A golden legacy? Pull the other one, Boris.

Here at ibikelondon we've been eagerly awaiting the announcement from the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, on what shape our "cycling legacy" will take now that the Olympic Games are on the home stretch.

Sadly, we shouldn't have bothered.  It turns out that for everyday and ordinary cyclists out on London's roads - battling for space with illegally driven killer HGVs and navigating crap cycle infrastructure - our 2012 legacy stands to be nothing more than a golden shower of... well, we won't go there.

This morning Boris wheeled out some familiar cycling faces to re-hash what he had already announced earlier this year; namely that next August London will host a two day "cycling festival" with a Sky ride (only without the Sky bit) a 100 mile bike marathon in which participants can raise cash for charities (Road Peace, anyone?) and a pro bike race up and down the Mall a couple of times.

Coupled with the wonderful permanent Olympic venues of the Velodrome, BMX track and closed road circuit which will open to the public inside the Queen Elizabeth II park, sports cycling certainly seems to be set for a boom, and rightly so.

I welcome the RideLondon festival and know that it will be a phenomenal event, made so by all of the wonderful participants and crowds that turn out to cheer on our cycling heroes.

But I'm livid that a one off event is being spun by the powers that be as a "permanent legacy for cycling" in London.  It is nothing of the sort, and sadly only demonstrates the utter paucity of imagination coming from the people whose very job it is to run our city,

Firstly, today's recycled news shows that Boris has already had to vastly cut short his already lacklustre ambitions.  In his January announcement he states that 35,000 club and world class cyclists would be taking part in the 100 mile "bike marathon".  This figure has been revised down to 20,000.

But what makes me most angry of all is the utterly missed opportunity that is slipping between Boris's fingers.

Sir Chris Hoy and British Cycling buddies training for Gold on the excellent separated cycle paths of Perth, Australia.

This summer London has shown that it doesn't need to have every inch of road space available to motor cars at all times in order to get along.  Our wonderful volunteering Olympic Gamesmakers have been the absolute embodiment of the "The Big Society" in action, showing that there is a vast potential untapped resource of volunteers who want to get involved in helping to make their local communities a nice place to be.  And, as has been shown by the waves of new cyclists taking to the roads to get around during the Games and the thousands lining the streets to cheer on our medal winning cyclists, there is great enthusiasm for all things bicycle right now.

A true 2012 legacy would be to announce the creation of world-class cycle routes to and through the city, allowing visitors and residents alike to cycle here whether young or old.  Perhaps some of the road space from those much-debated 'Games Lanes' (which we seem to be managing just fine without) could be squeezed to make space for some permanent dedicated cycling infrastructure, instead of hoping against hope that if Nan and the grandkids bike round Elephant and Castle whilst "keeping their wits about them" everything will be okay.

A true 2012 legacy would be to retain a fraction of the volunteer army who have run the Games to help enable "sports streets" in London every month.  In Bogota they close 100km of the city's streets to allow residents to play, run, cycle and exercise EVERY Sunday.  When you're being shown up by a developing world country it is hard to get excited about an invitation to squeeze on to just 8 miles of roads ONCE a year.  With our shocking air pollution problem, growing obesity crisis amongst our children not to mention lack of opportunity for people to cycle who are terrified of traffic (most people, that is) you can't help but feel that a trick is being missed here.

Bogota, Colombia, where a volunteer army shuts down 100km of the city streets to give them over to play, exercise and cycling EVERY Sunday.

A true 2012 legacy would recognise the three cyclist's tragic deaths that have taken place in the vicinity of the Olympic park over the past 12 months and pledge to genuinely and permanently improve conditions for people on bikes in the area.

Namely, a true 2012 legacy would be making a bold and solid commitment to making cycling safe and accessible for all in this the very city where cycling makes most sense of all, instead of just spinning out the same old tired whiff-whaff in the hope of piggy-backing off the well-earned success of our cycling sports stars like Laura Trott and Bradley Wiggins.

To be clear, I have no beef with RideLondon or its organisers and I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for many people to enjoy riding a bike.  But if the Mayor of London thinks that it is a suitable pay off in return for sharing the roads with Olympic construction lorries for the past 7 years or that it will help to sedate the simmering feelings of resentment and anger towards his office that currently under-pin the London cycling community, he should think again.

