Friday, 24 June 2011

Boris doesn't get it: he is preventing 20mph in London

Jenny Jones, the Green Member of the London Assembly, is trying to get the debate on 20mph for Blackfriars Bridge rescheduled for 20 July. Readers will recall that the last attempt to hold such a debate was foiled by the Conservative members walking out of the Assembly, making it inquorate, ostensibly over an unrelated issue.

At the risk of regurgitating party political opinion (the Vole is not aligned with the Green Party or any other), I will quote what Jenny Jones has written on her blog about Boris Johnson and 20mph limits, as, if all that she says is true, it seems very telling about London's mayor, and hugely significant in terms of how he has been pushing the transport and road safety agenda during his mayoralty, and how he will continue to do if re-elected in 2012. Jenny Jones:

The real problem is, Boris just doesn’t ‘get’ the need for 20mph. 
In April 2009 I produced a (fascinating) report for the Assembly’s Transport Committee on the issue of 20mph, called Braking Point, which outlined the rationale for 20mph as a potent road safety measure. It was signed up to by all four political parties, so I hoped that Boris might be amenable to the findings, which were that 20mph reduced (socially expensive) casualties, and probably encouraged walking and cycling, while probably improving traffic flow and lowering pollution levels. The recommendations were that two boroughs should pilot a borough wide scheme, with TfL support. 
When I later approached Boris with the names of two councils who wanted to be part of the pilot and go 20mph all over their boroughs immediately, Boris expressed huge disbelief that any council could truly want to do that. He simply couldn’t believe that they wanted to apparently slow the traffic down, and so the money from TfL wasn’t forthcoming. 
The Blackfriars Bridge issue is becoming a barometer for Boris’ mayoralty. It’s a bridge that has caused a lot of problems over the years, seeing several unnecessary and tragic cyclist deaths. These days, not only is the ‘traffic’ on and around Blackfriars mostly cyclists and pedestrians, the economic argument is that the biggest cause of congestion is road crashes (when I was knocked off my bike by a car on the Old Kent Road and broke my wrist, I blocked one lane of traffic for 10 minutes at rush hour until the ambulance came to take me away) and so lose businesses millions of pounds. 
Will this cycling Mayor actually listen to cyclists and road safety campaigners to make sensible choices for pedestrian and cyclist safety, or will his Tory instincts kick in once again and deny logic and common sense? Or perhaps he will do his usual best to avoid making any decision at all, especially a decision that might put him at odds with car drivers, whom he sees as his natural voters.
So, let's state that clearly again. Two London boroughs wanted to become entirely 20mph. I don't know which, but two were keen to be the trial for making the whole of London 20mph. Jones is saying that Boris stopped this. Personally. Only him, entirely his decision. So we could have had by now two whole London boroughs as 20mph zones, if it hadn't been for Boris. Two whole boroughs is about 2/3 of a million people living in a 20mph zone. With the savings of life, prevention of injuries, lessened pollution, and increased physical activity through walking and cycling that might have resulted from that. That's very clear, isn't it? Boris didn't want all that. He didn't even want to try it as an experiment. He didn't want to know. I think that tells us all we need to know.

I think there is an opinion abroad that Boris is a kind of funny, inflated fish bobbing about in City Hall, bounced this way and that by technical advisers and planners of one kind and another, taking few decisions himself, leaving details to others, and failing to assert authority over large departments which have long-standing cultures of behaving in a particular way. I think, in reality, people are underestimating the extent to which what we are now getting in London's transport agenda comes directly from him, is his decision alone. That's what I take from Jenny Jones's account.


  1. I don't know whether Boris really is a cycling enthusiast - he certainly likes to cultivate that impression and just possibly he is a cyclist of the vehicular persuasion, but he is also a petrol-head - look at the incident reported in the press when he had his kids in a "super"car without adequate safety restraints.

    He also evidently likes to cultivate the image of an amiable buffoon - a kind of upper-class amateur with improbably old-fashioned language and diction, hair flopping in his eyes etc.

    But one thing he is not is a buffoon - despise it or respect it, he is actually sharp as a tack. I once heard him give a speech (at the annnual dinner of the British Venture Capital Association) which seemed to be just the rambling musings of an eccentric academic, until - more or less - the punchline. Quite suddenly, he got to the point, and the previous 20 minutes of rambling suddenly all made perfect sense - if you are a rabid post-Thatcherite libertarian Eurospectic, that is.

    Like one of those poisonous tropical frogs, he is much more dangerous than he looks.

  2. I think 20mph zones make a huge difference for cyclists and pedestrians. One thing though is that 20mph speed limits haven't really been enforced when they were introduced in Oxford 20mph speed limits