Monday 29 April 2013

County Elections - who to vote for. Part 1: The Tories

Credit where its due, Cambridge Cycling Campaign have done very well with their cycling survey for this election. Excellent stuff.

Now I've no intention of going through the pros and cons of each party; you really vote for the candidate, rather than the party, but its interesting that there are some very clear party trends on display. I'll summarise by giving a couple of fairly typical responses from each party, and give a few thoughts. I'll try to give responses from the ward I live in, Kings Hedges, but where that person hasn't responded I'll have to go further afield.

Lets start with the Ruling Party on our County Council, the Conservatives. Needless to say that the Tory candidate, Anette Karimi, is one of those folk doing their party duty by standing. They know they'll not win, so we've had no campaign literature, nor any calls, and she's not responded to the survey. Nor have candidates for Arbury, East or West Chesterton, Histon and Impington... Not really engaging much it seems. 
Got to go as far as Market ward to get someone who has responded; Sheila Lawlor.

Now Dr.(I think) Lawlor  is making the right noises, at least to begin with.
Cycling is my main means of transport in Cambridge, and has been all my working life, ever since I moved here to do my PhD at Sidney Sussex College. I use my bike to go everywhere in and about Cambridge, as do my husband and son. As a family cycling is essential to our life in Cambridge...
...I agree that cycling routes tend to be more cost-effective than heavy infrastructure. Yet cost is not the only reason for encouraging cycling: the environmental, aesthetic and cultural benefits cycling brings Cambridge versus other modes of transport are enormous. One reason for the building of cycle lanes that I would stress is safety: as our roads become busier it is vital that we ensure there are high-quality routes on which cyclists can travel safely.
Now I won't argue with any of that, although I do wonder about anyone throwing around their Ph. D. in the first sentence of any survey, especially in Cambridge. I get suspicious of anyone doing that in politics.

She then goes on to talk about enforcement, again making some of the right noises. I can't help but warm to her when she says things like this:

It's not enough to bring in measures like speed limits but fail to enforce them: my residents' group has evidence that the 20mph speed limit is not being observed. Increased traffic policing is one way I'd tackle this (using evidence as a guide to focus resources efficiently), but while policing can certainly deal with the symptoms of the problem, it cannot remove the root cause.
So far so good. Makes some good sounds on the Catholic Church junction without ever coming right out and saying the current plan makes a mockery of our safety, and then ends with this:
 We need to be honest about road use in Cambridge, stop trying to please everybody and focus on what sort of a place we want our city centre to be. Do we want it to be a calm and safe environment for those who live and work here, or a free-for-all thoroughfare plagued by heavy traffic? I am campaigning for the former, and if I succeed, then cyclists will have a fairer share of the roads in town (although residents will still be able to drive when they need to). I have been campaigning since 2008 on local issues. I advocate a 21st Century vision of roads in Cambridge one in which heavy traffic – lorry, bus, car – decreases in the centre; one which supports those who live and work here; and above all, which allows those who cycle and walk, to do so in safety.
Okay, this is all good, but I found her a little short on detail. Ten out of ten for intentions - maybe four out of ten for giving us details of how you want to achieve this. Pretty good actually.

Now before we get carried away, lets have a look at another candidate: John Michael Ionides, standing in Trumpington.

In response to this (quite reasonable) question from the Campaign:
Cambridge is seeing massive housing growth, with tens of thousands of new journeys into the city expected daily. Given that building tunnels, knocking down houses, or providing new public transport is very expensive, would you agree that creating very high-quality cycling routes to encourage new people to cycle offers by far the best cost-benefit ratio for transport improvements that facilitate growth of the City and surrounding areas?
...his reply is:
This is a highly leading question that fails to consider the complexity of the issues.
Yes. Really. Thats his reply.

The counter-point to that is no it isn't. The question is very simple - is provision of routes that encourage cycling a cost effective way of getting people in and out of the city?  Is it a leading question? Somewhat, in that its from a cycling campaign and about cycling (what did he expect?), but not considering the complexity? Then tell us what you think the complexities are Mr. Ionides, because from where I'm sitting its a pretty bloody simple issue. Are routes that are safe and pleasant to ride on a good and cost effective idea if you start fro the premise of wanting more folk to cycle, yes or no?