Update at 15.00 on 10th August: Caroline Pidgeon, lead member of the Liberal Democrat group on the London Assembly (the body tasked with holding the Mayor to account) has said: "A two day world class festival of cycling next year is clearly welcome and will be a great addition to Skyride.  However the Mayor has merely re-announced existing plans.  Incredibly the proposed event will now also be smaller than what was first proposed back in January.
Today’s rehashed proposals expose the Mayor’s lack of vision.  A real cycling legacy for the capital must include far more than just a two day festival.

At the centre of any cycling legacy must be bold measures to make cycling in London far safer and attractive for 365 days a year.

If the Mayor wants London to truly become a cycling city he needs to put serious money where his mouth is."

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Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!

Anonymous said...

Yep, even worse than expected.

What have all those people in lycra and helmets got to do with cycling?

ibikelondon said...

@Anonymous I don't mind what people choose to wear when they're out on their bikes, and I have no beef at all with sports cyclists either. If people are going to wear a helmet and lycra then that's up to them (I'd probably do the same if I was riding at 50kph). But I'd never set out to promote this as the mainstream image of cycling or indeed as the default mode for "coping" with cycling in its current state.

Riding a bike should be something available to do by all, whether young or old or fit or not. Sadly, closing 8 miles of roads once a year is not going to bring this about. Until something changes then our city is denying its very citizens an equality of opportunity not only in how they get about but in how they live their lives. We deserve better.

Andy_in_Germany said...

I can't say I'm suprised. The Olympics is a prestige project for politicians and corporations to be in volved with, it is not, and has never been, a vehicle for social change.

Paul M said...

I think we get the cycling culture we deserve - and that is no joke, because it creates a vicious circle.

Road conditions in this country lead to a survival strategy which works well with our road system which more or less skilfully follows the vehicular cyclist approach - have the confidence to ride out and take the lane, duck and weave around the traffic, the physical ability to accelerate rapidly and maintain fairly high speeds to get into and stay with motor traffic, and fairly low levels of fear and anxiety.

In other words, testosterone. It is no accident that most cyclists in London and the UK are 25-45 year old men - self-confident, fit, fairly fearless and assertive perhaps to the point of aggressive. It should come as no surprise then that some jump red lights, ride on pavements or under/overtake stationary motor vehicles with apparently reckless abandon. That is not to excuse, but to explain - just look at the jostling in the peleton in the Tour de France.

It also demands special equipment and clothing - bikes which can be "raced", and clothes which wick away sweat and can be changed out of at the destination - Lycra.

So cyclists rightly or wrongly get a bad name, which makes their demands for decent infrastructure harder to sell to the public.

But these demands are on behalf of a cycling demographic which currently barely exists here - older, younger, less fit, less fearless people, who don't want to have to wear some form of tribal costume, just want to be able to stay in their normal clothes and step onto or off of their bike as though they were merely putting on a coat and shoes to walk outside. Like the people you see riding bikes in Amsterdam, for example.

Until someone has the political will to break that circle, not much will change. Today Boris indicated that he doesn't have it.

bikemapper said...

I have just seen Tom Edwards' report on this evening's BBC news about the cycle festival. According to TfL, "this festival is just part of a wider legacy."

Ben Plowden said, "The Mayor has made it very clear that we can't increase cycling in London on the scale we're planning to without making it genuinely safe - and not just safe, but feel safe for people."

Laura Trott said that if there could be more lanes, then that just means that the cars wouldn't have to worry about the bikes, and obviously then the bikes wouldn't have to worry so much about the cars; and she thinks it's "perfectly safe" to ride a bike in London.

And a cyclist who just happened to be passing through the junction where Dan Harris was killed said, "I think Central London, at the best of times, is difficult to navigate by bike."

Unknown said...

It ties to the hot topic of the day because, well, the person whom signed off on this did resign based on the allegations of corruption with the now, finally, news about Project Gunrunner and how far up it connects. world class

Pete said...

I was just on the about page of the event and it seems to say that it is an annual event, doesn't that mean it I will be taking place every year?

Gary Mac said...

My wife & I are currently on an 8 week Bromptoneering trip round Europe (we are actually from Australia). One of the real eye openers for us has been the obvious link between cycling facilities and the number of cyclists, closely followed by the noticeable obesity levels in those cities. I think our politicians should do a similar trip and they might finally realise that the Dutch-style segregated infrastructure not only promotes people to cycle, especially women and the elderly, but more importantly leads to a slimmer population with the obvious benefits this brings. The absolute highlight of the trip has been watching 80 year old cyclists in Amsterdam go to the shops on their bikes & hoping that I might be able to do the same at their age!

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