As Londoners head to the polling stations today to elect the city’s new mayor – or, if the most recent opinion polls are correct, re-elect its existing one – the campaign group Londoners On Bikes is urging voters to put the Green Party’s Jenny Jones as their first preference on their ballot papers, with Labour’s Ken Livingstone second. The London Cycling Campaign (LCC) has said separately that it believes Ms Jones’s manifesto has most to offer cyclists, with Mr Livigstone’s coming next.
When it was formed a couple of months ago, Londoners On Bikes stated that its aims were to ensure that candidates put cycling at the heart of their cycling policy, and that ahead of the election it would flag up which candidate it believed offered most to the city’s cyclists, and which of the leading contenders did so.
Those recommendations were confirmed following this week’s mayoral cycling hustings hosted by Sustrans and The Times, an event at which current mayor Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party had a chance to win over the cycling lobby; the common consensus of those present seemed to be that he spectacularly blew it with what was described as a “a meltdown rant.”
Ms Jones, a regular thorn in Mr Johson's side on cycling issues at mayor's question time, is an unsurprising choice for the candidate seen as having cyclists’ interests most at heart, with Londoners On Bikes returning the verdict that “Jenny has a clear commitment to getting Londoners on bikes and making our roads safer and more liveable.”
Mr Livingstone, previously mayor from 2000 to 2008, attracts the following endorsement: “Ken seems prepared to make the real investment it would take to make London a world-class cycling city and putting our first choice, Jenny Jones, on the board of TfL makes him a cut above the other two candidates.”
Ms Jones previously served as deputy mayor to Mr Livingstone between May 2003 and June 2004.
As for Mr Johnson, Londoners On Bikes says: “His policy of ‘smoothing traffic flow’ has made roads agressive and more dangerous, disregarded cyclists and pedestrians and no amount of cycling festivals will change that.”
The fourth of the main candidates, Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, has been a strong critic of Mr Johnson’s cycling policy throughout the campaign, although Londoners On Bikes' summary is: “Some very positive policies but he is unlikely to win the election so bike vote is best-used ensuring that Boris doesn’t get back in to City Hall.”
The group’s website provides an overview of the principal cycling policies of each candidate, a link to their manifestos and video interviews with Ms Jones and Mr Livingstone.
LCC’s own assessment of the merits of each candidate when it comes to the promises about cycling made in their manifestos can be found here.
Cycling was always likely to be an issue in the electoral campaign, with transport the one area in which the mayor has real executive power - he or she chairs Transport for London by virtue of being mayor, appoints its board, and formulates its policy.
However, a series of fatalities towards the end of last year propelled cycling, and the safety of cyclists in particular up the agenda in London.
Since The Times newspaper launched its Cities Fit For Cycling campaign in February, it has also become a political issue nationally, as well as one increasingly covered by mainstream media, as witnessed by the recent furore over comments about cyclists made by Addison Lee boss John Griffin, which even attracted criticism in blogs on the websites of the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph.
It’s true that for most London voters, cycling may not even register among the factors that make them decide which candidate should get their vote, and even among those who do cycle in the city, other issues will be a consideration; Londoners On Bikes, however, was founded on the belief that there would be little enough between the two frontrunners that the cycling vote could swing the election one way or the other.
By tomorrow morning, we’ll know whether they were right.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.