He then goes on to answer a question about policing based on the hazard brought to others by different classes of road users with:

This is another highly leading question. I have done considerable survey work within Trumpington in the past that suggests that the options are by no means as clear cut as the question implies, particularly where pavement cycling (a significant issue in areas such as the High St near Alpha Terrace) is concerned.
Leading question? What, policing based on the harm caused rather than some s41t someone imagines is the case? Evidence based policing doesn't appeal to you because..?

Lets skip over the two questions he answered with what appears to be identical text, and on to the Catholic Church question which is:
Which should have greater priority: safety of people cycling, or flow of motor vehicles, e.g. at junctions like the Catholic Church junction?
He has answered with:
 The question has only listed a couple of the possible points to be considered. Many other factors need to be considered in junction design.
And now he's lost me. The question is very simple - what matters more to you, safety or traffic flow? He's completely failed to answer, he's dodged the question entirely, presumably to avoid going against party line.

 But lets look at his final word on the survey:
I feel that this survey is considerably weaker than those in previous years. Many of the questions are leading or include unrealistic simplification of complex problems.
In addition, there is an emphasis on highway-based solutions to increasing cycling uptake - and it is far from clear that highway issues are limiting cycling uptake for many demographic groups. It would be nice to see an appreciation of schemes that tackle the problem form other angles, for instance the County's own Cycle to Work scheme.7
Okay... So you're saying that we're just not giving enough love to the County Council who haven't managed any serious increase in cycling (which in Cambridge is flatlining, while rising elsewhere in the UK), and you're seriously suggesting that emphasising safety of cyclists is oversimplifying? In every single way, in every important respect, I find this quite abhorrent. What a horrible way to trivialise our safety; to imply that making a junction safer for us might not be as big a priority as we'd like because its complicated, what an abhorrent viewpoint. And to compound that with flag waving for a demonstrably bad council... Well, you've pinned your colours to the party flag Mr. Ionides. Good luck to you, but you'll go down with that sinking ship I'm afraid...

In conclusion, I can say that there do seem to be some relatively sane Tory candidates, and in any council election coming across as a compassionate, relatively sane person is part of the battle. And then there are candidates like Mr. Ionides who I find, from that survey, to be rather useless if I'm honest. 

So far, so bad. Lets move on to another party with the next blog post, I'll do Labour...


  1. Does Mr Ionides mean the county Travel For Work scheme? Which, while of interest to cyclists is not a cycle-only scheme.

    I'd forgive a slip in a spoken interview, but it's not as if he couldn't have looked it up if he was going to try to plug it.

    I am pro-Travel For Work as being a bit handy for some things. I'm skeptical about how much it actually increases cycling. It's notable how many of the employer members are Cambridge-based - it's following existing cyclists, not creating new ones.

    I only know about it because my employer used to be a member. When they mysteriously disappeared from the list, no-one at the company could remember signing up for it and denied they ever had been (I'd used the discount, so sure that we were). Obviously some failure in outreach and continued communication even with existing members. How such a scheme can therefore claim to increase cycling it a bit mysterious: not many know about it.

    1. I think he's keen to be positive about what his party have done, despite the fact they have done nearly feck all. I'm less annoyed by him raising this scheme in that context than I am by the fact that he and other Tory candidates patronise us by saying that there is a complicated balance to be struck between our safety and other issues. That, right there, is the admission that we aren't important enough for them to care about.

    2. I think he's keen to be positive about what his party have done, despite the fact they have done nearly feck all. I'm less annoyed by him raising this scheme in that context than I am by the fact that he and other Tory candidates patronise us by saying that there is a complicated balance to be struck between our safety and other issues. That, right there, is the admission that we aren't important enough for them to care about.

    3. I think there probably is a balance to be struck between the needs of different groups of road users.

      The problem is that we need to reverse half a century of car-centrism to have a chance at balance.