London’s Cycling Commissioner, Andrew Gilligan, has dismissed claims cycle infrastructure causes gentrification as “industrial strength, oceangoing rubbish”.
Gilligan says claims London’s rapidly-growing network of cycle superhighways and mini Hollands will benefit mainly the white middle classes, are “emotional button pushing” and “absurd” arguments that don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Some vocal opponents have come forward protesting Enfield and Waltham Forest mini Holland schemes, arguing the majority of people don’t want fewer cars on the streets, and some claiming businesses and the poor will be disadvantaged by the cycling schemes. Most recently the Guardian ran a comment piece on Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland scheme suggesting most local people, aside from estate agents, are against it.
Gilligan told road.cc: “Attacking cycling as an agent of gentrification is basically like saying you don’t want any improvements at all, I mean are we saying we shouldn’t build Crossrail because it might drive up house prices in those areas? Are we saying we shouldn’t improve the local school because it might attract members of the dreaded white middle class?”
Dave Hill wrote his Guardian piece earlier this month quoting a local opposition politician as saying Waltham Forest's Mini Holland scheme will “clearly disadvantage all road users including bus passengers other than the small minority of residents who are cyclists, whom a study [funded] by the Camden NHS and TfL has proven are almost entirely middle-class, young white men.”
Hill argued that, following the opening of Waltham Forest’s Mini Holland, estate agents were the only businesses benefiting, marketing expensive housing to “cafe-dwellers, loft-converters, gentrifiers; the sort of people who ride bicycles”, while protesting residents, claiming themselves the vocal majority, are against it.
However, Gilligan disputes the gentrification claims. He says: “It’s absurd, and it’s not really an argument, it’s a kind of emotional button pushing - quite a smart one - but it doesn’t really stand up. Clearly the reason why housing is too expensive in London is quite a lot bigger than a cycle scheme.
Gilligan asserts “the poor drive less than all other Londoners”, and the gentrification argument is being used to argue for roads that discriminate against the poor.
He said: “The idea that traffic reduction schemes are a kind of conspiracy of the privileged, that the car is a kind of beleaguered chariot of the poor, that’s clearly wrong as well, it just doesn’t stand five seconds of examination of the actual facts.
“The fact is that the poor drive less even less than all other Londoners. Waltham Forest has the 333rd lowest rate of car ownership out of 348 local authorities in England and Wales, 15 from the bottom, and all the bottom 15 are in London as well, and so the idea that the poor of Waltham Forest drive, that we’re preventing them from getting around, is just industrial strength, ocean going rubbish.”
“It’s interesting to see how they’re co-opting arguments of equality to push a case that’s really fundamentally about retaining the rights of the minority,” he added.
“About 75% of all journeys to Walthamstow town centre are not made by car, and yet the streets of Walthamstow, until recently, were dominated by the 25% of people, and we’re just shifting that balance a bit, we’re shifting it a tiny bit back in favour of the majority who don’t drive every day.”
He added consultations on London's cycle schemes have received majority support, because the "vast majority" of people in London don’t drive in the city centre.