On campaigning

“Politically speaking, the man is still in the nursery who has not absorbed, so as never to forget, the saying attributed to one of the most successful politicians that ever lived: ‘What businessmen do not understand is that exactly as they are dealing in oil, so I am dealing in votes.’”

–          Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942 (p285)

Why have we got anywhere with Blackfriars?

In February, TfL gave people 5 days to respond to their Blackfriars “consultation” about the right hand turn. People who cycle were enraged, and blogged about their anger – and the volume of these objections may well have contributed to what happened next.

But actually it was the Labour Party London AM Val Shawcross who met with TfL and managed to make them extend the consultation.

Since then, other politicians have raised the issue, the most recent news being that the Transport Minister Norman Baker is going to speak to TfL – although he has no formal power over their decision.

Why are politicians being so helpful?

Is it because they passionately believe in our cause? No, or there would never have been the political will to pass the thousands of anti-walking and -cycling decisions of this decade.

The next London Assembly and Mayoral election is May 2012 – only a few months after the Blackfriars redesign finishes. They want our votes.

I think this is clear if you look at who has been involved, when, and how vocal they have been.

After Val Shawcross, John Biggs quickly came on board. Is it a coincidence that they represent inner South and East London, areas with far more cyclists than most others? (See p27 here for stats.)

As it became clear this was larger than most cycling issues, Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon and then Tory Andrew Boff both spoke out in support. And why not? Still a relatively niche campaign – their presence might curry favour with some voters. Other than TfL, no one really seems to be in favour of the speed limit being raised to 30mph, so unlikely to hurt them. A safe issue.

Boff and Pidgeon are both London-wide representatives: the election won’t be decided on cycling conditions in Bromley or Edgware or Penge. This might explain why Boff’s support has been limited to an email – and why Boff was prepared to wash off the positive sheen he might have gained here when he walked out with his Conservative colleagues, rather than discuss this motion in the London Assembly.

Pidgeon has been a little more active, actually going on a site visit with TfL. But then she did stand as the Lib Dem candidate for the Vauxhall constituency in 2010 – cyclists’ votes may yet be important to Ms Pidgeon.

What now?

Some have suggested another event where we cycle slowly over Blackfriars Bridge, or maybe some other bridges. Others have suggested a co-ordinated commute. One thing seems clear to me:

If Blackfriars remains simply a cycling issue, then it by definition remains an issue that most Londoners either don’t care about or actively hostile towards.

If this is the case, we will not win this battle. Boris “I am TfL” Johnson has made his smoothing traffic flow priorities perfectly clear. Inner London Labour AMs and the Green Party (much as I admire them) are not enough to change the central tenet of TfL policy.

But Blackfriars is also about pedestrians, cleaner air and ultimately more pleasant streets.

So what do we do? Well, I’ve got a couple of ideas, but the responses I’ve had so far are “you need a slap” and “your mother will kill you”, so I’m going to research them a little more. Whatever we do, I think it has to fulfil two conditions:

  1. Media friendly – column inches are vote-winners.
  2. Inclusive – this is about making our city people-friendly. People who can participate should ideally include those who walk London, those who’d like to cycle but currently don’t, and in fact even motorists who also want London’s streets to be more pleasant.

Answers on a postcard.

5 Responses to “On campaigning”

  1. remerson Says:

    I’m entirely in agreement with your analysis and your conclusions, but I’m at something of a loss to come up with suggestions for getting other groups involved.

    Even if we can’t get other groups involved for some reason, we (cyclists) still have to do something, and it has to be a lot more significant than we’ve managed so far. Maybe once we get that going we can bring in other groups too? Maybe we have to get started to raise their awareness first? I’m just typing aloud now… 😉

  2. Carmenego Says:

    I’m another group! A commuter and pedestrian who feels very strongly about this. Chatting to a motorbiking friend of mine yesterday, he pointed out that Blackfriars Bridge is one of the most unpleasant routes through the city, and that most drivers try to avoid it if at all possible.

    Column inches would be good, and not difficult to execute. Getting a slot on the 6.30pm London news would be better, and absolutely doable if going hand in hand with a peaceful demonstration backed by a national newspaper with perhaps simultaneous demonstrations in a few other major cities.

    Let me know if you need any help as I do this kind of thing a lot!

  3. PaulM Says:

    It has to be legal – most of the pedestrians etc around Balckfriars Bridge probably work somewhere or other in the financial sector or regulated professions like law or accountancy. Each year they get a questionnaire asking things like “have you ever been prosecuted or charged with an offence” or “have you ever been reprimanded or censured”, to which tye required answers are clearly “No”, so you won’t get support from a very influential constituency unless you keep it entirely legal.

    Pedestrians make a vast, indeed overwheming majority constituency around Blackfriars. You only have to look at the streams of them walking north across the rbidge in the morning, en route from Waterloo station to offices in the Blackfriars and St Pauls area. When the Blackfriars stations re-open, exepct the numbers to increase massively. Network Rail predicts about 10,000 per hour out of or into the station at peak hours, cf less than 6,000 vehicles (of which 36% are bicycles) crossing the bridge in a three hour period at peak times. One of the demands on which TfL did not budge is access across New Bridge St and the retention of the Watergate pedestrian crossing – flies in the face of what is clearly wanted in this area (you only have to look at the volume of peds playing chicken with the traffic here before the crossing came.)

    And speak to Danny – he and some others are interested in what ideas you have.

  4. PaulM Says:

    ps: I hope remarks on Shawcros & Biggs were not imbued with cynicism. John’s published record generally may not contain much pro-cycling activism in the past but his general activism for his constitutents (mainly to the east of the City proper) is a logical fit with support for cycling and pedestrians, and he was an effective, unsung advocate for cycling with the City of London corporation in its recent LIP process.

  5. Impressions of Paris | As Easy As Riding A Bike Says:

    […] refreshing to see a major road completely closed to ‘traffic’, coming so soon after the dispiriting Blackfriars saga. And the road closures are not limited to this dual carriageway. A large number of streets in the […]

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