Boris Johnson, London Mayor, has pledged to improve cycling provision, as it becomes the big election issue with days to go before polling.
He conceded that facilities for the capital’s cyclists were currently imperfect. He also provoked a backlash by characterising cyclists as “dreadlocked”, “lycra-clad” and “morally superior” in the context of humour at a Mayoral hustings on Monday. He says if re-elected he will build more cycle superhighways and review roundabouts and junctions, as reported in The Times today.
Cycling was cited as a key election issue by riders from Lewisham when they joined the 10,000 strong Big Ride on Saturday April 28 to raise bike awareness in the capital.
The Big Ride was organised by the London Cycling Campain as part of their Lets Go Dutch initiative to make cycling safety and awareness high up the next mayoral agenda. Ahead of next week’s London elections, Lib Dem and Green Party mayoral candidates Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones both took part on the ride.
Meeting at Brockley’s Hillifields at 9.30am, the Lewisham feeder ride set off with adults at the front and back and children peddling through the rain in the middle.
Dave Green, from Brockley, was the organiser for the Lewisham feeder and told East London Lines that London cyclists need to come together to call for better cycling measures: “Cycling is a fantastic thing to do in London; it’s one of the best ways to get around the city but its harder and more danergous than it needs to be.”
With child safety on the road a concern for many, the Big Ride was promoted as a family event. Ned Boulting, from Lewisham, told East London Lines that his eldest daughter encouraged the family to get involved. He said that he found cycling with a group including children very different to cycling by himself.
“Riding up from Lewisham into town today and trying to marshall the big group, with lots of children riding, scared the life out of me I have to say. It was something about the big group. It’s a bit of a battle zone”.
But he also said that cyclists need to show more respect to vehicles too: “I think it is give and take and I think cyclists forget that at their peril because they’re only going to gain respect from the wider community if they’re impeccable”.
Feeder marches from every borough converged at Hyde Park corner soon after 11am before starting the understandably slow ride through central London and finishing on Victoria Embankment.
The Lets Go Dutch campaign urges all candidates build quality cycling infrastructure across the capital, like that in the Netherlands. The Dutch capital is famed for its cycling environment, however its population is close to a tenth of London. But the mood amongst the thousands of commuters, cycling clubs, action groups, families and friends that braved the typically April combination drizzle and downpour was that there is need for Dutch principles to be introduced onto London streets.
Shaun Packham and Jane Dent, from Bermondsey, have spent the last two summers in the Netherlands and after completing the Big Ride told East London Lines that the difference cycling there is
“You’re always completely safe and away from traffic. Here you’ve just got to keep your wits about you the whole time and always be on the defensive really, whilst in Holland you can just completely relax on your bike.”
And Packham said that despite the population differences, London could have similar success if it followed the Dutch example.
“Holland had the same problem. Thirty years ago there were a lot of road deaths, children being killed by cars in Holland. And it was only by things like today – big lobbying groups who got together on their bikes and protested – that that’s why we now see Holland as a cycle friendly country. It doesn’t just happen without huge political pressure and people spending money.”