Please! Bike lanes are *not* political

IMG_5489

We will fix the cycle lanes. CYCLISTS DISMOUNT

This flyer came through my door today.

First, some recent Enfield history. Enfield’s ‘Mini Holland’ £42 million grant to boost walking, cycling (and town centres) was the brainchild of a Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, and was won in 2014 by a Labour council with the full support of its Conservative opposition. It was a cross-party bid, securing a huge investment for the health of Enfield’s residents and the economic health of its high streets. It was a bid that rose above politics for the common good.

Then it all fell apart. The designs came out for public consultation, residents got upset as residents always do when change is afoot (and even more so when they’re acycle) and suddenly the Conservatives were against the whole idea. The council opposition ousted the leader who had supported the Mini Holland bid and got itself a new one who hated it. Our Conservative MP also mounted a campaign attacking it.

 

In 20 years of living near the A105, I did not once see a school child cycle to school here – until the bike lanes were built

Both were unsuccessful (except in delaying the work) and the scheme has gone ahead. More and more people are gradually using the new infrastructure, and the appearance of Urbo dockless hire bikes has caused quite a stir – people are talking about cycling for their first time in decades. But now it’s the run-up to local elections, and the Tories have renewed their efforts to weaponise the bike lanes. This is deeply disappointing.

Bike lanes are not a political football – they are a necessity for public health. If Enfield were not investing in active travel for its residents, it would be failing in its duty of care. (I don’t think I need to recite again the litany of childhood obesity, air pollution, sedentary lifestyles – not to mention congestion for a fast-growing population.) The analogy has been made before, but if the issue were about separating sewage from a clean water supply for the first time – rather than separating vulnerable road users from cars – would there be any question about what was better for residents’ health? And would it be moral for politicians to jump on the ‘Keep raw sewage in our drinking water’ bandwagon?

Part of the attraction of the popular new Urbo hire bikes is having cycle lanes to use them on

But that’s exactly what seems to be happening here. Political leaders of all colours (and there is nothing inherently Labour about cycle infrastructure) need to lead like grown-ups on this issue. The opposition could help the public accept the changes, playing a role in fine-tuning and holding the council to account in how they are delivered, rather than sabotaging them at every opportunity. Political expediency is trumping the common good.

But let’s imagine for a moment that this about-turn was not short-term political opportunism. Let’s look at their actual concerns. The leaflet says, ‘The orcas [bike lane separators] are a trip hazard, some small businesses have already closed and congestion has increased.’

Chris on trike

Decent cycle infrastructure, including ‘orcas’ used as separators, opens up cycling for everyone

The orcas: have indeed been tripped over by some people, although they are only used outside areas with a high footfall. That should be a cause for concern, leading to questions like, ‘How can we make them more visible?’ Yet the Conservative answer is ‘remove the dangerous Orcas as a priority’. This would leave only a line of paint to protect people who are cycling from the really dangerous things on the road – motor vehicles. Which would surely nip Enfield’s burgeoning cycle culture firmly in the bud.

Small businesses: some have closed. And some have opened. And none of this has any tangible link to the cycle lanes. (Hal Haines had a good look into the issue here.)

Congestion: I live right next to Enfield’s first completed cycle route and use it every day on foot or by bike, and sometimes in a car. I can’t see any difference in congestion compared to before. Proper data is needed, because I suspect the scheme’s opponents are simply seeing what they hoped and expected to see.

So what’s really going on? ‘I’m not against cycling’ has been the opposition’s mantra throughout. Cycling is to be encouraged – just not at the expense of precious space for car driving and parking on main roads. But I’m afraid the strongest message that comes across from the leaflet above is the one on the bright red background: CYCLISTS DISMOUNT.* That seems to be how Enfield’s Conservatives plan to ‘fix the bike lanes’: by snuffing out cycling altogether. How will that work out for the long-term health and well-being of the population, I wonder?

I hope I never get to find out.

Finally – I would happily discuss this with any Conservative councillor or candidate in Enfield. In particular, I would love to go on a local walkabout and chat with Cllr Joanne Laban, who originally supported the Mini Holland bid and is now leading her party again. Even though the leaflets are printed and the social media battles have begun, it’s never too late to talk.

Watch this space – maybe I’ll be reporting back on such a conversation soon.

 

* I emailed a complaint to the contractors about this sign months ago, pointing out that not all cyclists can dismount – for some, a bike is a mobility aid. To my delight the sign disappeared shortly after. Just not soon enough to prevent this photo.

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2 thoughts on “Please! Bike lanes are *not* political

  1. Look on the bright side, I doubt that the Conservativesare going to win where you are. People hate cyclists, I have a bike and a car and I make very sure when I am on my bike that I exude charm, it makes it safer.

    Somerset is rammed full of arrogant, mostly male, cyclists in head to toe Lycra and far to important to wait at a red light or a traffic light, and who radiate self importance on a galactic scale. ( I speak as a male and these people really annoy me with their pig headed bad manners. )You can spot people who use bikes as a mode of transport, to get to work. They normally wear ordinary clothes, a token bit of high vis, and obey the rules of the road.

    The only way you can win this argument is to ignore the bigots, they will never listen, especially as their prejudices will be reinforced daily by the more aggressive London cyclists, and concentrate on the benefits for young parents and reasonable people. If you involve organisations like the scouts and guides and get them to say how good the cycle scheme is for their young members you will get much further than applying logic to an emotional problem.

    • Just because [you charmingly imagine] you ‘exude charm’, doesn’t mean some ‘people’ ‘who radiate self importance on a galactic scale’ and ‘hate cyclists’ won’t still toy with your life for a laugh…

      The ‘more aggressive London cyclists’ is a dog-whistle myth, mostly originating from precisely the authors of such vile campaign leaflets, loaded questionnaires, etc. and spread by their useful idiot supporters. As you are attempting here, whether unwitting or not, Charles! How could this supposed aggression possibly manifest itself?

      Last time I cycled through Somerset, admittedly ten years ago, the A38 was lined with increasingly ‘emotional’ signs saying how many motoring deaths there had been on each section of road in the past few years. So please excuse me for doubting that it’s ‘arrogant, mostly male, cyclists’ you are ‘rammed full of’ causing the problem—with red motor traffic lights, or otherwise.

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