Sadiq Khan has made a big political impression in London. He has learnt from Labour’s recent failures that you have to define yourself, before your enemies define you. As Mayor, his first days were full of announcements on bus fares, air pollution and the Garden Bridge. He has sounded like he is pushing serious policies to deliver important transport and related air pollution improvements. What was missing was anything on cycling.
This may be the result of the controversy that cycling is currently perceived to generate, or more likely, it may be because Sadiq Khan simply hasn’t got his head around the detail and direction he wants to take.
Either way, this is a dangerous moment for London’s cycling policy. Sadiq has the help of TfL’s policy staff, but it appears there are pro and anti voices within TfL. Institutionally, many TfL staff may see cycling as just a cost, unlike public transport, which generates useful revenue.
Sadiq has not yet named or found a Walking and Cycling Commissioner, and it seems that the appointment of Andrew Gilligan was critical in unblocking the TfL and local council log jams to get schemes up and running.
Sadiq on his own has other things to do. He may have time to understand the reasons why individual cycling schemes have settled on one route or another, or why certain Boroughs will or won’t co-operate. He will not have time to change things around or advance the next set of schemes.
It will however be tempting to delay or ditch certain schemes. We heard with the East West Cycle Superhighway this week that he may well not go forward with the plan to take it along with Westway. This isn’t entirely unreasonable as a reaction, as there are better possible routes, except that as we all know, RBKC won’t allow them. Sadiq would have to resort to threats.
The problem will be that each change will take at least a year to redesign, consult and implement.
Sadiq has also apparently said that he wants his cycle schemes to be less controversial. This is a natural desire. Here, he does have one simple option, which is to build things at a more even pace. At least, not in the rush that we had in Boris’ last two years. Boris needed to do this, because of the political cycle. However, such rushing caused a lot of traffic disruption which in reality probably generated the majority of the controversy. It made some people question the validity of the projects. This may settle down now, but it is probably best to build schemes in smaller phases with less continuous disruption.
Sadiq may be tempted to review schemes, make changes to ensure they are less disruptive, or shift emphasis to borough roads. He may want to cancel one or more of the projects in the pipelines. All this spells delay, and in turn the potential to fail to deliver for considerable periods of time, along with the likelihood of arriving at roughly similar conclusions in a few year’s time. It’s worth remembering that Boris did precisely this eight years ago, when he cancelled the existing London Cycling Network programme, only to effectively revive it six years later as Quietways.
Encouraging cycling however means that we need a continuous programme of incremental improvements. If Sadiq wants to succeed, it seems to me that he needs to appoint his Walking and Cycling Commissioner very quickly, preferably so he has help evaluating the current consultations and more importantly, so he can get his strategy for the next set of projects in place. In the meantime, he should deliver as much as possible of what is already planned so that we get continuous growth in cycling numbers and safety, rather than a two year pause.
I hope cycling campaigners will press Sadiq to announce who he wants to appoint.