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Can Sadiq Khan Deliver on His Promises to London Cyclists?

‘Cycle Superhighway 11 is dead’, says former cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan in his latest blog post.

Although a tad overdramatic, it would appear that CS11 has in fact hit yet another in a series of roadblocks (no pun intended).

According to TfL’s own website, one of the key elements of the plan - and its most recent point of contention - includes “restricted access for motor vehicles on the Outer Circle (of Regent’s Park) by reducing through-traffic”.

The original idea was to close four of the eight gates of Regent’s Park for 20 hours each day (they currently close only between midnight and 07:00), in an effort to combat rampant rat-running in the Outer Circle.

The plan was proposed and consulted on under Boris Johnson, and had gained 60% approval in a public consultation back in August of 2016.

However, it now appears that the ever-expeditious Westminster Council finally decided to voice its opposition to the scheme. Instead, they want the plan significantly watered down - close two gates instead of four, and only from 07:00-9.30 and 16:00-19:00 (on top of the existing closure times). Also, limit the gate closures to weekdays only.

Quite the counter.

Quagmire Ahead

The CEPC (Crown Estates Paving commission) which manages the park’s roads, as well as some cycling advocates are both understandably frustrated by said rectifications. The new plan would do little to tackle the main goal of proposed gate closures (rat-running in the park) and, according to the CEPC, could be even more dangerous than the status quo.

As a result, the CEPC has decided to block the proposed changes, bringing the entire plan to a screeching halt. Well, unless you count all the finger pointing and blame shifting as progress.

It is unclear what will happen to CS11 at the moment. The plan’s still far from ‘dead’, but if the Westminster Council doesn’t budge, the differences might be irreconcilable. As Khan’s own spokesperson said:

“Despite the positive consultation results there has to be agreement from all responsible authorities for the plans to be progressed, and we continue to work with all stakeholders to take these plans forward.”

Which brings me to a bigger and potentially much more concerning point - does Sadiq Khan actually have the political courage to deliver on his promises to cyclists?

The Promised Land

So let’s begin by recounting what Sadiq Khan actually promised to London cyclists.

Before he was elected, Mr. Khan pledged to triple the current protected space for cycling, primarily by proposing new and advancing current plans for cycle superhighways.

It’s one thing for Andrew Giligan to question Khan’s political resolve (he’s hardly a raving fan of Khan as it is). It’s quite another when significant cycling advocates join the fray, and slowly start airing their doubts in public.

Just this week, Sunstrans published a piece examining what it’d actually take for Khan to meet his 2020 promises. By their calculations, as it stands Khan has yet to deliver on a total of 31 additional kilometres of segregated cycling routes before 2020. That’s quite a bit:

“It’s time the Mayor, jointly with boroughs, published a cycling plan for the remainder of his term” vents Sunstrans in their closing thoughts: “There are 27 months left to build cycle tracks on 30 kilometres of London’s streets. We are all keen to know if this will happen and where these will be. Time is running short.”

On a similarly somber note, Chris Boardman - ex olympian, current British Cycling policy advisor - recently said that Khan has so far failed to effectively address the anti-cycling lobby:

“The current administration didn’t take input from previous lessons and so have encountered many of the same problems” said Boardman, lamenting the fact that Giligan, the former ‘cycling tzar’ wasn’t even consulted by Khan’s cabinet.

Opposition Mounts

There’s even more trouble on the horizon for London’s cycling prospects. Just in the last 10 days, two new community groups began campaigning against pending superhighways.

First, Stoke Newington residents have recently come out against plans for new traffic restrictions in the area, as part of the latest stage of CS1’s development.

As the first set of closures had already caused traffic displacement, they say, the new restrictions are seen as just a “clumsy attempt” to solve traffic issues inadvertently created by TfL’s plan in the first place.

Elsewhere, a new group of local businesses and residents has formed, calling themselves RedesignCS9 and asking for...well, you get the picture.

Among other things, they claim the Cycle Superhighway 9 presents a “dangerous obstacle course” for pedestrians and public transport users. They also claim that many of them have never been informed of the public consultation led by TfL, and that “obvious interest groups that should have been consulted were not.”

Of course, this is all on top of a long-running and oddly committed anti-cycling smear campaign, spearheaded by several prominent ‘news’ outlets, featuring dodgy polls and fake reports, all with a fairly clear goal of pushing a prerecorded narrative.

What's Next?

As community backlash grows, it’s difficult to see how Mr. Khan can realistically do good on his 2020 pledge, especially given his seeming reluctance to tackle these opposition voices head-on.

There’s no doubt that concentrated political will is going to be the key to Khan’s cycling vision for London. But that doesn’t mean that public consensus on these issues will ever be achieved, or that one should even be expected. As Giligan notes:

“Schemes that make a meaningful change to the status quo will nearly always have majority support, but will never be unopposed; and much of that opposition will be highly confrontational. We learned, in the end, that noise was not the same as numbers.”

“London has the country’s lowest levels of car use. Most Londoners want and would benefit from less motor traffic. Our cycle schemes invariably won between 60 and 85 per cent support in our consultations. Once schemes were done, and everyone could see the benefits, even the opposition that there was tended to melt away.”

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