Wednesday 18 April 2012

Local Elections in Cambridge and Cycling

I've been hurling questions about cycling to some of our local election candidates in Cambridge. Because I'm a well balanced kind if chap I've asked a Tory, a Liberal Democrat, a Green, and a Labour candidate.

To set the scene, I should really define what I want out of our local city council, and describe what they can and can't do. What I want is simple enough - I want cycling to be at the heart of city council policy. I want cycling to be popular here not just by British standards but by world standards. I want a 20mph speed limit across Cambridge. I want police to prioritise aggressive and dangerous driving because they're they key problems cyclists face. I want cyclist safety to trump parking on pavements and on busy roads. And, crucially, I want cycle infrastructure to be top quality wherever we have any; if its not good, it sets us back. We need more cycle parking, we need a third under-cover secure cycle locking space in the City, and we need to start holidng developers to account where they promise to incorporate high class, high volume cycle provision and fail. Ultimately we need to re-design and re-consider how each and every road and junction is managed in the city to give assisance to cyclists - cycle routes must be continuous, a cycle network must actually join up and go to all of the places we need. You can't just paint a white line and draw a bike in it. And all such routes have to be gritted in winter.

The City council, for which we're having elections, cannot on its own do all of that. It isn't the authority in charge of, say, road repairs or building. Thats the County Council. But there are a lot of things they CAN do - they can work towards the 20mph limit, they can provide cycle parking (they manage the car and cycle parks we have), they can work to set policing priorities, and crucially they're involved in planning. And of course they can set the priority of turning Cambridge into a global leader in cycling, dragging the County council along with them.

So to work out where to cast my vote, I've talked to four council candidates on twitter.

I'll start with the green candidate (and current councillor) Adam Pogonowski. He (and the local Green party) have similar views to me, but I'd have liked to have seen a clear policy for where cycling should be in this city in future; guys, you're going the right way, but why aren't you pushing to turn this into the cycling capital of Europe? We've got, what, a quarter of all journeys by bike? And thats with mediocre facilities, hostile roads, useless police, dreadful parking... Seriously, set a target of 50% or more, turn this into a global capital for cycling. Its do-able, its affordable. Look at what they had to do in Copenhagen to achieve it; with half the expenditure we could do twice as well. But, still, priorities re. policing, cycle lanes, etc. were all spot on. Bike rating - 9/10

Then on to Labour; Richard Johnson is up for election in Abbey ward and as things stand he's in with a good chance. There are some things Labour have got spot on; they want to re-instate the full time Cycling Officer position so foolishly cut by the LibDem council. They want to campaign for more cycle lanes, although the position they've taken to pressurise for at least 1.5m is I'm afraid pathetic - not wide enough at all (although Richard said he'd prefer 2m). They want more parking for cyclists in the city but they haven't got a clear policy for a new cycle park (and won't commit to that). And bizarrely they think picking up dog poo is a cycling policy (or at least Richard put it to me as such). In all I'm left thinking good bloke, good intentions, but really not getting the point. And no vision, no real ambition. All that said, Richard seems like a good egg and should make a decent councillor. Bike Rating - 6/10

Tories next, and Timothy Haire, also standing in Abbey ward. Entertaining on twitter and runs a cracking little pub, but after he'd made the obvious statement that Tories have called for better policing of dangerous driving, he got rather hung up on training cyclists. Sorry, no. Thats missing the point entirely. In fact I didn't really get any impression that Tories have any policy for cycling other than 'education' and maybe better policing, but aimed as much AT cyclists as FOR cyclists. It pains me to say that while he seems a nice chap, his party does not have a defensible policy for cyclists. Bike Rating - 2/10

Last, but not least, the Liberal Democrats, via my current councillor Neil McGovern. He's been a good councillor, but I suspect (and I'll not be unhappy to be proved wrong!) that he'll lose his seat in the coming election, largely because LibDem is a toxic brand right now. Its their policy to set policing priorities very locally - so there is not city wide pressure on the police to target dangerous driving. This, in my opinion, is a massive error - it sends out mixed messages both to the police and to motorists. He was non-commital on parking. His party supports 20mph zones but not a blanket 20mph limit in the city (which, again, is a mixed message that will not work). There is no commitment to get the extra cycle parking we need, nor an acknowledgement that the LibDem council has rather failed when dealing with developers backing out of giving us the facilities we need. And, again, no real vision or sense of ambition. So, good bloke, shame about the party (which I fear will sink his chances), and lack of any vision at all on cycling. Bike Rating - 3/10

To conclude, if cycling is your priority in Cambridge, don't vote Tory or Liberal Democrat. Maybe vote Labour, but if you're lucky enough to have a Green candidate, thats where you should place your cross. There isn't any contest. Note, I'm not saying that you should only vote on this issue, but if its on your radar, keep it in mind.

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