Today the Barclay’s Cycle Superhighways were launched at a big press and public event. TfL kindly invited me along and also promised me a couple of quick questions with the Mayor. Of course this was too good an offer to pass by so I went down after canvassing everyone on Twitter for questions to ask. (My take on “open” journalism.)
Boris Johnson was on top form as he arrived by bike looking tired and tieless. He told us that along his 35 minute journey from Islington to Clapham Common it was him versus a boy racer and he only narrowly won thanks to the superhighways. An entertaining story although a quick check on the map confirms the majority of the route is not covered by a superhighway.
Speeches were given and many laughs were received from the gathered members of the press. Boris went on to explain that the blue of the superhighways was meant to represent freedom and be an international sign of how serious London is about cycling. He finished his speech by stressing the importance of London competing against other cities in order to receive investment. By growing cycling he hopes to prove that London has what it takes.
We were also given some figures about the superhighways. The money will fund 5,000 new parking spaces for bikes, over 17,000 hours of cycle training and 3,000 hours of cycle maintenance classes. Boris also told us that any rumours that the cycle superhighways would be less than 1.5 metres in length at certain points were not true.
Everyone seemed rather wooed by the speeches and was happy to walk away thinking how good us cyclists have it. This is highly arguable but you can’t help but agree that the visible nature of the superhighways is a positive thing.
When the opportunity came along to grab some questions with Boris I knew he was not really going to answer anything. However, it was worth trying anyway. I wanted to find out about his vision for the cycle superhighways compared to the reality. What I really wanted to know is how someone can look at the superhighways and think to themselves “yes, this truly is a superhighway, this will be great for new cyclists”. Boris simply said that of course his initial vision would not be possible due to the big range of stakeholders. However, he would like to see the blue tarmac all throughout London.
I also asked about the reductions in cycle lanes along certain points. He told me that of course there would be some problems at the start. What about the policing of the cycle superhighways? A lot of people on Twitter wanted to know what would be done to keep vehicles out of the lanes. He quoted the TfL research that suggests the visual nature of the lanes will be enough to help drivers recognise the sheer volume of cyclists passing through and thus they will stay out of the lane.
Our interview was cut short by a cyclist riding on the pavement. Boris approached him and shouted “why did we build the superhighways if you’re not going to use them?” I’m sure we could give him a number of reasons.
There are many questions still to ask – the congestion zone extension scrap, how fast the cycle hire scheme will be rolled out to wider London, prohibition of trucks at peak times and why London doesn’t have more bike boulevards.
They will have to wait for another time. However, there was one final question I wanted to ask. I managed to grab Kulveen Ranger, the Mayors Transport Advisor, who is pro-cycling. I asked him if he’d heard of the idea before of privatising car parking in-order to capture the true cost of parking. It was an interesting idea I’ve not heard before suggested to me by Paul Battley. It caught Kulveen unaware and he wasn’t able to answer. This is definitely an idea worth exploring more and I’ll see if I can chase him up on it.
Whilst I didn’t get to ask Boris all the questions I wanted, especially “who does your hair?”, it was an interesting launch and its good to see the first stage of one of the big cycling projects finally delivered. Now on to the Cycle Hire Scheme.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.