|One council leader asked me why we can't have cyclists like they have in the Netherlands. Here's a relentlessly normal image of cycling there via AsEasyAsRidingABike|
During the night I met the leaders of three councils: Southwark, Wandsworth and....drum roll.... Westminster. I had the chance to talk cycling with each of them. And what fascinated me was just how differently each of them engaged with and understood why people have been out on their bikes protesting for better conditions.
First some good news. I had a good chat with Peter John, Labour leader of Southwark Council. He told me in clear terms that the council had scrapped its plans to go-it-alone with slightly crazy Cycle Design Standards that would have meant the council officially opposed segregated bike tracks like the ones pictured above. They've been put in the bin, he told me, and Southwark will be signing up to the new London Cycle Design Standards that are currently in draft form on tables at Transport for London. That's a huge relief. I got the impression that Mr John understood 'bicycle' = rational form of transport which can be used by all ages and people with varying levels of fitness. I had the impression he does want Southwark to become somewhere where the bicycle is catered for as a legitimate part of the transport mix.
|Birmingham Flashride earlier this year, pic roadcc|
Peter John then introduced me to the Conservative leader of Wandsworth Council, Ravi Govindia. Now, Wandsworth has slowly started to re-embrace the bicycle. This is a borough that did some good things a decade ago and then decided to utterly ignore bicycles until very recently. What Mr Govindia told me, though, did get me thinking. He made two points: Firstly, he explained that he wants to see normal people out on bikes doing normal journeys. He said that the bulk of people using bicycles in his borough are commuters - fit, young, speedy. And he's probably right.
|Edinburgh 'pedals on Parliament'|
Photo courtesy of Richard Cross. See this site for more details
And then we came to Westminster's leader who made nice comments about wanting to do more but struck me as not really seeing this as a particularly pressing issue.
Ravi Govindia also made another point that I thought very useful. He mentioned that he found it difficult to engage with cycling groups because (and I paraphrase) "they seem to want everything". Here's a man who is extremely busy and for whom cycling is an issue but only a very small one in the scheme of things. He needs to hear one single message, and one alone.
|And now Manchester pedals to protest for Space for Cycling|
My point is pretty simple really. It is four years ago that I sat in a room with the London Cycling Campaign and one of their best campaigners coined the campaign term 'Space 4 Cycling'. It has taken four years to get to the point where people who use bikes are starting to talk about demanding 'Space 4 Cycling'. It will take more years before our politicians, people like Ravi Govindia of Wandsworth, actually start to hear what we're all calling for. We have to rally around a single message and we have to keep pushing that message home. Again and again and again. Until we're sick of it. Only then can we expect that our politicians will have started hearing our message for the very first time.