London can learn from Manchester

Panel discussion on Mayor of London’s cycling policies

London can learn from Manchester

"Having other metro areas do things that are really good, really fast, makes London look slow and rubbish, and that’s a good thing."

That was London Cycling Campaign infrastructure campaigner Simon Munk, responding to the question "What can London learn from Manchester?". He was speaking at the panel discussion: "Where are we going? The future for London cycling", held at the London cycle workshop and cafe Look Mum No Hands earlier this week (March 26).

"We can learn from Manchester," Munk said. "I’m really excited to see what [Manchester cycling and walking tsar] Chris Boardman and his team are doing. One thing the Mayor of London should be ashamed of is that he was told [London transport engineer] Brian Deegan was leaving, and he didn’t do anything about that - and now Brian Deegan works for Chris Boardman. He was the doyenne of of cycling design at TfL.

"We’ve lost good people to Manchester and I feel very sad about that. But, on the other side of the coin, I really hope Chris Boardman and his team can deliver a huge amount, really quickly, because we will have to then respond to that."

Manchester is spending £137 million on cycling infrastructure, the audience of about 80 heard. (For more on Manchester's cycling upgrade, read our interview with Chris Boardman in Velocity issue three.) Meanwhile, the Mayor of London's budget for cycling has underspent three years running, by £142 million, according to panel chair and London Assembly Green Party representative, Caroline Russell. So, she asked, what one thing would the panellists ask for cycling in the next term?

"TfL is 70% of the mayoral budget," said Nicole Badstuber, a Cambridge transport policy researcher. "If cycling isn’t a big topic in this election, we should make it one, because it is his main responsibility. We need to think of transport more as a means of achieving other policy objectives. How it can foster social mobility, better access to education, jobs."

Alix Stredwick of cargo bike social enterprise Carryme urged the Mayor to design infrastructure and access points to public transport to accommodate non-standard bikes and other mobility aids, from electric scooters to Mobility scooters.

Urban policy researcher Tiffany Lam called for "investment in social infrastructure as well".

"We need education and encouragement schemes to ensure that cycling is more inclusive," she said. "Forty-nine per cent of people in London feel that 'cycling is not for me'. To get more than half the population to feel that cycling is for them requires more than cycle lanes – it means inclusive representation, inclusive imagery."

Badstuber and Stredwick suggested better use of existing infrastructure, especially road space. "When I commute to Cambridge I walk down the street and I see parked cars," said Badstuber, referring to reports that most cars are parked and not in use for the vast majority of time. "Half of our public space is being used up by a handful of people’s private property. We should be getting rid of on-street parking in our city centres and inner towns. That would give us a lot of space to re-allocate to cycle lanes, to better pedestrian space, and discourage people from using their car.”

For Munk, though, the key was "an end to consultation as a referendum".

"Every consultation becomes a war of us versus them, who is going to get more numbers, the cyclists or the taxi drivers? We need a system that says: 'this is the need we have identified'. If we then have a conversation about how we deliver that best, we change the whole game."

Munk pointed to the Waltham Forest mini-Holland scheme to support his suggestion. Using digital consultation tools such as Commonplace, Munk said, it was understood that "sixty-seven per cent of people in surveys across all of London say they want cycle schemes and cycle tracks. They will happily spend more time to get to their car to get safer cycling. We have general support for safer cycling.

"In Waltham Forest the first village-wide scheme that went in was incredibly controversial, hard fought. There was a public trial of the scheme. People had death threats, people were 'egged'. It was horrific. The end result was 44% of people supporting the scheme, 41% against. That scheme is still talked about on Twitter all the time as being the Apocalypse in Waltham Forest.

"The second scheme in Blackhorse Village was a bigger scheme, more radical, with more road closures and so on. But what Waltham Forest did was to say 'how do you feel about your roads? Are there too many vehicles? Are they going too fast? Would you like your children to be able to play outside?' They gathered all that data and came back and said 'we’ve got this scheme, we’ll let you co-design it'.

"The people co-designing it tried to take all the modal filters out and the council said 'you can’t do that because 70% of you told us you want less traffic, and so the only way we can move the scheme forward is if the end result is much less traffic.' So after the massive controversy of the first scheme, the end result was 65% for the second scheme.

"If we have these conversations, it can work. It starts with political will.”