IGF board member Beatrice Stude is currently in the UK and brings back insights that can also be applied to the cycling situation in Austria and Vienna. Today the first part of “Lessons from Britain”:
London’s Mayor Boris and his wheels. Also on the Thames, the topic becomes that “city fathers have to decide: Cars or bikes.” So far the decision in London has been in favour of cars, it must be the other way round in Vienna!
By striving to bring more counterproductive laws into being, politicians in Austria are showing how “serious” they are about the environment and sustainability. Laws such as the compulsory use of helmets, a reduction of the alcohol limit to the level of car drivers, the continued compulsory use of cycle paths, etc. are a restriction of the users of the environmentally friendly means of transport, the bicycle. The fact that cyclists are also voters is all too easily forgotten. In the upcoming mayoral elections in London, cyclists could be the deciding factor.
Mayoral elections are coming up in London. Seven candidates are running for this powerful position. However, all of these do not have an equal chance of becoming the mayor of London. There are two frontrunners: the present mayor Boris Johnson and the former mayor Ken Livingstone. With the election being a tight race like this, cyclists may have the decisive vote. That is why Londonersonbike.org wants to unite Londonʻs cyclists to vote with their bike for the candidate who promises to do most for the safety of cyclists in the capital. The organisation watches the four most promising candidates: Boris Johnson (Tory), Ken Livingstone (Labour), Brian Paddick (LibDem) and Jenny Jones (Green) – and nominates the candidate of the week, every week.
“Boris“ Bikes and Cyclesuperhighways
Boris Johnson the present mayor has done some things which are really recognised outside the UK. He implemented a cycle hire scheme throughout the inner city and later on the cycle superhighways. Best of all, he himself often rides on his bike through the city. From a distance all this and the somewhat charming dishevelled appearance – the fuzzy just out-of-bed look of his blond hair – lets you easily forget which party he belongs to. He likes to label himself as the mayor of cycling, but is it just a label or has he really done enough in his four years of mayoralty?
First of all, the cycle hire scheme was not his idea. It was already part of a three-step plan worked out by the transport commitee of London for increasing cycling in the city. However, one has to say it was under his time in office that it was implemented quickly and in a wide area. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most expensive schemes in Europe. The next step of the plan was the CS – the cycle super highways, which were implemented shortly afterwards – and do not by any means meet the expectations connected to its name. The third step was pushing cycling into the outer parts of London by establishing cycle facilities e.g. for locking bikes safely. Boris Johnson decided against the implementation of this third step.
Dangerous: Elephant and Castle
Secondly, the mayor is known for sometimes speaking before thinking, which might also shed light on his real nature. Confronted with Elephant and Castle, one of Londonʻs most dangerous junctions the mayor stated: “The Elephant and Castle roundabout is perfectly negotiable by bike so long as you keep your wits about you”. This must feel like mockery for the 89 cyclists and their relatives who were seriously injured or even killed at this junction in the past two years. Worst of all, the mayor does not just do nothing, but has concentrated on smoothing the traffic flow for motorists. This is commented on very bluntly by Mr Paddick, a former Metropolitan Police commander for Lambeth: “Mr Johnsonʼs policy of speeding up traffic flow is costing cyclistsʼ lives.” Not only is this bad for cyclists, but also pedestrians suffer from this policy due to the abolition of a lot of pedestrian crossings.
4,000 deaths due to bad air
Londonersonbikes.org also announces events connected to cycling and the elections. For example the question time of the four mayoral candidates or their represenatives organised by Livingstreets4. Apart from the already mentioned issues, another big one is air quality. Improving the air quality at the moment is mostly done by fiddling the measurements of the EU, like planting trees and plants near the EU measurings points in London and applying a certain type of glue onto the street twice a day to capture the particles from the air. Being very expensive, the latter must have quite an effect, otherwise one might think it would not be continued. Why then not use it to freshen up the air near nurseries, schools and hospitals? However, this avoidance of paying high penalties to the EU is somewhat understandable, although it should be temporary, because it is just dealing with the symptoms and not fighting the problem at its source.
Especially when the poor air quality is causing more than 4,000 premature death in London every year. With planes flying over the city every minute or less, there is massive pollution coming from the sky. Even at 4 oʻclock on a Saturday morning their noise accompanies on your way home. Predictions say that the three biggest airports of London will hit capacity in 2030: Heathrow 85m passengers per year (now 65m), Gatwick 40m (now 30m) and Standsted 35m (now 20m). The present mayor is in favour of air traffic. The plans for a new mega-airport at the estuary of the Thames east of London are already nicknamed Boris Island as a result of his commitment to this project.
Cars or Bicycles
According to the question time all candidates or their representatives were more or less equally in favour of cycling and pedestrians, except Borisʻ spokesman. His only somewhat reasonable argument the re-election of Boris Johnson was his good connections to the Prime Minister (who studied at Oxford at the same time and is also a Tory) and that he is the one getting the most money for London. However, not only the amount of money available is important, but also how it is spent. Even a motormouth like Jeremy Clarkson stated that at some point not long ago that “City fathers have to choose. Cars or bicycles.“6 In London at present it surely is cars, but hopefully the next mayor will start to change that.
IG Fahrrad became Radlobby Wien.
More Lessons from Britain
- #2 – Love London, Go Dutch
- #3 – Boris Bikes move London
- #4 – Cycle Superhighways
- #5 – Reclaim the streets
- #6 – Cycleparadise Oxford