“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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Media friendly – column inches are vote-winners.
- 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.