Much of the attention of cycling campaigners has latterly been on TfL and the need for space for cycling on London’s main roads, however it’s councils that control the vast majority of London’s streets. If they wanted to, they could create Space for Cycling all over London. The use of a few bollards, for example, is a relatively cheap intervention that can free entire communities from the blight of rat running through traffic and create streets in which far more people feel safe and comfortable using a bike to get around.
When elected, your local councillor will provide a link between the council and your community. They are meant to represent all their constituents, not just those who voted for them. Haringey Cyclists work with our local representatives to help make real improvements to our streets. Noticed that the railings have been cut to allow north/south cycling across St Ann’s Road via North Grove? Or how the awful, dangerous speed cushions slapped on Crouch Hill have been replaced by cycling-friendlier alternatives? Pressure from Haringey Cyclists, as well as the local councillors for those wards helped to make those changes happen. Improvements such as these can of course happen without the help of councillors, but electing councillors who are supportive of their constituents’ concerns can really help change things for the better.
Obviously not many people will ‘vote bike’ as a single issue and not take any other policies into account – councils have wide ranging responsibilities of which transport is just one element. So please don’t take the following as an endorsement of one party over another – read their manifestos yourself, speak to your local candidates and make up your own mind about who deserves your vote! Also bear in mind that there are likely to be differences in attitude at a ward level from what it might say in the manifesto, for better or worse. Have a look at http://space4cycling.org/ to see if your local candidates are living up to, or exceeding the fine promises in their party manifesto.
We did, however, think it would be interesting to look at the manifestos of our prospective representatives purely from a cycling perspective and see who might be our ‘champions’ in local government after 22 May. We read the Haringey manifestos of Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens, purely because these are the parties we think are most likely to gain the votes needed to elect councillors, and because we couldn’t find the manifestos of any of the others online… Apologies to the others.
First up, Labour. Apparently Haringey’s ‘streets have never been cleaner’, we assume this means litter and not the actual air you breathe on these streets! It gets better after that, including the bold ambition to make Haringey streets the most pedestrian and cycle friendly in London. If this ambition is to become reality there is a lot of work to do. Haringey is bordered by boroughs with much higher levels of cycling (Camden, Hackney, Islington) and also by two councils with ‘Mini-Holland’ projects (Enfield and Waltham Forest) which aim to deliver substantial improvements through provision of protected cycle lanes and by filtering through traffic out of residential areas. So Haringey has some catching up to do before we draw level, let alone outdo, our neighbouring boroughs. The proposed E-bike hire scheme then gets a plug, a welcome development. But are hills, or roads that look unpleasant to cycle on, more of a deterrent to people riding bikes in Haringey? Electric bikes, without a network of safe and inviting routes on which to ride them, are unlikely to significantly increase cycling levels in the borough. Proposals to develop a ‘new’ network of quietways might address this, and it’s great to hear that these quietways will be direct. Routes along back streets and parks are great, and Haringey has both in abundance, but the usefulness of quiet routes diminishes if the route adds significant extra time or distance over a more direct, busier route. Any proposed cycle route is only as good as it’s weakest link, and crucially must not give up when they have to cross busy roads and junctions. Similarly proposed 20mph speed limits borough-wide is a step forward, but a residential road with large volumes of traffic travelling at 20mph is still probably unpleasant enough to put most people off cycling. The manifesto promises £25m, described as funding for ‘improving our pavements and roads making them more pedestrian and cyclist friendly’ and later simply to ‘improve roads and pavements’, we look forward to hearing greater detail about what this means for cycling. Recent Haringey Council road ‘improvements’ have turned pavements into car parks, so as always the devil is in the detail. One really encouraging aspect of Labour’s manifesto is not in the transport section, but later the link is made between public health and active travel, and the role safe cycle routes can play in this. So, overall, not bad, quite encouraging in places. It could however be argued that the council’s recent record works against the manifesto in a lot of ways – recent highways projects have done little or nothing for cycling. But perhaps it’s unfair to judge this new manifesto on the track record of the current administration…
Lib Dems next. Reading this starts badly with one of their ‘top six’ pledges being free (car) parking on local high streets. A pledge to, in effect, bring more traffic, more pollution and more danger to high streets is an obvious negative from a cycling perspective (and, we expect, a negative to the vast majority of shoppers in Haringey who walk or take the bus!). Cyclists are offered more ‘cycle lock-up points’ on high streets, which is welcome but kind of misses the point that high streets are often unpleasant places to cycle to precisely because there is too much traffic on them. It’s great that the Lib Dems want Haringey to be a cycling borough, but the manifesto seems confused about how this might be delivered. It offers 20mph speed limits on ‘residential’ roads only – but people on bikes need lower speeds or safe space to cycle on non-residential roads too! ‘Listening to cyclists’ (present company excepted) isn’t going to give very revealing answers as to why those who don’t currently cycle do not. Similarly the proposal to improve the cycle network sounds good, but we would question whether Haringey actually has an existing cycle network to improve! Similar to Labour’s proposed E-bike scheme, cycle hire at stations is to be welcomed, but is access to a bike really a limiting factor for people who want to cycle? The following passage from the manifesto: ‘We would also sign the Safer Lorries, Safer Cycling campaign pledge to ensure the council only uses the best equipped lorries and best trained drivers [great, thanks] to stop cyclists being killed’. Kind of makes it sound like riding a bike in Haringey is dicing with death! Nearly 6000 people in Haringey cycle to work every day, and many more cycle through from neighbouring boroughs or for purposes other than the journey to work. Very, very few of them end up seriously injured in hospital (around 10 people a year), and deaths are thankfully rare. It’s true that riding a bike on the borough’s roads can often feel quite dangerous, but making the inference that cyclists in Haringey are regularly being killed by trucks is hardly going to help Haringey become a ‘cycling borough’.
Finally, the Green Party. We expected big things from this manifesto – cycle campaigning in London has really found it’s voice over the last few years, if there was a time to push for the sort of changes that countries across the world are implementing to make streets more liveable for everyone, it is surely now and we would expect the Greens to be pushing this agenda forward. To be fair to the Greens their manifesto is quite short and punchy, so there’s not a lot of detail on which to judge their cycling offer. But what is there is full of the sort of unfortunate caveats that typify current attitudes to cycle provision: 20mph ‘with exceptions’; separated cycle lanes ‘where possible’. In local government-speak, only separating cycle lanes from other traffic ‘where possible’ tends to mean the cycle lane is of no use at all, because separation from other traffic is often most needed where it is difficult to deliver (but not impossible if the political will is there). Similarly an ‘exception’ to 20mph is acceptable from a cycling perspective when separated space is provided. Kudos, however, for actually mentioning the need for separated cycle lanes!
So there you have it. Hopefully we’ve been fair in the above, have a read of the manifestos yourself and let us know what you think in the comments below. And don’t forget to log on to http://space4cycling.org/ and see which candidates in your area are supporting your local ward ask!