Our friends in Outer London

On Wednesday, Green London AM Jenny Jones tweeted the question that she will ask at next week’s Mayor’s Question Time:

Having given Biking Boroughs £25k to draw up extra plans, will you look again at giving them an additional multi-million pound ringfenced budget so they can take those ideas forward and contribute to your strategic targets?

The Biking Boroughs scheme was launched a year ago:

Kulveer Ranger, the Mayor of London’s Transport Advisor, said: “2010 is set to be the year of cycling in the Capital, with the launch of London’s Cycle Hire scheme and the first two Cycle Superhighways. However, it’s in outer London that the greatest scope exists to increase the number of people travelling by bicycle. It’s staggering that half of all car trips in outer London are less than two miles in length, a distance you can cover on a bike in around 10 minutes.

“The Biking Boroughs scheme aims to harness the huge appetite that already exists for cycling in outer London, making it even easier to replace unnecessary short car trips with pedal power and delivering health benefits, better air quality and encouraging the use of local shops and town centres.”

At the time, each of the 13 boroughs were given £25k — enough to pay for one member of staff to think for a year, but not enough to actually do anything.

So yesterday, after this thinking time, the Mayor announced that he is giving the boroughs a few weeks to submit proposals for a slice of £4 million.  (I assume that the timing, a few days ahead of Jenny Jones’s MQT question is all part of the political pantomime.)  Divided amongst the 13 boroughs, that amounts to just £308,000.  But, the funding is spread over three years — so it amounts to about £100,000 per year each, running out after three years.

The Mayor’s press release helps us visualise what the fund means by telling us what fantastic things the boroughs could do with £4 million:

  • 40,000 new on-street cycle parking spaces, or…
  • training 200,000 lorry drivers in safety and awareness of cyclists, or…
  • training courses for 66,000 cyclists, or…
  • 100km of quiet cycle routes in suburban areas.

All initiatives which can already be seen working excellently in Waltham Forest.

I have my own preferred ways to visualise what this fund means:

We have thrown away more than 1,000 times as much money on a road building strategy that we have known for decades doesn’t work, and now we’re spending a tiny fraction of what it costs to do the one thing that has been shown to work.

But all of that aside, what really jumped out from the press release was a comment from Boris.  The delightful and charming thing about Boris — his only quality as a politician — is that when he gives a statement, he lets his own personality and thoughts (even when his own thoughts are empty waffle, as they frequently are) slip in amongst the PR speak.  So when Boris says this:

This funding will enable our friends in Outer London to develop exciting ways to make cycling bloom in their boroughs making it easier to replace some short car journeys with pedal power.

in amongst the marketing crap we get a little insight into the way he thinks.  We are not all just Londoners.  We are Londoners plus Our Friends In Outer London.  And, alongside his Important Duties to Londoners as Mayor of London, Boris occasionally finds a spare moment to charitably toss our friends some chickenfeed do our friends a favour.


Utter tripe in the outer boroughs

It was Transport Question Time at City Hall this week: the 25 London Assembly members’ monthly-ish check up on the chair and the commissioner of Transport for London — Boris Johnson and Peter Hendy respectively.  If you’re as big a loser as me, you’ll want to watch it here.  Alternatively, London Reconnections can usually be relied upon to post a report (but haven’t yet).

The fun bit starts at 38 minutes, where Jenny Jones (one of two Green AMs, and regular at Critical Mass) asks Boris what he is going to do in order to reach his (depressingly unambitious) target of five percent share for cycling by 2026, given that his existing flagship “cycle revolution” schemes — bike hire and “superhighways” — are only projected to generate 180,000 of the 1 million additional daily journeys that are needed to hit the target.  Jones is particularly interested in the Mayor’s ideas for the outer boroughs, whose modal share is especially low.  (Boris did, after all, campaign on a platform of ending Ken’s obsession with Zone 1.)

(Lets leave aside for now the fact that it is dubious whether bike hire will hit its 40,000 target, and there is absolutely no chance of “superhighways” creating their target 140,000 additional journeys, unless they are radically redesigned — so we shouldn’t be letting the Mayor get away with those 180,000 made up journeys.)

The Mayor’s waffling non-answer and farcical performance was a great insight into just how committed he is to a “cycling revolution”.  These are the fantastic initiatives that the Mayor thinks will more than double the modal share for cycling in London (my lazy paraphrasing — except #3: he really did say that):

  1. “More Sheffield Stands.”  Thanks.  Not having convenient parking can indeed be very annoying.  Just ask anybody: why don’t you cycle in London? “Oh, I’d love to, but there just aren’t enough Sheffield Stands.”
  2. “Waffle waffle erm, Biking uh Boroughs, mumble rarh, Bogota.”  [At this point the chair tells the Mayor off for wasting everyone’s time.]
  3. “We want generally to see a London where motorists feel that they can find cyclists on any road.” Oh.  Right.  Hang on.  What?
  4. “Outer London Skyrides.”  After which everybody went home and put their bike back in the garage until next year.
  5. “Participatory activities.” No details on what these were, or how many hundred thousand cyclists they create.  Perhaps he means the guided bike rides on tube strike days?
  6. “Free cycle training.”  Doesn’t work.
  7. “Asked people to cycle or walk to school in Sutton.”  Looks like a very successful scheme: 85% of pupils walk to one school.  Walking is like cycling, right?  I’ll put them down as cyclists.  Close enough.
  8. “Thought about outer London bike hire, but decided it was too difficult.”

At one point during this list (I say “list”, it came out as an unstructured stream of straw-clutching) — just before we got to Skyrides, I think — Jenny interrupted the waffling to try at least to pin the Mayor down on one specific point (my paraphrasing from memory):

Jenny: Will you spend the £60 million needed to complete the London Cycle Network in the outer boroughs?

Boris: How much?

Jenny: £60 million

Boris: [derisive laugh quickly stifled] We’ve been doing skyrides…

When Jenny noted than none of these schemes had any chance of actually working, he replied that Jenny was — with all of the due respect, of course — talking “total and utter tripe.”  He was, he said, “doing an awful lot to try to encourage cycling.”

Let the ruling classes tremble at Boris Johnson’s cycling revolution.