadership from the top. We can see boroughs where many ward councillors and officers desperately want change, want improvements to their streets – but if the leader doesn’t get it, or is too respondent to the changing winds of their email inbox, then nothing happens. Council leaders are clearly key to delivering Climate Safe Streets and bold action, or not. So we targeted them with simple, clear asks.
Some also ask us why focus on climate when we’re a cycling campaign? Because action on cycling does = action on climate. There is no other mode of transport capable of such explosive growth in people switching to it from cars, there is no other mode of transport so cheap to get results from or that can be rolled out as rapidly. Of course we need many more electric car charging points – but it’s clear even a fully electric motor vehicle city won’t save us from emissions, let alone pollution (particulates), congestion, inactivity or road danger. Similarly we need good public transport and bus priority measures (as well as hydrogen and electric buses). But those cannot get us to zero carbon or a healthy city alone. And we need walking – lots more of it. But many walkable journeys are already walked. The same is not true for cycling – the most supressed mode. So in all, with climate set to dominate the news agenda more and more, and rightly so, and with cycling occupying a unique place in terms of transport responses to reducing emissions, Climate Safe Streets became an obvious and vital answer to how we campaign in London.
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